Monday, July 6, 2020

3 Best Ways to Find an Agent

If you’ve written a manuscript and it’s been vetted by a critique group or several beta readers, then you might be ready to start looking for a literary agent. Maybe you’ve had it professionally critiqued several times and you’re ready to have an agent start sending your work out on your behalf. If so, here are three ways to find a literary agent.


If you’ve written a manuscript and it’s been vetted by a critique group or several beta readers, then you might be ready to start looking for a literary agent. Maybe you’ve had it professionally critiqued several times and you’re ready to have an agent start sending your work out on your behalf. If so, here are three ways to find a literary agent.


Writing Conferences



I made a connection with an agent at a writing conference that resulted in landing my first agent. That’s one reason why agents attend writing conferences! They want to find fresh new voices with unique ideas. They’re hoping to find a new writer to add to their list.

When you go to a writing conference, workshop, or retreat, take note of any agents that may be attending. They typically attend larger conferences as opposed to more personal workshops and retreats.

  • Attend their sessions. 
  • Take good notes. 
  • Strike up a conversation.

If the event gives instructions on how to submit to the agents and editors, follow the instructions to the letter!

Here are a few things to NOT do at a conference. Don’t pitch them with your book ideas during the conference (unless that’s a special event happening similar to speed dating). Don’t stalk them and try to slip your manuscript under the bathroom stalls. If you’re lucky enough to eat lunch at the same table with an agent, don’t talk about your book the whole time. If they ask, give them your elevator pitch in 30 seconds or less (about 1-2 short sentences) what your book is about. Then move on to another topic.


What is MS Wishlist?



MS Wishlist is a website, also known as “Manuscript Wishlist”, that curates wish lists from agents and editors who use the #mswl hashtag on Twitter.

The beauty of this is you can find out what they want and what they’re interested in. This is how I found my second agent. Scout out the website and filter by categories. You’ll likely find a few posts that pique your interest.

Come up with a short “pitch” to reply to their tweet. Ask if they are interested in seeing a formal query letter. If so, they will likely respond and give you a website with detailed instructions for how to submit to them. Good luck!


Acknowledgements in Novels



No, I haven’t gotten a third agent. But I hear this advice all the time. When you’re researching (i.e. reading) books similar to yours, or at least in the same genre, pay attention to the acknowledgments section in the book, especially if it’s a novel.

If it’s a book you like, or a publisher you like, then that agent may be a good fit for you as well. When you reach out to the agent via a submission, mention other books they have represented. They love it when you do your homework.

If it’s a publisher you know you love, then this agent will have a great connection there. This is a great way to research books to find what publishers you like and what agents might be a great fit for you. Keep track of all your findings in a spreadsheet so that you can remember book titles, publishers, and agents that authors mention in their acknowledgements.

Do you have an agent? If so, how did you find him or her? If not, what other advice have you heard? Share your comment here.


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Monday, June 29, 2020

How to Make Yourself Do Something When You Don’t Want To


You know you sometimes say, “I want to go for a run, but today I don’t really feel like it”? Or maybe, “I want to write a book, but I don’t feel like writing right now”?

Well, today, I’m going to give you a tip to help with “not feeling like it.”

Back in the day, when I was training for my first marathon with Team in Training, we always ran our long runs together on a Saturday morning. And they were always on the trails. With lots of shade.

I have fond memories of being the last one back to the cars for our final check-in, long after all the fast runners stretched, rehydrated, and got back in the cars to drive home. Coach Scott was always there for me, waiting until every last runner was safely back to our starting point.

Even when I didn’t feel like continuing, I looked forward to water and a granola bar. I looked forward to stretching and chatting with the final few. At the end of every run, I felt accomplished and strong. Ready to hit the trails again the next Saturday, even though I knew it would be hard and I knew I would be last.



Feeling Motivated is Great, But…


Sometimes we have these big goals, but we don’t feel motivated to work toward them. It’s great to feel motivated, but that’s not always the case. So what do you do about it?

