Sunday, November 9, 2008

RichWriters Interview with Full Circle Literary Agent, Stefanie Von Borstel

Jeff Rivera:                              Okay we are ready to rock and roll now.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Great, sounds good.


Jeff Rivera:                              We are in shape. So just to remind you, this article is going to be…there is gong to be two articles in Media Bistro, one is going to be regarding Latinos in book industry and then the second one is going to be about editors and what editors wish that authors would send more of.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Great.


Jeff Rivera:                              So we will do that one first so what I will just do is we will try just start off with some basic questions just your first and last name and then like your official title.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Okay, I am Stefanie Von Borstel, a literary agent with Full Circle Literary agency based in San Diego California. I am co-founder of the agency which represents both children's and adult books.


Jeff Rivera:                              Awesome. And so how does it all begin, I mean how did you become an agent?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               I actually came from the publishing side. I started interning when I was in college at a branch of Penguin which was called Price Stern Sloan in Los Angeles. As an intern, my very first job was to go through slush pile and to test Mad Libs, which you might remember from long car trips when you were young.  One of my duties was to test those before they were published and I thought to myself, "Oh, this is a lot of fun -- I like publishing."


After working on the editorial side, I then moved over to Harcourt where I worked in their marketing department for seven years before then turning to agenting. So I have worked in a different areas of publishing and I like to share my expertise with new authors as they approach the publishing process.


Jeff Rivera:                              Now I was reading I believe in your bio that you have like a marketing background. I am kind of interested in that process of your agency that you not only represent them but also have the expertise in terms marketing.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Yes. During the acquisitions process, people from the sales and marketing teams and other departments are brought in as part of the decision process . I have been on that side of the table and I know how to best present book information and the best persuasive case to take on a new project. Part of what we do as an  agency is  get our submission materials in their best publishing package before we submit to the editor---trying to make the editor's best case for the book. Then once the contract is signed and the book is out, our job does not end there. e try to advise our authors to do all they can to really market and sell their own work.


                                                I try to help champion the book with the marketing and sales teams, as best we can.  I use my expertise in, the timing, the information they need and really what needs to get done, when, including things like author questionnaires and getting contact list and following up with publicity and so on. . Hopefully that has helped our authors.


Jeff Rivera:                              Oh I can just imagine definitely. If you are debut novelist or nonfiction writer. A lot of people believe that once they get the book sold, the job is done but you have this kind of interesting background that allows people to be able to see maybe put him in marketing and plan together and what not so that they can push their book forward a little bit probably easier than someone who is not prepared.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Exactly. And specifically with the Latino markets, we want to reach, of course, Latino readers but also the mainstream audiences. So we kind of do double duty there and it is a lot of fun.


Jeff Rivera:                              That is great.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               I enjoy the marketing side, so I love keeping involved.


Jeff Rivera:                              That is awesome. So now, like when you selecting a writer to represent or considering…I am sure you get tons and tons and tons of submissions everyday and every week, what really makes someone standout? First from, let us say, from the point of view of the letter, I like you to take a look at this.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               On the fiction side, it is really the writing. It is hard to kind to put your finger on that but really kind of a distinctive way or unusual way of telling a story that has not been told. On the nonfiction side it is a bit more about the author profile and what they have done and who  they are known to, Where they have been published or what  kind of exposures they have . o their target market. We find things like websites and speaking engagements and publishing credits are a plus. Anything that shows the publisher that they have a guaranteed audience in some way is always a plus that helps on both sides. So like you said the job of the writer is never done. It is not just the writing. It is 50% writing and 50% getting the word out about yourself.


Jeff Rivera:                              What turns you off? What type of submissions that you do receive that if you receive one more of those you are just going to barf?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               I guess the main thing is we have a website and readers are welcome to visit there to find out the types of books we represent. We also go to writers conferences throughout the year. But one of the things that I find surprisingly is that people submit projects that we do not represent. For example, we do not represent screenplays, science fiction or genre fiction, but we end up getting a lot of submissions, believe it or not, on these types of books. As agents, we want to connect with writers who are representing things that we know we can represent well.


I think if authors really do their homework and research --- which agents are publishing what --- it does standout in a good way. When authors mention another book we represent it shows me that they have taken an extra step there to get familiar with the type of work that we do.


Jeff Rivera:                              And what do you find is selling now? Like what is selling like hotcakes?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Well, one are that we're working quite a bit on is bilingual children's books and while the picture book market has been tight, the bilingual area is still continuing to grow and there is more publishers wanting to publish more in this area. We represent many Latino authors including, Monica Brown and Rene Colato Lainez and Carmen Tafolla, Diana Lopez and others that are writing in this area and doing very well right now.


