Self Publishing Research Papers

Recently, I stumbled over an old research paper I had written in university. The term paper (a short treatise on classical perceptions of melancholy as a disease of the “four temperaments”) had survived on a backup copy of my website, stowed away on a disused hard-drive. And surprisingly, as much as I had sweated over the paper back then, it now gave me great pleasure to read it.

For this one research paper that survived, many others which I hadn’t uploaded to my webpage didn’t survive. They were wiped away with accidental deletions or computer crashes. And I thought to myself, why didn’t you publish your other term papers on your website as well?

Back then, it wasn’t that that easy to self-publish digital or paperback books. Today it has become relatively easy to create an ebook from a research paper.

Here’s why it might be a good idea to turn your research paper into a book by self-publishing it:

1. Writing For Grades, Or Writing For the World

If you’re taking a course and you’re writing a paper about a topic that you’re keenly interested in, what is your motivation, really? It’s a lot of work. Why are you doing it? Only to get a grade, to pass the term, or because you want to participate in a discussion, collect research and link it in interesting ways?

Unfortunately there seems to be a common understanding among students that their term papers aren’t good enough for a wider audience. Of course, being a novice in a field should come with some modesty, but sometimes novices can make connections because they aren’t burdened yet with the knowledge of “what has been done”.

Naturally, many research papers we write don’t even interest ourselves; we do them compulsively. But once in a while we find a topic we’re burning for with a fiery passion. Whether it’s a historical figure, a novel from the 19th century, the work of an early scientist etc. — we feel that a topic resonates with us, and we yearn to share our own ideas and connections.

Since you’re already doing the work, from research to writing to editing to formatting, why not do the last bit, too, and publish it? Usually, after handing in a paper you’ll get it back with remarks and corrections. But what happens then? Why not integrate these suggestions, fix the errors and publish it?

In short: why write for the drawer if you can write for the world?

2. Reclaim Your Curiosity

Surely, many academics don’t encourage students to publish their early thoughts, but that’s not because these thoughts aren’t worthwhile, but because academia is a fortress heavily guarded by gatekeepers.

Your professor likely didn’t get to publish any of his papers until he jumped through a series of arbitrary hoops set up by those higher up the chain. So why should he encourage you to take a stand and say: “Hey, what I wrote here is interesting enough for publication!”

Academics usually publish their works in academic journals, which are often notoriously difficult to get into, especially if your opinion about a topic diverges from a widely accepted tradition or “school”. However, this is what often makes these journals so boring. There’s nothing new, no fresh insights unconstrained by the barriers of “prim and proper”.

Don’t let this world of preconceived notions bully you into thinking that your own research papers couldn’t possibly contain anything worth reading.

If you don’t take a stand for your own work, nobody will do it for you! Publish those research papers dearest to you and make them accessible to the whole world.

3. Learn About Publishing

Unfortunately, too many students today are only interested in passing the test, getting their grade as quickly as possible and then leave the world of research and writing behind them to get “a good job”.

But what if your field of study is too important to you to just hurry through? Perhaps you’d like to keep thinking about these topics, keep researching, collecting and connecting the dots, beyond the obligatory.

By self-publishing your term paper you can gain valuable insights into the publishing process. Even if no one will ever read what you published, you will have learned how to format and edit a manuscript and release it for digital publication.

You will improve your text-processing skills beyond the mandatory “double-spacing, 12pt Times New Roman” or whatever the style-guide demands. You will think about creative solutions to formatting and presentation of ideas in general.

Once acquired, nobody can take these skills from you. Perhaps you’ll use them one day to help publish a friend’s novel, work for an online magazine, or perhaps you’ll just keep honing your craft on your own and develop your own writing.

4. Contribute To Society

Young people are often told that they should become responsible adults who “contribute to society”. All too often, this contribution is vague and distant. Why not start when you’re still studying?

Maybe your research paper on Navigation-Related Structural Change In the Hippocampi of Taxi Drivers (this paper actually exists) will never gain mass-appeal or land you a book deal, but perhaps one day a person at the other end of the planet is looking for information about a very specific niche you just happened to write a paper about.

Admittedly, many student papers aren’t very original, but perhaps you still managed to put two pieces together in a way that sparks new ideas in someone else’s mind. Your paper doesn’t have to be perfect, but by self-publishing it in book format, it might become a seed for other works.