Today, in 2020, I’m not training for a marathon. I merely aim to get 10 miles a week. Sometimes I’m excited, and sometimes I don’t feel as motivated. So what do I do about that? I find something to look forward to, just like I did when I was training for my first marathon.

There’s this little trail near my house, if you even want to call it a trail. It’s actually a little portion of ground with gravel about a foot away from the main road. It might be 100 feet, if you’re lucky. It goes past two mailboxes. It’s uphill and there’s lots of trees overhanging the curve to give shade. It makes me feel like I’m running the trails again. It’s a nostalgic, euphoric feeling. I smile when my feet step onto the gravel of uneven terrain and I enter the shade zone, even if only for a couple of minutes.

So find something to look forward to and you’ll be more motivated to get out there and pound the pavement (or the trails).

How to Write When You Don’t Want To


You know you’re never going to get your novel published if you don’t finish writing it, right? I think it’s awesome to have big goals. I’m a dreamer, so I’m always dreaming big. But you can’t keep your head in the clouds; you have to take action too.

How do you look forward to your writing?

Tip #1: Schedule it on your calendar. Even if it’s only one hour a week. You’ll know when it’s happening and you’ll start to look forward to it.

Tip #2: Think about what you’re going to write about. Think about your characters and the next scene. It will get you excited to write the next sentence, even if you feel stuck.

Find Something to Look Forward To


Motivation ebbs and flows. We aren’t always excited about doing the things we say we want to do. That’s okay.

Sometimes, looking to the end of the activity might work for you.

  • “I can’t wait to get back to the car and sit down, stretch, get some water and a snack.” 
  • “I guess I’ll go for a run today because I know I’ll feel better once it’s done.” 
  • “When I’m finished with my writing today, I get to watch that movie I’ve been dying to see.” 
  • “I guess I’ll write today - so I can reach my word count goals.” 

But sometimes beginning with the end in mind isn’t enough. Not in real life anyway.

Sometimes we need to find a way to enjoy the act itself. Why run if you hate every step of it? Why write if you can’t stand it? Do what you love and the joy will follow. But what if you’re having a hard time re-connecting to your initial joy?



Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot





Find SOMETHING to look forward to DURING the act.

For running, I look forward to that mini trail. I also look forward to fresh air and sunshine. I also look forward to nature and wildlife. I see buttercups, dandelions, and morning glories. I often find four-leaf clovers. I have seen turtles, snakes, lizards, butterflies, ladybugs, dogs, falcons, owls, bluebirds, frogs, among other critters.

With my writing, I remember what it feels like to write a story. I think about my characters and the next scene, as mentioned above. When I write, I get giddy and shout, “I LOVE writing! THIS is why I love to write!” So I remember THAT feeling and then I look forward to my scheduled writing time more and more.

I hope you can do the same. Choose a special pen or pencil or a fancy journal. Look forward to THAT. Choose a special PLACE to write. Make it your writing haven. Whatever you do, make sure you actually write - and that you enjoy it.

Until next time, keep on keepin’ on…

How do you psych yourself up to start writing or to go for a run? Let me know in the comments! Share your comment here.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

The One Thing All Published Writers Have in Common


What do writers and runners have in common? Quite a lot, actually. But what’s the one thing all published writers (and experienced runners) have in common? HINT: It’s not “being published”.

Once upon a time, they were new to writing (or running)...

What do writers and runners have in common? Quite a lot, actually. But what’s the one thing all published writers and experienced runners have in common? And it’s not “being published” either. Once upon a time, they were new to writing (or running).


How I Started Running


Aside from running on the playground in elementary school or being forced to run laps in the gym during high school P.E., I didn’t run. My exercise consisted of walking, bicycling, jumping rope and trampolines!

In college, I took a fitness class every single semester after the required health class: aerobics, weight training, ballroom dancing, yoga, jogging, snow skiing, and swimming.

The only one I dropped out of was yoga. And that’s only because I was pregnant with my first child. Being 6 months pregnant sure makes it hard to do the cat pose and child’s pose. So I got an incomplete.

