I Should Be Happier

I’m sitting here in my own house with pup snoring somewhere down the hallway and my day is completely my own. I can write, I can sit out on the porch and read a book. I’m in good (enough) health.  I have plenty of food in the fridge.  Money in the bank to pay my bills.  Good friends. Family is doing well.  The nasty stress that used to feel like a hundred-pound weight pressing down on my shoulders is a distant memory.  I’m on track to have my best month ever self-publishing.

And yet…

I’m dissatisfied.

I want more.

I want to know that my writing will pay my bills. That I can keep doing this for years and be successful at it.  I want to know that I’ll be able to keep this house long-term.  I don’t want to have to return to that world that I did well in but that felt like wearing one of those Medieval hair shirts.

I should be happy right now.  I’m making forward progress towards my dreams.

But I want to write a book that people adore.  That they tell their friends about and re-read over and over again because it’s just that good.  And a book that I love, too.  Not something I write to appeal to the masses, but something I write because I love it and I find the people who feel the same way.

I sit here, overwhelmed with so many ideas and so many possible paths and no way to know which one leads to where I want to be.

I’m grateful for everything I have.  I am. I have been so so fortunate to do what I’ve done the last seven years since I left my day job.  I just…I want more. And I’m beginning to fear that that’s always how I’ll be.  That there will be moments of happiness or contentment, but that they’ll be gone within a day or a week.  That I will always see what more life could be and never truly be able to settle into the moment and enjoy it for what it is…

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I Know You Mean Well, But…

So I mentioned a little bit ago that I have a friend who’s dealing with brain tumors.  They’ve set up a FB page to keep everyone posted about what’s going on so I’m getting to see not just updates by friend and their partner, but also what others have to say about it.  Now, this is an eclectic mix of folks.  Yogis and skydivers and people from all around the world.


I have to bite my lip a lot and try to keep my own issues separate from my friend’s illness.

Because there’s a lot of “if you just eat enough tumeric those tumors will go away” or “if you just put all your faith in God he will carry you through this” or just “you’ve spent your life jumping out of planes, you can easily beat this.”

And I get it.  I get that people want to be positive and give encouragement.  No one wants to be the asshole who says, “This is serious shit.  You might die.  Or be forever changed.”  When someone is facing something like this, there’s this desire to be encouraging.  To tell someone it will get better.  That they can make it through if they just…whatever.

But that’s not always true.

And I’m not sure how helpful it is to tell someone these things even if it’s something they believe in.  My father was a man of God.  If he could, he dragged himself to church every single Sunday.  And he prayed.  And he believed.  (And, more surprisingly in this modern age, I think he actually lived a truly Christian life down to loving your fellow man and forgiving people their sins.)

But praying and believing didn’t change the fact that he didn’t have his kidneys.  And that he couldn’t have another transplant.  And that he was in a slow, decades-long decline that was going to ultimately kill him.

Yeah, sure.  Sometimes it works out.  I’m sure there were folks with AIDS who feel their prayers have been answered.  Because it was a death sentence when I was in middle school and now people can have a normal life expectancy with it.

But to imply that “all you have to do is X” makes people who are already in a shitty situation feel worse because maybe they aren’t doing enough.  In my father’s case, maybe he didn’t believe enough.  Maybe he’d sinned by marrying a woman who wasn’t a God-fearing person.  Maybe he’d failed by not raising children who shared his faith.  Maybe, maybe…

Maybe life is just sometimes shit.  And it’s not the fault of the person who is sick that they were struck down by this.  And it’s not their fault that they can’t be the one that recovers from it no matter what they do or how hard they fight.

I get that people want to be encouraging and positive.  I do.  But…I don’t know.  Sometimes I’d rather just hear people say, “This sucks.  And it may for a long time yet.  But I’m here for you.”

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You Could, But Have You?

That’s the much more polite version of what I found myself wanting to say more than once this weekend.  I was visiting a good friend and her spouse and the spouse–who was once incredibly successful but basically hasn’t done much in the last seven years–kept talking to me about how he’s going to write a best-selling non-fiction book.

