Introduction by Bill: Cathy and I met at the Iowa Summer Writers’ Workshop in 2013. Everyone in the seminar read each others’ novel manuscripts and provided feedback, and we cheered each other on. Recently I learned that Cathy published her book and I asked her how she did it.
I didn’t intend to sell Natural Attraction without an agent. I was in the process of finding one and had gotten some friendly nibbles and even suggestions for re-writes along with a nice rejection (my narrator, a scientist, wasn’t emotional enough for that agent.) But my mom died suddenly and if there’s anything that tells a person that time is running out, it’s the loss of a parent. Suddenly, agent horror stories popped into my mind—querying fifty before finding a match, being interviewed by an agent and then not hearing from them. I didn’t have the time!
I’d had luck using duotrope.com, the writer’s search resource, to place a short story and there I saw the listing for Penner Publishing. It was what I was looking for—upmarket fiction for smart women. I’d decided to pitch Natural Attraction as a science romance and while it’s a top-selling genre, romance isn’t known for its huge advances, and not all romance or sci-fi writers use agents. (Not that I agree with his politics but Orson Scott Card has long maintained that beginning authors don’t need agents.)
After receiving The Call from Penner Publishing, I had a lawyer who is also a published poet look over the contract. At this point many authors will seek out an agent but I was eager to move forward. I had my advance and was published within seven months.
Having Natural Attraction professionally edited and part of a publishing house helped me understand myself as a writer and my strengths and weaknesses. I spent the two previous decades doing science writing for a company and following a forty-page book of rules. One thing I discovered upon being edited was that I was a little drunk on my fiction writing freedom and had too many plot lines. I want readers laughing, having hope for the world and maybe learning a little science, not scratching their heads in confusion. The process of being edited and published gave me the focus and confidence to write another novel.
So would I recommend selling without an agent? It depends on your stage as a writer. I have an enjoyable day job as a chemistry professor and simply want the pleasure of entertaining others with my writing. I was able to accomplish this without an agent. The time I gained not finding an agent was spent writing a second book. However, writers love their agents and if I keep writing, I’ll probably want one.
Natural Attraction is an adventure told by Clementine, a young Dutch American scientist in 1871 who must pose as a man to further her career as a naturalist. With the help of a mysterious tonic, she transforms into a man, discovers new species, and falls in love with a preacher. Available from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, ebooks, Lybrary, and other major booksellers. Published by Penner Publishing.
— Cathy Haustein