Jogging was a fun class. The teacher was also my weight training and aerobics teacher for those classes. He had lost over 100 pounds when he was in college and was super inspirational. He started running and didn’t even have the right shoes. So he wanted to help others so they wouldn’t make all the same mistakes he did.

I started out slow. Jogged some and walked some. I learned that walking at a fast pace actually gave me shin splints, so I picked up the pace even more and started running. My shin splints disappeared!

Now, I have run 2 marathons, 2 half marathons, about 5 or 6 10Ks, and over a dozen 5Ks, along with an 8-mile trail race and a 5-mile all-uphill mountain race. Funny thing is I jumped from my first race ever (a 5k where walkers were going faster than I was running) to a full 26.2 mile marathon in about a year and a half with no other races in between.

I blame my older brother’s death and Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I signed up (and got free training) so that I could go to Alaska and run in my brother’s honor since he had worked in Alaska on a fishing boat one summer.

And that’s how I began running. One step at a time. But it was the first marathon that got me hooked on racing.

How I Started Writing


So what about writing? Well, let’s just say that the writing gene was in my blood when I was born. I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. I wrote all kinds of things all through school.

  • In 2nd grade, I wrote poetry. Short, silly poems, but I wrote them! 
  • In 4th grade, I wrote lots of short stories. 
  • In the 6th grade, I wrote short stories, poems, and even a play that I had the whole class perform during library time. 
  • In middle school, I wrote poetry. 
  • In high school, I wrote poetry and short stories. 
  • In college, I majored in creative writing and wrote poetry, plays, and a novel. 

But after I graduated, I had kids, got a full-time job, and stopped writing. A couple years later, I went back to college to get a degree in elementary education, where I fell in love with writing for children.

In 2009, I started writing for children and began to really take my writing seriously. I started a blog and took all kinds of courses. I haven’t looked back since.



Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot





Beginning Writer or Runner


Being a beginning writer or runner has its advantages. Yes, you’re new. You might not know the ropes. You probably begin races too quickly and start submitting manuscripts before they’ve been properly edited.

But you have grit, tenacity, a passion for learning. You want to grow and improve and learn the art of writing or the art of running.

Enthusiasm for your new passions is what helps you keep going until you hit your first milestone, and then your next, and your next, and your next. Pretty soon, you’ve learned all kinds of things and you’re no longer a beginner.

Welcome to the club!

When did you start running and writing? Let me know in the comments! Share your comment here.

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Monday, June 15, 2020

Plot Summary of Mulan and Mulan II



Mulan doesn’t fit the traditional princess role, or at least it didn’t back in 1998, but it has become a Disney classic. Fans of the first Mulan movie welcomed the sequel, Mulan II. According to the Marathon Method of Plotting, the five main plot points of this story are found below.


Mulan


Summary of Mulan, according to Google, Wikipedia, and IMDB:

“Fearful that her ailing father will be drafted into the Chinese military, Mulan takes his spot -- though, as a girl living under a patriarchal regime, she is technically unqualified to serve. She cleverly impersonates a man and goes off to train with fellow recruits. Accompanied by her dragon, Mushu, she uses her smarts to help ward off a Hun invasion, falling in love with a dashing captain along the way.”


  • The Signup - The war was announced and Mulan’s father was called to go fight.
  • The Gunshot - Mulan cut her hair and ran away to join the war efforts so her father wouldn’t have to go fight.
  • The Halfway Point - Mulan finally figures out how to get the arrow from the top of the wooden post, which signifies her willingness to succeed.
  • The Wall - After Mulan and the army defeat the Hun army in the avalanche, she is kicked out of the army because they discovered she is a girl. They abandon her and move toward the city.
  • The Finish Line - They defeat the Hun leader, Shan Yu, in the fireworks tower and the Emperor is saved.




Outline Your Novel With a Simple Plot







Mulan II


Summary of Mulan II:

“Mulan and her new fiancé, General Li Shang travel on a special mission to escort the Emperor's three daughters across the country to meet their soon-to-be fiancés for arranged marriages so that the two kingdoms can form an alliance.” 


