Transitions: What are they and how should writers handle them?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently I received this question from Mary: "I'm working on my 4th manuscript draft and suddenly having difficulties (even getting badly stuck) writing by scene. I can't seem to pass large chunks of time where little (yet somewhat critical) events take place. I don't feel like I have enough material for a full scene, yet I can't compile it into a different scene because of where it needs to take place in the story."

There is no one right answer to Mary's dilemma. In fact, there are a number of techniques she could employ to piece in the pesky material giving her trouble. For example she could write very short scenes to include the information and then immediately cut to the next important scene. There are no hard and fast rules for how long scenes need to be. I've seen some that are only a couple paragraphs long. As long as it serves an important role in the plot, then readers won't mind the length.

Another way Mary could handle those troublesome chunks of time is to take a closer look at transitions.

If scenes are the action parts of the story that our characters perform on the stage for our readers, then transitions comprise the stuff that happens off stage in between scenes. Transitions usually describe the passing of time, and they're like tunnels that transport readers from one spot of action in the story to the next important action.

How should writers use transitions?

A story that spans a greater length of time will likely need more transitions. Obviously when our plot covers months or years, we can't possibly include every little thing that happens to our characters without writing a tome. We will have to summarize, usually briefly, so that our reader still feels a part of the character's life even when it happens off stage.

When a story takes place in a shorter span, several weeks or months, then we'll have less lapse time between scenes and so likely won't need to share as much about what is going on during the other hours of the day we're not writing directly about.

Where should writers use transitions?

1. In between scenes. When we write the last word of one scene, the next sentence or paragraph can be a transition. We can briefly summarize something that happens off stage before we jump back into the dialogue or the action of the next scene. To the reader's eye, everything flows together smoothly. In fact, they may not even notice the transition.

2. At the beginning of a new scene. Often I end a scene with a distinct cut. In my first drafts I mark such spots with an "xxx" which lets my editors know to put a break there in the final printed book. After cutting off a scene (preferably with some kind of read-on-prompt), sometimes we'll need to open the new scene with a line or two of transition. Sometimes we may even need a paragraph.

We just need to be wary of dumping too much transition at the beginning of a scene. Remember the modern reader prefers to open books, chapters, and even scenes in the middle of the action. So dumping too much transition at the beginning could bog them down.

3. Weave the transition into the scene. When we jump cut from one scene to the next without any of the in-between transitions, then we may need to weave in some of the off-stage happenings as we write the scene.

For example, in my current WIP, one of the scenes opens with my heroine teaching her students. As the scene unfolds, the reader gradually learns that a couple of weeks has passed because as heroine looks out over the students, her heart aches at the number of children who've died during the recent Scarlet Fever outbreak.

I didn't stop the scene or the action to include the transition. Rather I piece it into the current scene in bite sizes so that the reader understands what has transpired during the blank space between scenes.

A word of caution: 

Don't use transitions for KEY plot points, especially for anything having to do with the romance. Don't summarize the first meeting, the first kiss, or the first date, or any other "firsts." Those are things readers want to experience right along with the character.

In addition to the "firsts" we want to make sure we don't gloss over any other important, life-changing events. Save the transitions for the more mundane, every day kinds of occurrences that really have no direct bearing on the plot. And then show the rest.

What about you? How do you handle transitions in your stories? Any other words of advice for Mary?

4 Ways Authors Can Reach Readers on Pinterest

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

If you haven't figured out by now, I'm a HUGE Pinterest fan! I love the visual appeal of all the pictures. I love the organizational structure of the site. I love all of my various collections of pins (especially my chocolate recipes!).

Most of all, I love the venue it provides for interacting with readers.

As I've studied and experimented with Pinterest over the past couple of years, I've realized that there are many ways for authors to relate to readers on the site. Here are four simple ways:

1. Share the love of reading. 

One of the best ways to connect with readers is to promote books. There are LOTS of different ways to do that. Some users have boards that showcase their favorite books which can draw like-minded readers (via searches).

Others (like myself), have boards that relate to reading in general. For example I have boards for pins that have Reading Humor, Fascinating Book Art, Stuff for a Book Geek, and more. Such boards attract others who have the same interest. When they visit one board, they're likely to browse some of my other boards that promote reading. And while visiting, they're bound to see my Novel Boards, which leads to the next simple way to connect with readers . . .

2. Develop Novel Boards for your books. 

Whenever I have a new book release, I also create a Pinterest board that gives a visual summary of the book. I showcase characters, setting, historical events, etc. And within the description of the picture, I share a little bit about the story (without giving too much away). For an example of how I set up a Novel Board, check out the board for my latest release: Captured by Love.

3. Make Pinterest-worthy pins for your website or blog. 

I try to make a pin to go with every blog that I post. I also make pins for book releases, giveaways, or anything else worth mentioning. I use PicMonkey to doctor pictures I've taken or pictures that are "free" for doctoring.

Of course, I make sure to add my website address to each pin so that no matter where the pin ends up on Pinterest (even if the link back to my site is lost somewhere along the way), at least my web address is still visible. Ultimately, I want to draw people back to my website or blog to find out more about me and my books.