                                                On the adult side we are doing a bit more nonfiction right now. We have actually had a great success in the craft market as well and the green living/environmental area.


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes. I see that a lot even in terms of journalists that are asking for stories are always about greenness and green…so it is kind of interesting to see that kind of phenomenal, which is I do not believe is going to be just a trend. I would like to believe it is going to be a way of life for people, too.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Yes, I hope so. We have a new book out called I Love Dirt which is a parenting guide to getting your kids outside to enjoy the wonders of nature. This is just a type of book I love to work on. It has a great positive message for people and the environment, so I am looking forward to doing more books like this one in the future.


Jeff Rivera:                              So let us talk about platform for example. First of all, introduce what are the platforms specifically and if I am starting from a scratch, how do I create one?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               That is a good question. A lot of times when we attend writers' conference or speak to new authors, they say, "Well, once I have the book published then I will start booking events, start a website, and do all these things,". It is actually on the contrary, publishers want to partner with somebody who is already doing those things. So I suggest that authors, in whatever subject area they are working in, begin to get their name out in as many ways as they can. Start from the small to the large. If you have access to large professional groups that is great but you can also start with places like your community center or local library or learning annex classes.


                                                A web presence is always great. Blogging is also a great way to get your name out there and start a following. N online presence is especially important in the children's book area where the audience is teachers and  teens who are online in record numbers.


Publishing credits are also great and again you can start small and keep moving up from there. We have a team of parenting writers who actually started writing a column about how to have fun with movies and make movie-going an interactive family experiene.  They started writing for their local free parenting magazine, and now they are in over 30 parenting journals every month with the readers up at about three million.. So every little bit counts and my advice is just to get started in the littlest way you can and go from there.


Jeff Rivera:                              Well, let me ask you this, Stefanie. If I am writer and I have a choice between Full Circle, William Morris and the other and something else, why should I choose Full Circle?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Well, as I mentioned a bit of our expertise is really providing service through the whole process with writers. We pride ourselves on offering a little bit more than other agencies as well as a hopefully well-rounded experience for writers from beginning to end.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay. So I just have two more questions for you. Let us talk about clients from hell and what makes the clients from hell that you…or what have you heard that really irritates an agent that does not make a great working relationship. Let us start with that.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               I think one of the key things when working with a client is communication. One of the things that does happen sometimes in agency relationships is that either authors are not sure how to keep the lines of communication open and this involves when to really and how often to contact your agent. I suggest  talking about how you like to communicate by email, by phone, etc. because everybody is different.




Jeff Rivera:                              Okay. The last question I want to ask you is what is your ethnic background?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               I am Mexican American. I am originally from San Antonio, Texas and now live in San Diego, California.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay. You know Andy Avila [ph] is also from San Antonio?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Yes.


Jeff Rivera:                              You know her?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               She is from Texas, too. Yes. She is from, I think, Del Rio but I know her and she is actually a good friend.


Jeff Rivera:                              I think her brother was in San Antonio or something like that. She actually acquired my first novel.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Oh, really?


Jeff Rivera:                              Yes, she is a sweetheart. So how does it feel like to be really kind of known as a Latino hero in book publishing?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Well you know when I started in publishing over a decade ago there were so few Latinos in publishing and hardly any representation in books.…I am actually excited to see that has  grown quite a bit and I know several Latinos that are now in publishing. I think it has a ways to go, but it is exciting to see a bit of growth in the last 10 years in a positive direction. I enjoy working specifically with Latino writers as a Latino myself because I feel like there are so many stories yet to be told. One of our authors who does picture book biographies of famous Latinos and has one about Garcia Marquez and Celia Cruz and one up coming about Pele, The King of Soccer. These are people who are so well-known but there has never been a book written about them for children. Until now.


                                                So it is wonderful that Monica Brown has been the first to publish these stories. She is one example of how Latinos are getting a little bit more exposure in publishing today. Little by little though.poco a poco. There are still many stories to tell.


Jeff Rivera:                              Well, thank you so much Stefanie. I really appreciate that and if I have any additional questions, is it alright if I email you?


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Of course. I will be happy to answer any questions.


Jeff Rivera:                              And then what I will do also if it is alright, if I ever hear any other journalist who are working on stories about agents are need or whatever, I would be more than happy to forward your information to them so you can contact them and what not if you are open to that.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Okay that will be great. That is okay.


Jeff Rivera:                              Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Well, thank you so much.


Jeff Rivera:                              And I will send you information about when or where this will…and everything.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Okay, Thanks so much.


Jeff Rivera:                              Thank you so much, Stefanie.


Stefanie Von Borstel:               Okay. Have a good day. Bye-bye.


Jeff Rivera:                              Okay.