The Protocol of Publishing
How to deal with Multiple Submissions

You have a manuscript to be published. Should you send it simultaneously to the ten presses in North America that might be interested? Or should you simply write a letter to several different presses, asking if they’d be interested in seeing the completed manuscript? The former method would not be considered ethical, and that latter method, while closer to the answer, is not quite right either.

  • do your research – find out what the publishing programme of each press is, what major books they have published in your area, whether your manuscript would complement their list, etc (reference guides at library, phone and ask for guidelines, or best of all, consult their websites). Then, send a proposal to the presses that seem most suitable.
  • suitability will not always be easily determined, however. All major presses in Canada, however, are interested both in work of local and national interest. You can send proposals to more than one publisher, but if you receive a positive response from more than one, it will then be up to you to assess which press you would like to work with and why.
  • Publishers do not appreciate when authors allow their manuscripts to go into review at more than one press simultaneously. Resources are limited in university press publishing, and peer review is costly in terms of editorial time and peer review fees. All presses will ask for exclusive consideration of the ms prior to initiating review because of this scarcity.

The Thesis Revision

The golden days when unrevised, or modestly revised, theses were considered by publishers are gone. Today, most editors will not read dissertations and offer suggestions for revision, since their roster of manuscripts in review is so large. There is also the key issue of the Aid to Scholarly Publications Programme, the funding body to which Canadian university presses submit all eligible titles for grants in aid of publication. The ASPP asks ‘thesis into book’ authors to defend how their work has been substantially revised. If you can do this, you better the chances that your manuscript will be declared eligible for consideration.
In revising, try to make the work as wide-ranging as possible – this is a different audience you’re dealing with, not thesis supervisors. Remember that the publisher has to sell your work, so you might think about expanding the content in some way so it will have the broadest possible appeal: make a provincial study national? Cover a longer period? Discuss implications for current policy or (inter)national issues?

One of the first clues that a thesis hasn’t been sufficiently revised is in the way it starts: we get a long explication of theory, what scores of other scholars have said on the topic and why their views are lacking. In a book we want to get at what you have to say quickly – you do not need to prove that you have read all the relevant scholarship, though we do need to know in a general sort of way where your study fits into current debates. Usually this should be done briefly in a preface or introduction, and chapter 1 should get us into your subject – we’re more prepared to take you at your word now. One of the best ways to learn how to start out a book is to look at how other successful authors have done it.

Two places to look for general information on making the transition from thesis to book are: Eleanor Harman et al., The Thesis and the Book, 2nd edition, and Beth Luey, A Handbook for Academic Authors, 4th edition. The latter has an excellent chapter on revisions, though the former is acknowledged as the best reference source and is worth consulting. Our advice, drawing on these sources, is that the transition takes five main steps.

First, is the scholarly apparatus excessive? Are the tables and appendices illustrating something that the text cannot? What do the notes look like? The ideal is that notes should contain source material and not digressive sidebars, so paring will be necessary. Paul Fussell, in a book review, once said that “the 34 pages of rather pedantic notes at the end bespeak the literary insecurity of the author; they prop up the text where the author suspects the poetry has miscarried.” Each note, then, should be examined carefully – if the idea is integral, then integrate it; if it is peripheral, try to eliminate it.

Secondly, are the transitions between chapters smooth? What you have to bear in mind when thinking about this is whether your chapters build upon each other in a sustained way. What is there about the book manuscript that is greater than the sum of its parts? (Or, to rephrase, would it be more appropriate to have selected chapters appear in journal form?)

Thirdly, look closely at your introduction and conclusion. Does the introduction give too much away? Is it sufficiently exploratory? Does it have a “literature review”? If so, it should be eliminated if possible, pruned if absolutely necessary. Does the conclusion merely summarize what has been proven? Conversely, is there too much new information introduced? (If there are mini “introductions” and “conclusions” to each chapter that set up what the chapter will explore, and reiterate what it has explored, then get rid of these, working on the fluid transitions between chapters.)

Fourthly, does the material require updating or consideration of new sources? Will the research ‘age’ quickly, or will it have a long shelf life? How does your research reflect this? Should the scope of the research be enlarged, or should more comparisons be made?

And finally, think about issues of structure – how have you organized and arranged things, and is that the most effective way? Will it appeal to your audience (and who is that audience in a broad sense?) Is the language sufficiently accessible and engaging? Are there too many subheads, which tend to fragment the argument and stand-in for solid transitions? Is there direct quoting from other experts in the field to establish points of central importance?

In short, you should be able to show that there is a demonstrable difference between the thesis version and the book manuscript version. In our experience, the better and more thorough the revisions to theses are, the quicker they pass through the peer review process.