In this, the third stop in Colin Mulhern's Clash tour, Colin guest posts about his route to publication:
Writing is a great hobby, and I spent years writing for fun. When I was a kid, I wrote horror and fantasy stories. I sent my first manuscript off at 13 years old: a fighting fantasy novel. I was convinced I’d be rich before I left school, that I’d be signing copies on my lunch break...
... I got my first rejection shortly after.
Despite this, I kept writing. Why? Because it was something I enjoyed. Do the kids who like football only kick a ball about in the hope of making it rich? Course not. They keep kicking. So I kept writing. In my late teens, I moved onto more ambitious horror novels. I sent samples off and collected lots of rejections. I couldn’t understand it. I thought my stuff was ace.
It took until I was 30 to realise where I was going wrong. It was a simple... I was shit at writing!
The thing is, there’s no such thing as natural talent. No matter how much you like kicking a ball, without proper, structured training, you’re probably not going to play for a professional team. It’s the same with writing. If I wanted to be professional, I’d have to take a professional approach. So that’s what I did.
The first thing I did was to go out and buy all the current best sellers, trying to find an area in the current market where I might succeed. I already knew that my two favourite genres, comedy and horror, were both difficult very difficult. From the books I’d bought, I enjoyed the crime novels best, so that’s the genre I settled on. I joined an online writing community where I could get constructive feedback from other writers. I bought books on grammar, going back to basics on how to write English correctly. (I never realised I was making so many stupid mistakes!) Bit by bit, my writing improved and agents began to take interest. I didn’t get a deal, but I did get positive responses instead of the standard photocopied rejection slip. These turned into letters of encouragement. So I kept going, discovered YA fiction and after a few false starts, merged crime with YA and came up with Clash.
Clash caught the attention of literary agent Sarah Manson. With Sarah’s help, I cleaned up the manuscript and really tightened my writing by removing anything not essential in pushing the story along. This was a long process because Sarah knew that when it comes to submitting to publishers, you only get one chance. What’s more, we were in the middle of a recession. Not a good time to sell something that doesn’t fit into any of the current YA pigeonholes.
Just as things were looking glum, three publishers pitched for the book at the same time, and I had to meet them all. I’d always said to Sarah that I was far more interested in getting a good editor than a large advance. For me, Non Pratt of Catnip shone out for her enthusiasm for the book. She had a fantastic mix of humour, excitement and no-bullshit business talk.
Oh, and bright yellow tights. I need to mention them because the reason I decided to take writing seriously was my eldest son. When I turned 30, it became clear just how severe his disability was. If I could make it as a writer, he might have a brighter future (toys for disabled children can be obscenely expensive). Anyway, he’s always loved Big Bird from Sesame Street, so when I saw an editor with bright yellow legs, it sort of topped everything else off.
So that’s it. If you want to succeed in anything, don’t rely on natural talent and luck. Put the work in and cut the odds in your favour.
The Clash tour, which includes guest posts, reviews and a Clash giveaway, has been to My Favourite Books and The Pewter Wolf and tomorrow moves on to Asamum Booktopia.
Many thanks to Colin, Liz Scott and Catnip for the chance to read this strong debut novel.