He hasn’t really started writing it yet, but if he does decide to self-publish he knows who’ll design the cover and edit it.  And he talked to an agent who said it sounded interesting so of course he already has an agent lined up and could easily sell it to a trade publisher if he decided to go that route.  One of the big five, of course.

Really, the world is his oyster. All he has to do is bother to write the book because, of course, once it’s out there everyone will want to buy it.  Then again, he doesn’t really want to be an author, it’s just his way of getting access to certain key people who will allow him to do what he really wants to do which is be a venture capitalist.

Now, maybe he’s absolutely right.  He has had two successful careers, no reason he couldn’t be successful in a third.  And maybe he would put enough money into the launch and has the right connections to get the book seen by the right people and genuinely does have something truly interesting to say that will let that book take off.

It’s possible.  (Not likely, but possible.)

I can’t say for sure.  Because he hasn’t written it.  And shows no signs of doing so.

Lord knows I haven’t approached my writing with a career mindset.  I’m all over the board with what I write–non-fiction, fantasy, romance.  I have yet to publish a series in my fiction.  I never followed up on my most successful romance series.  And I do it under different names so that even if someone liked one of my books, they can’t actually find the others.

So I can’t say to him, well, I’ve struggled at this, so you obviously will, too.  (I mean, I, too have been very successful in the past.  But that was at a different game with different rules.  You can borrow lessons from the business world for your writing, but at the end of the day your writing makes or breaks you if you want this to be a long-term, sustainable thing.)

But, I do know one thing.

This guy will not have his bestselling book if he doesn’t actually write it.

As much as I’ve messed this whole thing up, I have actually written a damned book.  And published it.  And advertised it.  And researched how all this works.  (So I know that one casual conversation with an agent does not an offer of rep make.)

And slowly, very slowly, I’ve made progress.  I’ve improved with each project.  I’ve learned.  My covers are better. I now advertise my books regularly.  I’m focusing on what works and doing more of it.

I think I posted a while back about being excited that I’d made at least $50 per month for a year from my writing.  Now I should (barring any weirdness) be about to close out a year of making $250 per month or more from my writing.  And I will finally, after too long, be publishing the last in a series next month and be able to really advertise that and see if it can gain traction now that it’s done.

So, as someone who has worked at this for a while (I can’t say worked hard because the number of hours I put in daily compared to my old day job don’t compare), when I cross paths with someone like that I just want to throttle them.  Because there is this attitude I see far too often in our society of “oh, I could do that” from people who never do anything.

You know what?  You can do that?  Then do it.  Go out there and show the world how it’s done. But don’t sit on your couch doing nothing and criticizing those who are actually out there doing the thing that you can’t be bothered to do.

(That is the generic you, of course, not you readers of this blog who are actually out there trying to learn something and move forward.)


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Writing Rules Are For Shit

So on an agent blog this morning someone had written in to talk about how “bad” J.K. Rowling’s writing is.  I’ll note that they failed to mark the two times in her Harry Potter books she used a really strange saidism for something Ron said, but really?  Really?

And, instead of saying, “Dude, chill on the writing rules”, the agent sort of kind of agreed with the assessment.  What the what?

I think writing rules are something that newer writers latch onto because they think if they just follow all the little rules they’ve heard that they’ll be successful.  And they assume that if they aren’t successful it’s because there’s some rule they haven’t learned yet.

But go and look at some of the best writers out there.  Look at Stephen King.  He uses parens in his fiction writing.  Seeing that was what finally freed me up to sort of kind of ignore the rules of writing.  If I want to use an adverb, by god I will.  If I want to use a saidism, I’ll do that, too.

Writing rules are what we should look to when something isn’t working.  But not before.

Instead, sadly, it’s the first thing other writers look to when they want to critique someone’s writing.  “Hey, I noticed you were telling in this paragraph instead of showing” or “You repeated this word three times in this paragraph.”

Yep.  For a reason.  Because I didn’t need to spend five chapters getting my characters from Point A to Point B and the repetition of the word was a stylistic choice meant to provide emphasis.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard some newer writer call out every use of “had” or “was” without understanding why you might call those words out.

