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An Interview with Ina Park upon receiving an offer of representation.

10/06/2016

Ina Park (ipark98 on QT) has signed with agent Jessica Papin of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
It's a narrative non-fiction work about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) spanning from syphilis to Zika, informing readers through tales of my patient's sexual adventures and in-depth interviews with scientists in the field of STD and HIV prevention.
How long have you been writing?
Most of my writing has been for scientific journals or other technical publications. I published my first scientific article about 20 years ago. I wrote some short stories and poetry as an undergraduate, but this is my first major work for a lay (non-scientific) audience.
How long have you been working on this book?
Since this is a non-fiction project, I only had to write a proposal and sample chapter. The sample chapter I wrote in about a month but the research and interviews took another 2 months on top of that. The proposal took almost a year to finish and was much more challenging, since its essentially a marketing document and I have no experience in that arena. I'm a physician/researcher so my day job keeps me really busy. Everything was written in small bursts during my spare time.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
The first few weeks after I started querying, I became really anxious that I wouldn't get any interest from agents. I sent out 4-5 queries at a time. After the first 5 were sent, I waited 3 weeks and heard nothing. I consulted an editor friend and revised my query. After the next 4 went out, I got 2 immediate replies expressing interest. I figured that meant my query was working. Contingency planning was helpful for me. If both agents who were interested after the query rejected the work after reading my proposal/sample, I planned to consult an editor and revise that too. It happened too quickly for me to seriously consider giving up.
Is this your first book proposal?
Yes. I've never attempted anything like this before.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I had some training in scientific writing, but it had very little applicability to the proposal. In fact, I think I had some bad habits with scientific writing that I needed to unlearn in writing for a lay audience.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I don't. My writing is very catch-as-catch-can. It mostly happens at night after kids are asleep.
How many times did you re-write/edit your proposal?
At least 3 times, some sections were re-written more than that.
Did you have beta readers for your proposal?
Absolutely. I had 2 readers, one is a writer/freelance editor and the other a former journalist who is also a content expert in my field. My husband read it as well, he was supportive and enthusiastic but could not offer any criticism (he was just too biased I think).
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried for less than a month. I know that this is unusual, and I feel a little guilty admitting it.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out 10 total.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I used QueryTracker to target agents that represented non-fiction science books, and added them to a list of possible agents that I would target. To be sure that these agents were still interested in narrative science projects, I used Manuscript Wish List, checked their profiles on their agency websites, looked for either written or video interviews of them online, and examined their Twitter feeds as well. I really tried to target my queries to agents that would be interested in this type of project.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I did tailor each query (near the end) based on statements from the agent's bio, an interview I might have read or seen online. I have an example in my query letter.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I felt hopeless after reading an article online by a writer who said that it was almost impossible to get an agent for a first book, and that no one gets an agent from cold email queries. (implying that pitching at a conference or getting a referral would be the only way to get it done). I wanted to give this interview to emphasize that YES, it is possible to get an agent from a cold email query, and no, you do not need to have connections to land an agent. As a debut author with zero connections in the publishing industry, I'm here to tell you that it can happen.

The other advice is to use QueryTracker's Timeline feature. It helped me decide which agents to query first by looking at their response patterns, and helped me prepare mentally for when I might expect their responses (or how to interpret a lack of response). QT was a heck of lot cheaper than therapy, and was just as effective for helping me manage my anxiety.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Dear Ms. Papin,

In the 10 seconds it takes to unzip and lower your pants, 100 people around the world will be newly infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). By this time tomorrow, the World Health Organization estimates nearly one million others will follow suit. My narrative non-fiction work CLAP: The Science of Sex and its Unintended Consequences analyzes the latest STD research spanning syphilis to Zika to answer questions you never thought to ask during middle school sex ed: When is sleeping with 10 partners less risky than sleeping with one? How do you clear unwelcome visitors out of your vagina? When can overzealous depilation spread STDs like wildfire? CLAP explores these and other fascinating concepts, dispels common myths, and offers practical advice for curious readers who enjoy science with a touch of humor and sass.

Drawing on a decade of my experience as a physician, CLAP informs by blending tales of my patients’ sexual escapades and interviews with scientists who study genital creatures, great and small. When Michael discovers he has syphilis, he joins sex detectives from the health department on a quest to hunt down the source and find his partners before a full-blown outbreak ensues. When Brenda’s vagina acts up, she meets my favorite expert who demystifies the vaginal microbiome through Star Wars' analogies and associations with the common kitchen oven. Beyond patient stories, the science of sex becomes personal as colleagues share life events that led them into the field of STD/HIV. Marian, an immunologist, stumbles down the rabbit hole of a polyamorous sex cult. Herpes researcher Nick is excommunicated by a Mormon tribunal for being gay. Ronan, an infectious disease physician, is completely blindsided when he learns of his own HIV diagnosis. Like Mary Roach’s BONK or Po Bronson’s NurtureShock, CLAP weaves scientific data through intimate narratives that are at turns entertaining, tender, surprising, raunchy--and sometimes all of the above.

As an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco-School of Medicine, I’ve been recognized for my expertise by awards from the American STD Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. I consult regularly for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was appointed to the editorial board of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases. I’m known as an engaging speaker on the topic of STDs/HIV, and have spoken to live audiences as large as 1000 in 17 states and Canada. In 2015 and the first half of 2016 I booked 27 speaking engagements, reaching at least 10,000 health professionals. Links to a selection of my speeches, podcasts, blog posts, and scientific publications can be found at: http://profiles.ucsf.edu/ina.park. Three national organizations where I have served as a speaker have enthusiastically agreed to promote CLAP to their email subscribers, which will reach more than 30,000 additional readers.

I am seeking your representation based on your interest in narrative science and your extensive experience working with academics as both an editor and an agent. I also loved your interview at Emory when questioned about your "dangerous missions" as a literary agent; in my field our children tell their classmates that "my mom works in the sex industry". I think you would be an invaluable partner to help navigate the world of publishing for my debut work for the lay public. I've included my first chapter as an attachment to this email. May I send you my full proposal for CLAP: The Science of Sex and its Unintended Consequences? Thank you for your consideration.

Best wishes,

Ina Park