As recently suggested by Peter Suber, there’s little reason to fear not getting your first book published because your dissertation is available in an open access repository. Why? Because:
1) Academic presses already know that open institutional repositories exist and that many require theses & dissertations to be deposited. They are not fighting this trend. Nor are they demanding “embargo periods” on dissertations.
2) The book will be a substantial revision of the dissertation that will require re-organization, re-writing, and new content. A first book should develop the dissertation in some meaningful way, either by extending the argument, applying it to other objects of study, or putting it in a different context. It will be a different, more “marketable” product, from the publisher’s perspective.
3) No one is trying to steal your ideas (really). But even if they are, those ideas are protected by copyright the minute you write them down! Having them published in dissertation form makes them even more substantively yours, regardless of whether they’re in an open access repository or not. The book will be a different iteration of those ideas, but they’re still yours. If marking your territory is really important, making the dissertation available at the earliest opportunity actually serves that purpose.
4) It’s okay if the dissertation is “unrefined”–it’s supposed to be. Its purpose is to demonstrate your ability to do research, make an argument, and engage in a scholarly discourse. That sounds boring because it is–it’s written for an audience of three or four people you already know. The book is your opportunity to prove that you’re a good writer who can weave a narrative that’s compelling and informative to a broad audience (see “marketable,” above). Again, publishers know this, and will emphasize that broader audience in evaluating your proposals.
5) Openly available dissertations are free advertising–they whet your audience’s appetite for the eventual book and get the scholarly conversation started about your work. You can use that conversation to make the kinds of revisions and additions that publisher expect in the book. This is the skill that your dissertation supposedly prepares you to use to your advantage. Rather than fearing that early critical feedback, embrace it.
It’s time we stopped making Open Access the enemy of the academic press and recognize how they can complement one another in the broader scholarly communication system.