Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Creating Worlds

Lately I've been taking walks through my neighborhood on Sunday mornings. There's usually no one out, aside from the occasional dog-walker (and not even they come out when the weather is rotten, which is has been this past month.)

It's a solitary time, set apart from the busy week. I've thought about listening to an audiobook or music, but instead I choose to focus on the birds in the trees and the wind as it wafts across the rooftops. Some might even call it meditation. As I walk, my mind wanders over random questions that fill my soul and long to be answered.

And here's what I've been thinking about recently:

The innate need to create.

Yes, I said need.

Writers, musicians, painters, sculptors--anyone artistic will agree:

Creativity is a need--perhaps even an instinct. It's as important for human wellbeing as food or shelter or love or light.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been driven to create.

Making sandals out of a cereal box and tape.

Inventing a recipe for dried apples.

Mixing the lotions and talcum and toners under my mom's sink to create a magic potion.

Not to mention the hours and hours spent drawing and painting pictures, making up dances, or toying around on the piano.

The other day I even found a scrap of staff paper with my very first musical composition for piano. My mother had the presence of mind to save it for me.

Regardless of the medium, I've always needed to create. It makes me happy, challenges my senses, and feeds my soul.

As writers, we create entire worlds. People, settings, magic systems, languages. We stretch our abilities, savoring the power that comes from inside us--that spark of uniqueness that only we can harbor and nourish.

The human spirit craves creativity like we were born to it. And perhaps we are.

So even as you scramble to find the time to write 1000 words or meet a deadline, make sure you're getting the most out of it. Would you shovel down a gourmet meal without tasting it? Remember your creative time can charge your batteries and fill your vessel with light--if you let it.

In today's world, you need it more than you know.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Home is a Collection

Sometimes when I'm far from home, I taste it in my bones

Home can hide anywhere

Even unexpected places

It's a scent caught on the breeze

The soothing sound of familiar words

An accent

A phrase

Home is an old friend, lost over the years

A song

A whispered secret

Sometimes home is a cinderblock wall and tiny desks in a row

The deck of a ship

A baseball field

A shady bench at a busy bus stop

Sometimes it's rain filtering softly through trees

Sometimes thunder crashing

Wildflowers peeking through rough soil

The tang of lime on my tongue

Sometimes home feels far away, even as I lie in bed

Something's missing

A home I once knew

Something just out of memory's reach

Home is a collection

So I'll keep on filling my pockets

Treasuring the pieces


I am


Friday, July 14, 2017

#PitchWars 2017 #PimpMyBio #YA Tara Lundmark


If my heart were placed on the center of a chac mool and consumed in a spectacle of quivering flames, I think the essence of me that would drift heavenward in gossamer spirals would be composed of an artist's eye, an adventurer's soul, and a creator's passion. 

I was born in the U.S., but by the time I was ten years old I had lived in five countries on three continents, spoke two languages fluently, and had racked up more airline miles than most business executives. 
Experiencing new and interesting places has always been a major part of my life. The very inner-workings of my personality are defined by the places I've been.
Most of my early years were spent in Latin America and Europe—both places with very old history, from medieval abbeys to pre-Columbian ruins. I was fascinated by archaeology and anthropology.

There was nothing so enchanting to me as a child than to be allowed to wander in the ruins of something that used to be grand—or perhaps still was grand—and ponder on the often untold stories of how it came to be.

As an adult, I’ve continued to travel and live in fantastical places. And they still speak to me. There are tales to be told hidden in the layers of dirt and rock and grass and clover.

I’ve started to write them down.


Growing up, I always felt different. I was taller. I had blonde hair. My family spoke English at home. But I made friends despite being different and adapted to each new country where my family moved. Every summer when we went back to the United States for vacation, I felt a strange dichotomy. In some ways I felt like this was where I was "supposed" to be, but I also felt very removed from the culture. I was used to another way of life; another set of people. It was confusing and exciting all at the same time. 

It wasn't until I was an adult that I heard the phrase "third culture kid." And suddenly I realized--I was one: a child raised in a culture outside of my parents’ for a significant part of my development years.

As I graduated from college and got into a professional career in international relations, I realized that an increasing number of kids are growing up as third culture kids . . . whether due to immigration, military, family situation, or parent's occupation. This book is a shout-out to third culture kids struggling with their identities--and anyone else who wants a glimpse into the complex duality of our natures.

Because my heart has always belonged to Latin America, I couldn't imagine writing a story set in Mexico in any genre other than Magical Realism--and it's a difficult genre. Inspired by one of the most moving novels I've ever read--Los Pasos Perdidos by Alejo Carpentier--my story explores time, nature, life, death, and the continual struggle against oppression that truly defines the spirit of Latin America.  


