If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.
The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.
Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.
Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?
Pam: When they hit it’s nice. I feel that bang. But I’m not looking for that specifically. I’m looking at that first chapter as a whole to see lots of things like pacing, if I have a good handle on where the story is going, and overall writing ability.
Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?
Pam: You say dreams so I assume you mean waking up. I never read a waking up scene. Also 99.9% of prologues aren’t needed. Make sure you’re not using a prologue as a plot device to tell backstory or set up your world. If you’ve worked at your craft you can do that without a prologue.
Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?
Pam: The query and the sample pages. It also means you’re probably writing in a hot genre or a place my list needs to grow.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Pam: Repetition. Too much backstory. The plot isn’t moving at all if you’re telling me a lot of stuff and showing me nothing.
What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Voice always resonates with me first. Pacing is second. I always want a unique concept even if it’s on a story that’s been done a million times before. I want to get lost in your story.
Pam van Hylckama Vlieg started her literary career as assistant to Laurie McLean in early 2012. By April, Pam was promoted to Associate Agent at Larsen Pomada. In January of 2013 after selling twenty-one books in her first year of agenting Pam was promoted to agent. When Laurie McLean mentioned creating Foreword, Pam jumped at the chance to follow her mentor and create a new agency together.
Pam grew up in a sleepy little Podunk town in Virginia. She’s lived in the UK, several US states, and now resides in the Bay Area of California. She has two kids, three dogs, a cat bent on world domination, and five hedgehogs, she has only one husband. You can find her on Twitter.
Note: Pam is only accepting referral inquiries and submissions from writers she meets at conferences or requests via online events. Please query other Foreword agents. For submission details, check out the Foreword Literary website.