Rectangular photo of a closeup of books on a shelf, spanning titles on science writing. Photo by Danna Staaf

Danna Staaf—Nursery Earth: The Wondrous Lives of Baby Animals and the Extraordinary Ways They Shape Our World

Cover of the book Nursery Earth with title, author’s name, photo of the plant Earth, and images of baby animals from several species.

Nursery Earth


Danna Staaf
The Experiment, June 6, 2023, hardcover $27.95, ebook $19.99
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781615199327

Staaf reports:

In marine biology grad school, I studied how baby squid the size of rice grains can grow into adults as big as I am. To hone my research techniques, I took a summer course on marine embryos and larvae and fell in love with the incredible diversity of early animal life stages.

Then I gave birth to two human babies. I kept thinking that neither squid babies nor human babies are incomplete adults, but rather are whole beings in their own right. And some features make them more similar to each other than to adults of their own species. I knew I’d want to write about that, but the opportunity didn’t come until years later, after I had published two other books.

Portrait photo of Danna Staaf by Josh Weaver

Danna Staaf, Photo by Josh Weaver

I found an agent by querying with a fiction manuscript that 32 other agents had already rejected. While the thirty-third agent did not manage to sell that novel, she sold my first nonfiction book, Squid Empire. After she left agenting a few years later, I switched to another agent at the same agency.

Then the Squid Empire publisher went out of business, pushing my new agent and me to seek a new publisher. We found one who liked Squid Empire so much they offered a deal to publish my next adult nonfiction book as well, even though I didn’t know yet what the topic would be.

Nursery Earth was one of several ideas the editor and I discussed and the one we both liked best. I got the green light to research and write!

Pandemic lockdown and quarantine meant that I did most of my reporting via zoom—disappointing, but cheap. About halfway through, I was passed to a different editor at the same publisher. Like my new agent, my new editor had excellent ideas.

My experience exemplifies the shifting nature of publishing: You may not finish a project with the same agent, publisher, or editor you started with, but you never know what opportunities are around the corner. Keep up your hope, enthusiasm, and curiosity!

Contact info:

NASW members: will your book be published soon? Promote it by submitting your report for Advance Copy.

Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you began working on your book, or had done differently.


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Banner image adapted from original photo by Danna Staaf.

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May 30, 2023

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit for information on submitting your report.

Publication of NASW author reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of any publication or the ideas, values, or material contained within or espoused by authors or their books. We hope this column stimulates productive discussions on important topics now and in the future as both science and societies progress. We welcome your discussion in the comments section below.

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