The old saying is true, we really do judge books by their cover. How many times have you walked into a B&N or gone to Amazon.com to look for a new read? That’s right, about a million. So you walk (or click) to your favorite genre and start browsing. We do one of two things: either we look for a particular author, or we browse the shelves looking for something that grabs our attention.
I recently released my first book, “Sons of Prophecy: Davian’s Deception.” If I do say so myself, my cover rocks! You can see for yourself right here.
As a self-published, self-financed author, how and where I spend money on my book is important. To me, the cover had to be 100% awesome - no cheap stuff. So how did I go about it?
I love CrowdSPRING - it’s one of the coolest sites on the internet, and one of the things that makes the internet so awesome.
Think about it - you’re an average Joe or Jane and you have a project - a product to name, a logo to be designed, a book cover to be created, whatever…. So you could call one of your friends, or your sister-in-law, but what happens if you don’t like their stuff? Ya, awkward. Thanks to CrowdSPRING, you can get what you want at the price you’re willing to pay.
Here's How It Works:
Step 1: Get Registered.
Super easy. Just go to CrowdSPRING.com and click the “Join” link in the top right corner. Enter the normal stuff and away you go. You don’t have to give them your credit card or anything like that, so don’t worry. It’s painless.
Step 2: Start a Project.
Click the pink link at the top of the screen to Start a New Project. You’ll see a screen with various options - including “Print Design,” which is where you’ll find book covers.
Step 3: Define Your Project.
Next, you give your project a name, and provide the details - like giving a synopsis of your book, etc.You can easily follow the steps on the site.
One thing I would definitely recommend is browsing. Select the “Browse” option from the home screen and take a look at the “live” projects. It’s pretty cool. You can look around and get an idea for what’s going on. The thing I love about this is you can see what various Creatives (artists) do. You can actually click on the “Creatives” tab and view portfolios. That’s how I got started. I looked at a few portfolios and invited Creatives to submit an entry for my cover.
You Get What You Pay For
Okay, I’m using another “saying” in this post, but it’s just as true as the book cover one. You really do get what you pay for. When I first created my project, I put a price of $299 (or something like that). The entries I got back were… well, crappy. Honestly, my 6 year old granddaughter could have done a better job than some of the stuff that came through. Not satisfied with ANY OF THEM, I decided to up the price and promote my project. Well worth the money!
I ended up spending around $800, including tips I gave to the winner and the runner up. I felt bad for the guy who took second because his work was WAY good - just not as good as the winner’s.
Small World brought to you by CrowdSPRING
So here I am, an unknown author from Utah who wants a killer book cover. I end up choosing a guy from the Philippines who created just the look and feel I wanted in my book cover. Pretty cool.
I will use CrowdSPRING again without a doubt.
As you know, your book’s cover is your first and possibly only impression. Make it count!
About Steve Schmutz
Before seventh grade, Steve hated to read, but a stroke of fate happened one day when his friends introduced him to the amazing world of J.R.R Tolkien. Literally overnight, Steve found himself reading like never before. A new world was opened to his eyes—a world that would never again be without a book or two on his shelf, in his pocket, and on his mind.
Although Steve’s love for books has spread to other genres, his love for fantasy always has been and always will be his home.
Steve has been married to his best friend for over 30 years. They have five beautiful daughters, all whom are married to excellent men. Steve and his wife, Becky, will soon welcome their twelfth grandchild into the family.
In addition to reading and writing, Steve enjoys spending time with his family, working in his yard, running, hiking, golfing, and traveling with his wife. They live in Utah where Steve is a software entrepreneur specializing in claims and risk management solutions.
Find Steve and his book on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/Steven-W.-Schmutz/e/B00DRY1TZ6
Check out his website/blog here: http://www.sonsofprophecy.com/
Thank you to fellow author, Graeme Brown, who tagged me in this hop. Hope you all enjoy reading this little questionnaire as much as I enjoyed filling it out.
The authors I have tagged to continue the NBTBH will be linked at the bottom of this post.
1: What is the working title of your book(s)?
I currently have one completed novel titled Sky Stone and I am currently working on the sequel to be titled Guardian Core.
