SPOTLIGHT FEATURE – Andrew James from Frog Literary Agency

SPOTLIGHT FEATURE – Andrew James from Frog Literary Agency

Good Morning!

I’m excited to share an interview with the wonderful Andrew James, founder and agent of Frog Literary Agency. Andrew founded Frog Literary in 2023, after 12 years working as a commissioning editor across the industry. This is extra exciting for queer authors, as this is the UK’s first literary agency solely dedicated to representing LGBTQIA+ writers and creators. It’s important to note that though Frog Literary only represents queer people, your writing does not need to have a queer focus.

Frog Literary is open to fiction and non-fiction, and they’re currently still eagerly accepting submissions. Andrew has already signed a handful of authors since starting his agency, including Mia Violet, Emma Morgan, TC Oakes-Monger, Hannah Nicholson, Daniel Harding, Emily Garside, Jasmine Andersson, and Louis Glazzard. We can’t wait to see what they work on together!

You can check out twitter for Andrew and Frog Literary to keep up to date with what the agency is working on.

We’re busy working on Andrew’s AgentMatch profile, but in the meantime you can find more information here.

Andrew James

Hi Andrew, thank you so much for speaking with us. We’re excited to hear more about your agency and what you’re looking for in submissions.

What brought you to agenting?

Queer representation is really important to me in terms of publishing, and agents are often the first contact with publishers as they’re pitching these projects. I believe that if we want diversity and more queer representation then this needs to be coming from agents, and it’s important that they are representative of society in terms of what they’re taking on. So, rather than going into another job as an editor and trying to do representation work there, I thought why not start at the beginning and try to get the books to the editors in the first place.

Your agency solely works with LGBTQIA+authors, and you’ve done a lot in your career to focus on the experience and opportunities for queer authors. What kinds of challenges do queer authors face in mainstream publishing, and how do you hope to change this?

I think one of the challenges would be the belief that queer books don’t sell as much, or that there’s not a big market for them. Publishers might think that LGBTQ+ books are only going to be read by LGBTQ+ people, which obviously isn’t true, but I think that’s the same belief for all types of books about marginalised groups. I think another issue is, because there isn’t a lot out there, publishers will be using the same sorts of books as comparisons, which reduces the diversity of the representation you’re getting, so a lot of the same tropes come up time and again, such as the coming out story or books about AIDS, and if a book covers something quite different then the publisher might be wary because there’s no track record of success. And this is certainly the case with lesser-known identities, like asexuality and pansexuality. And for some authors, their platform might be quite small and geared towards the community, so publishers may think that they can only reach a small pool of people, so it’s about trying to make them see that there is a bigger market for these kinds of books.

The other thing is that the people in power who are making the decisions may not be queer themselves, so they might not be inclined to acquire those stories or to really understand what is happening within communities and why it’s important. In those cases, it might be best to go towards imprint collectives that have those interests. And this just reduces the pool to which you can submit, and you might need to work a bit harder to convince them because they might not immediately understand.

As for Frog Literary and the focus on queer writers (but not necessarily queer stories), I wanted to create a space that was different from what I had previously experienced. Where I used to work I had been signing queer writers, but a lot of them would be limited in speaking about their own identity or topics, and while it is incredibly important that people do that, and you’re probably going to get a better story if the person writing it has direct personal experience, I also don’t want people to believe that’s all they can write about. So foregrounding queer voices in publishing and focusing on the people themselves, and not necessarily on the stories, is a big part of what I do.

What are the benefits of going with a smaller agency?

One would be dedication. I really want to make this work, so I’m going to throw everything I can behind it to get the best deals and really push them as much as possible. I want queer representation to change, so there’s no taking the easy route if it could be better. I also have personal experiences and a particular eye for topics that are needed, and because of this, certain books will stand out to me that maybe wouldn’t in amongst massive submissions with more generic big agencies. Another thing I always find with smaller agencies and imprints, or independent publishers, is that it’s more community focused. I feel like you all work together and support each other in a much closer way, which I think you might not get when going with someone bigger.

What’s at the top of your fiction wish list?

I’m trying not to be too prescriptive at the moment but in fiction, I would love to see: stories with a trans protagonist across literary, commercial and romance; historical fiction with queer characters; a novel about the impact of Section 28; stories that explore the complexity of gay lives that are not focussed on sex or AIDS; queer romance in general; experimental and inventive literary fiction; anything that takes an existing heteronormative trope/genre/story and queers it up.

What’s at the top of you non-fiction wish list?