And, yet, I almost never hear anyone mention filtering words in critique (like heard or saw when in first-person or deep third-person point of view), even though removing those will strengthen a writer’s writing ten times more than the removing every use of had or was.

Why doesn’t anyone ever stop to think how many really, really successful writers are “bad writers” and realize that maybe the criteria they’re using is wrong?  Story trumps everything. Writing is just the way you convey that story to your audience.

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That Gray Area Between Death and Life

I’d written about 300 words of a post about ethics and how like people gravitate to like people and then realized I just didn’t want to go there today.  But…Since I’m here…

A very good friend of mine just found out he has a brain tumor.  And he’s handling it amazingly well.  Some people would get that kind of news and be devastated, especially since the tumor appears to be secondary to a cancer somewhere else in his body that they just haven’t located yet.

But my friend is fine with it.  If this is his time, he’s okay with that.  He’s lived a good life.  No regrets.

What I can’t say to him, so I’ll say to all of you instead, is that I don’t think he understands that there can be a gray area between life and death.

When I was skydiving, I had no problem with the idea that I could die doing it.  If things went really wrong and I went splat, I figured it would be over in a minute or two.  (Turns out, maybe not so much, but that was what I thought when I started jumping.)

I had no kids, no one who relied on me financially, no pup.  It was just me.  And if that’s how I went out?  Okay.

But what I came to realize was that, thanks to the joys of modern medicine, it was much more likely I’d be seriously injured but not killed skydiving.  And that was something I didn’t want.  Chronic pain.  Months of rehab.  Decreased motion for the rest of my life.  The need for others to help me do the simplest things.

None of that was worth it to me.  I loved skydiving, but not enough to go through that. I didn’t want to live in the gray area if I could avoid it.

My dad lived in that gray area the entire time I knew him.  As I’ve mentioned on here before, he was very ill as a child and eventually lost his kidneys because of it, and was a dialysis patient pretty much my entire life until he died when I was eighteen.  (With a brief hiatus in there when he got a hep positive kidney transplant and then pneumonia and spent three months in the ICU and almost died and ultimately lost the kidney and part of a lung before it was all over.)

He lived in a world of daily awareness of the limitations of his illness.  Every single meal was impacted by the requirements of his disease.  And three times a week he spent hours hooked up to a dialysis machine so he could live.  On top of that were the inevitable complications.  For him those included water on the heart, low blood pressure, decaying bones, macular degeneration, carpal tunnel, two spinal fusions, chronic pain, and on and on and on.

I think we often see illness and think it’s an either/or scenario.  You get cancer and you beat it or you die.  You have a heart attack and it kills you or you recover.  You’re in a car accident and you have surgery and rehab and go on with your life.

But most people who get sick or are seriously injured actually live the rest of their lives in a gray area between life and death.  They’re not dead, but they’re never quite the same as they were before.  It drags at them and weighs them down a little bit more every single day until it becomes too much.

My mom is ten-plus years out from a successful heart surgery at this point. If she hadn’t had it, she would’ve died within a matter of weeks.  That surgery gave her years of additional life.  But she lives with the consequences of it every single day and she is not as active as she was before that.  And not as healthy.  She’s alive, yes, but there’s a quality issue that most people overlook.

I had a co-worker who made it to the five year mark with a glioblastoma brain tumor.  Odds of that were something like 5%.  You hear that and think, “Wow, he was one of the lucky ones.”  But he wasn’t.  He had no short-term memory for most of those five years.  A man who was one of the most brilliant lawyers I’d ever met, and for the last five years of his life he couldn’t have a real conversation because he’d forget he was having it and start over from scratch.

Life is rarely black and white.

Especially with illness, it’s rarely, you’ve got this and it’ll kill you or you get to go back to who you were before.  Far, far more often, it changes you, in big ways or small.

And most of us aren’t mentally equipped to understand that that’s what’s coming and prepare for it.

I hope for my friend’s sake it’s a black and white outcome.  I hope he gets to be who he’s always been or it’s over fast.

But I fear that’s not what’s going to happen, and that, while he might be fine with a black or white outcome, he’ll struggle with the gray space between.  As we all do.

(But until that actually happens?  I’m keeping that to myself.)

