Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know

fyphd_teal2_flags2_multi_lc_rgbAs you know from my last post, the fifth e-book in my PhD Knowledge series is out. And so is the sixth! Phew!! I’m done!!!

I know, right? You wait ages for another e-book launch, then two come along at once! The sixth e-book is Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know. The final phase of doctoral study can be one of the most challenging phases, even though you’re almost there. This e-book has been vetted by expert beta readers, themselves in the final stages of the doctoral process.

While doctoral study doesn’t start (or finish) in line with the academic year, I find it satisfying that I managed to write and publish all the e-books in my PhD Knowledge series in time for the new semester. I’m also really happy that the first in the series, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is – and always will be – free to download. (Pretty happy about the reviews, too.) One of the things that book is designed to do is to help people figure out whether or not doctoral study is the right thing for them to do. I loved my PhD years, but it’s a massive commitment, and it’s not right for everyone. I know people who have worked towards a doctorate for years before they realised it wasn’t what they should have been doing. If I can help just one person to avoid that kind of frustrating and painful experience, the book will have been worth writing.

That series was last year’s new venture, now I can turn my attention to this year’s new venture: supporting late-stage and post-doctoral students with their writing. More information about that in my next post!

Analysing Data For Your PhD: New Book Launch!

ADFYPhD_darkbrown_neurons_LC_RGBToday sees the launch of the third in my Phd Knowledge series. The subject of data analysis is close to my heart. It is at the core of our work as researchers, yet it’s often poorly understood. Doctoral students can find themselves facing the analysis of a sizeable amount of data without really knowing what it is they’re supposed to do. My new e-book, Analysing Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, is designed to help in this situation – or, if you read it in time, to prevent you reaching such a stressful impasse. This book follows on from the previous books, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know and Gathering Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, but it works equally well as a stand-alone volume for anyone who only wants to delve into this part of the process. It is concise – around 10,000 words – and clearly written (says my editor – in fact, he said ‘As usual, this was a beautifully written little document to work on’). And, as with the others, it costs less than the price of a coffee: £1.99/$2.99 and equivalent prices in other jurisdictions.

But wait! There’s more! To celebrate the launch, and in recognition of the new academic semester starting soon in Australia and New Zealand, I have reduced the price of Starting Your PhD to £0.99/$1.49. This is a time-limited offer for one week only, so get downloading. And happy reading!

 

Gathering Data For Your PhD – New Book Launch!

GDFYPhD_red_data_LC_multi_RGBYou may remember that just two months ago, on this very blog, I announced the start of my indie publishing career. I’m publishing a range of short e-books for doctoral students, and the first one was Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, launched on 8 September. I’m delighted to launch the second one today: Gathering Data For Your PhD: An Introduction.

Again, it’s around 11,000 words, and is suitable for all doctoral students, whether studying for a scholarly PhD or a professional doctorate. Here is the blurb:

You can’t do research without data. But what kind of data will help you answer your research question? Where can you find that data? And how much data do you need? If you’re doing doctoral research, particularly in the social sciences, arts, or humanities, this book will help you answer those questions. It offers an overview of traditional and innovative methods of gathering quantitative, qualitative, secondary and primary data. The book also outlines the pros and cons of devising your own method of gathering data, and lists a range of resources for further exploration of the methods that interest you most.

Just like the last book, it’s available for the price of a coffee: $2.99/£1.99/E2.99 or thereabouts – exact prices may vary slightly with different distributors. Talking of which, it’s available (or will be any minute) from all the major players: Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook etc.

This seems a perfect time to launch my latest oeuvre, as it’s the first ever Academic Book Week here in the UK. There are loads of events and discussions happening all over the country. There’s very little, though, about indie publishing – perhaps because Academic Book Week mostly involves traditional publishers and booksellers. I want to emphasise here that I don’t see indie publishing as a rival to traditional publishing, though I guess there may be some booksellers who wish digital books had never been invented. I love p-books and I don’t want, or expect, them to disappear. But I think there is also room for e-books in academia, and it surprises me that so few academics and alt-acs are taking up this opportunity.

Indie Publishing for Academia – Ten Top Tips

SYPhD_green_SQmarks_noblend_LC2_RGBThree weeks ago I became an indie publisher as well as an indie researcher and writer. In that time, my embryonic publishing company, Know More Publishing (see what I did there?!), has gained a website. Also, my first short affordable e-book, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, has gained three five-star reviews on Amazon UK and a fourth on Amazon US. I didn’t bribe a single reviewer!

