_Featured Author Wendy Greeenley April 2019

Wendy Greenley

We are thrilled to bring you our April Featured Author Wendy Greenley! Wendy is a long-time 12 x 12 member and the epitome of her topic today. She has stayed on the bus of picture book writing and it’s now paying off in spades. Congratulations, Wendy!

Stay on the Bus

I’m here to tell you to #stayonthebus (some of my critique partners and I add effing to the slogan, but that’s purely personal preference). Thomas Edison is credited with saying that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Substitute “picture book publication” for “genius” and I would adjust the equation to 98% perspiration, 1% inspiration and 1% luck.

In my experience, one of the biggest hurdles to publication is keeping going when you get rejections—or worse, when there’s radio silence following your submission. It’s hard to know how to proceed, or to even muster the energy to keep going. #stayonthebus

Okay-so it’s a van, not a bus. And I’m not an illustrator

I joined 12 x 12 with no prior creative writing experience. My father was killed when I was five. I remember a parade of detectives and clatter from the State Police teletype. I watched my mom struggle and I focused my schooling on ways I could reliably support myself. Lab reports and legal briefs came with a paycheck.  But I always loved books. With my dad gone and my mom working to support the family, books were my refuge. I carried armloads home from the Bookmobile. It didn’t occur to me that I could write stories like the ones I read. Until my kids’ school brought in an author—I had never met one! I thought you had to be born into some prodigious lineage of writers who were definitely not part of my family tree.

Is it crazy to think about becoming a creative writer when you have zero background in it? Maybe.

Call me crazy.

Coming from my background, I had a lot to learn. Here are six big-picture tips from my journey to publication in hopes of shortening your own.

  1. Don’t write in isolation. I spent (wasted) time writing without getting feedback. On the Forum or elsewhere, critiques and critique partners are a tremendous resource. I learned as much or more from doing critiques as I did from receiving them. And critique partners become friends who will remind you to #stayonthebus!
  1. Use your public library. Compare books on similar topics/themes. Copy down text that makes your heart sing, then analyze why you love it. I keep a notebook of opening lines and type out entire picture books if a new structure dazzles me.
  1. Lola Shapes the Sky by Wendy GreenleyWrite first drafts for yourself. Explore. Play. Laugh. Cry. Write incomplete thoughts, glimpses of insight, things that make no sense but are stuck in your head. Get it all down on paper (I’m a paper first draft gal). Then—REVISE FOR THE MARKET. I don’t recall who originally said that, but it was my biggest personal learning. Your ferocious draft? Don’t get me wrong, yours may be perfect, but mine need work. Author Tara Lazar critiqued a manuscript for me at the NJ SCBWI conference and said something fabulous. Which Tara does often. Kidlit authors are generous with help like no other profession I’ve been a part of. The gist was that she loved the language, structure etc.—but my story would never sell. Ouch, right? NO! This was exactly what I needed. The work we create is our art. But once we say “please publish this” we’re asking a business to spend its money to bring our art to a larger audience. We need to send the gate keepers something they think they can sell. And not just a few copies—sell enough to pay you, the illustrator, the editors, art director, sales and marketing, printers, distributors, and shipping it back from China while keeping the lights on at the publishing house.  In a 2008 post, agent Rachelle Gardner estimated a publisher’s investment in a hardcover book at $58,000! And this wasn’t for a full-color picture book.
  1. Be open to change. The first lines of my original draft for Lola Shapes the Sky read:

“On the first day of school, Lola joined the other clouds at Horizon Elementary. It was hard to pay attention.”

How many words are the same in the version that sold? Two. Lola, and clouds.

Lola Shapes the Sky inside

“Lola formed on a fresh wild wind. Her one-of-a-kind outline blew the other clouds away.”

It took a year of agents’ “no thanks” and a workshop with Caldecott-winning illustrators to convince me the original people-watching manuscript wasn’t illustratable. The manuscript steeped in my files for another year until I realized I loved Lola and the overall theme, and I could write different words to tell her story. The changes were big enough that the same literary agency that rejected Lola Shapes the Sky signed me when I submitted it a second time. Yes, I resubmitted two years later, acknowledging the earlier manuscript of the same name, and asked to be reconsidered.