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Writing Is the Easy Part

I’m weird. I know this.  Things that others like, I hate.  And I’m almost pathological in my negative reaction to being marketed to. I do not like to be sold and I’m very, very sensitive to any signs that it’s happening.

Which makes this whole self-publishing thing quite challenging for me.  Because I don’t want to have to sell others.  I want to just tell them, “Here’s a good product that meets your interests, buy it if you agree.”

But I’ve been reading a book on advertising recently that’s full of tips and tricks for how to market things. And I just spent the morning updating my blurbs and ad copy for some of my non-fiction books to “sell” my books better.

So now my blurbs say things like, “Do you know the X number of ways to do Y?”

It killed me to write them that way.  It’s so spammy feeling.

But… The books in question do have numbered lists telling people how to do Y. So if mentioning it up front, sells those books, might as well try it.  It’s just…painful to me.

Writing the things I want to write is easy. Getting other people to see them?  Hard.  And then buy them?  Even harder.

But that’s what you have to do if you want to succeed at this, so…Worth a try. Even if it kind of sort of makes me cringe.

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Let’s Talk Numbers

So, as usual when I know I should be writing but for some reason am stuck, I spent some time today playing with my Access database where I track sales across eight different platforms, eight different pen names, and, as of today, over 100 different titles.

(Don’t get impressed.  Lots of that 100 are short stories. As Pronoun is slowly learning to their chagrin.)

I know I need to focus my writing.  I know this.  But as I’ve mentioned before, it isn’t all that easy to figure out what direction to focus in when your top three titles by revenue are under three names and in three different genre/types.

Today’s exercise was breaking down my total revenues, pay per hour, and pay per word by type and genre.

So, first I looked at novels vs. short stories vs. non-fiction titles.

I clearly make the most in terms of actual money from novels.  They’re certainly easier to promote because they pass the length requirements of most retailers, so that kind of makes sense.

But in terms of pay per hour, they’re actually last for me.  Turns out I make about 3x as much per writing/editing hour on my non-fiction and close to that, on average, with my short stories.

I also make pretty much the same per word rate across the board.  (And, man, do I wish it were a nice pro-rate of 6 cents per word, but it’s not. Yet.)

Which is all to say that I can write non-fiction faster than short stories and short stories faster than novels.  Makes sense.

Is there a trend on the non-fiction? A specific type I could focus on?  Nope. My top four titles are related to three completely different topics.

What about genre?  Any standouts there regardless of length?

Actually, maybe.  (And this is where this type of analysis falls apart…)  My erom titles make me twice as much per writing/editing hour as anything else with non-fiction coming in second.

That’s mostly off the strength of a well-targeted short story collection that I sort of kind of wrote to market that still occasionally sells.

But…can I write more like that? Uh, well, um…


I think I could, but I’m not sure I want to. And it’s an incredibly competitive space to be in. Very much release or die. I think trying to make a living there would stress me out no end. So I can poke around at the edge of it every once and while but trying to make a living there?  Nah.

(BTW just noticed WordPress has changed their layout again.  Grrr.  Just leave things alone, would you?)

Which all makes me circle back to that whole “how bad do you want this?” discussion.  I feel like a dilettante who just wants something useful to do around taking the puppy to the dog park and watching crappy t.v.  Problem is, I don’t have some rich uncle who’s going to kick off and leave me millions and every time I buy a lottery ticket I don’t even match one number.


Where does that leave me?

I guess I don’t have to feel too guilty when I slip in a few non-fiction titles here or there?

And, of course, the danger in an analysis like this is it doesn’t take into account intangibles like the fact that I still haven’t released an actual series yet.  So those novel numbers could be way underestimating potential right now.

(Which is what my gut tells me and why I’m hoping to write 500K in novels this year.  Hahaha. Yikes.)

I think the takeaway I’m going to go with is this: Based on the numbers, whatever I choose to write, I manage to do okay with, so what I really need to do is frickin’ pick a direction and go.  I’m like the college student who can’t decide on a major right now.

And  I will say I’m pretty impressed I’ve sold (for cash money, not free) over 2,100 short stories so far (counting sales of collections as one sale).  It was spread across a lot of titles so I didn’t realize the number was that high.