Maybe your modest student paper will not solve the Middle East conflict or cure cancer, but perhaps one day it will mean something to someone somewhere. Perhaps it won’t, but if you don’t make it available, we are never going to find out.

5. Put A Price On Your Research Paper And Sell it

Last but not least, there is always a chance that by taking your research paper and turning it into a book, someone will buy it. If one person buys it, finds it interesting and leaves a positive review, others might, too. You probably won’t get rich doing this, but many academic journals don’t have a huge readership, either.

If you self-publish your paper and put it on the Amazon Kindle store for example, you could price it as low as $0.99 cents and make 35% royalty on each sale. Or you could use Smashwords to distribute your work for free across a number of retailers.

All this process doesn’t cost anything (except your time and efforts). So what is there to lose?


For more information about the actual publishing process, see also my short tutorial series How To Create Ebooks With Open Source Software.

img: CCby Metro Transportation Library and Archive


Turn Your Research Paper Into A Book: 5 Reasons To Self-Publish Your Work

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More posts about: indie publishing, indie-pub, self-publishing in Indie Publishing,News

Thad McIlroy, principal, The Future of Publishing

There is no lack of intellectual integrity in open access or self-publishing: The perceived lack of elite positioning in self-publishing is rapidly changing. My biggest argument for self-publishing and for open access in the academic community, is this: Would you rather wait two years for your work to appear in a learned journal locked behind a firewall and read by few, or would you like to get your fantastic arguments out to the public in a month and accessible to many? I'm on the editorial board of Learned Publishing and we've published papers that demonstrate that impact has far more to do with access than with peer review.

Before self-publishing, establish what is meant by 'editing': I think of there being two principal forms of editing: substantive editing and copy editing. Unlike copy editing, substantive editing looks at the whole manuscript and judges the entire work: Is the argument cohesive? Does the story flow? Is anything missing? What should be dropped? Copy editing is line-by-line, word by word.

Accept the ramifications of self-publishing then get stuck in: What I've called 'the stigma of self-publishing' has broader ramifications for the academic, because publishing is very much about advancing one's career. So, assuming that the academic has come to terms with the issues that affect self-publishing, they should start where every other author starts: Engage with your community of self-publishers authors, do lots of reading

(J.A. Konrath, the standard bearer, offers excellent no-nonsense advice) and, plunge in.

Resource:Advice for self-publishers is an introductory blog I wrote which gives an overview on the topic.

Writer's Digest has been a top resource for writers for many years and continues to be so online.

Ali Dewji, sales and marketing director, Acorn Independent Press

Self-publishing can get your work to market quickly, giving yourself more time to promote yourself as an academic, using your publication as a tool: Ebooks give you instant global reach, people thousands of miles away can be reading your findings within minutes of them being published. There are many aspects that contribute to self-publishing successfully, but in the case of academic publishing, it is vitally important to have the manuscript copy-edited and proofread, not by colleagues, friends or family but by a professional. This is your career on the line and if the manuscript is riddled with tiny errors or inaccuracies, it will reflect really badly on you.

Publishing your work in as many formats as possible, including paperback, ePub and dotMOBI, is key: Doing this enables you to use the paperback when you are giving talks, seminars or lectures, you can then use the ebook (and paperback via online retailers) to spread the word on the web. Giving away free samples of the book is always a really good idea. Make sure that you have the manuscript formatted by a professional, especially if it contains a lot of images, tables or diagrams because automatic conversion software is not yet advanced enough to deal with these, it works OK for manuscripts that just contain text, but if you are introducing footnotes, indexes, images, diagrams or tables, then they will need to be formatted manually in design software and more often than not in HTML as well. A good example is German academic Stephen Ternyik's Economics as Heuristics that we published as an ebook.

Generic publishing checklist: It is important to start by asking yourself questions about your work and its audience then follow the generic steps to publication:

• Who is going to edit and proofread the work?

• Who am I trying to sell this to?

• Where are they?

• How can I reach them?

• Get paperbacks printed: look into short runs and print on demand but make sure you use a quality printer, bad quality print can put people off before they have even opened it.

