Friday, March 8, 2013

Jeff Gerke on Writing & The First 50 Pages


I welcome Jeff Gerke to my blog. He is a novelist, publishing industry veteran and founder of Marcher Lord Press, a publisher of Christian fantasy and Christian science fiction. Jeff will be teaching the fiction continuing class at the Write-to-Publish Conference, June 5 - 8 on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois. He is also the author of fiction and nonfiction titles, including The First 50  Pages, published by Writer's Digest Books.



What is important about the first 50 pages of a novel?

The first 50 pages determine whether or not your reader will keep reading. It is the rare reader (as in, your mom) who will keep reading even if she is not engaged early on.

In the first 50 pages, you also have to introduce your hero and main characters. You have to establish the context of the story. You must reveal the genre and milieu and story world. You have to set up the tone of the book. You’ll also be presenting the stakes, introducing the antagonist, establishing the hero’s desires, starting the main character’s inner journey, and getting a ticking time-bomb to ticking down. You’re basically setting up the rest of the book to work well. You’re building the foundation and creating the context from which the story will arise.

And you want to do all these without boring your reader, losing your reader, dumping backstory on your reader, misleading your reader, insulting your reader’s intelligence, or tipping your hand to the reader.

Finally, the first 50 pages of a novel are what agents and editors will use to determine if your book is worth publishing. In a real sense, your first 50 pages are the sales tool that will hopefully lead to a publishing contract.




What is the best advice you would give to unpublished novelists?

Be encouraged! If you are passionate about your story, there is now—because of the publishing revolution we’re in—an outlet for that novel. It may not be the traditional path you’ve heard about, but no longer can the publishing power bloc say that the story you’re passionate about isn’t “right” and therefore can’t be published.

Discover how you learn, and then learn as much as you can about writing fiction well. If you learn best through books, read lots of books. I have written some that might help you, actually. If you learn best by doing, then be sure you’re writing, and look into critique groups or critique partners for some feedback. If you learn best by hearing or seeing someone teach, then go to writers conferences or avail yourself of online training resources like The Fiction Academy.

You’re the only person who is going to push you to improve, but you owe it to yourself and your readers to make that effort. It’s possible now to get published (or to self-publish) even if you haven’t put in the hard work to raise your fiction craftsmanship, but the cream will eventually rise to the top—and the rest will sink. So find out how you best learn, and learn all you can.


Give a short preview of your class, “The First 50 Pages,” which you will teach at Write-to-Publish.

It wouldn’t be possible to cover my entire Writer's Digest book The First 50 Pages in the time we have at the conference, so I’m going to choose the sub-topics I think will make the most impact on novelists as they contemplate the opening pages of their novels.

There’s no formula for writing a novel, so don’t look for “Do X by page 10 and have your first Y by page 27” type stuff, though I will give some suggestions. Nor is the way I’ll be teaching this material the only way to write a great opening to a novel. But the tools and emphases I provide will result in a flexible system for creating books that hook the reader, get the novel going correctly, and set the book up to succeed.


Tell us a little about the publishing company you founded, Marcher Lord Press.

Many novelists, myself included, got into writing because they said, “No one is writing the kinds of novels I want to read, so I guess I’d better do it myself.” That’s also how I decided to form my own publishing house: “No one is publishing the sort of fiction I want to read, so I guess I’d better do so myself.”

I spent over a decade inside the Christian publishing industry trying to promote Christian speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction, etc.) and not having much success. When I left my last post, I had seen how publishing worked and had a theory for why Christian spec fiction didn’t sell well in Christian bookstores. Better, I had the inklings of an idea for what the ultimate publishing company that could reach those fans would look like.

So over the next couple of years, I refined the business model, prayed a lot, and eventually launched the company, in October 2008. Now, with several Christy Awards and ACFW Carol Awards under our belts, plus numerous positive reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, we’re going strong and loving being at the forefront of Christian speculative fiction publishing.


Will attendees at Write-to-Publish be able to meet with you if they write in the genre you publish?

Of course! Actually, I love talking to writers of any kind, so anyone can meet with me. But I do like to listen to Christian speculative novelists pitching their story ideas. They’re my kind of people!

28 comments:

  1. I read this blog through Google Reader. Love the posts. I've been hearing about Jeff and Marcher Lord Press for a while now. It's great to see him succeed. I hope to at least see him at Write to Publish this summer. I'm going for sure, but don't write his genre, so I don't need to pitch anything to him. I would love to take his class, though. I love being around great-idea people.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been taking Jeff's classes over at Bestseller Society - would love to have the book! Will subscribe, too! hosannahighest at hotmail dot com.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Typically, I'll give a book three chapters to catch my interest. If I'm not hooked by then, I discard the book. So I agree with your 50 pages philosophy.

