Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Getting the Call: Ami Allen-Vath

This post has me jumping up and down, because ... because I had a hand in making a writer's dreams come true!! Ami found this agent through one of my Query Questions Interviews!!! But here is the story in her own words:

In March of 2013, I wrote my very first query for my YA Contemporary novel, PROM B*TCH.

I was all, Hey this thing is pretty good—it totally makes me want to read this book! But, just to make sure, I posted it on the query critique forum of AQC, Agent Query Connect. I prepared myself for a ginormous sea of query high fives and people posting things like, “send that shizz out—like yesterday!” Ummmm, nope.

Wait, whaaat? Oh, gosh. Okay. Gulp. My query wasn’t ready. Not even close. It wasn’t even a bad one yet. That’s because it wasn’t even to the status of being an actual query. It was more like I took a synopsisy vomit and named it “Query.” There was a whole lotta “Hey this is gonna be fun and crazy cuz this happens, then this, then this, and whoa-whoa-whoa--then THIS! And you can read to find out what else!”

After a whoooole lot of revisions, I sent it off. I started with a batch of eight or so, and then, feeling more confident when a few full requests came in the first week, I sent off another handful. Every time I pressed send, I’d get a little high—and a feeling of sheer throat-punching panic. Wait—did I send it to the right address? Did it go through? Did I use the wrong last name and was the personalization portion proof read enough times? Lemme go back and check.

Erp. I did mess up an agent’s last name once. I changed the personalization but kept the most recently queried agent’s last name. I sent a new one.

I started reading “How I got my Agent Stories” like nobody’s business. Looking for inspiration and well, just to know “what to expect when you’re expecting to get an agent offer.” It was the same kind of deal when I was trying to get pregnant a few years back. Reading everything I could read, looking for secret handshakes and averages and overall, hope. I started to read more about writers getting an agent after shelving one to five books and/or after 100 and some queries. Wow. That kind of knocked my bra off. I wondered how high I’d query until putting my ms aside. How would I know when to quit? And wait, Are there even 100 agents to query? Or are people just querying every single agent in the universe?

Turns out there are that many agents and a few hundred more. And on paper, as far as I knew, reputable, good ones. Currently, there are 1285 agents on QueryTracker and 452 that are looking for YA. It’s up to you to do further research to find out if those agents are interested in your genre and the other hidden gems your manuscript may hold. I used QueryTracker obsessively religiously to keep track of and research agents. I’d also read about agents from forums and blog posts. Once I’d check out the agency website, determined that they accept YA Contemporary, and read maybe an interview or two, I’d add them to my list. When it got time to send queries, that’s when I’d do further research so I could make my final decision on whether or not to send and how to personalize. By the time I crawled out of the query trenches, I had a list of almost 149 agents.

This was my first completed manuscript. My first query trench visit. Which, for me, meant every rejection, especially in the beginning, was a cause to go absolute bananas for alarm. Should I re-write my beginning, maybe tweak the ending? Or just burn it? Come on, which one? It took me a while to really get what subjectivity meant. But, there were a couple rejections that also had some great feedback that wasn’t just subjective. I also had a really helpful and incredibly encouraging critique from Brent Taylor of Teen Eyes Editorial. In the end, I did revise my manuscript a bit. Well, not in the end, in the middle. A few times in-between query batches and then I re-worked my first pages one final time after Write On Con. I also revised my query with the help of the WOC community.

Then something happened. Six months after my query journey began, I received an offer. From a publisher. Wait, what? I thought you’re not supposed to submit to publishers and agents simultaneously? Well, at the time, I didn’t know there was any controversy about that. But, I think as long as you’re informed about all the reasons to and not to, (please do your research) then ultimately, it’s your choice. But you should only query and submit to those you’d seriously consider if they make an offer. Don’t send your query or work off to someone you know you’d never say yes to.

Offer week. What to do, what to do?  Once again, the writing community came through on this one. I would’ve been a total mess if I didn’t have a few agented author friends to agonize and freak out with behind the scenes. Two had even dealt with the same scenario as mine. There were a whole lotta Twitter DMs and emails going back and forth.
So, four agents already had my manuscript. In the end, my “OFFER RECEIVED” email to most recently queried agents got me two more requests.  It also got me a lot more rejections, but a lot of really gracious and congratulatory emails too. My inbox seemed to be overflowing with a lot more of those subjectivity emails too, with the manuscript and the query/sample pages. I had to explain it to my husband in layman’s terms. “No dude, they’re not being jerks. It’s like a girl dates you and thinks you’re hot but kind of boring. Or she loves hanging out with you but just can’t see herself bringing you home for a lifetime of shenanigans.” Sigh. “It all has to click,” I told him. I tried to be cool, but I was really nervous that it wouldn’t click for the last agents with my manuscript. I didn’t have a single dream agent per se, but I will admit this: The last four agents who had my manuscript were all ranked number ones by me on my QueryTracker chart. I was feeling that whole “just an honor to be nominated” kind of thing. Yeah but still: pick me PICK MEEEE! I felt really, really lucky and honored that they had my manuscript in their hands, but also panic attacky as hell. One agents bowed out at the end of the week because even another week wasn’t enough time for her to get to my ms. I was bummed, but it goes to show that just because you have an offer, not all agents will go nuts to read that ms overnight. Agents are really busy so a time crunch is also another reason to say no. (Cue: Queen’s Under Pressure).

