The Story Behind You Never Knew by Lilian Duval

You Never Know is the title of my novel, just published in March, 2011, and it’s a fitting description for what I’ve been through in my publishing adventure!

Getting You Never Know published started before one word of the book was written. In 2009, I began marketing my collection of short fiction, Random Acts of Kindness, comprising seven short stories and a novella. Four of the stories had been published in magazines, so I thought I had a pretty good chance.

Using, I made a list of 217 literary agents, most of them in New York, and set about writing to them exactly as per their instructions. Some wanted query letters only; some wanted the first chapter; in my case, the first story in the collection. Some wanted to be contacted by e-mail only; others wanted postal mail only. Many of them threatened that if you dared to contact them the wrong way, your query would be deleted or recycled!

Over the course of a full year, seven of these agents requested full or partial submissions. Again, I responded exactly as they specified. Two of these very seriously considered publishing my book. They called me on the phone, they sent me frequent e-mail messages, and so on.

After a few months of this nerve-wracking attention, both of these agents declared that, in the current economic climate, a short-story collection is too difficult to sell. Would I please, therefore, write a novel and get back to them?

Okay. So I did. Fourteen months later, I had a completely finished novel, You Never Know, the engaging chronicle of a man who wins the Mega-Millions lottery halfway through the book, and then spends years adjusting to his good fortune. Early reviewers and readers from all walks of life loved it—men as well as women, as there’s a male protagonist.

What struck me was what each person said, independently: “I was immediately drawn in by the story and identified completely with Tobias (main character). I finished the book in two days and could not put it down.”

Back I went to the two very interested agents. After dragging me along for a few months, they both said something like they couldn’t get involved with the characters and didn’t feel passionate enough about the project to take it on.

Okay. So I went back to my long list of 217 agents and queried all of them. Within the next year, I had eight requests for full or partial submissions. Again, I followed all their specific guidelines for submission. Again, they dragged me along for months. Some of them still have not responded to requested material. Sigh.

One of these agents remarked, after reading the first chapter, which she requested, that I hadn’t gone into depth in characterization. Really! The first chapter is only the exposition! The next 24 chapters reveal everything. But she didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

A year after finishing the novel, I decided not to wait any longer. I’d heard from a literary publicist that Wheatmark, Inc. is better than most self-publishing companies in that the final product is truly professionally prepared, and I’ll have to agree. Wheatmark took some time to evaluate and accept my manuscript. The entire publishing process took seven months, which was longer than I’d expected, but the book is beautifully put together.

Now my major challenge is marketing, but that’s a topic for another post!

Meanwhile, my advice to authors who want to get published is: try your best to follow the traditional route through literary agents and publishers, because that will save you money on publishing and publicity. But if that fails, carefully investigate the many independent publishers out there.

Buy two books each from the companies on your final list. That’s what I did, and I’m very glad, because some of the books coming from these publishers are substandard. But the reputable firms, like Wheatmark, create books that are indistinguishable from those printed by big traditional publishing houses.

If your independent publisher provides an editor, work closely with that person on goof-proofing your manuscript. If not, carefully choose an independent editor so that the book you write says exactly what you want it to say in good, clear writing. And good luck to all!

Lilian Duval lives with her husband George, a native of Singapore, in a small house in New Jersey overlooking a large county park. They have two sons and a daughter, all independent and ambitious, and several cats. She’s an amateur classical guitarist and enjoys attending concerts and plays in New York City.

But writing has always been her calling. In her own words, “The most enjoyable activity I can imagine is to invent some characters, make them a little larger than life, set them bickering and thrashing against each other and their fates, and enact a fictional resolution that makes more sense than the chaos and unpredictability of our complicated lives.”

Lilian’s latest book is You Never Know: Tales of Tobia, an Accidental Lottery Winner.

You can visit Lilian’s website at  Connect with her on Twitter at!/lilianduval and Facebook at



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