Every two years, Katja Wickham packs her belongings and follows her archaeologist dad across Latin America. Sure, she’s bilingual and culturally-savvy, but she hates being the new girl at school—especially her senior year. She craves belonging, but everyone at her VIP school in Mexico City is too caught up in juicy gossip about a recent political assassination to bother with new friends.   

A senior class trip to the beach and ruins of El Tajín seems like the perfect opportunity to develop a few friendships, but Katja bungles it by nearly drowning. Fortunately, her classmate, Tiago—a super simpático fútbol player—drags her from the ocean, but not before Katja experiences a puzzling glimpse of an ancient city. Katja shrugs it off, but when a car accident a few days later lands her unconscious in the ICU, she’s immersed in 1519 El Tajín, on the cusp of Cortez’ arrival in America.

When she wakes, all Katja can think about is getting back to the dream. Her involvement has put the entire village in danger of being sacrificed by the Aztecs. Even though dreamy Tiago finally takes an interest in her, Katja can’t help but focus on saving the ancient village. Her days blur together as she skips school to sleep or research. As eerie parallels between her two worlds unfold, Katja becomes convinced that the ancient world is real and her modern life is the dream.

While Tiago fights to ground her in the present, Katja confronts a mysterious archaeologist whose discoveries are too good to be true. But her meddling goes too far, and she puts her dad, Tiago, and the modern villages around El Tajín in the cross-hairs of the sinister political forces that will stop at nothing to keep control. Torn between worlds, Katja must sacrifice herself—in all her realities—to save her friends and find her true home. But she can’t be in two places at once. If she chooses wrong, she’ll eliminate her existence and risk the loss of friends, family, and a civilization untouched by Cortez’ conquest.

NIGHT SWIMMING is a YA magical realism novel similar in concept to Lindsay Smith’s A DARKLY BEATING HEART and will appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s THE RAVEN CYCLE.


It rains every time my main character cries. No one really wonders why.

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Hot boys playing fútbol.

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An epic archeologist villain of Indiana Jones proportion.

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Political assassinations.

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Aztec Mythology.

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Ceremonial human sacrifice.

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Lunar eclipses.

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Mexico City nostalgia.

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Spanish is the language of love. De veras.

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I am not afraid to do hard things.
I am a hard worker.
I never do things half-way.
I use criticism as a springboard to perfection.
I'm a glass-half-full kind of gal.
My passion runs as deep as my main character's.
I make really good chocolate chip cookies.
You want to read about hot guys playing fútbol.
want this story to be magical, memorable, and leave the reader thinking and feeling for days after they finish. 
Did I mention the fútbol?

Pitch Wars #PimpMyBio Blog Hop!
My Twitter Handle: @TaraLundmark

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Worth the Money? When & Why to Hire a Freelance Editor

Do you need to hire a freelance editor?

No. It's not entirely necessary. It can be a prohibitive expense and plenty of writers get agents without ever hiring a freelance editor. However, a good freelance editor can be the tool in your writers' arsenal that speeds your process and broadens your skills. You need to consider it, and in order to make an informed decision, I think there are two important questions to ask yourself. First:

Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat, Morocco, 2103, Photo by Erik Lundmark

WHEN should you hire an editor?

This is the easier of the two questions. Right after you finish a first draft is not the time. Hiring an editor should be saved for that moment when you have made your manuscript as beautiful and wonderful as you can possibly make it through all other free resources including critique partners, writing groups, multiple revisions, and putting the manuscript aside for a while--and then doing another revision. Because you're paying for this service, and you want maximum returns.

Rabat, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Once your manuscript is as good as you can make it, think about the next question:

WHY are you hiring an editor?

Generally speaking, there are three basic categories of editing. There's developmental editing (big picture, plot structure, character development issues). Then there's line-editing (making sure the prose and dialogue flow as they should on a more detailed level), and finally copy-editing (the final pass to look for punctuation, grammar, and continuity errors).

Obviously, you don't want to pay for line editing or copy editing if your story needs developmental help. You may have to delete or rewrite entire chunks of the novel. So that's something you need to look at before you decide what kind of services to purchase. 

Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Not every editor is created equal. There are as many flavors of editors as there are agents, and finding the right match is important to accomplishing your goal. You'll want someone who is familiar with your category and genre. They need to be able to catch the spark of your vision, or their help won't be optimal. You'll also want to find an editor who specializes in the type of editing you need done. You wouldn't hire a copy-editor to help you with your plot structure. Many editors out there will offer a free sample pass of your work. Take advantage of that. This is the only way for each of you to know whether the relationship will work.