    I also like looking at successful authors' first sentence.

    I subscribe to the belief that the purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The purpose of the second sentence is to get the reader to read the third sentence. And so on, until they're hooked.

    Would love to win the book!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I finished reading Gerke's The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction a few weeks ago, and it is the most precise, helpful, and entertaining book I have read about any fiction writing. If you are unable to attend a conference, I've come to the conclusion that Mr. Gerke's guidance is the next best thing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yeah! Another Jeff book! Better get my Post-It flags ready...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I recently read Jeff's "The Art & Craft Of Writing Christian Fiction", and it made a great impact. Straight forward, and practical. "The First 50 Pages" seems like a natural extension of that work. Sounds great. Looking forward to it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'd love to win this book. I can't remember where, but I read Jeff Gerke's writing tips and found them very helpful. I queried MLP with my first novel and am keeping my fingers crossed! Jeff and his authors seem like wonderful people!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've enjoyed the two books of Jeff's I bought, and the prodding by one of his pupils in my manuscript. Eyes will never hold anything again.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The First 50 pages are so critical ... Glad Jeff focused on them for this book. Haven't read this one yet, but I know it will be full of great advice. Jeff rocks.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just got my first publishing contract, and I know full well I couldn't have done it without Jeff Gerke's brutally honest and insightful coaching. Thank you, Jeff! I won't be at Write to Publish, but I'll see you at Realm Makers! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, Kristen, he is brutal! But Jeff has a lot of good insight :)

      Delete
  11. I'd love to win Jeff's book. It's on my to-read list. :)

    I also just signed up to follow your blog!

    lisa.godfrees [at] gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  12. I had the privilage of meeting Jeff in Canada a few years back. His words of encouragement and pat on my shoulder is why I've gotten as far as I have. Thank you for the wonderful interview Tammie! I so desperatly want to come to Realm Makers! I'm still trying to find a way to make it happen (who can pass up getting dressed up and staging mock battles?!?).

    I signed up to follow your blog Tammie! :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am one of those people who might read passed the first fifty pages. That is because I don't like to leave a book unfinished. Those books get set aside and picked up between books that have me engaged from page one. The less engaging books show me what not to do. They pale in comparison to the ones whose first fifty pages have me walking the streets with the characters.
    Tammie, I so enjoy following your blog. There is always something of value.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks for another encouraging blog and for the reminder of how imperative it is to polish and refine those first 50 pages of our novels. His book and class at WTP sound like valuable resources for perfecting our craft. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've heard nothing but good things about this book! Will follow your blog, too, Tammie. Would love to win this, as Jeff is right--you absolutely have to nail those first 50 pages. My email is heatherdaygilbert (at) gmail (dot) com.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I met Jeff at WTP years ago and took another class by him and had a very helpful meeting with him altho I don't write SF. He has a great grasp of story and characters for all genres. I have his book Plot and Character and recommend it, too. Yes, Tammie I did subscribe. My email is crmcc at setel dot com

    ReplyDelete
  17. Always looking for good writing craft books, and this looks like one of those. Please enter me for the chance to win this book. Thanks. writerpaula(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  18. I would love to win a copy of Jeff Gerke's book. I learn best by reading...

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jeff's book is definitely on my to-read list. Please enter me in the drawing. : )

    And I highly recommend The Bestseller Society, y'all!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I write Women's Fiction, not spec fiction, but still need a great first fifty pages!! Thanks for your give-away. I'd love to enter.

    Gail Kittleson

    ReplyDelete
  21. So, glad to see so many stopping by to leave a comment. Wish I could each of you a copy of the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tammie! Great blog topic. Since I too work at a public library, I will make a request to have them purchase Jeff's books. I do planning on making it out to WTP for a day or two and hope to see you both. Last year, I was in the newbie class with you and it was helpful.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for stopping by. Glad to see you can come to WTP again and glad the class helped.

      Delete
  22. I would love to have this book as well! I subscribed :).

    ReplyDelete
  23. I listened to Jeff's "the first 50 pages" web lecture offered by Writer's digest in 2011 and I learned a lot from it. It would be great to see what information is elaborated on in the book.

    P.S. I subscribed.

    ReplyDelete

Due to spam, I have gone to moderated comments. Your comment will be read as soon as possible. Thank you for commenting.