Book Review: The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke

Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers and Set Up Your Novel for Success. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest, 2011. Print.

Summary: A guide to writing a novel beginning that hooks readers.

Jeff Gerke writes fiction under the pseudonym Jefferson Scott but teaches at writers conferences and writes advice under his own name. I bought a few of his guidebooks on the recommendation of honest-to-published authors. This is the first I’m reviewing for my ongoing Book Project.

This book is divided into two sections, seemingly in reverse order: Part One: The Submission Process and Part Two: What Your First Fifty Pages Must Accomplish.

Part One presents an overview of publishing considerations. I found the chapter Three Bombs very helpful. Gerke explained problems that destroy a novel’s chances of being read: telling instead of showing, inconsistent point of view, and weak characters.*

Part Two is the real heart of the book, containing guidelines for writers in the process of creating their novels.  Although some topics were familiar from Writers’ Digest and writing blogs, Gerke has a gift for explaining clearly and succinctly. I particularly liked the attention paid to introducing the character’s workaday life and setting up “plants and payoffs” (things like character skills that will be important later in the novel).

I jotted down some of Gerke’s pithy comments that really struck me, like the following:

  • On introducing the protagonist and the antagonist: “Think of your character introductions as short stories, little standalone short films created for the purpose of presenting your main characters to the reader.” (93)
  • On world-building: “Establish normal before you violate normal.” (115)

However, the book’s greatest weakness is Gerke’s constant movie references. I expected more novel samples in a book about novels. In Chapter 8, for example, he refers to more than 25 movies by name, The Lord of the Rings (a book series adapted to films), and King Lear (by saying that the film Three Amigos “is no King Lear“!) He continues on the movie-heavy examples until the chapter The First Page, a topic which obviously forced his hand.

Book Project Conclusion: Gift for the Public Library

A slightly different version of this review is cross-posted at


For a quick preview, check out Gerke’s The First 50 Pages Checklist.

*Gerke’s solution to the problem of weak characters was to read a book about creating characters, preferably his. Fortunately, I already own such books – subjects for future reviews!