4. Develop topical boards that showcase elements in your books.

For example, if your book is set in World War II, consider having boards that have various pins from that era. Or if you write about lighthouses (like I am with my upcoming series), then develop a board devoted to lighthouses.

When other Pinterest users search for World War II or lighthouse pictures, they could end up being directed to your board and thus your site where of course then they'll see that you write novels about that particular topic as well.

My Summary: Pinterest is a visually stimulating way to connect with others. But I offer a word of caution: Make sure that you don't over-promote your books. As with any social media site, your followers will feel spammed if they see you pinning pictures of your books over and over and over.

Readers can sense when we're using social media with ulterior motives and they tend to run far away from pushy authors. Instead we need to join in the fun of creating interesting boards that not only will bring us pleasure, but will also be attractive to others.

Do you use Pinterest? What are some other ways you try to connect with readers there?

Why I Accepted Two More Traditional Book Deals

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

These days, indie authors everywhere are singing the praises of self-publishing. In fact, lately I've heard a LOT of positives from those going indie.

The latest issue of the Romance Writers Report through RWA had an article titled, "On the Hunt: A Look into Indie Publishing." At least twice (if not more) the article stated something similar to this: "In all these discussions about indie publishing, not one author said she regrets her decision."

From what I can surmise, most writers who try indie publishing seem to be very satisfied with that option. Some have even gone on to be very successful, hit best seller lists, and make a good living from it.

However, for each indie best seller, there are many self-published writers who have a difficult time making headway with sales. We usually don't hear as much (if anything) about those authors. Why aren't they as vocal about their experiences (compared to those who make it big)?

Perhaps their optimism is still high. After all, the indie movement is young and the possibilities are limitless. Or perhaps those writers are less inclined to open up about failure. It's always easy to share good news. But who wants to stand up and talk about how their efforts were unfruitful?

Whatever the case, indie publishing is spoken of so highly nowadays that as a traditionally published author, sometimes I can't help second-guessing what I'm doing.

But I hesitate only for a minute, then I remind myself there aren't any perfect methods publication. There are always drawbacks to any decision. Ultimately, I have to make the choice that seems right for me personally.

All that to say, over the past five months, I've been offered and accepted publishing deals with two other traditional houses (in addition to Bethany House, the publisher I've been working with over the past few years and will continue to work with). (Many thanks to my new agent, Natasha Kern, for her hard work making it all happen!)

One of my new deals is with Harper-Collins Publishing (Zondervan division) for three young adult(YA) books. As a historical writer, I've always adored the age of daring knights, daunting castles, and the beautiful but courageous ladies who not only fought against evil but also fought to find their true love.

I'm delighted that I have the opportunity to write these exciting and adventurous "fairytale-like" stories that both teens and adults will enjoy. The first book, An Uncertain Choice, releases next spring, March 2015. Here's a sneak peek! Be looking for the full gorgeous cover reveal soon!!

The second deal I'm thrilled to announce is with Penguin Random House (Waterbrook division) for a book very dear to my heart. It's a historical that I wrote about six years ago. However, for a variety of reasons, the book just sat collecting dust.

Finally after all this time, my dream of seeing it in print is coming true! The book will release next fall, Sept. 2015. While I can't share much information about it yet, I guarantee that you'll find it fascinating (especially if you've liked my other stories inspired by real life people from history).

You might be wondering why I've chosen to continue with traditional publication, especially when so many writers are lauding self-publication. Here are a few reasons:

1. With my busy life stage raising five kids, traditional publication frees me up to focus more on my writing output. I don't have to concern myself with everything involved in publication like getting an ISBN number, writing blurbs, contracting editors or formatters or cover designers, etc. I can focus the majority of my limited work time on writing.

2. I value the input of editors within the traditional publishing industry who've been in the business for years and who have a pulse on their specific markets. Such editors are able to give big-picture/content edits that are invaluable.

3. I appreciate having the guarantee of high quality covers and books without any worry on my part. My publisher is as invested as I am in seeing that the book has an excellent cover, is formatted to perfection, and has no errors.

4. I like having my books in a physical store. Even though shelf space is shrinking, it's satisfying to know readers can browse and pick up my book from a real shelf.

5. While some libraries are opening up to self-published books, it's still not a completely open door for indies yet. Not all traditionally published books make it in to libraries either, but most libraries are willing to take requests for traditionally published books if they aren't already there.

5. Traditional publication still offers the possibility of getting reviews by major reviewers like Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Romantic Times, etc.

6. Although all writers whether self or traditionally published must market, I appreciate having the creative help of a publicist and marketing specialist along with publishing house dollars.

7. It wasn't too long ago that self-publishing contained a stigma. Even though the stigma is decreasing, unfortunately it still exists to a degree (probably because of the few who self-publish poor quality writing before they're truly ready). I like having the validation that a traditional publisher still gives.

So there you have it! That's why I accepted two more traditional publication book deals and why I'm super excited about them both!

What are your thoughts about indie versus traditional publication? What is your preference and why?

