Jeff Gerke–The First Fifty Pages Workshop

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Jeff Gerke’s panel on The First Fifty Pages was an intimate look into the mind of an editor. I was so impressed I bought his book,The First Fifty Pages, at the Writer’s Digest Conference and had him sign it.

He has a unique perspective being that he is a multi-published author and is now an editor at his own publishing house.

He explained that the first fifty pages have to:
*Engage the reader
*Introduce the hero
*Introduce the main character
*Establish context for story (establish the normal before violating the normal) Note: this is something others may disagree over.
*Reveal genre
*Reveal story world
*Set tone for book
*Introduce theme
*Introduce villain/antagonist
*Present the stakes
*Start the time bomb (build reader anticipation about the terrible thing that will happen)
*Start the hero’s inner journey
*Inciting incident must happen
*Set up Act 2
*Set up circularity (something you will refer back to at end to give rear feeling of completeness.)

Wow. That’s an impressive to-do list for the first fifty pages.

He then moved on to discussing what goes on inside the editor’s mind. There are a couple chapters in his book on this too.

The key points I took away were:
1) The agent culls the best manuscripts to submit to acquisitions editor.
2) Editors are given the work of acquisitions but no time to do it. They read your submission over lunch or at home.
3) Editors have to consider marketability because sales mean the editors publishing house does well and editor keeps his job.
4) A contracted and published book may only have 1 person in publishing house who read the entire manuscript.

He talked about the four ways to begin a novel:
1) Prologues(e.g., Mulan movie)
2) Hero action (e.g., Indiana Jones)
3) In Media Res (e.g., One Day) this is where you start in the middle and flash back to past, telling story up to the point you started at and usually further forward.
4) Frame device (e.g., The Notebook)

Method 1&2 are the most popular ways to open a novel.

The key thing about a prologue is that it must be used properly to open the book.and it’s important to remember agents have a strong dislike of prologues.

The reason prologues have such a bad wrap is because many new writers use them incorrectly. He said prologues are bad if they are full of backstory and can be consider an info dump.

He also offered a 4 hour bootcamp session, which I unfortunately hadn’t signed up for. I figured my mind would be mush by then. It kinda was.

Though the powerful and captivating speaker, Chris Baty, gave a rousing closing remarks that energized me for my Central Park walk with Emmie.

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24 Responses to Jeff Gerke–The First Fifty Pages Workshop

  1. 4amWriter says:

    Very good stuff here. Sounds like his ideas are about structuring your novel correctly, so that you aren’t mistakenly sticking in backstory/flashbacks as a way to carry the novel into Act 2.

    I am a little fuzzy over “establish context for story.” Can you elaborate on that?

    And I agree with you–for 50 pages, we writers have to be very attentive to each page to make sure we’re not wasting valuable space/words.

    Great post. Thanks!

    • I was very impressed by Mr. Gerke. That’s a great question, I pulled out my notes to see what he said. Establishing the context for the story is about establishing the normal before you violate it. What is the character expecting? Give a sense of what it would be like. Establish the normal before the first hiccup.

      I’m looking forward to reading Mr. Gerke’s book.
      I also really enjoyed Noah’s Lukeman’s book The First Five Pages–it’s all about what has to be and shouldn’t be in the first 5 pages.

      Glad you liked the post. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • 4amWriter says:

        Oh, okay, I getcha. I think that makes sense, and so of course now I’m wondering if I did that in my novel!

        Oh golly, I can’t just worry about the first 50 pages, I got to worry about the first 5, too? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Thank you for another really useful post. I wonder if in a YA you need to manage that entire list in the first five pages!

  3. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    Nice summary.

  4. Lisa Hayes says:

    I was at that class. You take great notes!!!!

  5. crubin says:

    Thanks so much for continuing to share your conference experiences. Very helpful!

    • Thanks! I don’t want to inundate readers with conference stuff, so I picked 3 of my fav panels. There were so many amazing speakers at WDC, I could fill 3 weeks worth of posts with what I learned. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    Yep โ€” off to check that my first 50 pages do what they’re supposed to!

    Thanks for the very helpful post!

  7. winsomebella says:

    I am glad you are sharing this with us–very helpful!

  8. Ah geeze. I suddenly feel another revision coming on. Can you list the ISBN for that book, maybe i’m searching it wrong but I can’t locate it on Barnes and Noble. Probably user error

  9. Yep, it was user error. Thank you

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