Mosaic at Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Get the most from your investment and learn from your editor. Pay attention to the notes they give so that you can improve your story--and implement those principles the next time you write. Editors are full of tips and tricks that will enrich your writing. Remember, editors are not magicians who will wave a wand and fix your writing. They will offer guidance, but you will still do the work. If you're looking for someone to do the work for you, you're in the wrong industry.

Rabat, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Finally, hire someone you can trust. As with anything else in this world, there are those who may try to take advantage of you. Be sure to check references, and make sure the editor is credentialed and has a solid reputation. Word of mouth is a great way to find someone that might be the right fit.

In closing, I wanted to recommend a handful of editors that I have directly worked with or been acquainted with whose advice has helped me grow as a writer. They turned on lights for me when I was stuck and opened my eyes to new perspectives.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Kimberly VanderHorst at Prism Editing is an amazing word-master. She did a fifty-page manuscript critique for me that shifted my thinking. I had pigeonholed myself into an unnecessary paradigm. With her help, I was able to see my story through new eyes, cut 10,000 words, and take it to a level that enabled me to win a finalist slot in the Pitch to Publication contest. 

Stephanie Eding at Stephanie Ed(it)ing worked with me for a month during the Pitch to Publication contest. (I consider her my prize.) She really understood my characters and the vision I had for my manuscript. She pointed out problem areas, made helpful suggestions, and was a fantastic sounding board as I came up with solutions. She also pointed out idiosyncrasies in my writing style and showed me how to smooth them out.

Sione Aeschliman offers editing services and writes a fantastic blog. I also met her during Pitch to Publication and found her insights into the writing process incredibly helpful. Her blog posts on all aspects of crafting a novel--but especially developmental--are a great place to start for advice.

Elizabeth Buege also offers editing services and I've come to think of her as the grammar queen. Whenever I am stuck on usage, I check her blog. She's usually got an answer there. She also has some great revision cheat sheets you can use to make sure your manuscript is ready before sending it to an editor.

Finding a good freelance editor that will help you put all the pieces together and move your manuscript to the next level is an investment worth making--if you make it at the right time and for the right reasons.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

*This post is one in a series: "So You Wrote a Book! Now What?" Click here to view more topics.*


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Fake it 'til you Make it: Avoiding Novice Pitfalls

How do you break into the write-o-sphere without being spotted as a novice?

Portrush, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

When you're new to something, you often make glaring mistakes, simply because you don't know they're mistakes.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, 2104, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Everyone has to start somewhere. You're ready to get your feet wet--but I suggest before you dive right in, you take a step back and simply watch for a moment. It's okay to test the waters, but if you don't know how to swim, you should sit around the pool deck and watch for a while. Try the kiddie pool before you take the plunge into deep waters.

Portrush, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

I was just Twitter-chatting with one of my earliest Twitter writing friends, and we both agreed how far we'd come in just one year--how much wiser we are, how much better writers we are, and how much better prepared we are to push forward.

It's the bonus of experience.

Of course we learn from our mistakes, but it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes you can learn from other people's mistakes.

So how do you do that? 

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark


Before you start shooting off queries, entering contests, and tweeting easily-found questions to industry professionals, do your homework. There are plenty of resources out there, and many of them are free. Take advantage of the collective knowledge of the write-o-sphere (and collective mistakes made by others) so that you'll be better prepared to join the party.

Make connections with others who share your goals

Critique partners are a great way to learn how to improve your writing, and about writing opportunities. I learned so much from early critique partners--I feel honored that they had the patience to point out things I was doing wrong. I never would have joined Twitter if it weren't for a critique partner who suggested I enter a pitch contest.

Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Sign up for a conference or workshop

If you can't afford to travel, do one online. You'll learn valuable tips, tricks for honing your craft, and you'll make peer and professional connections. Writer's Digest offers online workshops. Manuscript Academy is another great resource.

Use your common sense

Even though Twitter can be a fun, often relaxed, and casual social media, remember that what you post is public. For writers, it's a work-place just as much as it is an outlet, so keep your comments professional. When participating in games and contests, always thank the hosts, never complain about the outcomes, and remember that this is a subjective industry. So many of the resources available are offered freely by volunteers. Remember, even agents don't get paid until they sell your book. They are reading your query for free.