It’s around a year since I decided to go down this road, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I think there’s a great deal of potential in indie publishing for academics, altacs, doctoral students and others. Indie publishing doesn’t figure in organisational performance metrics, which creates a barrier for some people, though perhaps one day it will. But it’s a great way to produce work which is too long for academic journals, or doesn’t fit their requirements, but is shorter than a traditionally published book. And it’s open access – you can make your work available for free if you wish, or at a very low cost.

On the down side, there is no quality control. I know there are arguments about whether the peer review system actually enhances quality, but editors certainly do, if they’re doing their jobs properly. With indie publishing, it is possible to plonk any old drivel online for sale. That’s not the kind of indie publishing I advocate. I worked in traditional publishing, I write for traditional publishers, and I have loved books all my life. So I want to see good quality indie publishing from academia and its associates, and to publish good quality books myself. Here are my ten top tips for anyone who shares my aims.

  1. Write something nobody else has written. As an academic or altac, you should be used to spotting gaps in literature. Your work will gain much more interest from others if it’s the only one of its kind.
  1. Get feedback on your writing. Starting Your PhD went through three sets of beta readers, from potential doctoral students to experienced supervisors. It wouldn’t have been worth publishing without their input.
  1. Use a professional editor. It doesn’t matter how experienced a writer you are, you will have blind spots. I know I did. I will always pay to have my books edited by a skilled professional who can bring fresh eyes and a keen brain to improving my text.
  1. Unless you are really good at design yourself, use a professional cover designer. You need someone who knows about book covers, how to make them stand out even at thumbnail size on a mobile device.
  1. Join the Alliance of Independent Authors. This worldwide organisation has approved ‘partner members’ including editors and cover designers which is useful if you don’t have people in your networks with those skills. They also have an active and ALLiEthicalAuthor_Badgesupportive closed group on Facebook where you can get help with all aspects of indie writing and publishing. And they have an Ethical Author code, as well as a publicly accessible searchable blog full of sound advice.
  1. Be prepared to do lots of promotional work. As an indie publisher, you’re not only the author, you’re also the sales and marketing departments for your work. This could involve anything from chatting on Twitter to lugging print copies around with you. You will need to decide what you can do, when, and how. It doesn’t have to be much – but if you don’t do anything to promote your work, it will sink beneath the ocean of available literature.
  1. Buy ISBNs, aka International Standard Book Numbers. These are the 10 or 13 digit numbers used by cataloguing systems to identify each unique book. You can only buy them from one organisation in each country, they’re not cheap (though the more you buy, the cheaper each number becomes), and you can’t transfer them between publishers or even leave them in your will. Also they take ten days to issue, so don’t leave this until the last minute, or you’ll have to postpone your book launch (like I did, ahem). You can get free identifiers such as ASINs from distributors such as Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble (Nook), but these are distribution codes, not unique book identifiers – or if they are actual ISBNs, they are owned and assigned by the distributor, not by you. This effectively means you are giving away part of the control you have over your work, and having control of your own work is a big part of the rationale for publishing independently in the first place. There’s a more detailed explanation of this on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog.
  1. Research the different ways you can publish your work – and expect to spend a considerable amount of time on this, as there are a lot of options. To begin with: e-book only, print only, or both? I’ve gone for e-book only, as I’m writing short books for students who will be comfortable with technology, and e-books are more affordable than print books. So then I decided to publish via Kindle Direct Publishing. This is a no-brainer even if you regard Amazon as the evil empire, because you will sell most of your work from this platform, so if you’re not willing to do business with Amazon at all, don’t publish independently. I also decided to use Draft2Digital, who take a small commission from your income for distributing through most of the other major channels – Kobo, Barnes & Noble (Nook), iBooks, Scribd etc – and they’re very helpful when you get stuck with your uploading, as I did. You could upload your work with each platform individually, and save yourself the commission; it’s your decision whether the hassle is worth the benefit. I decided that, for me, it wasn’t – and my sales figures, so far, bear this out (see below). I might decide to produce print books one day, in which case I’d use CreateSpace on the advice of fellow members of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
  1. Launch your book with some kind of a fanfare – then relax. I had a virtual launch day with a dedicated blog post and a lot of tweeting. Ten days later I went on holiday, which was excellent timing, as the process of preparing and publishing the e-book was much more difficult, stressful, and exhausting than I anticipated. I won’t be able to take a holiday every time, but I’m going to build in at least a weekend off after each one from now on.
  1. Write another book. Full disclosure: in the first three weeks, I’ve made £56.48 from sales on Amazon and $6.30 from sales through Draft2Digital. Not bad for a first e-book priced at £1.99/$2.99. However, given that I’ve shelled out around £500 on editing, cover design, and ISBNs, at this rate it will be six months before I break even. But I have a cunning plan for world domination: the next book in this series, Gathering Data For Your PhD, will be out in November, and I have four more planned for 2016. There is clear evidence that the more you publish and promote, the more readers you will acquire. This applies in the same way to free material.