  • The Signup - When the Emperor calls for Mulan and Shang.
  • The Gunshot - When Mulan and Shang choose three guards for the three princesses and they set off on their journey. (The stakes: if they don’t complete the task in three days, the Mongols will destroy China.)
  • The Halfway Point - After the carriage is accidentally destroyed, the three guards take the princesses to the nearby village to declare their love for them.
  • The Wall - Mulan loses Shang to the river below and she decides to take the place of the princesses so they won’t have to be forced into a loveless marriage.
  • The Finish Line - Mulan and Shang get married (he didn’t die, afterall) because Mushu steps in to be the Great Golden Dragon of Unity, which ultimately releases the princesses from their vows.

Want more plot outlines? Visit the Plot Arc Library!

Which movie was your favorite? Mulan the first? Or Mulan the second? Share your comment here.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

8 Types of Endings for Your Novel: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


If you’ve ever struggled with getting the ending to your story right, then you know how difficult it can be. Writing isn’t always a walk in the park; sometimes it feels like you’re running 26.2 miles of an up-hill marathon!

There are many ways to end a book and none of them are universally good nor evil, but readers have grown to love and expect certain types of endings more than others. This guide to novel endings will show you which ones are the best and which ones are more challenging. Not only challenging for the reader to accept, but also challenging for the writer to pull off.
  1. Happily Ever After Ending
  2. Twist Ending
  3. Circular Ending
  4. Interpretive Ending
  5. Epilogue
  6. Cliffhanger “Ending”
  7. Abrupt Ending
  8. Combination



THE GOOD


The four best ways to end your story are one of these four types of story endings.

1. Happily Ever After


Definition: The number one way readers love to see a story end is the Happily Ever After, also known as HEA. This ending resolves all the major conflict and wraps up all the subplots into a nice, neat bow. The ending ties up all the loose ends and answers any lingering questions.

Best For: This ending is most often used in standalone novels for any age (MG, YA, and Adult), romance, and the final book in a series.

Examples: The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, We Met in December by Rosie Curtis, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

2. The Twist


Definition: The twist ending is a reader favorite because people love surprises. Just make sure it doesn’t come out of nowhere. The ending still has to be satisfying and it has to make sense. It’s not a fool-proof excuse to kill off a character just because you don’t want your ending to be predictable.

Best For: This type of novel ending is often used in suspense thrillers and mysteries. But that’s not the only genre it can be used in. Picture books often use twist endings too, usually summed up in a single sentence implying a future escapade of some sort.

Examples: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

3. Circular


Definition: The circular type of ending is when the end of a story ties back to the beginning. It’s usually when the character ends up back where they started. Perhaps the MC had an opportunity to take a new route into their future, but they decide - after the course of events in the story - to return to their old ways… with a newfound insight on a better life, despite returning to their roots.

Best For: This ending is most often used in character-driven novels or literary novels.

Examples: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

4. Interpretive


Definition: An interpretive ending is ambiguous. It leaves readers wondering what really happened. Yes, the ending may be clear, but a portion of it could be interpreted in different ways, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure type of ending. Ultimately, this type of ending leaves the reader with thoughtful questions.

Best For: This ending is most often used in literary novels or when the author wants the reader to reflect on the meaning of the book and to let the themes simmer in the reader’s mind for a while.

Examples: Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, The Giver by Lois Lowry.



THE BAD


Novels with an epilogue or a cliffhanger for an ending are considered bad protocol by most. That’s not to say you can’t do it. You can do whatever you want. But knowing when to use them can be helpful.

5. Epilogue


Definition: This type of ending can be described as an extended or expanded ending. The book ends like normal, but then there’s an epilogue to tell more about what happens down the road. The best example I can come up with here is movies. Especially ones based on a true story. At the end of the movie, it’ll say something like, “Brad went on to create a successful business and he had 3 children.” In a novel, it’s usually no more than 3 printed pages.

