Ben joins us from New Jersey where he goes to college. Ben may be young and isn’t known, but he is an experienced author with several books under his belt already with many planned in the future.
Ben has also talked with an author, Sue Bentley, that he admires and got her permission to use some of the animals names from her book in his book. Listen to what Ben shares about his books and his advice for writing.
Stephen: today on Discovered Wordsmiths, I want to welcome Ben Levine. Ben, good morning. How are you doing Levin? Let me rewind and back that up. I’m messing this all up today.
Alright, so today on Discover Wordsmith, let me welcome Ben Levin. Ben, how are you doing today? Good morning. I’m doing all right.
Ben: Thank you, Stefan. And you,
Stephen: You’re doing all right. As long as I keep getting things correct instead of messing things up on what we’re talking about. Sorry.
That’s okay. All right. So Ben tell us a little bit about who you are, where you live, what you like to do, some things you outside of writing. I’m currently going
Ben: to college at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I am, I live in Mottville, New Jersey. In addition to writing, I like to read, relax, sometimes go on walks and do active stuff, even though I don’t do it as often as I’d like.
Stephen: Gotcha. And being in school that keeps you pretty busy. Anyway. Yeah, I remember. Yeah, it’s a fun time. Good time. You like to read, we’re gonna talk a little bit about some of your favorite books and stuff later, but what are you studying in college? Creative writing. Okay. It fits right in.
How’s that going? You enjoying it? Yes. Yeah. We’ll assume you’re doing well ’cause I don’t want you to embarrass yourself if you’re not. So we’ll just say, Ben, I’m glad you’re doing so well in college. That’s good. But let, we’re gonna talk about that too, also a little bit about what it’s like to write while still in school.
And you started writing before college, so we’ll talk a little bit about that too. Let’s talk about your latest books. You’ve got several books out in a series. Tell us a little bit about that. You mean about Nellie’s friends? Nellie’s friends? Yes.
Ben: What exactly do you want to know
Stephen: about it? Sorry.
Tell us what the series is about. What it is it’s about healthy. Is it mystery? Little bit of it’s a.
Ben: Okay. It’s a kid series, a little girl series about a girl named Nelly who moves to Illinois from New York. And after she leaves all her friends behind her favorite hobby becomes making new ones.
Each book is about a new friend she makes and the adventure they have together.
Stephen: Okay, nice. So why did you wanna write a series of books about a girl who’s trying to make friends?
Ben: The idea initially came to me in fourth grade, a time when I was obsessed with things stereotypically meant for girls, like dolls and girl books, and part of me wanted to explore this interest more.
Okay. And Nelly’s friend seemed like the right way to do it.
Stephen: Nice. Okay. You know what are you using any of these books for part of your schoolwork, creative writing, or is this all on the side? All on the side. Okay. So are you picking up some things in college that are helping with the writing?
Or are you Yes. Okay. Like what have you learned in school that’s helped with your latest writing? I have to think. Okay. Yeah. Sorry. Throwing ’em at you, you’re not ready for, got it.
Ben: I’ve never really thought of it that way but I’m almost certain I’ve learned
Yeah. I hope, yeah. You’re spending a lot of time and money there, so I hope they’re giving you something right. That’s true. How many books do you have in the series right now?
Ben: Published or in general
Stephen: published at the moment? Five. You got five books. Do you have more planned? How many?
Ben: Yeah. The series has 44 books and all.
Stephen: You actually have 44 books planned? Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Okay. So we can’t say you’re a pants discovery writer, you’re more of a planner. Does that sound accurate? Yeah. Okay. Definitely. So we’re definitely here at the beginning of your whole career. You’ve got five but 44 plans. So what is your character going to be doing over 40 more books in the series.
Ben: going on more and more adventures with her friends.
Stephen: Okay. And how are you keeping it interesting and different so that each book doesn’t sound like the last book? That is a good
Ben: question. No. Nelly. That’s actually a concern I do sometimes have. Most of my books aren’t fully fledged. Only about eight of them are three of the non-published ones.
