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Nov 17, 2020

Agent Spotlight Series: Annie Bomke

A warm welcome to literary agent Annie Bomke! Annie has over a decade of experience helping authors succeed. Her books include Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver, winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and nominated for a Lammy Award, Strand Critics Award, Barry Award and Anthony Award, and the Barnes & Noble bestselling Poppy McAllister cozy mystery series by Libby Klein. She has edited a wide range of projects—from hard-nosed business books to otherworldly historical novels. Authors have called her the pH test for good writing, and a bedrock for literary quality control. 

Annie has loved the publishing industry since her position as an Editorial Assistant at Zoetrope: All-Story, a literary magazine founded by Francis Ford Coppola. She explored her love of books managing Alcala Gallery, an art gallery and rare bookstore, and even had a brief stint as a technical writer for a Department of Defense contractor.

Annie spends her free time reading, going for walks in the park, and dancing. Her favorite authors include Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Tana French, and Paul Auster.

CM: Tell us two truths and one lie about you.
Annie: 
- The Odyssey is my all-time favorite book.  (This is the lie.  I hate The Odyssey with a passion to block out the sun.)
- I don’t know how to ride a bike.
- As a small child, I was so neurotic that I wouldn’t leave the house if my socks didn’t match.

CM: An agent-author relationship is all about the people. What attributes do your best client relationships share?  
Annie: The most important thing in an agent-author relationship is honest, respectful communication.  Part of this means being open to the other person’s perspective.  That doesn’t mean I expect clients to agree with me on all the feedback I offer them.  It means that if they disagree, I would want them to communicate why and offer possible alternative ways to approach the issue.  

I also love swapping book and movie/TV recommendations with clients.  I’ve heard about so many cool shows and books from my authors.

CM: How many authors do you represent? How has your author list changed over time?
Annie: Right now, I have 22 clients.  While there are certain genres I gravitate towards (like mysteries and historical fiction), over time I’ve found myself broadening the list of genres I represent.  For instance, last year I sent out the first memoir, interior design book and horror novel I had ever represented.  If you had asked me a year before if I had any plans to work on those genres, I probably would’ve said no, but the right projects came along that made it easy to say yes.

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers?
Annie: I am very hands-on.  I usually go through anywhere from two to eight drafts of a manuscript before I send it out.  I’m a compulsive grammar-corrector, so my comments always cover copyediting as well as big picture stuff, like character development, plot and writing.  


CM: Are there any virtual events you recommend for writers in the querying trenches? 
Annie: I am a huge fan of Twitter pitch parties.  The biggest one is probably #pitmad, which happens four times a year, but there are also smaller pitch parties (often based on genre) that are worthwhile too.  Basically, writers post tweets pitching their books in 280 characters, and agents peruse the pitches, requesting sample pages of any that catch their eye.  It’s a great way for authors to get the attention of multiple agents at once, and to have agents requesting that you contact them (instead of the other way around).  I love Twitter pitch parties because they help me find projects that are very targeted to my interests.  I’ve found a lot of clients through them.

There are also a lot of virtual writers’ conferences going on this year with COVID that allow you to pitch your book to agents from the comfort of your own home.

CM: How important is voice in a query?
Annie: Voice is probably the biggest thing I look for in a submission.  For me, voice comes down to writing that a) feels like it’s from the point-of-view of a real person, b) offers me a unique image or a fresh way of thinking of something, and c) makes me feel something.  In other words, it has depth, nuance and personality, and it provokes an emotional response in me.  It’s a tricky thing to achieve, and VERY, VERY subjective.
 
CM: How is your agency addressing the need for diversity and inclusion in publishing?
Annie: While I’ve always sought to represent diverse authors, lately I have been looking for more active ways to do this.  Part of this has been requesting diverse submissions via Twitter and my MSWL page.  I have also been searching through genre hashtags during Twitter pitch parties to find books by diverse authors more easily.  For instance, #pitmad has introduced a #BVM hashtag (#BlackVoicesMatter) that Black authors can include in their pitches, and I will browse through that hashtag before looking at any others.  (They also offer #POC and #LGBTQ hashtags that I look at as well.)  And I participate in #DVpit, a Twitter pitch party for diverse voices, founded by agent Beth Phelan.