Huh.  Who knew?  (And until it pays my mortgage, who cares?)


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Free Short Story and Thoughts on Pronoun

So, first, my short story The Bearer is free on Amazon at the moment.  Should be in all markets, so if you’re interested, pick up a copy. This is the story that almost almost almost sold to Tor.com back when they were taking open short story submissions and a few years later I still, surprisingly, like it.

I don’t know why, but I figured I’d look back at those stories I wrote in 2013 and wince, thinking how horrible they were given my older, wiser perspective.  But actually…I didn’t.  I went through all of the short stories I have published to Amazon and tweaked them before moving them over to Pronoun but they really held up pretty well.  The Price We Pay made me a little teary even.  (It’s based off my father…)

Anyway.  For you author/publisher folks, if you haven’t looked into Pronoun, it might be worth checking out, especially if you have a title you want to list for free on Amazon.  Because, unlike the convoluted hoops you have to jump through to get a title matched to free if you list your books directly with Amazon, on Pronoun you can just put the price to free and it works.  Just like that.  In all markets, I do believe.

Which is pretty darned convenient for a title you want to leave at free.  (I hadn’t been planning on listing The Bearer as free and then I thought, why not?  I like the story, I want people to read it, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time or effort promoing it to bring in those readers.  So, let’s set it to free and see what folks think.)

Listing through Pronoun does reset a book and give it a new ASIN so I wouldn’t recommend that for a title with a good ranking.  (I have one of my romance shorts that’s free that I won’t move for that reason.  But another one I just set to free is sitting at 3K or 4K on the free list since I moved it over which is nice for a title that’s been out a couple years and had lost visibility.)

You can also get your reviews on Amazon to transfer over so you won’t lose those. (But you might have to email Amazon to make that happen.  Just ask them to link the two editions and give them both ASINs.)

They also have access to Google for those who don’t have an account there and want to list wide.

Right now I won’t use them for more expensive titles because of the lack of granular price control.  Not that I think I can get a Bookbub on every title, but you never know.  And I’m not a fan of their reporting from what I’ve seen so far.  It’s not detailed at all.  Hopefully the reports they send when they send payment will give more granular detail.

But another nice little perk that they’re offering at least for now is a better payout on books outside of Amazon’s sweet spot of $2.99 to $9.99.  If you’re direct with Amazon you get 35 cents for a sale of a 99 cent title.  But if you go through Pronoun you might get as much as 70 cents.  (I’ve had a few that paid 50 cents so far probably because they were UK sales, but I can’t see that because of their crappy reporting…)

And they’ll email you to let you know what categories you could be in to get on a top 100 list, but I’m not too impressed with that either.  It suggested I list my short stories in a translations category.  Sure, I’d get on a list, but what’s the point on being on a list when my book isn’t that type of book so those readers won’t want it?

Anyway.  Something to look into if you weren’t aware of it already.  Oh, and the formatting they offer is much nicer than the basic formatting I normally get by uploading a Word file everywhere.  (But I think I’m about to take the plunge and move to Vellum so I have more control over that.  Only took me three and a half years to get there.  Haha…)

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Bit by Bit

When I don’t feel like writing I often crunch numbers related to my writing.  It makes me somehow feel like I’m working on my writing business but really I just think it’s fun to play with Access databases and Excel spreadsheets.  (It seems to me that somewhere in that statement is an indicator of what I should actually be doing to earn a living, but I digress…)


What did I learn today?

That I am slowly but surely making progress with this writing gig.  Six months into my fourth year of self-publishing and I’ve already made more than I did in my third year of self-publishing.  Yay.

We’re still talking small numbers, but I think I can pretty comfortably say that I will earn at least $100 per month at this point since the last eight months have been well clear of that number. (Although no $1,000+ months yet, sadly.)

What changed?  Last time I posted something about this on the blog I think I was happy that I’d made it twelve months with at least $50 earned.

