Editor / Agent Spotlight

Meet Literary Agent Saritza Hernández

We’re thrilled to welcome agent Saritza Hernández of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency to  From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Known as the first literary agent to represent marginalized creators in the digital publishing space, Saritza is a self-proclaimed geek who loves escaping into worlds and stories from all walks of life. She represents writers and illustrators for picture books, middle grade, young adult, and adult (fiction and nonfiction), and specializes in romance and young adult fiction by and for diverse audiences. Below, Saritza tells MUF contributor Andrea Pyros about her favorite — and least favorite — parts of being an agent, what a typical day is like, and her advice to “be the hero of your story and change the world in the process.”

Literary agent Saritza Hernández

Mixed Up Files: How did you become an agent? Were you always interested in the publishing industry?

Saritza Hernández: I am a lifelong student of literature. I’ve always gravitated towards books and as a child would have a book with me everywhere I went. My grandfather gave me a manual typewriter when I was 9 and I swore I was going to be a writer, a reporter (Boricua Lois Lane at your service) or a poet. But I had no idea that one could work IN publishing. I didn’t really understand what book publishing was until we moved to Orlando, Florida, and my sixth-grade class went on a field trip to tour the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich buildings. At the time, they had a giant press where books were being printed. I think they were workbooks, but it was such a cool process that when I got home, I told my mom I would one day work there. 20+ years later, I got my first job in publishing as an Administrative Assistant at Harcourt School Publishers and worked in almost every department at one point or another over the next 18 years, moving up and learning more with each job.

When a friend of mine was looking to get published, I helped her write a query letter. In the process of researching literary agents (and what they did), I found that there were only a few BIPOC literary agents and even fewer editors who identified with any marginalization. As ebooks became popular, many underrepresented voices opted to self-publish or were being relegated to micro-presses with very little support. I saw a need and decided to fill it by looking for mentorship. I sent out a tweet asking to connect with someone who would be willing to answer my questions. Lori Perkins of the L. Perkins Agency eventually responded and, after a 2-hour phone call, offered to mentor me remotely. I didn’t think I could be part of the publishing industry living in Orlando, Florida, but Lori saw something in me. Without the remote internship opportunity she created, I would not be here today.

MUF: Tell us about being “the first literary agent to represent marginalized creators in the digital publishing space.” How did that come about?

SA: As I mentioned earlier, I had a friend whose work wasn’t being seen by Traditional publishing because it featured a queer romance. Her work, she kept hearing, would be “better suited” for the digital publishing space. I soon learned that this was happening to many creators who were writing from their lived experiences. Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Queer, and Neurodivergent creators were often told that their work was “difficult” to connect with or that there wasn’t a readership for it (which we all know is not true), so they were going to small presses or micro presses to get published and were often signing away sub-rights that would never get exercised or being locked into option clauses that kept them from seeking traditional publishing models for future works. Very few agents were willing to take on clients working in these spaces because advances were very low (if any were offered) and the perceived return on investment was therefore low. Agents don’t make much money as it is, so I understood why many opted not to rep authors in this space, but it was perpetuating the lack of diversity in the industry by maintaining a white, cisgender, heteronormative, male-centric status quo. I decided to focus my attention on those missing voices and set out to be as successful as I could be for them and for me.

MUF: What is the day in the life of an agent like?

SA: Busy. It’s a busy day from the moment we roll out of bed with our phone in our hand to catch up on industry news to the moment we get back into bed to read queries and client manuscripts before going to sleep. (Or at least, that’s usually how my day starts and ends.)

A typical day for me may look like this:

Skim my email on my phone and star or mark important emails so I can tackle them when I get to my desk later in the morning. I’ll usually read Publishers Marketplace Deals and Publishers Weekly newsletters while eating/making breakfast and may copy/paste names of new editors or recent deals with editors I know that could prove useful as comps for works that my clients have into my Notes app. Sometimes, I’ll start my day by reading queries on my phone.

When I finally sit down at my desk, I’m usually tackling a contract or submission list for a client. I’ll respond to critical emails and check in on Slack conversations with clients and with colleagues. (I’m in several Slack workspaces, so I have started closing out the app when I need to concentrate on something like a contract or a manuscript.)

I’ll put together my submission list for client manuscripts, respond to client emails about their manuscript edits, or update illustrator tearsheets mid-day, or I may set aside a few hours to read and edit client manuscripts or respond to queries.

