Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel has more than 20 years of experience in children’s book publishing and is co-founder of Full Circle Literary, a literary agency proudly representing authors, illustrators, and #ownvoices books since 2005. She represents picture books Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra and Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana-Martinez Neal; and middle grade novels such as The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. A proud Tejana from San Antonio, Stefanie is now based in San Diego. www.fullcircleliterary.com @fullcirclelit
What was your path into children’s books publishing and becoming an agent?
Would you believe it if I tell you Mad Libs? I am originally from Texas and while I grew up spending hours in public libraries, I never thought about how a book gets published. I moved to southern California for college and interned at publisher PSS!/Penguin. In addition to editorial work, I tested new Mad Libs with another intern. It was such fun and I decided publishing was for me! Next, I worked at Harcourt Children’s Books marketing team for 8 years. Janell Cannon’s Stellaluna was one of the first books I enjoyed promoting! After working at a west coast literary agency, I co-founded my own literary agency Full Circle Literary in 2005. By working in many different areas of children’s books, I discovered I loved helping authors and artists develop successful careers. I didn’t take the typical path to a career in publishing by enrolling in a publishing course or moving to New York. I made my own path into publishing. I’ve always been committed to discovering and developing new voices so that young readers everywhere, no matter where they live or who they are, find themselves in the pages of books.
You’ve been in children’s books for 20 years; what has been the biggest change from your perspective?
When I began working at Harcourt Children’s Books in the 1990s, I was the only Latina in the trade children’s books department based in San Diego, a city which is about 30% Latino. Fast forward 20+ years and I thought we would have made huge strides and that there would be Latinx/POC representation in all areas of publishing! In the 20+ years I’ve worked in children’s books, this is the biggest thing that has NOT changed.
I believe this is why the number of POC creators of children’s books remains unacceptably low year after year. According to the latest 2017 CCBC Multicultural Statistics, only 7% of all children’s books published in 2017 were by black, Latino, and Native writers combined.
Seeing so few writers and publishing professionals of color, I joined forces with another woman of color, Lilly Ghahremani, and together we co-founded Full Circle Literary in 2005. Today at Full Circle Literary, more than half of our agents, authors, and illustrators successfully publishing children’s books identify as diverse and/or people of color. All of us in children’s books need to ask ourselves what we are doing to diversify editorial, design, marketing, sales, and especially book creators.
What draws you to a manuscript and makes you say ‘I have to represent this book’?
When I meet a character in a manuscript who won’t leave me, I know I have to represent the author. There is a feeling when the main character “almost feels like a real person” and I can’t stop thinking about the character. There she is when I sit at my desk, there she is when I walk my dog, there she is when I pick up at soccer practice. When I read the first chapters of Celia C. Perez’s The First Rule of Punk, I saw the main character Malú in the girl at my coffeeshop with her colorful notebook stacks and in myself when my mom and grandma blasted Vicente Fernandez music in the early morning. Malú felt like someone I knew all my life — yet I had not yet seen her in a middle grade book. So glad young readers can now meet Malú in Celia’s middle grade debut!
What is on your current manuscript wish list?
Full Circle has had some exciting middle grade debuts this year, and I warmly welcome middle grade manuscripts exploring themes of identity, family, community, and social justice. I’d love to find a middle grade with a touch of magic or a manuscript that explores the joys of life such as cooking or family traditions. I’ve also had the honor of working with exciting author-illustrator debuts by SCBWI members Juana Martinez-Neal and Susie Ghahremani, and I’d love to bring more women of color illustrators and author-illustrators to children’s books.
Please follow our submissions form on FCL website, www.fullcircleliterary.com. My submissions will be open from September 15 – December 15, 2018.