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I arrived at the idea for Sky Stone while listening to music. The specific song was 'Breakaway' by Kelly Clarkson. I daydreamed often to music (still do) but I found myself dreaming the same dream each time I heard 'Breakaway', each time becoming more elaborate. Eventually I decided to write down my dream and it eventuated in to Sky Stone.
3: What genre does your book come under?
Young Adult Fantasy
4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
That is a difficult question. Hmm… I'll list six of my major characters below.
Skyla: Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games)
Aaron: Chris Hemsworth (Thor) or Kit Hemmingway (Game of Thrones)
Aiyanna: Judi Dench (James Bond)
Ellis: Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games)
Belle: Elle Fanning (Daddy Day Care)
Hugo: Tom Felton (Harry Potter)
Check out my 'Characters' page to see if you think these actors/actresses fit the descriptions.
5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Skyla, finding herself empowered with magical abilities in a land torn by war, discovers she must fulfil a destiny decided by the gods, a destiny which will test her limits to the full.
Check out the 'Synopsis' page for more.
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
Sky Stone is yet to be published. However, I plan to self-publish, hopefully this year.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Approximately 1.5 years. I found it difficult to write often since my education was my primary objective and hence I couldn't spend as much time on Sky Stone as I would have liked.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hmmmm… Perhaps Tamora Pierce's 'Song of the Lioness' series or 'Protector of the Small' series. These two series' follow a strong female protagonist whom become knights in a land of magic where female knights are almost non-existent and not well supported.
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I revealed in question two. Music inspired me to write. To add to that answer however, I was going through a tough time in my life, finding it difficult to fit in. Writing gave me a release for my pent up emotions and Skyla was born. She mirrors much of how I was feeling as I wrote Sky Stone. I believe many of the ideas expressed in Sky Stone came about from my experiences and hopes of finding those people that accepted me for who I was.
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you enjoy fantasy stories taking place in a world set in the middle ages, with sword fighting, power hungry kings, magic, and a touch of romance then Sky Stone may be the book for you.
You can read the first three chapters of Sky Stone on my 'Excerpt' page.
Continue following the Next Big Thing Blog Hop on the blogs of my fellow writers:
E. Van Johnson
A. Katie Rose
Their posts will be online in a few days.
Scarlett Van Dijk
I will outline a few of the above which I think are worth covering in this post but when considering your own story you should attempt to describe each one of these elements.
Clothing and Food are two items which may differ due to the environment. If you have set your novel in an ice laden wasteland then food may be scarce and the clothing made of thick furs. What grows or lives in your environment? Food taste will depend on what is available for flavour and any meat can only be of animals that exist in the area.
Clothing will depend on temperature, time period (if this is relevant) and tradition. If it is cold then thicker clothing, coats and cloaks for example. Hot, then perhaps lighter clothing or sun-protective garments. If your story is set in the middle ages then you could expect tunics and hosen on men and long flowing dresses for women, this obviously being altered by social standing. Tradition can affect clothing as by the types of colours, cuts of dresses, accessories etc. that may be worn by different groups of people.
Standard of Living/Government
Culture is composed of many aspects that need to be investigated to bring your fictional world to life. If you are having difficulty with this part of world creation (and you have time) then I suggest you read Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' series. He creates an extraordinary world with multiple cultures vividly described.
Scarlett Van Dijk
Share a little about the culture you have created in the comments section below.
Many writers cringe when they hear the word revision. For some it’s a never-ending process. For most it is tantamount to pain and frustration—the point where the story you thought worked out just fine seems so flawed it is unredeemable. For every writer, though, it’s unavoidable.
I’ve come to love revision, but only after discovering creative ways to approach it that make it as engaging as the writing process. In particular, I’ve learned how to break out of a rut that almost every writer can no doubt relate to.