I hope my learning over the last year will benefit others. If you decide to go down the indie publishing road, do let me know. At present I only know of two other academic types who are doing this: Dr Nathan Ryder, who has published a couple of very useful short e-books on preparing for your viva, and Dr Jenna Condie, who has a book of blog posts on sustainable urbanisation. If you know of other academic indie publishers, please leave a comment. Let’s start a movement!

Starting Your PhD – New Book Launch!

SYPhD_green_SQmarks_noblend_LC2_RGBI’m launching my Top Secret Project today. It is a short e-book (11,000 words) called Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know. I published this e-book myself, under the Know More Publishing imprint (see what I did there?!), which I set up for the purpose. The book is available via Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Scribd, and Inktera. So as well as being an indie researcher and writer, I’m now an indie publisher too!

I wrote three drafts of the e-book, each of which received feedback from a small group of different beta readers, including people who might do a PhD one day, current doctoral students, and experienced supervisors. The final version was professionally edited. I am very grateful to my beta readers and to my editor, each of whom provided input which improved the book’s quality. And you can buy the fruits of all this labour and experience for the price of a coffee: approx £1.99/$2.99/E3.29 or equivalent (actual prices may vary slightly due to circumstances beyond my control).

So why did I take up indie publishing, you may ask? There are times I’ve been wondering that myself over the last year or so, as it’s been a massive learning curve. I think if I’d known how much work was involved, I probably wouldn’t have started the process. But now that the curve is beginning to flatten out, I’m very glad I did. There are a number of reasons I decided to publish independently. In no particular order, the main ones are:

  • I spotted a gap in the market that a short e-book would fill
  • I’m intrigued by indie publishing; it seems to fit with being an indie researcher and writer
  • Short e-books are increasing in popularity
  • I wanted to offer good quality and affordable help for doctoral students

I expect you’re wondering whether I’ve done all this work just to produce one short e-book. No, I haven’t. ‘Starting Your PhD’ is the first in the ‘PhD Knowledge’ series, with other volumes of similar length to include:

  • Gathering Data for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Analysing Data for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Writing Your PhD: An Introduction
  • Research Ethics for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know

The second volume is scheduled for publication in November, and I aim to publish the others in the course of 2016.

ALLiEthicalAuthor_BadgeThis is an exciting new venture for me. I’ve had loads of help already: from friends, colleagues, people I’ve met online, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. I’m proud to be a member, and would recommend them to anyone; their closed Facebook group is an invaluable source of support. Also, I’m particularly pleased that they have a code of ethics for indie authors, with the guiding principle of putting the reader first – a principle that guides all my writing.

With that in mind, I need your help too, because there are some things you can do for potential readers that I can’t: tell them about the book, and write honest reviews to help people decide whether the book would be useful for them. Of course I can tell some people, but with my traditionally published books, I’ve had access to an established publishing firm which employed a range of professionals to help spread the word. As an indie publisher I am my own marketing, distribution, and sales departments. So it would be enormously helpful if you could talk about this e-book to people who might find it useful: people considering doctoral study, people embarking on doctoral study, or people supporting someone else through their doctoral study. When I say ‘talk’ I mean the virtual kind too, i.e. tweeting, blogging, Facebook etc. And I absolutely can’t, and wouldn’t, review the book I’ve written; that would be most unethical, so I’m completely reliant on others to give their honest opinion in a way that will help prospective readers decide whether it’s worth investing a few of their hard-earned coins.

Doing a PhD – or a professional doctorate; the e-book is applicable to either – is an enormous undertaking. It can be really difficult even to start on this long, complex process, much of which is incomprehensible at the start. I began mine, back in the early 2000s, with a complete false start which cost me a year and a lot of wasted time and effort; I ended up at a different university with a completely different topic, supervisor, and discipline than I’d originally planned. I guess that is another reason I wrote the e-book: to help others make a more sure-footed start, and to save them timchampagne launche and effort.

If this works for you, please do let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter where I always love to hear from my readers. But for now: I declare my indie publishing career in general, and the Starting a PhD e-book in particular, open!