Avoid these novice pitfalls

Finally, I wanted to point out a handful of tell-tale signs that will give you away as a novice. Avoid these mistakes in your interactions and in your writing and you won't soon be in over your head.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Not following directions

Always follow directions. If a Twitter hashtag game asks that you not post promotional buy links on the hashtag, don't do it. If a contest asks for a 35-word pitch. Send a 35-word pitch. Do not send 36. Your entry could be disqualified for something as small as one word. If a pitch contest says only pitch once every four hours, don't exceed that.

This is even more important when querying. Always double check submission guidelines. Get your guidelines straight off the agency website. Don't rely on what may be out-of-date information on someone's blog. There is no second chance to make a first impression.

Pitching at inappropriate times   

There's a reason agents have a process set up for querying. Unless you've been invited to query an agent (at a conference, during a pitch party, or other appropriate forum) the only appropriate way to query an agent is through the prescribed method outlined on their website. Thinking you are an exception to the rule will out you as a novice.

Querying before a manuscript is ready

Agents can tell if you just finished your manuscript. Running a spell-check is not enough. Make sure your manuscript has been fully vetted before you even think about putting it in front of an agent. Even if they like the concept, they won't accept work that's not there yet.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Submitting a manuscript that has excessive novice mistakes

Just being grammatically correct does not a good novel make. Here are a few technical things you'll want to avoid in your writing (and links to articles on why or how to correct them):

A great tool I have used in the past to hunt for these problems is ProWritingAid. (They offer a free search for issues on their website or you can purchase software.) It's well worth the small investment to tighten up and polish your writing.

Have the patience to follow these steps and you'll no longer be a novice!

Portrush, Northern Ireland, 2014, Photo by Tara Lundmark

*This post is one in a series: "So You Wrote a Book! Now What?" Click here to view more topics.*

Saturday, February 18, 2017

First Impressions: Crafting the Crucial First Page

We all know you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. That's why your novel's first line and first page are so extremely critical--they may be the only thing your potential reader ever reads. Don't take it lightly. I rewrote the opening scene of my first novel more than ten times.

It's that important.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

There are several things to remember as you decide where and how to start your story.

1. Start in the right place

I've seen it time and again in agent writing tips: Make sure your story starts in the right place. Most people tend to start too soon. You want to begin your story just before that turning point where your protagonist will never be the same again--that moment where one crucial event or decision changes the course of the main character's life and begins the adventure. This is often called the "inciting incident."

It's tempting for many novice authors to start too far ahead of that moment in order to establish the character's daily routine first. Don't be tempted to do that. There's a fine line between establishing a character and giving us the character's life story.

On the other hand, it's possible to start too late, too. We've all heard it's good to start right into the action. But an action scene where the reader has no idea who the characters are is self-defeating. In order to care about the players in an action scene, the reader must already know and have sympathy for said characters. Make sure your reader has connected with your character before you put them in danger.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Finally, a note on prologues: From what I've seen from agents, I think the common consensus is that about 90% of the time, a prologue is unnecessary. If you currently have a prologue to your story, give some serious thought to it. Unless you really can't tell your story without it, it only serves as a red flag for agents.

Prague, Czech Republic, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

2. Don't info-dump

When you are creating your characters, they will have a back-story. Unless they are a newborn, they will have an entire life worth of experiences, situations, and circumstances that make up who the are. It's important for you, as the writer, to know this whole backstory. You can write it out if you want. You need to know that information in order to determine how a character will react in any given circumstance. But the reader does not need to know all of it. And they certainly don't need to know it on page one.

Think about meeting a new person in real life. If you start up a conversation with someone in line at the coffee shop, would you expect them to spill their entire life story to you the first time you met? No. In fact, if they did, you'd probably think they were really weird and get out of there ASAP. Hello, awkward.

Wang Church, Karpacz, Poland 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

It's the same in fiction. All you need to know about someone in order to be intrigued is one small element that sparks interest. Perhaps the woman in line at the coffee shop has a tattoo that's exactly the same as one your ex-boyfriend had. Or perhaps you just overheard her on her phone telling someone she can't talk now because she's driving. What? In both instances, you'd want to know more about this person--or at least be curious enough to watch her for a while as you stand in line.

The whole mystery of your character's lives should be sprinkled in throughout the story--providing "aha" moments for your reader the more they get to know your characters. It actually works in your favor to dole out these nuggets of backstory as you go.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

3.  Avoid trope beginnings

Nothing screams novice writer more than a trope beginning. Even if you think you've got a new take on it, unless you are JK Rowling . . . and you are not . . . just don't do it. If your story currently begins with one of the following, run--do not walk--do not pass go--do not collect $200--and change your beginning.