I think one thing that helps is that Nelly’s friends explores a variety of different categories such as. Tennis dogs, school camping, swimming, dance, horses, trouble with annoying cousins.
Stephen: Okay. So you’re taking parts out of lives that’s real and putting ’em into your stories. So are the kids aging throughout these stories or are they basically staying about the same age?
Ben: in fourth grade for the majority of the series, but I. Spends the last 14 books in fifth grade.
Stephen: Okay. All right. Are there, what other books out there would you say are similar to what you’re writing?
Ben: The Sue Bentley books. Fun fact with her permission. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Sue
Stephen: Bentley books.
Actually, I’m not, no.
Ben: Magic. The Magic puppy, magic kitten, magic Bunny and Magic Pony series where magical animals meet girls. And that’s where I got a lot of ideas from. And with Sue Bentley’s permission and I named each of Nelly’s friends after the girls who met the magical Animals.
Stephen: Oh, nice. So it’s a little bit of an Easter egg for fans of that series.
You could say that. Nice. Okay. And I love that you reached out to her. ’cause I found I had to,
Ben: if I was gonna get published, otherwise it wouldn’t. I probably would’ve been sued
Stephen: or and I love that though, that I often say that authors are such great people in, even someone who’s just starting out could reach out to somebody who has multiple published books and except for a few of the highest end authors, you get responses, you get feedback, and they’ll talk to you.
And it’s such a great thing in the author community that most authors are that way. And I’m glad she did that for. And it makes you feel good and it helps you out to encourage you to write, somebody that has an established series like that. So you said you were traditionally published.
Who are you published through? Jump Master Press. Jump. Master Press. And we’ve been talking to some of their authors. A good group. What feedback are you getting? Do you have some kids that have been reading the books and getting feedback from? A
Ben: little, not as, not that much. I did show some of the books to kids when I first wrote them in fifth grade, but I haven’t read, but I haven’t really gotten a lot of recent feedback.
I’ve gotten a lot more recent feedback on in the whole though. What’s that? My other. Recent book? Not as recent. It was published in June, 2021, but,
Stephen: okay. Tell us a little bit about that book too. It’s
Ben: very different from Nellie’s friends. It’s a YA novel about a boy named David who goes through several years of his childhood
Okay. So is it based on any true events you know of or just a story you wanted to get out there?
Ben: I did some research and I had read a little about homelessness before I started writing it, but Okay. I, it’s, it was just based off. What I knew, I guess you could say.
Stephen: Alright, nice. And is this targeted to like the fourth grade age also?
Ben: No, that one’s more for high schoolers.
Stephen: Okay. Which did you write it when you were in high school still? Yeah, I
Ben: wrote it. I started it during the second half of eighth grade and finished it shortly after I started 10th.
Stephen: Okay. Nice. All right, so talking about Nelly’s friends again. If you had the choice, would you like to see those turned into movies or a TV show?
Ben: TV show? Definitely. There are too many of them for a movie, and besides they’re too short.
Stephen: Okay, so it would work as like a episodic series or something?
Ben: Yeah. And the Hole could work as a movie though.
Stephen: Why is that one a movie, do you think?
Ben: It’s very long. 200 pages. 15 chapters.
Stephen: Okay. So it just fits that movie vibe?
Yeah. Alright. Do you have a website that people could go and check out all your books?
Ben: Ben Levin author.com.
Stephen: Levin, not Levine. I’ll make sure and have that correct for the website in the show notes. Alright Ben, so let me ask you a few questions about your background. What books and authors do you like to read?
Ben: I read a mix. Oh, I read a mixture between ya, middle grade, some kids.
Stephen: So you’re in college. I love geographies. Okay. So you’re in college. You’re 20 years old yet you still like middle grade stories. Why is that? Obviously because you write them, but is there I never really,
Ben: I always had a hard time outgrowing books.
When I was in fourth grade and fifth grade, I was still reading a lot of. Kids chapter books like Magic Tree House, my Weird School Puppy Place. My parents, it drove my parents crazy that my, that I was barely reading more mature stuff until I didn’t really start reading more mature stuff until sixth grade when I started to get into history and biographies.