A good portion of my afternoon is spent nudging editors about submissions, payments, deadline updates, or contract negotiations. I’ll also work on reading client manuscripts and putting together my editorial notes. And, once or twice a week, I set aside some time to meet with editors virtually to get a sense of what they’re looking for or to catch up.

There are days when I also meet with clients, where we either brainstorm ideas for their next project, discuss the edits to their current manuscript before we submit it, or catch up.

At some point during the day, I also eat lunch, make dinner (or dinner plans) for the family (I am a caregiver to my parents), and play tabletop games with the family.

MUF: How much collaboration does the ABLA agent team have?  

SA: OMG, we are SUPER collaborative! We share our pitches and sublists with each other for suggestions and even workshop titles when needed. We have such a wealth of knowledge between all 15 of us that we tap into it daily. We have a Slack where we chat all day, and we reach out to each other via text or email when needed for support, encouragement, or to connect. It’s a sisterhood that I’m incredibly grateful to have.

MUF: What’s your least favorite part of your job as an agent?

SA: Letting clients go. I don’t like breaking up with anybody, but in this industry, it’s important to have the right partner to succeed, and sometimes, that means I am no longer the right partner for a writer or illustrator.

MUF: What’s your favorite?

SA: Notifying a client with an offer for their work. Especially for those projects that take a while to sell. The projects we revise, workshop, go on submission for a while, and eventually find the right editor to take on are super special.

MUF: Unlike some of your kidlit agent peers, you represent children’s books and books for adults. That sounds like it would be more work and that you’d have to have expertise across a wider spectrum of the industry. What makes you enjoy having a broader list?

SA: It DOES require that I create more connections across the industry, but I think it also gives me an opportunity to be highly selective about the work I take on. As a career agent, I get to work with my clients across the breadth of the work they want to write. So, if they want to write an adult romance novel while we go out on sub with their spooky middle grade, I get to be part of that journey.

MUF: We’d love to hear about a few kidlit books coming out soon (or just out!) from your clients that we should keep an eye out for.

SA: Ooh! I love talking about my client titles! Ok, so in September, Louangie Bou-Montes‘ debut YA Romantasy Till the Last Beat of My Heart releases from HarperTeen. What if your former friend, and crush is brought into your mortuary and you accidentally resurrect him? What would you do to make it right and can you do it before their time runs out?

Jen Bailey‘s Unexpecting is a contemporary YA novel that is as funny as it is heartwarming. When neurodivergent, openly gay Benjamin learns that he’s about to become a father with his best friend after an experiment gone wrong and that she plans to put the baby up for adoption, he sets out to prove that he can be a good father and high school student.

My client Mayra Cuevas co-wrote the contemporary YA novel Does My Body Offend You with Marie Marquardt, inspired by real events where a “Bra-bellion” starts at a high school after a student is told to put band-aids on her breasts when she’s not able to wear a bra to school.

My illustrator client Lisbeth Checo recently illustrated MzVee’s Natural Me picture book about the beauty of natural hair based on the African singer’s chart-topping song.

As the Seas Rise: Nicole Hernández Hammer and the Fight for Climate Justice

I also repped Angela Quezada Padron‘s debut author-illustrated picture book biography about climate activist Nicole Hernandez-Hammer, As the Seas Rise that is out now.

I’m also extremely proud to represent April DanielsDreadnought duology. It’s the trans superhero series you didn’t know you needed.

MUF: Any final thoughts? 

Read the books “they” try to keep from you. Ask your local library to carry books by BIPOC, queer, and neurodivergent authors. Build little lending libraries in your neighborhood and stuff them full of banned books. Vote! Especially for your local school board and county representatives. If you don’t see the candidate you need, run for office yourself. Read diversely. For every book written by a white, cisgender, male author, read three by diverse authors. Then, tell others to do the same. Be the hero of your story and change the world in the process.

Learn more about Saritza Hernández at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency website or on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Note: Saritza is currently closed to queries. 

Editor and Agent Spotlights

We love spotlighting agents and editors every month! There’s so much you can learn from their interviews.

Are there any MG agents or editors you hope we’ll spotlight soon?

If so, please let us know in the comments.

Any MG agents or editors who would like to be interviewed—please tell us and we’ll be in touch with you as soon as possible.

Just in case you’ve missed some of these interviews, here’s a list of them to check out. Happy reading!

*Things may have changed with some of agents and editors from older interviews. The best thing to do is check for agents at https://querytracker.net/ for updated information and helpful links. You can also check out the Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) for agents and editors.