*waking up
*describing the sun or moon
*describing the scenery or weather
*character looking at themselves in the mirror
*first day of school
*a dream

Wang Church, Karpacz, Poland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

4. Make every word count

There are many contests out there that are based on the first 250 words of your story. That's all you get. That's not a lot. That's essentially one page. There's a reason for this. If all you had was 250 words to get a reader interested in your story, you'd want each one of those words to pack a punch. Here's where you need to use your amazing writerly skills to make each word do double the work. Make sure these sentences are crafted to the utmost perfection. Make sure you are "showing" your reader, not "telling." This is a hard thing to do, but think of it this way:

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. So you need to use your words to paint a picture. If you paint a picture with your words, the value of each word suddenly increases. You need less words to get your meaning across because the reader is able to visualize what you've written--you've created a picture in their minds--and they will fill in the words for themselves. For example:

Telling: "It was really cold outside."

Showing: "Icicles formed beneath the eaves."

Both sentences are only five words, but which one paints a picture?

Wang Church, Karpacz, Poland, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

5. Establish a connection

The most important thing you must do in that first page is establish a connection with the reader. That's usually done (and especially in YA) through forging a connection between the reader and the main character. If your reader is going to spend several hours of their life with a character, it better be someone they are interested in. What makes your protagonist unique? Spark the reader's interest with something that makes your character stand out or makes your character relatable.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014, Photo by Erik Lundmark

If your first 250 words can stand on their own to intrigue a reader, you've done your job.

*This post is one in a series: "So You Wrote a Book! Now What?" Click here to view more topics.*

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Going Up? Then Boil it Down: The Elevator Pitch

There's nothing I hate more than when I tell someone I'm writing a book and they say, "Oh! What's it about?"

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Boiling your whole 90,000 word novel into one sentence can be overwhelming. I always get tongue-tied and say something that sounds completely ridiculous--as if anyone would ever buy a book about whatever stuttering spewage just came out of my mouth.

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Now imagine the person is not a passing stranger, but an agent you've just met at a conference or in an online Q&A forum. They ask for a pitch. What do you say?

Freak out time!

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

So before you get into that situation, you should craft an elevator pitch. Think 35 words or less.

How the heck do you do that?

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

This is where some great Twitter contests come into play. Two awesome contests that can help you hone your elevator pitch are PitchMas (held in December and hosted by Jessa Russo and Tamara Mataya) and Pitch Madness (held in March and hosted by Brenda Drake.) *Hint: Pitch Madness submission window this year is February 24.*

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Now--remember--you don't want to actually enter one of these contests unless your manuscript is polished, you have a smoking hot query letter, and you're all ready to put that manuscript out in the world. If your pitch is good enough that you are selected, agents will ask for your manuscript. And while this is normally a good thing, if your manuscript is not ready yet, you risk sending it out prematurely, looking like an amateur, and forfeiting another chance with said agent on this manuscript. So heed this warning!

However, the reason I bring this up is that a number of contests have "practice rounds" where you can get peer--and sometimes professional--feedback on your pitches. Follow their hashtags a week or so before a contest and you'll likely find other writers who are working on their pitches. There are many people out there who are happy to trade pitches. Last year there was a super helpful mini-workshop on the hashtag #prapit run by Michael Mammay. He gives tips on crafting your pitch on his blog.

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

So, where to start? You've got to do some real soul-searching and boil your story down to the bare essentials. What are the bricks that make up your story? And what makes your story unique?

Think specifics. 

Questions to think about:

Who is your protagonist?
What does this person want?
What happens to change the course of this person's life?
What does the person have to overcome?
What is at stake if the person doesn't overcome?
What makes your story stand out from the rest?

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

If you are magical (and I know that you are) you can answer all these questions in 35 words or less. Get creative. Make every word count. Use strong verbs and loaded adjectives.

Boom--you've got an elevator pitch!

And if you can do it in 140 characters or less, you've got a Twitter pitch!

Now that you know what to include in your pitch--here's a great list of all those cliché, amorphous, completely vague phrases that you should leave out of your pitch. Michele Keller has a great article here. Go on. Check. If you have any of these phrases, cross them off and try again.

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

Write a couple of different pitches--looking at your work from different angles--and see which one people respond to. Before you know it, you'll be ready to tell anyone what your book is about without hesitation. And they'll get the big picture.

Siena, Italy, 2013, Photo by Erik Lundmark

*This post is one in a series: "So You Wrote a Book! Now What?" Click here to view more topics.*