One, audio.  I now have twenty-two titles out in audio.  Some barely sell, so I haven’t paid off my overall investment in audio yet, but without any effort from me it chugs along nicely on the ones that do sell.  The first title I put in audio got one great review and that’s driven sales of that title ever since and it broke even a few months ago so all sales on it are now gravy.  After the first four, I produced them on a non-exclusive basis and am about to list them wide so I’m hoping that by zigging while everyone else is zagging I get even more audio revenue.  We shall see…

Two, finally putting out a second book in a series.  As much as I knew the advice to write novels in series I really hadn’t done that until last year.  I have high hopes that getting the third and final book in my pen name fantasy series out will really make it pop.  Then I’ll feel comfortable pushing book 1 heavily to drive sales.  I had a small international-only Bookbub on that title in January and got a taste of what I might be able to accomplish with the series once it’s complete.  Even if I can’t get another BB I really have’t promoed that title at free or 99 cents other than that one sale, so lots of options available.

Three, advertising.  I’ve had some success with AMS ads since July with non-fiction as well as fiction titles at full price and I’m starting to poke a toe into FB ads as well. I’d like to explore other CPC ad options this year and see what I can do with them because I think advertising is what’s really been driving my numbers the last six months.  Basically, I’m getting $2 of sales for every $1 of ads.  I just wish I knew how to scale it….But pleased with that 2:1 ratio nonetheless.

Interestingly, I didn’t publish a lot last year.  Other than book 2 in that series most of what sold last year was material that I’d published the year before.  So don’t give up on a book just because it’s been out a while and didn’t do well right out the gate.  Sometimes it just requires a new format (like audio) or more related books or finding advertising that works for that book.

I by no means have cracked the secret to success.  I can still earn more in a week of consulting than I’ve ever earned with my writing.  (Although it’s pretty close right now.)  But I do have faith that if I keep working at this and eventually build a solid enough backlist under one name that I can maybe do pretty well at this.  (How’s that for resounding confidence?  Maybe, sort of, kind, possibly.)

And in the meantime, it at least gives me something to analyze when I get bored and don’t want to write…

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It Isn’t All Just Writing

Today’s wordcount is at negative 300 so far because I had to tear apart two chapters that were revealing information too soon and then write new words to replace what I tore out.  So I figured I’d take a break and do some non-writing writing stuff.

And man is there a lot of it to do.  Before you start writing for money you basically have the luxury of just writing.  Or maybe reading blogs or forums or books about writing craft, but really it’s just write when you want to, don’t when you don’t.

But the minute you start writing for money–either subbing stories or novels to publications or agents or editors or self-publishing–you start to find your time getting sucked up by these other things that are related to your writing but aren’t your actual writing.

To give an example, here’s my current to-do list:

  1. Get my old Mac set up to run Vellum and then update eight files that have validation errors on Kobo when I use a Word file to upload there.
  2. Load those files to Kobo once done.
  3. Create FB ads using mirror audiences from three sign-up lists I have from various giveaways I participated in.
  4. Email Amazon about linking the editions of short stories I just pubbed through Pronoun that were previously listed direct with Amazon so the reviews transfer over.
  5. Add more titles to Google.
  6. Submit a few proposals for an upcoming conference I want to speak at.
  7. Create a PowerPoint for a talk I’m giving at a library next month.
  8. Figure out where to go for wide distribution of my audiobook titles and then get all 18 titles published there.
  9. Publish a title that came out of Select wide.

Those were just the items that came to mind when I was writing the list.  Little things, like updating links for my short stories that were moved to Pronoun, didn’t even make the list but those had to be done, too.  And keeping track of ads and adjusting them as needed.  And reacting to any new developments that need my attention.  And…

Good thing I’m not popular enough to get invited to do interviews or attend cons.  I don’t know how successful authors manage to balance it all.  Some days it feels like I’m working on my writing for the entire day and yet my wordcount is negligible.  And it’s all because of these little things that eat away at my time or my focus.

At least a lot of them can be done while I’m unwinding watching television at night and need something to occupy my attention.  But still…

I’d almost recommend that authors hold off on trying to make money off their writing for as long as possible while they just write, write, write.  Then again, I think without the motivation of potential sales I would’ve written far less than I have at this point and be nowhere near where I am on this whole journey.  So…You take the bad with the good I guess.

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