Best For: This ending is most often used when the author has more to say about the characters, but there won’t be a series. It’s great for standalone novels, but most editors consider epilogues unnecessary. Don’t write one just because you feel like it. Make sure the story needs it.

Examples: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

6. Cliffhanger


Definition: The cliffhanger is an ending that leaves the reader begging for more. Things are left unresolved. It’s a very controversial type of ending. Most readers hate it. Editors too. Make sure there’s a good reason for ending this way. It leaves the reader with a bad taste in their mouth and often won’t return to that author’s books anymore. It’s a whole lot less pleasant than the interpretive ending.

Best For: This ending is most often used in series. At least that’s where the cliffhanger can work FOR the writer (and the reader). Just make sure the final book in the series is a Happily Ever After ending.

Examples: Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, Spirit Animals by various authors, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

THE UGLY


These two types of novel endings aren’t necessarily the worst, but they aren’t the best either.

7. Abrupt


Definition: A novel with an abrupt ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it leaves the ribbon untied. No pretty bow to look at. It feels unfinished. It feels like the joy is snatched out from under you.

Best For: This ending is most often used in literary novels and/or by seasoned authors.

Examples: The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis.

8. Combination


Definition: The combination ending can include multiple endings mentioned above. For example, sometimes a cliffhanger and a twist ending might be combined. Or a circular ending combined with a twist ending.

Best For: This ending is most often used by seasoned veteran authors.

Examples: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (circular and twist ending).


What’s your favorite type of ending to read? To write? Share your comment here.



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Monday, June 1, 2020

What Does Water Have to Do with Reading?


There are two camps when it comes to writers reading. One camp says that reading doesn’t make you a better writer. The other camp says the opposite: that reading is essential to becoming a better writer. I belong to the latter camp. So why should writers continue to read books?


Books are Like Water Stops


First off, a story about running. The other day, I went for a run and was thinking about how the water stops in a race serve as a refreshment stop. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hard core runner and you grab and go, just barely swallowing 4 oz. of water as half of it sloshes to the ground.

Or if you’re like me and suffer from a “condition” where you can’t be moving while drinking. Like seriously, I have to stop running. Stop walking. And then I can finally drink my 4 oz. of revitalizing H2O.

The going advice for the average runner is to take in 4 to 6 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise. And at the end of your run? Drink as much as you need to feel hydrated and satisfied. So what about books?

Reading is Like Drinking Water


For the average reader, reading is an escape. For entertainment. Or for learning new information. But for the serious writer? Reading books is essential. Just like water. You have to read books in order to rehydrate your brain.

Reading books is like drinking water. Writing can sometimes be a lonely, draining job. Yes, it’s creative. And yes, creativity breeds more creativity. But what about those times when you hit a wall? A brick writer’s block wall. What happens when you don’t feel creative anymore?

Reading can be the answer to inspire you into action! It’s important to keep your own fire alive so the spark doesn’t die out. And the more you read, the better the writer you’ll become.

How Reading Helps You Become a Better Writer


So how does reading more books help you become a better writer? Because you’re absorbing examples of good writing. Just like people start to act like those they hang around, you’ll begin to pick up on the nuances of writing simply from reading lots of books.

Yes, you still have to write. Reading alone doesn’t make you a better writer. Writing and reading go hand in hand like runners and Gu.

It’s especially important to not only read more books, but to read books in your own genre. And to study them. But, isn’t reading alone a form of studying? Kind of. But to take it further, here’s one way you can study the books you read.

On a piece of notebook paper (use it for your bookmark), write a summary of each chapter as soon as you finish that chapter. When you finish the book, you can look at the book as a whole and look for structural patterns.

So, read more and drink some H2O.

Do you believe reading helps you become a better writer? What’s your favorite way to study books as you read them? Leave a comment and let me know! Share your comment here.