  1. Conversely, when you get a rejection, don’t immediately change your manuscript. Remember the 1% luck in the equation above? The person who read your manuscript and said “no” may have woken up with the flu, or dropped their backpack in a puddle on the way to work. They may hate piglets. They may have just signed two books, and not have time for anything else. The way luck and timing factors into this business is another crazy element! Remember all the editors that sent JK Rowling rejections, and #stayonthebus. Look critically at your work and decide if a change is in order, or not.
  1. Finally—find a moment of joy in the process every day. On tough days, I ask myself—Why are you writing? I tell myself I’ll take a day off, and before I realize what I’m doing I’m scratching down an image or a snatch of dialogue I overheard. Creating stories delights me. I feel like I’m in on some inside joke. Publication is my goal, but out of my control. The joy and wonder are mine. Share the joy. #stayonthebus

I hope you found a nugget you can use in your writer’s toolbox. In my case, it really does help to let manuscripts steep. I first heard this expression from author Juilene Osborne-McKnight. When stories steep, the essences swirl and strengthen and I’m able to isolate the heart I want to focus on.

Thanks for being part of my writing journey!



Wendy Greenley doesn’t mind if you say she has her head in the clouds—with her recent picture book debut, she’s on cloud nine! Her eclectic interests led her to be an ice cream scooper, microbiologist, attorney, Cub Scout leader, Art Goes to School Volunteer, and public relations for a dog rescue. Emphasizing the importance of critiques, Wendy enjoys being a local critique group leader for the Eastern PA SCBWI. Connect with Wendy at www.wendygreenley.com, on Facebook and Twitter @wendygreenley.

Wendy is offering a critique to one lucky 12 x 12 member! Get your draft done for your best chance of winning in the April check-in!

This Post Has 135 Comments

  1. Thank you for your wise words, Wendy. I definitely found several nuggets to help me #stayonthebus, especially staying out of isolation, the luck and timing factors you mentioned, and following your example of resubmitting, after lots of reworking and revision and time, to the same literary agency. Congratulations on your beautiful book, Lola Shapes the Sky. Your post has helped me look at picture book publication from “both sides now!”

  2. First of all…HUGH congrats, Wendy. I’ve seen you around since I began my journey and it’s wonderful to read more about your journey and to celebrate your success. I can’t wait to read Lola Shapes the Sky!
    Your tips are spot on, IMO! And this one might be my fave because I feel the exact same and I think some people write in isolation way too long and miss out on this valuable piece.
    “I learned as much or more from doing critiques as I did from receiving them.”

  3. Lovely post and a lovely book that I can’t wait to read! Just one question: What do you do if buses make you car sick? Take a Dramamine and #stay on the bus! Right? 😉

    1. The bus works for me, because the other passengers are part of my journey too but I guess it can be stay in the car/on the horse/bicycle built for two!

  4. Congratulations! I can’t wait to read Lola Shapes the Sky – the art is beautiful. I needed to read these 6 tips – sometimes it feels like it would be easier to get off the bus! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. This is so encouraging and helpful to new writers. Wendy, I love your example of how you reshaped Lola. That’s real revision! The details of that would make another wonderful post! Congratulations on your beautiful book.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! The TOTAL rewrite is one reason I needed to remind myself to stay on the bus. It felt like all my work was wasted. But I realize now no writing is wasted. It’s part of the journey. 🙂

  6. Thanks, Carrie! I think different advice works for different people and different parts of the process. I’m glad you found this helpful.

  7. Great advice, Wendy, especially the one about revising for the market. Seeing the cost of a book really brings home WHY it must be salable if we expect a publisher to buy it! I love the premise of your book; can’t wait to read it. Congrats to you and here’s to us all ‘staying on the bus.’

  8. What an interesting journey you’ve had so far with your different careers and now as an author! Congratulations! I love your writing advice. I’m going to strive to “stay on the bus!” Thank you for sharing, Wendy.

  9. Such a great story…felt like I was sitting with you having a conversation about our journey..I’m still sailing out there somewhere! Loved this post. Thak you.

  10. Wendy, thank you for sharing your story! I can relate to so much of it, and I fully agree with you about believing in your own work, loving what you do and putting yourself out there, over and over again. I’m gonna keep at it and look forward to the day when I get to the other side! Wishing you all the success in the world!

  11. I gleaned so many useful nuggets and insight, not to mention motivation, in your post my head is swimming. Thank you!! I will be staying on the bus:) Congrats on your success!

  12. Thank you for sharing your wise words and experience! It is inspiring to see you success and what you did to get there!

    1. Thanks, Kim! Working on my craft was important but none of it would have mattered if I gave up too soon.

  13. Thanks Wendy for the fabulous, optimistic tips! I’m a steeper too. And congratulations – your books sounds wonderful.

  14. Congratulations, Wendy! I am so happy for you! This book looks beautiful and I can’t wait to read it!! I love what you say in this post- Thanks for the inspiration and terrific advice!

