Off-the-Path Advice on Becoming an Author

Brea BehnBrea Behn is very passionate about reading and writing in all genres. She started writing at the age of fifteen, when she wrote a memoir for her twin brother. Currently, she writes children’s fiction of several genres, nonfiction, and is building her career as an author and public speaker. Brea speaks at local churches, schools, colleges, and bookstores on topics varying from social media, being a published author, and on more personal topics of grieving as a teen and living with PTSD.

Brea’s first published book, a YA dystopian series called Wolves in the Woods, came out this summer. Her second book is a non-fiction book, titled Death Sucks, Life Doesn’t Have To, which will be coming out this February. The second book in the Wolves series, Wolves in the City, will be coming out in summer of 2015.  Brea has also written a middle grade fiction book and a children’s picture book which she is currently pursuing publication for.

When Brea is not writing, she is reading, usually several books at the same time. She is also passionate about animals, has a degree as a veterinary technician and volunteers at her local humane society. Brea also enjoys gardening and homeschooling her children.

Brea lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their two children.

Brea’s website

I love being an author. I love the challenges it brings. From query letter to book reading each step I had to learn myself and brought unique challenges. I also love being able to pour my thoughts and feelings into my work and get them out of my head. Along this road I have also had the privilege of meeting some amazing people. Some are semi-famous, such as the screen writer of the hit TV series, House to horror writer Mort Castle and well known Wisconsin author Michael Perry. Others are not even published yet, but have become good friends. Through it all I have found happiness like I haven’t known since I was a kid. Writing and being an author truly are my happy place. I love every moment of it. Some of those moments have not been perfect, and those are the moments I want to share with you. Hopefully you learn from them and maybe get a good laugh from them as well.

Every writer starts with one common thing. An idea for a story, poem or article. Sometimes where we get our ideas from come from an amusing place. I have been a stay at home/homeschooling mom for over seven years. Having kids is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It has tested me physically and mentally so many times my body and my sanity often feel like an overused muscle. Some of those limit-reaching moments have resulted in some great writing. I remember reaching one of those moments when I gave my then one year old son a muffin. Of course his sister who was three wanted one too. By the time I got them both a muffin, the one year old had escaped from his high chair mashed himself and the carpet with his muffin and ran scattering the remnants all over the kitchen and dining room. Then he was thirsty so he helped himself to a Sippy cup of water which he was happily pouring into the mashed up muffin in the carpet saying, “I cwean it mama!” All of which could have resulted in a major mommy meltdown. Instead I sat down and wrote a little story called, “If You Give a Toddler a Muffin”. Obviously it mirrored the children’s picture book If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff. My story basically portrayed the chaos of having two kids that are both toddlers and did not go any further than Facebook. The point is I took my stress, frustration, and exhaustion and turned it into something that was entertaining and amusing for others. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is where Laura Numeroff got her idea from herself! What to remember from my story is that strong negative or positive emotions often result in some of the best writing you will ever accomplish. Write what you have and what you know. Write what you are passionate about. Write about what you love or what you hate. Writing is emotion and what you write should evoke emotions in your reader. If you are emotional when you write, so will your readers be when they read it! That is an awesome and powerful gift of writing.

Another thing writers have in common is that we are often trying to get out in the world to learn about our craft, to meet others and to share our work. If you are not, do so! The benefits are immeasurable. One fantastic way to do this is at a literary conference. I was at a conference with over a thousand people in attendance a couple of years ago. This was before I was published. I was a bundle of nerves. I knew no one. It came time for lunch and I sat at a random table near the front. Soon it filled up with others. I made short conversation with those around me. At one point I asked the man sitting next to me if he was a writer. He looked somewhat insulted and said, “I am the key note speaker actually.” I am fairly certain the look of horror on my face gave away the fact that I had no idea who he was. All I could choke out was, “Oh”. The lady sitting next to me saved me by asking a perfectly charming and intelligent question about the TV character he happened to create, named House. Holy crap! I was sitting next to the screen writer for House! The rest of the conversation at the table was amazing and despite my flummox at the beginning of the meal I am able to look back on that experience now with awe. But I did learn a couple of things from my experience. First, should be obvious. Study the key note speaker list before the conference! Know not only who is speaking, but what they are speaking about and who they are! More importantly, you never know who you may end up sitting next to. The next person you meet may be the agent that is looking for you, the author that may give you career changing advice, or the editor that can teach you something invaluable. You will never meet them though if you don’t go in the first place. When you do go, go with an open mind and ready for anything. All of this is true online as well. If you utilize social media to its full extent you will be virtually meeting tons of people. Again, that can’t happen if you don’t create a Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or whatever else account. Put yourself out there! Being a successful author is a fine balance between social media and real world experience. One I am constantly fine tuning myself.

Wolves in the WoodsFinally, I want to talk about something that all writers will or have faced: rejection. I got over fifty rejections, non-responses, or “this is not the right fit for me” letters before I received an acceptance letter from a publisher. You can’t put your work and yourself out there without receiving some rejection. One rejection in particular I want to share with you that was particularly painful. I always research the agent, publisher or editor I am contacting. I look at what they prefer, the works they have done before, who they represent etc. It is a lengthy process that often can take hours. Just recently I was sure I found the perfect agent for a children’s picture book I wrote. Like my story she was passionate about animals. The books she represented held similar messages (but not so similar there would be a conflict of interest). I loved her encouraging message to writers and I felt like I had a good chance. So I spent a couple of hours writing up a query letter for her. I am a type A perfectionist and won’t send anything out until it is as perfect as I can make it. In other words, I spent time and effort to contact her. I sent it out with high hopes. TWO HOURS after I sent it I got a simple one sentence e-mail in reply: “This is not the right fit for me at this time.” Ouch. What did I learn from this experience? I learned that I would have done nothing different. That I sent out what was the best of my abilities and that one no does not mean all will be a no. Most importantly, that effort, time, and dedication will be rewarded with a yes….eventually. I have not given up and neither should you. No matter how many “not for me” responses you get there is a “We are pleased to tell you…” message waiting for you out there. Don’t give up, keep learning and keep writing!

I have learned these things and so much more on my journey to becoming an author. The key word there is learn. Like everything else, a career as an author requires lots of mistakes, learning experiences, and a whole ton of reward that makes every single step worth it!