Stephen: Okay. And I think that’s great ’cause I write middle grade too and I still will read them partly to keep up with what’s out there, but sometimes it’s nice to have a, an easy book to read that’s not some big complicated world ending, something going on. It’s just a nice, almost like a plain candy crush or Angry Birds or something, it’s relaxing. Yeah. Do you have a local bookstore that you like to go to?
Ben: I do love Barnes and Noble.
Stephen: Okay. You got one in town? Yeah. Okay. All right. So Ben, I wanna ask you a couple things about writing before even being outta college or high school. But first, if someone came up to you and said, Hey Ben, I heard you wrote some books.
They’re for kids. Why should I get your books for my kid? What would you tell them
Ben: For Nellie’s friends or all one my two other self-published books I’ll in the Race and Go Wars. I’d insist they were good in entertaining reads and for, in the whole, I’d say it’s an important tool to start learning about homelessness.
Stephen: Okay, great. Nice. And we’ll put links in the show notes, to your books and website so people could check those out.
Alright, so how many years have you been writing now? About almost 10 years. So what have you learned in that time that you’re doing different now than you used to do? I’m getting
Ben: better at including details, and my stories are a lot longer than they were in fourth grade. My first books were like one to three pages per chapter.
Stephen: Okay. And I love that you said that because I like to work with kids helping to write stories in that. And I think it’s important that younger kids and their parents understand that your kid’s not going in fourth grade isn’t going to write the next Stephen King or JK Rowling masterpiece that they have to just write and learn and get better over time.
And starting in fourth grade, I think. I think that’s what I have been encouraging kids and parents is let your kids start writing now in fourth grade, because then when they’re up in college, they’ll already have some published books and they have that as a career traject trajectory that they have a choice to be able to do.
But if you start writing, when you’re in college, you’re already behind and you’re going to be in your thirties before. You would get to the point where you are already in your twenties. So I love that you said that and you’ve been writing for that long and learned some things. So have you had any editors or anything that’s read early books and now and made comments that Yeah.
You’ve improved or what they like better? That’s a good
Ben: question. I’ve always been switching between editors. I had one editor. For a while, but we had to split paths. And then I’m currently working with a woman who was actually my writing teacher, and from fifth grade through eighth, she’s this, she’s editing Nellie’s friends.
I didn’t initially show her Nelly’s friends and I. I don’t, we haven’t really talked about the series I worked on at writing class, but I’m, while I never got comments that I’ve improved, I’d like to think I have, especially when I’ve been writing for almost a decade.
Stephen: I, I would definitely say not only from just the experience of writing, but you’ve aged and matured.
There’s definitely, kids are different from fourth grade to when they’re in college at 20. You know what I mean? That’s just an obvious thing. So your writing will improve just by, aging and getting older, but with the practice you can see things that you’ve changed or gotten better at.
You even made that comment that you have. Being in college are you learning anything about the publishing part of it, the marketing part of it, or anything like that? We’re still
Ben: the, I’ve only taken a couple writing classes and intro to creative writing and poetry.
Stephen: Okay, so I know you work with Jump Master Press.
Are you doing any marketing or anything on your own other than being on a podcast? I’m
Ben: currently taking a break from the marketing because college can be a lot,
Stephen: but it can be yes.
Ben: But I’m hoping I’ll get back into it sometime in the foreseeable future.
Stephen: Okay. Do you find that. Just getting a little older, getting out of school into college that you have less time to write or are you finding time to write in between everything?
Ben: It’s definitely harder to find time to write, but I always try.
Stephen: Okay. So what are your plans? Obviously if you’re taking creative writing, you probably intend to stay with some writing type of. Thing in the future. What are your plans with your books, with your career after college? My
Ben: plans are to keep writing, keep seeing what stories feel the most ready to be edited and published.
And I’m also aiming to write a lot of sequels.
Stephen: Okay. And I think that’s great because you’re hitting so many of the points that one you’ve already been writing for 10 years and a lot of. People in the quote unquote industry say, it takes about 10 years to get off your feet, so you’ve already covered that and you’re still in school.