    1. Thank you, Nancy! I hope you love Lola as much as I do (I know no book is for EVERYONE, but I refuse to acknowledge that for Lola, lol)

  15. You have shared a wonderful post! Thank you for the encouragement and ideas for making a story better. You have persevered and created a beautiful book.

  16. Thank you so much, Wendy, for sharing your story and reminding us to #stayonthebus. I bought your book as soon as I read about a few weeks ago. It is delightful!!

    1. Oh, thank you, Lisa!! I’m so glad that you liked it! Lucky for all of us writers, the “bus” stops at bookstores. 😉

    1. Thanks, Linda! My bus is like the London Underground – it intersects and exchanges passengers all the time. 🙂

  17. Thank you for such an inspiring post. STAY ON THE BUS! i love it! Plus, I love the look of your debut picture book, Lola Shapes the Sky. Thanks again, Wendy. I’m going to let it steep.

  18. I love, love, love this post, Wendy! Thank you for sharing your journey with us and for the reminder to #stayonthebus. What an honor it would be to win a critique from you! I wish you all the best.

  19. Wendy, I could so feel your personal love for writing. You echoed my thoughts as well. I write the first draft for me and then take up the eraser and make it ready for other readers. I love words and wish it were not such a burden to have many words when it truly reflects how I want others to see why I am writing. Thanks for validating my “heart”.

  20. I especially like your reminder not to write in isolation. I may think my manuscript is absolutely wonderful and post it in the forum expecting nothing but compliments. This has yet to happen, but what I do get are wonderful comments that allow me to see my story in ways that never would have been possible on my own. And seeing what others are writing is so helpful in evaluating my own material. I do struggle with “staying on the bus” from time to time, but thank you, Wendy, for your encouragement.

  21. Your story looks marvelous and congrats! Thanks for the reminder! I finally got to sit on my bus earlier today to churn out a few more words and it felt great!

  22. Wendy, what a great post. Thank you and congratulations on Lola–she seems like a wonderful companion for you to spend time with over the years.

  23. I enjoyed reading about your journey Wendy. You are an inspiration and your wise and kind words here will help many. Best of luck as Lola Shapes The Sky goes out into the world. It looks phenomenal.

  24. Wendy,

    Wow, I loved this post!! Thank you for sharing this insight. I love the revise for the market concept to help us focus in revision.

  25. I think we’ve gonna need a bigger bus! With a drinks dispenser and cafe at the back! Great post Wendy, a real tonic for all of us who are still aspiring! Love the look of Lola too!

  26. Great post, Wendy! Thank you for giving us a peek at your publishing journey and for sharing your insights on how important it is to #stayonthebus!!

  27. Oh, Wendy, Congratulations. Your words rang true for me. Perseverance and courage is what it takes to withstand this knock down get up field we have chosen. Thanks for sharing your story.

  28. Stay on the bus–even if it’s a bumpy ride–is excellent advice. Bless my public library now and forever! #4 was truly inspirational, and I loved #6 because I find myself doing the all the time. Thank you, Wendy!

  29. I so appreciate your honesty! Everything you said rang true. I need to read your post again next time I receive a rejection and feel like giving up. Congratulations on your book!!! I can’t wait to read it!

  30. I so appreciate your honesty! Everything you said rang true. I need to read your post again next time I receive a rejection and feel like giving up. Congratulations on your book!!! I can’t wait to read it!

  31. Great Post, Great Advice! I especially liked your line about radio silence, I think not hearing anything is worse than getting rejected. Thanks for the inspiration.

  32. Wow, Wendy! Your candor and hope boost my spirit this morning. We’re all riding that “bus.” At times, we want reach out to pull the STOP cord, but your journey and insight give us courage. Yes, you’ve added several gold nuggets of wisdom to my tool box. This is my first year as a 12 x 12 participant, and I’m overwhelmed by the encouragement, professionalism, talent, and friendship given freely within our community. I’ve learned VOLUMES about good writing and critiquing. My learning curve has had a growth spurt. Thank you SO MUCH for reliving your travel to publication. You give us all the grit and guts to #stayonthebus!

  33. Loved learning your backstory & look forward to reading Lola! Thanks, too, for the tip to #stayonthebus.

  34. Hi Wendy!

    Thanks for your wise words and inside tips you learned along the way to publication! I love when you get nuggets of truth that makes you stop and think and then regroup! I am on the bus too #stayonthebus! Thanks for sharing your story and all the best to you and your writing career!

  35. Thank you so much, Wendy! This is just what I needed to hear today. By the time I got to the end of your post I was almost in tears! This will be one I will read again and again when I need a boost and am tempted to get off the bus. I was told once in a critique of one of my very first manuscripts that although it was well written it would never sell. I was devastated. That was two years ago, and just recently I was thinking of revisiting it. Thank you for giving me the courage. Looking forward to reading your book!

