Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker.
Learn More...
Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker. Learn More...

Success Story Interview - Gail D Villanueva

An Interview with Gail D Villanueva (Wordologist on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Alyssa Henkin of Birch Path Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Gail D Villanueva:
It’s an MG contemporary set in Metro Manila. Because of a Filipino death superstition, my twelve-year-old protagonist aims to complete a bucket list, making the most out of her “last days.” It’s all for fun—that is, until a severe allergy attack and the syndicate her older sister is investigating threaten my protagonist’s life for real.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Gail D Villanueva:
Just about the same time I learned to read—which was a bit late, if basing on the traditional school I went to. I was seven, I think. It was my grandma who taught me to read. She tapped on my love for drawing cartoons, eventually getting me associate words with pictures. I wrote longer and longer stories, but stopped for a few years. I blogged regularly for sometime, but I didn’t dabble with fiction again until around 2014.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Gail D Villanueva:
Four months, tops. A couple of weeks to outline, a month and half to draft, and the rest for revisions. The speed by which I wrote this book had a lot to do with the work I’ve put on my first novel for almost two years, and my frustrations arising thereof.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Gail D Villanueva:
Of course. It happened more often with my first book—especially when I had to decide to set it aside before working on an agent’s revision notes. My heart just wasn’t there anymore, you know? The more I tried to work on it, the more frustrated I became. So after some heart-to-heart talks with my writing buddies, I decided I needed some time off from it. I worked on a book that I’ve always wanted to write, the story inspired by my relationship with my sister. From the outline to character profiles, to chapter notes, to playlists, to basically everything that helped me get the words down—they came to me so fast, it was almost scary.
QT: Is this your first book?
Gail D Villanueva:
Nope. This was my second queried novel.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Gail D Villanueva:
Nope. I majored in business and communications technology at a local university.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Gail D Villanueva:
Yeah, and I strictly adhere to it. I own ducks, and they wake me up no later than six in the morning. After I release them from the coop and feed them to stop the quack-screams, I’ll do my morning stuff and write. About 10AM, I’ll stop whatever I’m writing to work on my day job tasks. My husband and I run our design business from our home office, so I’m able to do both adulting and fun stuff without working myself to death.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Gail D Villanueva:
Before my first offer of rep, this book had one major revision pass, and few minor copyedits. But my first novel? It went through a pitch contest, three overhauls, a mentorship program, and a couple of revise and resubmits. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot writing and querying my first book. The success of my second, I can mostly attribute to the writing knowledge I’ve gained with the first.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Gail D Villanueva:
Yes. They’re amazing! I don’t think my drafts would be anywhere near readable without them.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Gail D Villanueva:
I’m a fanatical outliner. If you can have an extreme case of story outlining, that would be me. I can’t write unless I’ve plotted the story from start to finish, and got a Pinterest board and my handy spreadsheet of character profiles ready.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Gail D Villanueva:
This one, just a little over a month. My first book though, I sent query letters to 56 agents for about a year before I decided to set it aside.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Gail D Villanueva:
I sent out 32 query letters for this book. 10 were rejections, three didn’t reply. Out of the 19, three were partial requests while the rest asked for the full. Of the 16 full requests, four agents offered representation.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Gail D Villanueva:
First, they had to represent the age group and genres I write. Second (this is where it got a bit difficult), they had to support underrepresented voices one way or another. It may be through their current client list, a book they sold, or their general views on diversity. This narrowed my choices, but I’m a Filipina writer in the Philippines. I knew I wanted an agent who shared my vision for my book(s). However, it was also important that my agent understood why I needed to write Filipinos in my fiction, and why I couldn’t have it any other way.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Gail D Villanueva:
It depends. There were agents who preferred doing away with personalization (most of them mentioned this one way or another in interviews they gave on blogs)—I went straight to the hook for them. But to everyone else, I made sure to add a line or two about something they’ve said on Twitter or on a blog interview.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Gail D Villanueva:
Be patient, and keep on learning! I know I’m repeating myself for saying this, but really, it was my experience with the first book that gave this new one a very nice outcome. Take each rejection as a learning experience. Especially those with feedback—you don’t need to apply all of them, but think of them as varying perspectives on how they can make you a better writer.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Gail D Villanueva:
My query letter was very specific (which was probably why I got a lot of requests from it), so I kinda feel a bit weird posting it here. But if anybody really, really wants to see it, please feel free to contact me through my website,