Alfred Hitchcock and the Introduction to a Book
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.