A never-ending cycle
You’ve spent a long time writing your manuscript—months, a year, maybe a few years. Now, guess what? You’re celebrating the completion of your first draft (time to open a bottle of champagne)! You don’t wait too long before jumping in to draft two, so you start at the beginning and pass through, making changes as you go. If you’re like me, you will find things that need to be fixed, parts that need to be re-written, or things that don’t make sense. It might take a few months to do draft two like this, and by the end you already have a huge mental list of things you have to tackle when you start draft three. Maybe you rectified a plot hole you spotted in the beginning, but when you got to the end you realize the change you made has complicated things further. Maybe you realized your small town prairie setting makes your slow-paced drama feel bland and want to try setting it somewhere more exotic. So, you head into draft three, ready to make more changes. But then you notice something that slipped your eye while going through draft two; it takes almost as much time to get through draft three. Eventually it has to stop, you figure, so you move on to draft four, five, six, and so on, but there’s more and more that keeps showing up, like layers on a giant onion. The drafts might be getting better, but it’s hard for you to know where the heart of the onion is. You reach a point where you feel like you’re going in circles, find yourself reciting some of your characters’ lines while standing in the lineup at Starbucks, and your best friend gently suggests that maybe you should set your book aside and try something else.
Is this you? It was me for my first two manuscripts. They both ended up in a box. So, what changed?
I realized that a key step was missing, in between draft one and draft two. In my case, my writing process is a bit more organic, so I don’t exactly have drafts, but nonetheless I reach a point where the story is all knit together. And at this point, I stop being a writer. I do a cold read.
Pretend you have the next Harry Potter
Let me clarify what I mean. In a cold read there’s no writing, no making changes, not even a moment to stop and plan. When I do a cold read, I pretend I just got my hands on the next Harry Potter book and might even call in sick to work so I can read it. Doing a cold read is about jumping in a tree-hopper and whizzing past your story at reader-speed. It’s the only way you’re going to see it the way everyone else is going to.
There are some dos and donts that come with this. Do take notes, wherever something niggles, and write down three words in succession from that part (the page number is helpful) so you can get back there quickly when you start revising. Do get through it as fast as you can, with as little distraction as possible. Do be critical and thorough, leaving no stone unturned.
Don’t write out plans for how you will resolve the problems you notice. Don’t second-guess yourself. And don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t make any changes to the manuscript, no matter how much a typo on page 71 may bug you (but do write it down in your notes).
If you are disciplined enough, you might feel comfortable doing this at the computer screen, but if you want to eliminate all possibility of breaking the don’t rules, then print it out. Sometimes it’s fun to go to Staples or any printing store and ask them to make you a miniature booklet. This way it feels like you’re actually reading a book, and helps you get in “reader mode”.
Bird’s eye revision
After you’re done, it’s time to put those notes to use. Now you can go front to back. If you are an outliner, like me, you might revise your outlines, break your story into frames and set up a spreadsheet to track evolving character and plot threads. Your notes will help with this as well. But if you prefer more spontaneity, then your notes from your cold read will nevertheless be a helpful guide for when you go back into the woods and hike through your next draft at writer-speed.
Draft three, and beyond
So what do you do for draft three? Draft four? More cold reading. You might want to get your second draft out to beta readers so you can use their notes to help you on draft three as well. Depending on how the timing works, you may have some feedback from beta readers in a third, fourth, and further drafts. However your particular manuscript develops, cold reads in between help you zoom out each time to appreciate how your story is actually evolving.
A live test
Eventually, you’ll reach the point where your cold reads bring up nothing new, and you’ve heard back from all beta readers. Your manuscript is ready to be tightened and polished to a shine, but your eyes are not going to do the trick. If you’re lucky, you might know someone who’s an enthusiast and is willing to listen to you read the whole thing out loud to give you additional feedback. If your story is novel length, that might take a while (so you might want to pay them for their time), and it might feel like a lot of work, but reading your words aloud is a sure way to catch things like repetitive syllables or idioms, awkward sentences or rhythms, or unrealistic dialogue. Most importantly, there’s nothing like the feeling of confidence one has after reading one’s work aloud and knowing it sounds just right.
Though there will always be things that can be better, doing a cold read between drafts, with a live reading at the end, is a sure way to ensure you discover your manuscript’s full potential during revision. I used this technique for my first title, The Pact, and have been using it for the development of my current manuscript (its sequel), and it’s changed the way I approach story development. I hope this has been helpful and will inspire you for whatever project you might be working on.
