Tag Archives: Carey Newman Posts

Alfred Hitchcock and the Introduction to a Book

Dr. Carey Newman

This post is the second in a series from Dr. Carey Newman, the director of Baylor University Press. In each post, Dr. Newman offers helpful advice on the publication process for researchers who are starting their academic careers. Baylor University Press has experienced a remarkable transformation under Dr. Newman’s leadership; his efforts have received the attention of such outlets as Publisher’s Weekly. Dr. Newman is the recipient of a Ph.D. from Baylor University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Brill) and the editor of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel (IVP).


I am often asked about how to revise a thesis into a book.  I look blankly at my questioner and state baldly: it is not revision, it is exorcism.  You don’t revise a thesis; you turn it inside out, wash it, grind it, and reshape it.  Very, very few theses make it as books without such totalizing.  The amount of transformation needed can be best measured in voice – a thesis typically speaks in but one voice, while a book speaks in four distinct voices – that of the introduction, the prose, the notes and the conclusion.

I want to be clear and not misunderstood.  Nothing I say below should ever take precedence over what your thesis director (and any committee members) say to you about your thesis.  Job 1 is to please them, to write something that they endorse and approve.  THEN comes the consideration of a book – and only then.  The best thesis is a signed thesis.  Period.

The introduction, though, is a very good example of the difference between a thesis and a book. The introduction to a thesis, for better or worse, has been influenced by the way that research takes place on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) side of the ledger.  The introduction becomes a kind of kitchen drawer into which is placed the review of literature, hypothesis, method, limitations, definitions, scope, implications, and even the preview the whole of the work chapter by chapter.  By contrast, a book’s introduction has but one purpose – to get a reader to read.

Introductions to books are as movie trailers are to movies.  The whole purpose of a movie trailer, beyond that of giving late movie goers time to purchase the overpriced and sized snacks, is to get the public to come back, to spend money, on the next movie.  So, too, an introduction to a book.  The introduction to a book not only performs a logical function (what is the book about? what does it argue?; it also performs a psychological (what is really at stake? why does it matter?).  Analogous to the opening to any Hitchcock thriller, the reader must want to read on because of the first few pages.

On the wall of the far wing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel – the glorious pink colossal that anchors Wai Kiki Beach – hangs travel posters from the 20s.  Minimalistic water colors of oversized ships creeping into the harbor.  Patrons leisurely sprawled on the clean sun swept beach.  Oh my.  Standing there, looking at the posters, it is so easy to see yourself (or what you wish might have been you): a world traveler before traveling was emptied of its romance.  Luxury, tranquility, sophistication, adventure.  You are tempted to dive into that poster and willingly be transported back to another, simpler world.

THAT is the function of an introduction to a book.  It leads the potential reader to want to read on.  The introduction puts in play what is really at stake regarding the subject and helps the potential reader to see why reading on is important.  Yes, true, something must be said about scope.  True, providing guard rails for misreading is important.  But, the purpose of the introduction to a book is to get a reader to read.  The voice entices, cryptically foreshadowing what journey is to come.  There will be time and space enough to drone on about this and that, to defend, deny and assert.  But, getting the reader to read on is task enough for an introduction.

 

I am a Noun

Dr. Carey Newman

We are pleased to feature a new series of blog posts from Dr. Carey Newman, the director of Baylor University Press. In each post, Dr. Newman will offer helpful advice on the publication process for researchers who are starting their academic careers. Baylor University Press has experienced a remarkable transformation under Dr. Newman’s leadership; his efforts have received the attention of such outlets as Publisher’s Weekly. Dr. Newman is the recipient of a Ph.D. from Baylor University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Brill) and the editor of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel (IVP).


There are three—and only three—kinds of books in the world: nouns, verbs, and peanuts.  Nouns are academic books; they inform.  Verbs are professional books; they transform the practice of a profession.  Peanuts are trade books; they entertain.

I can’t count the number of proposals I receive that say this: “my book is intended for scholars, teachers, students, clergy, professionals, and general readers” (and I add in my mind, “small children and dogs”).  What I can safely say in response to projects that seek such a wide readership is this: a book intended for everyone reaches no one.

Years are spent becoming a scholar.  Heavy investments by family, friends, and self.  This process is not only necessary credentialing for a life in academics, it is also formative—scholarship is not what you do; you become a scholar.  You don’t just write nouns; you are a noun.

There is a deep yearning inside of a scholar to reach the world with her research.  In fact, there is a fair amount of chatter about the necessity of getting beyond the ivy to the city.  While I am, generally, in favor of such efforts, I do have some words of caution.  Scholars fantasize about obtaining such a wide readership, but have no idea the cost of climbing a second mountain.

Rule #14 in academic publishing runs like this: the same number of years, and the same amount of effort, required to become a scholar will be required to become a public writer.  Becoming a writer for a large general readership is not simply a matter of adverbs and adjectives.  Becoming a skilled and credentialed public writer means leaving the safe confines of the academy and learning to pay your bills by your writing.

There are ways to verb a noun and remain a scholar.  Yes.  There is also the process of making nuts out of nouns and still be a scholar.  True.  But the noun comes first.  Unless you have something to say you have nothing to say.  But having something to say does not mean you have learned to say it—and learning to make verbs and to shell nuts takes a lot of time and effort.

I say, be happy with being a noun.  Write them.  Love them.  Do not feel like you have to make an apology for writing, loving and being a noun.  You are a noun.  Your friends are all nouns.  You dream noun dreams.  When you drink beer with your friends, all you talk about are nouns.  Nouns are good.