In non-fiction, I’d be keen for some hard-hitting books on the current ‘gender wars’ – akin to The Transgender Debate by Shon Faye; books by and for asexual, demisexual and pansexual people; ideas on the future of LGBTQIA+ rights/identities; lesbian memoir and anthologies; and guidebooks for young people.

Is there any genre or theme you’d rather not receive?

We’re currently not accepting submissions for children’s, fantasy, horror, scripts, or poetry.
I think the key thing is that I want what I’m reading to have something different. Science fiction and fantasy are okay, but I find that a lot of things that come through feel like something I’ve seen or heard of many times before, and I want to see things moving in a different direction or doing something different, and that’s where I struggle with some genre submissions. Sometimes an author has a great idea but they’re not using it to the full potential, and in those cases I want them to step back and think about how the story can be taken in a more exciting direction, and not just settling for an easier or more simple narrative.

Anything that’s set in space or new worlds or kingdoms and things like that is not something I’m personally interested in. Unless it’s very intelligent and moving more towards literary fiction then it’s not for me. I’m not looking for anything that’s very stereotypical, like the coming out story at school where there’s lots of gossiping, because for me that’s not a very nice experience and I don’t really find it interesting or engaging to read. I’m sure other people may feel differently, but for me I think we’ve had enough coming out stories that follow the same narrative, and what we’re really looking for now is something new and nuanced that hasn’t been done before and is representative of something different.

What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?

At the moment a lot of my time is spent reading submissions, going through and seeing if there is anything that initially catches my eye and then moving that into another inbox to focus on more closely. I’ve requested quite a few full manuscripts, so I spend a lot of time reading through those and feeding back to the authors. I’ve had a lot of meetings with editors to let them know about the agency and to find out what they’re looking for, which is really helpful when I’m then going through submissions. I’ve been having a lot of calls with authors I’m potentially looking to take on and discussing the project, how it can be developed, and how agency representation and publishing works, because I’ve found that a lot of people don’t really understand what’s going on even with all the information out there, and so it’s something important for me to talk about with them. The rest of my focus is on building the brand and working on social media, liaising with sub-agents and tv agencies.

Once I have started signing clients the focus will shift and a lot of my time will be spent on developing pitches, pitching to editors, negotiations, and other contract-based things like that.

What do you want to see in a cover letter? And what do you hate?

I’m looking for someone who can really convey the story and the hook in an exciting way. I get a lot of submissions where they’re just telling me what the story is, which is fine because we do need to know, but I’d love if they could begin with a little bit of what’s going to draw me in and is different or unique and will grab me.

Sometimes I can find comparable titles difficult or misleading. On the one hand, they can be really useful, but often I may not have read the book they mention (and if I’m very interested I can always look it up but I couldn’t do that with every submission I read), and then sometimes they may not be accurate at all and then they lead you down the wrong path because you’re expecting one thing and it’s actually completely different. It’s nice to see someone who has really thought about where their book fits and how it differs from what’s out there and what the selling points are. Thinking about the market is really important, who your market is, and why they would want to read your book, and that involves stepping back from the creative side of publishing and thinking with a more business head which is hard to do but so useful.

Being really to the point with the plot and being succinct and clear with where it’s going and what the book is trying to say is another great skill. And also talk about why you’ve written the book and what goes on behind the book. I think it’s important to talk about it in the most accurate way, rather than just comparing it to something else, and not just blending the synopsis and cover letter as these are two different things.

Many times I will just go straight for the manuscript and not even read the synopsis, because often it does just come down to the writing, and if the writing isn’t up to scratch then there’s not really much you can do. It’s important then to choose the strongest section of your manuscript for the writing sample, whether that is the first three chapters or somewhere in the middle.

Another important thing is to address your cover letter to the agent you’re submitting to. When it isn’t it feels like they haven’t thought about why they’re submitting to an agent or agency and feels like not a lot of thought has been put in which makes it less engaging.

What are you looking for in the opening pages of a novel? What excites you?

For me I’ve found that it’s the voice that stands out most. What I’m leaning towards is something where I’m immediately drawn into the perspective, and something that has a particular style or voice that helps me to get a sense of the person and it feels unique and different. Writers like Damon Galgut, Lucy Ellman, Javier Marias, Cormac McCarthy or Patrick Modiano make me think of this as they all have such a distinctive style of writing, and it’s something I’m really drawn to.

What are you looking for in a non-fiction proposal that will jump out to you?