About Graeme Brown
Graeme Brown is a Winnipeg author and junior editor for Champagne Books. He writes epic fantasy, with his first story, The Pact, now available through Burst Books. He is a frequent blogger and a tweeter, and a third year math student. His hobbies include running, yoga, computer programming, and reading.
At this time of the year, midyear holidays with many people going away, I am reminded of my trip to Britain last year. Not only was it one of the best trips of my life but it also turned out to be the most productive. At the time I had only been working on my second novel, Guardian Core, for a few months but over the first two weeks in Britain I doubled my word count. I had plenty of time over these two weeks since I was on a bus tour, hence many hours each day were spent writing in the bus.
The atmosphere and interesting knowledge about medieval Britain helped my story come to life. I saw numerous castles that gave me valuable insight of the real layout of castles and medieval cities. I saw how buildings were fortified and designed in the middle ages. There are a number of pictures from this trip on my 'Images' page. The York Minster was probably one of the most inspirational buildings we looked around. One of the main sections of Guardian Core came to me by walking through this magnificent building of stone.
When on the road I was able to observe landscapes that I had not seen in person. Living in Australia, our native plants are generally a dark brown/green colour, not the bright green that existed in Britain. They have rolling hills crisscrossed by streams and low stone, medieval walls. Their trees are lush rather than woody and scraggly. The landscape is much more like how I picture the landscape in my fictional world of Branzia and actually seeing it in person formalised the picture in my mind. On the bus is when I wrote the most and all I had to do to see that landscape was glance out the window.
One day I will definitely return to Britain and I will take my time and see everything. I only had a short period to see as much as I could last year. However, from this trip I learnt that sometimes a different environment, or country, can help to get your story ideas flowing in a torrent, almost too quickly to keep track of.
Scarlett Van Dijk
Where have you gone that inspired your writing?
Is that what I am? I received a discounted rate from Poets and Writers Magazine because I’m a professional writer. I never thought of it that way until I got their invitation. Though “In a Wolf’s Eyes” was published last year, and the second of the series, “Catch a Wolf” came out a few weeks ago, I haven’t quit my day job yet. I’ve wanted to be a writer since junior high school. In the nineties, I tried publishing the earlier version of what I later called “In a Wolf’s Eyes”. Of course, it wasn’t published and when I reread it now, I know why. It’s crap.
My personal writing journey truly took off more than five years ago. Though I re-started “In a Wolf’s Eyes” in 1998, I didn’t write on it for years, as I was newly divorced, making a living, doing what newly divorced people do: meet other divorced people. Over time, I left Colorado and moved to Texas, working and spending time with a new man. My book hadn’t been touched for I don’t know how many years. I don’t honestly remember. In the spring of 2008, nursing a shattered heart with time on my hands, I thought to myself, “Why am I not finishing that book?”
Broken hearts can sometimes be good things, in my opinion. In order to overcome it, I threw myself into my day job as a photographer and my evening job as a writer. I wrote and wrote and then for variety wrote some more. Then I edited, revised, pulled apart, nit-picked and offered it up for a critique. A sweet young thang from Michigan read it.
Every writer should have a sweet young thang read their manuscripts. She said, “It’s good, but it needs work.” With her advice and opinions, I revised and reworked and nit-picked it, and discovered an entire realm of possibilities for my characters. When she suggested I rewrite a scene not as a backstory as I originally wrote it, but as present tense and pulling my reader in, she had no idea what monster she created. I rewrote it. I’m almost astonished at myself, writing that scene being the horse lover that I am. I won’t tell you what it is – you’ll have to read it for yourself. One of my readers wanted to throw the book across the room upon discovering what I put my characters through. Not because of bad writing, but because I invoked such an emotional response.
I think many writers on their own personal journeys must go through stages of maturity. I know mine certainly did. When I reread my earlier work, I felt embarrassment. I wrote that? Good god! While I tried invoking an emotional response at the time, it was in a very juvenile fashion. I tried the syrupy-sweet, touchy-feely stuff that might work in a romance novel, but not a sword-and-sorcery epic fantasy. At least not in mine. Now when I write to bring my readers to laughter, to tears, to anger, it’s in not just a mature method of writing, but, I think, in a more skillful manner. Because practice makes perfect. I learned from my mistakes. I am my own worst critic. If I can laugh and cry over my own bloody books, then I figure my readers will do the same. I wrote that?