  36. Thank you so much Wendy for this beautiful, inspirational post! Your book looks absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to read it! Congrats on your success and thank you for giving us these very real/very practical gems of advice!

  37. My favorite bit of advice here is to let the work steep. Letting it all steep (drafts, critiques, rejections) will allow the work to rest, and can restore some objectivity about things that might not be working. It’s not an easy thing to do, when all we want is to get the work right… but sometimes leaving it alone for a bit is the very best way to do that!

  38. Thanks Wendy! Everyday is a new learning day. The road is long but the bus ride is fun. I’m staying on the bus with you!

  39. Excellent advice as we carry on toward our goals of publication through hard work as we “stay on the bus.” Thanks Wendy!

  40. I love this advice, Wendy! Stay on the bus! Sometimes it feels like the bus is the runaway bus from the movie Speed. And other times, it is stuck in heavy traffic with a flat tire. But, I will stay on the bus. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story.

  41. Amazing and wonderful story on so many levels! Congratulations on Lola!! And thank you for the inspirational boost!

  42. Such wise, wise words! Thank you and congratulations on LOLA SHAPES THE SKY!

    “I feel like I’m in on some inside joke.” I loved, loved, loved this line because I often feel the same way when I’m playing with an idea in my head.

    Thank you for reminding us to #stayonthebus!

  43. Wow, what a great post, Wendy! I appreciated your snarky humor, your message to be relentless, and (possibly the best nugget for me…) the example of your Lola first draft first line and how magically and poetically you transformed it!
    Congrats on your success!

  44. I love hearing that you resubmitted a couple years later with the same manuscript to an agency that had originally turned you down. A couple of obvious things were at work here – first, you’d reworked the manuscript enough, applying critiques seriously, and showing that you were dedicated to your craft and a writer an agent could work with, and secondly, timing! A lot can happen in two years – what the market is looking for is constantly changing. So just because with your first rounds of submissions didn’t garner you a sale didn’t mean the manuscript had no value. I’m so glad you didn’t give up! And that you stayed on that blasted bus!

  45. Such a great post! Reading things like this help me #stayonthebus. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to reading Lola Shapes the Sky.

  46. Wendy, I loved reading your post. It was inspiring and filled with excellent information. Thanks for sharing!

  47. Wendy, I identified with a lot of this post. My father died when I was younger (not as young as you, though, and he died from natural causes), but rationally or not, it definitely had an impact on how I approached money. I still struggle with my two halves – the me that craves spontaneity and freedom, and the me who needs a paycheck. Thank you for sharing your story!

  48. Love #stayonthebus Wendy. I’m taking your advice to let my manuscripts sit a while to let the heart of the story steep and then revise. Congratulations on “Lola Shapes the Sky! and your success!

  49. Congratulations on your beautiful book and thank you for the inspiring post! There’s so much great advice in here, but what will stick with me forever is #stayonthebus.

  50. Thank you for your inspiring post! And congratulations on Lola. I look forward to reading it (The cover art is delightful). 😊

  51. “Find a moment of joy in the process every day” — YES! For me, this is what it’s all about. Thanks for the great post, Wendy!

  52. It can be so discouraging to get those rejection letters which is why Wendy’s encouragement to #stayonthebus is so important and so valuable. Fantastic and practical tips too – I especially like #1 and #5.

  53. Thanks, Wendy. Your advice and insight speak volumes to me. I wish you much success with Lola Shapes The Sky, which I can’t wait to read.

  54. What a refreshing post! I have been “on the bus” for a long time, but I’m staying on it. You’re an inspiration, and your book looks unique and beautiful.

  55. Thank you Wendy. Your article was helpful and reminded me to search out some new critique
    partners to replace lost ones and keep writing and resting my manscripts and coming back to them
    with fresh eyes. Thank you and Congratulations on publishing success.

  56. Thank you Wendy. Your article was helpful and reminded me to search out some new critique
    partners to replace lost ones and keep writing and resting my manuscripts and coming back to them
    with fresh eyes. Thank you and Congratulations on publishing success.

  57. I like your image because a bus moves. The very purpose of the bus is to transport. We do have to get on it, and stay on it. Sometimes we feel like we aren’t going anywhere in our writing. Yet, by writing itself, we are being transported. Thanks, Wendy. Congratulations!

  58. A wonderfully inspiring post, Wendy! Thank you for sharing your tips on how to #stayonthebus. I loved seeing how your first line changed and am looking forward to reading Lola Shapes the Sky. Congratulations!!

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