You’ve got books already. And people say the more books, the more in a series, then you start getting more people buying. Have you seen your sales every time you come out with a new book? Have you seen sales on the past? Books jump a little bit, a tiny
Ben: bit. One thing I’ve noticed is. The momentum gets a little higher or lasts a little longer.
When I got my first self-published book published in eighth grade, ghost Wars, the momentum kind of went and left. It was published in April, and then I got a lot, I got a decent amount of sales immediately, but then after a month they stopped. Okay. Same with Nelly’s friends. When I first self-published the series, within the whole, it lasted significantly longer.
It was published in June of just after I just after 11th grade. And then the sales continued for To go really to go fairly well for three or four more months. And there’s, and a lot, and I’ve still sometimes gotten occasional sales, not, so it feels like the momentum has died down, but it’s not completely dead.
Stephen: Okay. So when did you start working with Jump Master Press? In
Ben: the Hole was my first book published under them. Alright. And it was accepted by them just before 11th
Stephen: grade. Okay. So Nelly’s Friends, you’ve mostly self-published. Now you’ve got in the Hole with Jump Master. What are differences that you’ve seen working with a publisher for a book or doing it all on your own?
Between the writing, the editing, the marketing, what are some differences that you’ve found?
Ben: It hasn’t felt that different but working with a professional editor definitely changes a lot. I push myself a lot more. It’s more intense, but also more fun. Okay.
And the work really shows in the books when you, when it’s someone who’s actually trained to edit, does it?
Ghost Wars is my only book that was ever published, which has not been traditionally edited and there are still, and there’s still a lot I’d honestly like to fix in it like way too much spelling and in ghost Wars is about several animals who are working to save the world. After several animals are kidnapped, the note, the kidnappers leave literally says where they are and yet they’re still struggling to find them or figure it out.
Or figure out where they’re go, where they were. And then later when another animal is kidnapped. And the four were initially art. Asked where they were initially taken like that Hadn’t already been said several times. That’s one thing that definitely needs to be added if I ever re-edit Ghost Wars
Stephen: And that’s right there.
So you’ve noticed some improvements in your writing right there, like you said, but it’s also you have that option. Here’s a book you wrote five, six years ago when you were younger. That you have the ability and option if you want to edit it and re-release it out into the world. That’s one of the great things about today’s publishing world is being able, I know,
Ben: I know.
I’m just, and I did that with Nelly’s friends technically. It was, I didn’t re-edit it before getting it traditionally published because they had been professionally edited before they were self-published, but, I do think I’m not, I don’t currently have any plans to forget to republish ghost wars, even though I am, I did already write a sequel for Brain Wars and I’m currently writing a third book in the series, werewolf Wars, but maybe someday.
Stephen: Yeah, it, it may not hurt if you’re go release those two to redo book one. Republish it and get all three out there. Like you said, one, you saw sales of past books improve when you release new books, so that could spur all three of them have a whole trilogy release says, I know Jump Master Press does some cool box sets, so that could be an option too, maybe.
Yeah. Alright, so Ben before we go, and it’s been really great talking to you. I love the fact that you’re a young writer and I hope you do so well in college with your books and everything. But. There are some kids out there younger than you that are maybe writing and maybe some parents that have kids that wanna write and parents aren’t sure if they should let them, or if it’s a good idea or anything like that.
So what advice would you have for kids that are younger than you that want to get into writing?
Go for it. All right, there you
Ben: go. Also, if you want inspiration, read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies, and live a lot of life.
Stephen: I love that. That’s so good. I love that you put all three of those together like that. What would be a good middle grade book you’d recommend for them to read to get going?
Ben: That’s a good question. Maybe bridge to Tara Bia.
Stephen: Okay. That’s a good one. I like the fantasy aspects of that book a lot. All right, Ben, I’ve had a really fun time talking to you. I’m glad you’re, you contacted me, your mother got ahold of me to do that. You with a busy schedule finding some time. It’s appreciated.
So I wanna wish you luck on your books and I’ll hopefully we’ll see some more coming from you soon from Jump Master Press. Yeah. Great.