About A. Katie Rose
A. Katie Rose is a workaholic living in San Antonio, Texas. With her day job as a photographer, she writes in what little remains of her spare time. She enjoys long walks, reading (when possible), watching movies, red wine, and drinking beer around a fire with friends. Among her extracurricular activities, she rides her horses and rescues cats. Which is why she has too many of both.
A Colorado native, she earned her B.A. in literature and history at Western State College, in Gunnison, Colorado. Her first novel, “In a Wolf’s Eyes”, was published last year by Untreed Reads Publishing. Her second book, “Catch a Wolf”, was released in July, 2013. She is busy working on the third of the “Saga of the Black Wolf” series, and another novel, “The Unforgiven.”
Check out her blog here: http://akatierose.me/
Buy her novel, In a Wolf's Eyes, here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-a-wolfs-eyes-a-katie-rose/1110435283?ean=2940014542227
The idea for my first novel, Sky Stone, came to me while listening to music. I was listening to 'Breakaway' by Kelly Clarkson, my favourite song at the time, daydreaming. Unknowingly, I was forming the basis for my first novel in my head. Each time I heard the song I would visualize the same scenes which became more elaborate, expanding steadily. Eventually I realized that I wanted to preserve this and hence I began to write.
Most other writers will say they wanted to be a writer, wanted to write a novel. I had no plans of this happening. Writing crept up behind me and screamed 'BOO!' in my ear. When I began writing Sky Stone, I originally decided to write a novella. A novella competition was being held that year and I had the idea of entering. When my word count exceeded the limit of 20,000 words for the competition I realized I was writing my first novel.
Even now, my creativeness is at its peak while listening to music. I have a playlist on my iPod full of songs which trigger my muse. These are songs that inspire me, either reminding me of a scene, a particular character, or just overall get me in the mood of writing. Furthermore, I have some Japanese anime theme songs and Korean songs in my writing playlist; I enjoy imagining what the opening theme of my story would be like if it was made in to an anime. Geeky right?
Scarlett Van Dijk
Do you have a writing playlist? What do you like to listen to while you write?
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What's the most common bit of advice you'll hear experienced writers give folks who've come more recently to the craft? Probably a variation of the following:
"Write every day. Put your butt in the chair and write. If you don't write every day, you're not a real writer."
There's a related bit of shorthand wisdom out there, granted Natural Law status after appearing in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, that seems to shore up the preceding advice: "It takes a 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field."
You might have seen that put another way: "Your first million words are crap."
Given all that, it's easy to see why writers might put it all together and decide word count is something they should carefully track. After all, we want to be "real" writers. We want to say we've blown past that million-word mark. And don't forget the handy (if increasingly outmoded) industry-standardized word quotas for various story forms and genres. "Where am I in my work in progress? Well, I've written 30,000 words, and Writer's Digest says..."
The obsession with wordcount has given rise to things like Write or Die, the magic spreadsheet, and the one million words a year challenge. And that's all great... these are tools that encourage community, solidarity, and maybe friendly competition among writers. There's something to be said for that.
In practice, though, tracking word count is among the least important metrics in measuring your progress, either for your current work or for your career.
Writing Is More Than Adding Words To A Manuscript
You know that time spent butt-in-chair (well, I work standing up, but you get the idea), hands-on-keyboard, adding words to a manuscript? At MWS Media, that's called "typing."
It's certainly one of the things writers do to finish a work, but it's hardly the only thing. Depending on your preferred process, it might even be the least important thing.
Think about all the other things you do that go toward completing a work of creative writing:
Every minute you spend doing any of the above steals dozens of words from your eventual million. And yet. All of the above, in one form or another, goes into your work as surely as do words on the page.
So why don't we measure the time spent on those things? Why don't we assign the same value to an hour of hard, deep thinking as we do an hour of typing two thousand words?