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Monday, May 25, 2020

How to Write a Query Letter for Your Novel or Picture Book Manuscript


This query letter template will help you craft the perfect letter to send to editors and agents. It’s purpose is to get them interested in your book and hopefully request either the first 10 pages, first 3 chapters, or the full manuscript. The query letter is 3-5 paragraphs, all on one page. Word count doesn’t matter, but the shorter the better. Don’t try to be cutesy and clever. Stick to the template and be professional, but be yourself too. Let your voice come through in your words. Modify the query to fit the person.



Paragraph 1


Tell the person why you are writing to them specifically, such as where or when you met the person or if you share a common interest. If it doesn’t apply or you can’t find a way to personalize your query letter, then you can omit this paragraph.

Paragraphs 2 and 3


In these 1-2 paragraphs, you talk about the book. This is where you will insert your pitch. You can add a little more about the characters, the theme, and a couple of comp titles. Make sure your voice shines through.

Paragraph 4


This is a very short paragraph about the genre, completed length of your manuscript (by word count, not pages), the setting and time period of the book. Remember, your manuscript must be finished. One to two sentences is all you need.

Paragraph 5


The last paragraph is where you can tell a little bit about yourself, if you have a platform, your history, why you are the person to write this book, etc., but remember to keep it short and relevant. Don’t say that your friends, family, neighbors, and students loved your story. You likely won’t hear back because that is considered unprofessional.

What have you heard about query letters to NOT do? Share in the comments and let me know! Share your comment here.


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Monday, May 18, 2020

5 Tips for Choosing Your Book Title


Your book’s title is the most important thing you can do to help it succeed. If you’ve written a novel and you need help with your title, ask yourself these questions, along with a few tips to consider when thinking about a title for your book.

The idea here is to come up with something that you will love, so make sure when you do your brainstorming and elimination, that you choose something you won’t get burned out on when creating a great title for your book.
  1. Keep it short.
  2. Think about spelling and pronunciation.
  3. Consider your book’s genre or category.
  4. Use one-word titles carefully.
  5. Look for duplicates.



Keep It Short


Short titles are easier to say, type, and remember. They fit nicely in tweets, URLs, and short bio descriptions. Try to stick to 7 words or less. When people remember your title, it’s easier for them to share it and word of mouth can grow faster than books with really long hard-to-remember titles. 

  

Spelling and Pronunciation


If your title is too hard for most people to say, they may buy a different title, instead. People don’t typically like to say words they have a hard time pronouncing, which could affect sales and word-of-mouth book recommendations. Do you really want to spend time correcting people on how to pronounce your title? This goes for characters too! Spelling counts!


Consider Your Book’s Genre


Your book title should give readers a clue to its genre. You don’t want your sci-fi to sound like a romance or horror title. 

 

One-Word Titles


One-word titles can sometimes be catchy (Divergent, Cinder, Speak, Island, 1984, Seraphina, Neverwhere, Twilight, etc.), but you could also run the risk of getting lost in search results. You might not want to have a novel about horses with the title Cupcakes if your book has nothing to do with cupcakes. Just sayin’. Make it relevant and unique.


Look for Duplicates


Titles aren’t copyrightable, so it’s not the end of the world if there’s another book out there with the same title. If it’s a bestseller though, I’d recommend changing yours to something different.


Questions to Ask Yourself When Thinking About a Title for Your Book


After answering these questions, and thinking about the tips above, brainstorm a list of potential titles for your book. Let yourself go wild and crazy. Don’t hold back.
  1. What is your current “working” title, even if you think it’s horrible? 
  2. What is the genre of your book?
  3. What is the readership age of your book?
  4. What are your characters’ names?
  5. What is your book about? 
  6. What are some themes you’re exploring?
  7. Use Amazon Bestseller Lists to search for comparative titles in your genre.
Once you have a list of titles for your novel, start the elimination process and cross off the ones you really don’t like. Come up with your top 5-10 titles and ask your family, friends, and fellow writers which ones they like the best.

When you're ready to start querying, be sure to format your query letter properly.

What are some of your favorite book titles, whether you’ve read the book or not? Share in the comments below and let me know!



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