With non-fiction it’s about having that really clear concept of what you’re trying to do. What is the book saying, are the arguments clear, do you know where it sits in the market, are you aware of the readership. The structure may change but seeing what the book is going to contain and that it covers all bases is important at this stage. And again, seeing that personal connection, why is the person writing, and conveying that knowledge and passion is important. I think the first few pages need to be engaging in some way and show that unique voice that makes this book special.

What should the biographical note include in submissions?

Whether they’ve been published, and if so, where and how successfully. A bit more about the author’s background, if they’ve done creative writing programmes, workshops, readings, anything that would be useful for me to know. If someone has a platform, network, what their reach is or social media channels. I’m not going to sign someone just because they have 50,000 followers, but it’s useful to know going into it. Where they’re located, anything personal that connects them to the book, such as why they wrote it, if the storyline is based on something, the reason why they write.

Do you accept queries from authors based overseas or just in the UK? Does location matter?

I think as long as they write in English there isn’t anything that would stop me taking on someone who was based internationally, at least at the moment. So long as it’s well written and I can sell it, that’s the most important thing. When it comes to submitting to publishers it could be a slower process as they might be less keen to take on certain things, for example if a US writer is writing in a very US style, then UK publishers might hesitate, so it all just comes down to the ability for it to sell in the UK market.

What’s the etiquette regarding re-submitting when the original submission wasn’t ready? Is it possible to retract a submission that’s not ready, and should you tell the agent?

For me personally it isn’t a problem at the moment. I put the submissions I receive into a spreadsheet, and while it might be a little frustrating if I’ve already read it, it isn’t going to affect the process and you’re not going to be blacklisted. And when it comes to resubmitting, I would treat it as a new submission, mentioning that you’ve taken on board any suggested changes, and just being clear about what is different and why it’s stronger.

What’s your favourite thing about being an agent?

I would say that it’s being able to experience the diversity of the submissions I receive, across genre and writing styles. I’m actually quite picky when it comes to what I read personally, so I’ve been reading a lot of things I would never have picked up in a bookshop but have been enjoying, and it’s refreshing. It’s definitely opening my mind a bit and helping me to experience things I may not have otherwise, even if they’re not necessarily my cup of tea.

What are some of your favourite authors and books?

I really love writers like Alice Munro, Anita Brookner and Henry James, quite old-fashioned and literary but they have such distinctive voices and they’re so perceptive about the human condition. That’s what I love reading about, and I feel like when you read those books it really opens your mind, and you can connect to them on a very personal and human level. In terms of queer writers, I love Now and Then by William Corlett and its past and present structure as well as The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst. He writes about the gay experience quite differently, which is refreshing, because he doesn’t write about stereotypes and tropes, and even though it was a while ago when he first started it feels like he’s always been very fresh and new. I really love Japanese literature, and I feel like the aesthetic and culture infuse the writing as well in a very minimalist and pared-back way. A favourite from my youth is Iris Murdoch and the way she blends philosophy and big ideas with her writing. Her novels are funny, intelligent and have brilliant characters, and she was a pioneer when it came to queer representation. I think it’s also very important for writing to be believable. Something I recently read and loved was Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah. It really drew me in and was so well done. Everything about it, the world, the characters, the history was so believable, and it had a really distinctive style and voice.

What interests or passions do you have beyond the world of books? What do you love?

I love being outside and in nature. I grew up in the Dorset and Wiltshire countryside, so I love walking and there’s a real tradition of paganism and folklore in those counties and I love learning about the culture and history and visiting neolithic monuments. I love nature writing and gardens as well as doing crafty things. I might be doing taxidermy one weekend and wooden spoon whittling the next.

Any final words of advice for authors in the querying process?

If you can, it’s useful to have other people read your work who you don’t know so you can get really objective feedback. It can be so hard to do but finding writing groups or starting a blog is a great place to start. It’s a subjective industry and the people reading your work are the same as anyone in that they have their own interests and tastes, and while they’re obviously bringing a lot more in terms of market knowledge and things like that, in a lot of ways it does come down to enjoying a book and someone’s writing. Don’t be downhearted if someone gets back to you saying it wasn’t for them because we’re all readers at the end of the day and it doesn’t mean your book isn’t good. That is also why it helps to do your research and find an agent or agency that seems to be in sync with what you’re writing and what you’re trying to do. It might make the process a lot easier to really tailor your approach with agents rather than submitting to lots at a time.

If you’re struggling with your query letter and synopsis, do check out our free resources on our website. We have lots of info to help you on your way. Or, better still, if you’re a member with us, our lovely Writers Support team will be happy to offer you a free query letter review!

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