All word count tells us is your rough typing speed. That and the ability to make a martini will get you in the secretarial pool at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Don't Just Count The Count
Mark this well:
If you spend dedicated time and energy pursuing the completion of a written work, you are a writer. So long as the effort eventually results in a completed work, the time spent on that effort is time you are writing.
Count hours. Count the effort. Count the number of works you finish and ship. You shouldn't care if you actually add thousands of words to the manuscript every single day, or if you haven't typed a word in a week. If you spent that week working on the piece, you spent it as a writer.
But What About Tracking My Work In Progress?
Isn't word count a good way to discern how far along you are in your work?
Maybe. If you're writing to a specific word count goal (for example, your editor told you they want a 90,000 word novel), then sure, you need to know where you are. It's worth mentioning that if you're 50,000 words in and you haven't reached the middle of act two, you have a bigger problem than reaching your word count... but yeah, word count can be a useful yardstick for certain things..
Personally, when I'm working on larger works like my recently completed second novel, I prefer scene count, but getting into that risks a digression that is better suited to its own post.
The point I want you to take away from this is: Do not judge your progress (or lack thereof) on word count alone.
Celebrate The Entire Process
I'd love to see writers celebrating their writing activity by touting something other than word count. Things like:
If you're on Twitter, tell the world what you've accomplished as a writer other than words typed. Use the hashtag #notjustwordcount so everyone else can be inspired by your example! And be sure to say "hey" to me there... I'm @mwsmedia!
Have an opinion on what I've written? I'll keep an eye on the comments section -- leave your thoughts! I look forward to our conversation.
Matthew Wayne Selznick is an author and creator living in Long Beach, California. His most recent book is Pilgrimage -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era, the latest in his Sovereign Era storyworld and the conclusion of the Charters Duology begun in Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era. Learn more about his works, subscribe to his mailing list, and get the latest on his new serial fiction by subscription project at http://www.mattselznick.com.
I've decided to start sharing writing tips specifically about writing in the Fantasy genre. Excited? I am! For my first instalment I have chosen to write a post about how to choose a setting for your Fantasy story.
There are many questions you need to ask yourself before you decide on a setting. Is it set on Earth, in a city that already exists? Or does it occur in a completely fictional world? What kind of landscape do your characters have to deal with? Is it set in a medieval-like setting, modern, or futuristic? This is where brainstorming can be very helpful and also one of the most fun aspects of writing.
The basic principle behind brainstorming is to jot down every idea that pops in to your head no matter how silly they seem. Even when you believe you have found the setting you want, keep going. You may find that each point leads to a new point and some will even merge to create a completely original and complex world that your characters can explore.
What is too crazy?
In Fantasy writing, very little is classed as 'too crazy'. If you think you can write it, if it will add another layer to your story, then run with it. But most importantly, if you think you will enjoy writing about it, then do so. Don't worry so much about what other people will think; there will always be the people who don't agree with your ideas and will mock them, but there will likely be a group of people that will love them. Just have fun with it!
Don't be scared because I just wrote 'History'. I'm not necessarily about to tell you to research. Of course, if you are setting your story in Renaissance England then you will likely need to research that time period. However, what I actually mean by 'History' is what is the history of your world? What happened in the past to make it the way it is now? For instance, the setting of my novel Sky Stone, Branzia, is a country cut off from the rest of Earth. How come? Basically the two deities had a disagreement and one of these, the Crimson Knight, decided to 'quarantine' Branzia to stop the spread of magic to the rest of Earth. Because of this separation, Branzia hasn't progressed far beyond the Middle Ages despite the rest of Earth being in the 21st Century.
How about a map?
Maps are always fun to create and can act as an aid to writing and as a reference to your future readers. They remind you of the orientation of your world and the distances between different landmarks. This is especially helpful if you have created a large world.
What next? Once you have chosen a setting there are many other things to consider. How have your characters adapted to the landscape? How do they get around? If your world is covered in water, do they travel by boat or do they fly? What is the temperature? What sort of clothing do your people wear? These worlds are our creation so feel free to make them as weird and amazing as you like!
Scarlett Van Dijk
Other great posts:
'The Basics: So You Want To Write A Novel' – Nat Russo
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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