I have also been more mindful about representing #OwnVoices books.  I am very hesitant to work on a book with a diverse protagonist that isn’t #OwnVoices, because there will always be a question of how representative the book really is.
 
CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Annie: That we’re heartless machines or that we enjoy rejecting authors.  No one enjoys giving or receiving a rejection, but it is a necessary part of publishing.  Even though agents have a lot of experience rejecting authors (most agents reject at least 90% of what they receive), we’re not fully immune to the sting of receiving or giving a rejection.  I’ve felt sick to my stomach writing rejection letters, yet I know it was ultimately the right decision for me.  

The submission process involves a lot of waiting to hear back from agents, and generally, if an author does hear back, they get a form letter.  So I think a lot of authors feel like they and their book are treated like a cog in a machine, almost like no one reads their submission.  It’s a very impersonal process, so I think sometimes authors forget that agents are people—people with personal preferences, quirks, chapped lips, mortgages.  They’re looking for books that they love.  I always tell authors that when I read a query, I don’t make a value judgment about whether or not it’s a “good” book.  I’m looking for projects that appeal to me specifically (and that I believe I can sell to a publisher).  Publishing is a deeply personal industry, which makes it a deeply subjective industry.  

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Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Adult and YA fiction: commercial and literary fiction, upmarket fiction, mysteries (from hilarious cozies to gritty police procedurals and everything in between), historical fiction, women’s fiction, psychological thrillers, literary/psychological horror, magical realism.
  • Nonfiction: Self-help, business, health/diet, cookbooks, memoir, relationships, current events, true crime psychology, and narrative nonfiction. 
  • I'm especially looking for books that feature diverse characters.
What you’re not interested in:
  • Fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi, romance, screenplays, novellas, poetry, middle grade, chapter books, and picture books.
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2 Client Examples

Crooked Lane Books - 2020
Skyhorse Publishing - 2020
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Query Tips

Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

Dos:
  • Make sure you show the primary conflict and rising action in your query.  Many queries that I get make the plot sound passive, or not active enough to keep readers invested in the story, so make sure the conflict is front and center.
  • Include comp titles in your query.  It shows you’ve done your research and you know where your book fits in the market.
  • Give the agent the submission package they ask for in their submission guidelines, whether it’s just a query or a query plus a certain number of sample pages.  It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, yet it makes a big difference in showing agents that you can be professional.  You want to treat querying an agent with the same level of professionalism as applying for a job.  One of my pet peeves is when authors send me an informal email telling me they’re looking for an agent and asking if I’m interested in learning more.  They haven’t sent me the submission package I ask for on my website or told me enough about their book for me to know if I’m interested.  
  • Make sure your name and the agent’s name are spelled correctly.  Again, it sounds so obvious, but I’ve seen authors misspell or not include their own names plenty of times (and had my last name misspelled so often I started keeping track of all the spellings)!
Don'ts:
  • If an agent has asked for sample pages, don’t send them a link to your sample writing.  Most agents are wary about clicking on strange links (myself included).  And you’re showing that you can’t follow their directions, which will make agents question your professionalism.
  • Open your query with an explanation of why you decided to write the book.  Just launch straight into the plot.
  • Write the query from the POV of a character.  This is confusing for agents, because we’re left trying to separate the content of the book from the character’s perspective.
  • Respond to a rejection letter by asking the agent to recommend other agents to submit your project to.  I don’t keep track of what other agents are looking for, so I can’t make any recommendations off the top of my head.  Also, I typically don’t have time to respond to authors once I’ve turned them down.  
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Submission Guidelines:
For all fiction submissions, please include a query letter, synopsis, and the first two chapters of your manuscript pasted in the body of the email.
For all nonfiction submissions, please include a query letter and proposal.

You can email submissions to submissions@abliterary.com, or mail them to the following address: Annie Bomke Literary Agency, P. O. Box 3759, San Diego, CA 92163.
Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with all hard copy submissions. Annie Bomke Literary Agency will read your material and respond to you within 6-8 weeks of submission.