The more I thought about my initial offer, I really, really wanted an agent to help me out on this decision. Okay, let me be honest, I needed an agent’s guidance like nobody’s business. Because, once I read over the offer and started doing more research…SURPRISE! I didn’t know anything about rights and royalties and percentages and negotiating additional book options. Turns out I didn’t feel qualified and didn’t really want to take twenty-four crash courses in publishing contracts and hire a lawyer.

There was a lot of soul searching over the week. And a lot of ice cream eating. But finally, the wait was over. After an agonizing weekend, I got an email from Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. It popped up on my screen first thing Monday morning and she was requesting a call. THIS WAS IT! Wait? THE CALL? Was I being presumptuous? What if it was a friendly rejection or an R&R? But alas, there was a very cryptic clue in this email. I didn’t even have to read it over a million times or send it to a friend to help me psychoanalyze. After saying she’d love to schedule a call, it literally said “(hint: I’d like to offer representation.)” And there was a smiley face! Whaaaaaat? As many times as I dreamed about seeing this email, it was a shock. It was clean and clear, and…so positive. There was no “But I just didn’t connect” or “I’m sure another agent will see it differently.”

EEEEEEK. I squealed the news to my toddler and texted my husband at work. Then, I scheduled the call like a pro--after my son got home from school and while my daughter would be napping.

I wish I could say the call was calm and cool and I was chill as ice while asking the twenty some questions I had on the list I made months ago. Not even close. The first time I called, it went right to voicemail. The second time I only heard every third word until I had to ask her to call me back because of a bad connection. It’s not easy listening to “loved—au—erp--representation.” And then finally when we talked for real, my throat felt tight, and my voice was all shakey like it was tenth grade all over again and I was talking to my crush *Jason Murphy. (*not his real name) Also, it was very much like my wedding. It went by so fast and I was so not in the moment although I wanted to be. I couldn’t think or speak or remember any of the questions even though they were right in front of me. I’ve been in a bunch of plays and have led numerous business meetings and client presentations for my past sales job, so I don’t know where this came from. Oh wait, I do. When ever had I been thissuperclose to the start of making the first dream I’ve ever had come true? Never. I can’t even.

Victoria said she loved Prom B*TCH, and thought it was funny and authentic and most importantly, she wanted to rep me and my career—not just the one book. And that alone is a dream come true. I accepted Victoria’s offer the next day. Since THE CALL, I’ve had more questions answered (with a less shaky voice), a very lovely welcoming email from the head of the agency, and a phone call that had me high fiving myself afterwards for having such a thoughtful, sharp, and on it agent.

I’m excited to continue this journey and want to say thanks to all my writerly friends and connections for ALL THE HELP in ALL THE CAPACITIES. And super special thanks to Michelle Hauck for her interview that led me to query Victoria in the first place.

Queries: 96
Requests: 19 (13 Full/6 Partial)
Offers: 2 (1 pub/1 rep)

Time spent in Query Trenches: 6 months & 3 days.


Ami Allen-Vath

Ami Allen-Vath writes YA Contemporary and lives along the lively shores of NJ with her husband, two children, and their dog, Yoda.  Aside from reading and writing, she loves acting, painting, vacations, comedy, and the Spring. She hates cilantro, birds flying around with their flappity wings, and when guys break out cartoon impressions. 

You can follow Ami on twitter at @amilouiseallen and on her blog


  1. Congratulations Ami. Your story is really very inspiring.
    I'm surprised at the conversion rate though. It means that even when the book is good, four out of five agents would reject your book. Authors, remember that figure.

    Carry on, Ami :)

  2. What an inspiring post! I remember your story from WOC, and other sites where you discussed keeping the title, etc. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Best of luck with your story!

  3. This is fantastic! Congratulations! Always exciting to read how I got my agent stories. :)

  4. Congrats, Ami. And thanks for sharing your story and giving the rest of us hope. :D

  5. Awesome! Congrats. I love reading these. I know how you feel. I signed with an agent a few weeks ago!

  6. Ami! So excited for you!!! Congratulations!

  7. Congratulations, Ami!

    And yay for helping someone find their lobster, Michelle!

  8. Thanks so much you guys! See what I mean about how supportive the writing community is?! Yes, Martha you did read about me stressing about my title! My agent said she loves it and it works, so for now we're keeping it. (yay!) ; )

  9. Congrats, Ami. What a wonderful story. Michelle you're amazing too.

  10. I totes remember your query from WOC, it was the first one I read because I loved the title, caught my attention right away. Congrats! I love reading stories like this :)