Michaela Whatnall

Kaitlyn Sanchez

Leslie Zampetti

Dani Segelbaum

Ali Herring

Christie MeGill

Victoria Doherty-Munro

Molly Ker Hawn

Adria Goetz

James McGowan

Kristin Ostby

Sarah N. Fisk

Lynnette Novak

Ameerah Holliday

Jacqui Lipton

Tina Dubois

Joyce Sweeney

Tracey Adams



Rachel Stark/Disney-Hyperion

Elizabeth Law/Holiday House

Alison S. Weiss/Pixel+Ink

Chris Krones/Clarion

Thalia Leaf/Calkins Creek

Carol Hinz/Millbrook Press & Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing

Karen Chaplin/Quill Tree Books/Harper Children’s/Teen


We can’t wait to share more spotlights for amazing agents and editors soon!

Meet Literary Agent Michaela Whatnall

Michaela Whatnall, Literary Agent

Michaela Whatnall, Literary Agent

I’m excited to introduce you to literary agent Michaela Whatnall. You’re going to love getting to know them!

Michaela Whatnall joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2019 in the agency’s West Coast office. They graduated from Emory University with a degree in English and linguistics, completed the Columbia Publishing Course, and in 2023, they were selected as a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. 

Michaela’s background in school and library marketing accounts for their strong interest in children’s literature, particularly contemporary middle grade and young adult fiction of all genres. In the adult fiction space, they are particularly seeking contemporary, speculative, and historical upmarket fiction, as well as character-driven, grounded fantasy. They are also open to select narrative nonfiction for both children and adults, graphic novels, and picture books.

I know you’re ready to learn more about Michaela, so let’s get started with the interview.


SK: Michaela, tell us a little about your agency.


MW: Dystel, Goderich & Bourret was founded in 1994 and is based in New York, though I work out of our West Coast office. We are a mid-size agency full of fantastic agents who represent books across practically every genre, with a focus on helping our clients build their careers long-term. I feel very lucky to work here!


SK: What was your path to becoming an agent?


MW: I always knew that I wanted to work with books, and from my very first internship in the publishing industry, I had an inkling that working as an agent would be the best fit for me. That said, I had a bit of a roundabout path to getting here—after a number of internships, my first job was in school and library marketing, which turned out to be a fantastic introduction to the industry and also solidified my passion for children’s books.

During my three years working on the marketing side, I continued to build up my experience in other areas, from writing reader reports for a literary agency to writing monthly reviews of forthcoming kid’s books for an industry publication. That meant that when the right opportunity opened up at DG&B, I felt very prepared to dive in.


SK: What are the best and worst parts of being an agent?


MW: There are so many good parts that it’s hard for me to choose! I think my very favorite part of my job is having editorial conversations with my clients—I truly love the process of reading their work, getting my thoughts and notes together, and then talking with them about potential routes for revision. There’s something special about the creative energy during those calls and the amazing moments of discovery that can happen that really sustains me.

The worst part of being an agent, at least for me, is probably the fact that in this role, you will never feel 100% “caught up” on your work. There is simply never an end to your reading pile—as quickly as you’re able to move through it, more gets added at the exact same time, so you can never experience that feeling of being totally up to date on work (which is a feeling I crave, as a devotee of time management and checklists!).


SK: What do you look for in a query?


MW: The number one thing I look for in a query is specificity. What makes this story different from others in its category? At the exact same time, I’m also looking to see that the writer understands how their book fits into the currently publishing landscape. My favorite queries come from writers who are well-read in their category, who understand where their book will fit on the shelves (this can be communicated through comp titles), as well as what unique angle/perspective their book brings that is providing something fresh and new.


SK: What are the top reasons you pass on a submission?


MW: There are many reasons I might pass on a submission—first and foremost, most of my passes are simply because a project is not the perfect fit for me, which is an incredibly subjective thing. It’s a reality of the industry that agents have to be selective, because there’s just not enough time in the day to take on as many clients as we wish we could. With this in mind, I encourage writers to keep querying widely—a book that’s not the right fit for me could be absolutely perfect for someone else (and vice versa!).


SK: Here at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re all about middle grade. What do you love most about middle-grade novels?


MW: I love that middle grade novels are instrumental in creating life-long readers. For so many of us, middle grade books are what made us first fall in love with reading, and I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of bringing new middle grade books into the world that will find brand new readers. I still remember my days of returning again and again to the bookstore and the library, and the extreme excitement of emerging with fresh stories that I couldn’t wait to devour (shoutout to the Pony Pals series, one of the first to truly hook me!). Middle grade writers are the ones creating that experience for kids.