• Get an ebook, professionally formatted in both .MOBI (Amazon) and .ePub versions

• Get a properly designed cover, so many self-published works are let down by bad or unprofessional cover design

• Get an ISBN

• Get the publication into proper distribution channels

• Price it competitively

• Get active online pre-publication: generate some interest and a following for yourself, your writing and your opinions.

Richard Hill, head of department, University of Derby

For career progression, consider all tools useful:Academics need to develop a holistic profile of complementary activities. Writing is a good thing for the academic, but I've also found that students quickly engage with writing processes. Blogging and micro-blogging get rapid feedback, which is useful. An article or book consolidates ideas into something more considered. All the tools used together builds a brand that the academic can use to engage in more networks and more exciting, emerging work.

Self-publishing is a great way of engaging students in a whole host of transferable skills: The questions raised when self-publishing (how does the whole text read? Does it flow?) are exactly the questions that stimulate interest from students. I've found that undergraduate students (in computing and mathematics) don't expect to see their name in print, never mind as the author of a book. When we take a class and help them write short articles, and introduce the concept of peer-review, the 'end-game' of a book really spurs them on.

Resource: For academics, mendeley and are good ways of raising awareness, which does translate into citations for those who don't have a budget to pay for open access publications.

Martin Weller, professor of educational technology, Open University (OU)

Self publishing is a great platform for interdisciplinary subjects:Publishing through journals and publishers still has its place but it is complemented by self-publishing. Also, self-publishing frees up the type of thing we can publish: previously publishing has been driven by the economics of paper and the process. So, for example, interdisciplinary subjects are difficult to fund for journals because they have a small audience. But if you want to start a blog in an obscure subject, then you can do so at zero cost. This liberation has led to a lot of innovation, but also - it has to be acknowledged - a lot of dross and nonsense.

The key difference now is that we have alternatives available to us, whereas previously we didn't. So for example, I was part of an EU project and for our final publication, we conceived of it as a nice glossy book, published through Blurb, rather than the standard drab report that no-one ever reads.

Publishing in open access journals is a good compromise: Early career researchers should seek to get some publications in 'proper' academic journals but there are also plenty of open access (OA) journals with decent reputations, so you can take a stance on only publishing OA (as I've done). At the very least you can begin self-archiving publications so you make your version available.

Resource: Read the chapter on tenure and recognition of digital scholarship in my book, which is open access through a recognised publisher - proof you can do both.

Richard Franklin, director, Abramis Academic Publishing

The challenge for academics is that self-published work does not contribute to research ratings: There is inertia within the academic system and this inertia is not easy to get around. Abramis has published a number of high profile texts on key media subjects recently and has brought books to market in very tight time frames. While this publishing model has been received positively by some commentators (read Tim Luckhurst's article for THE, Feel the rush) and by many 'open' academics, others see these innovations as undermining standards and are very opposed to them.

You do not always need an online presence before you publish: Blogging and disseminating your research online on other platforms, is very helpful but not always essential. If your work is perceived as cutting edge or in a discipline where there is not a great wealth of published matter, such as, new technologies, computer applications or app development, then not having an online presence can be much less of an issue.

Fabio Rojas, associate professor of sociology, Indiana University

Self-publishing success is determined by your goals: With my book, my goal was outreach. The reason I wrote my graduate school advice book is that PhD education is inefficient. So, for a year, I was happy with blog clicks. That was successful for me. Then, I focused on sales and priced the e-book low ($2) and that worked. The e-book is fast outselling my regular print book. So, ultimately, it's about your goals. My goal is to help graduate students and I know it's working when people send me thank you notes about how they got some clarity after reading my book. Though the money doesn't hurt.

Points to bear in mind:

•Self-publishing is a serious alternative to traditional publishing.

• There is no single way to self-publish. There are many good strategies from e-books to self-publishing services.

• Right now, academia is still skeptical. In most areas, don't rely on self-publishing for promotion and career development. Wait until your mainstream credentials are established, then self-publish.

• Success relies on self-promotion; use blogs, Twitter, and face-to-face.

• Always get feedback and editing.

Resource: My blog, Why I Self-Publish highlights some positive reasons to self-publish. I have also found easy to use as a place to self-publish.

To download this resource as a pdf, click here

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