SK: Which middle-grade book(s) influenced you most as a child?


MW: One of my very favorite books as a kid was Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech, and I still have so much affection for it. It has a really fun premise—it’s about a girl named Mary Lou who has been assigned by her teacher to keep a journal over the summer, and her journal gets very personal very quickly (it even opens with a note to her teacher imploring them not to read it!). The journal chronicles her life in a large and hectic family (something I strongly related to!), her thoughts as she reads The Odyssey for the first time (which inspired me to read The Odyssey as a kid), and all the wacky adventures she gets up to over the summer. There’s something so relatable and engaging about Mary Lou’s sarcastic sense of humor, and I reread that book many times.


SK: What are some of your favorite current middle-grade novels?


MW: A more recent middle grade novel that I loved was The Line Tender by Kate Allen (full disclosure, Kate is represented by my colleague Michael Bourret!). It deals incredibly thoughtfully with the topics of loss and grief, and follows a girl named Lucy, who is grappling with life after the death of her mother. The book perfectly balances both sorrow and hope, and it moved me deeply.


SK: What is your best guess on where the middle-grade market is headed?


MW: Ooh, this is a tough one. The market is having a tricky moment, but middle grade as a category is evergreen, and agents and editors are going to continue to champion these books. I’m not sure that I’m able to make a strong guess about where we’re headed, but I will say that now more than ever, something that helps a book find its footing is identifying a strong hook that sets it apart.


SK: Which genres/themes/subjects are you drawn to / not drawn to?


MW: In middle grade, the books I’m most drawn to are the ones that I might have worked on in my school and library marketing days. This means that I like books that could find a good home in classrooms and libraries because they grapple with interesting themes and can spark a discussion with kids after they’ve read it. This could mean a book dealing with a real-world issue that kids face, or it could mean a super fun fantasy or adventure book that manages to weave in themes relevant to kids’ lives. Across the board, I like specificity—subject matter that’s relatable to kids, but that I haven’t seen on the page before.


SK: Are there any current projects you’re excited about?


MW: A good example of the kind of books I look for and something that I’m very excited about is my client Jasminne Paulino’s recently announced book, The Extraordinary Orbit of Alex Ramirez, which is coming from Putnam next year. It’s about a boy who attends school in a self-contained classroom and yearns to attend mainstream science class, and it dives into his relationships with his family, friends, teachers, and bullies as he learns how to advocate for himself. Before reading Jasminne’s book, I had never read a story about a student in a self-contained classroom, so it immediately caught my attention. From there, the execution of the manuscript made me fall in love. Jasminne is a poet, and her free verse style, which smoothly incorporates Spanish to reflect Alex’s bilingual upbringing, really makes this story stand out.


SK: What advice do you have for authors who would like to send you a query?


MW: If you feel we might be a match, please do try me—I’m eagerly seeking more middle grade right now! I know that querying can be an intimidating, slow, and often stressful process, but something I like to tell writers is that on the other side of the screen, I am a reader eager for a good story, so I’m excited to receive and read your query. Looking through queries is one of my favorite parts of my job because I always have that feeling that the next story I’ll fall in love with could be just a click away!


SK: Okay, we’ve learned so much about you as an agent. What are your favorite things to do that have nothing to do with being an agent?


MW: I’m a big theater fan, so I love attending shows, especially musicals. I’m also lucky to have very creative friends, so I often find myself swept up in helping to make all kinds of projects, like short films and narrative podcasts. I adore story in all its forms, so one of my favorite things is exploring the storytelling possibilities of different mediums. In my downtime I love cuddling with my two cats and settling into a cozy armchair with a good book or podcast and a warm mug of tea.


SK: I know that so many Mixed-Up Filers are going to want to connect with you. Where can authors learn more about you? 



Agency website: https://www.dystel.com 

MSWL: https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/michaela-whatnall/ 

Instagram (where I’m most active): https://www.instagram.com/michaelawhatnall/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mwhatnall


SK: Before we close, let’s have a little fun with favorites! What is your favorite…


Dessert? Key Lime Pie

Type of weather? A complete tie between a perfect sunny day and a cozy drizzly one

Genre of music? A chaotic mix of showtunes and alternative/indie folk

Season? Summer

Game? Stardew Valley


Thanks, Michaela, for a great discussion and a lot of fun facts. Mixed-Up Filers have definitely become your fans!