P.S. If you'd like the chance to win a copy of my newest release, make sure to check out my "Behind the Scenes of Captured by Love" blog tour happening the rest of July!

Release Day Celebration and Giveaway!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I'm interrupting my usual posting this week for several reasons. First, it's the 4th of July week, and I know from past experience that people aren't thinking about writing since they're busy with family activities or are on vacation.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Michigan
Second, I just returned from a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and haven't had time to come up with a brand new meaningful post! I stayed in an assistant light keeper's house for a week doing research for my lighthouse series (the first book releases later in the year). Let me just say, words cannot do justice to the trip (hence the reason for the hundreds of pictures I took!).

And finally, I'm interrupting my typical post because TODAY July 1 is officially the release of my SIXTH published book! I haven't had a book release fall on one of my blogging days, so I had to take advantage of the momentous occasion and celebrate with you!

Yes, Captured by Love is my sixth published book. Can you believe it?!

For those of you who've been following along with me over the past five years of my writing journey, thank you for being there to support and encourage me every step of the way. I couldn't have done it without you!

I also want to thank all of my readers for your enthusiasm about my books! YOU make all the hard work of being an author worthwhile! I love you ALL! If I haven't had the opportunity to "meet" you yet, make sure you stop by Facebook and introduce yourself.

Okay, without further fanfare, let's get on to the PARTY!

Publisher's Weekly gave the book a starred review (which is an honor since they don't give out many starred reviews): "Award-winning author Hedlund (The Preacher’s Bride) continues to perfect her craft, combining drama, geography, and military strategy into an engaging historical romance. Superbly written romantic tension comes together with rich historical and scenic detail in this third novel in the Michigan Brides Collection that will leave readers eager for a fourth."

I'm pleased to announce that early readers are raving about the book. Here's what they're saying:

Lindsey Bell said: "Jody Hedlund's newest book, Captured by Love, was just as captivating as her previous books. As typical of Jody, the writing is superb, and the characters are incredibly realistic. I was drawn in to the story quickly and by the middle of the book could not put it down."

Shannon Gonzalez said: "Author Jody Hedlund has once again, written a beautifully captivating tale. The characters have been brought into reality so clearly the reader will instantly feel as if they are best friends. Willing to follow them into turmoil, heart break, and life endangering situations the reader will not want to put the book down until they know what happens."

If you'd like to join in the book release fun this month, here are a few of the activities that are happening:

1. "Behind the Scenes of Captured by Love" blog tour:

Join us during the month of July 2014 (starting NEXT WEEK) for a behind-the-scenes look at Captured by Love. At each stop you’ll not only have the chance to learn more about the making of the book, but you’ll also be eligible to win a signed copy of Captured by Love. Don’t miss the fun!

1. July 7 (Mon.) What Inspired Me to Write Captured by Love
at Jamie Lapeyrolerie’s blog

2. July 9 (Wed.) A Research Trip to Mackinac Island Part 1
at Julie Musil’s blog

3. July 11 (Fri.) A Research Trip to Mackinac Island Part 2
at Caroline Flory’s blog

4. July 14 (Mon.) The True People and Events in Captured by Love
at Bethany Ward’s blog

5. July 16 (Wed.) Getting Down and Dirty . . . At the Chicken Farm
at Vera Godley’s blog

6. July 18 (Fri.) A Sizzling Romance: Pass Me a Fan!
at Jaime Wright Sundsmo’s blog

7. July 21 (Mon.) What I Hope Readers Take Away from Captured by Love
at Lindsay Harrel’s blog

8. July 23 (Wed.) Fun Trivia From Captured by Love
at Joleen Graumann’s blog

9. July 25 (Fri.) The Movie Cast for the Main Characters of Captured by Love
at Rachel McMillan’s blog

10. July 28 (Mon.) A Plethora of Pictures of Captured by Love
at Karen Lange’s blog

2. Facebook Party: Join the fun on Tuesday July 22 from 12-2pm on the Bethany House Facebook Page

3. Goodreads Giveaway: Go over to Goodreads for another chance to win 1 of 15 copies of the book!

4. Pinterest Novel Board for Captured by Love: For pictures to help inspire your imagination, head over to my Pinterest Board.

5. Presentation and Booksigning: On July 12 from 1-3pm I'll be sharing a presentation about my writing journey along with some of the local history behind my Michigan Brides Collection followed by a booksigning. The event will take place at Pathway Books and Gifts in Midland, Michigan.

Finally, in celebration of the release, I'm giving away BOOKS!!!

FOUR lucky winners will each receive a copy of my newest book AND their choice of ONE of four other books (for a total of two books each). All are recent releases by fellow Bethany House Authors.

Choose from: Siri Mitchell's Love Comes Calling, Julie Klassen's The Dancing Master, Kate Breslin's For Such a Time, and Tracie Peterson's A Sensible Arrangement.

Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter the giveaway which ends on July 6 at midnight.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Virtual cake and coffee to ALL! Thanks for celebrating with me!

The WINNERS picked at random through Rafflecopter are:

Rissi Cain
Dawn Robinson
Julie Waldvogel
Connie Hendryx

Congratulations! Thank you, everyone, for joining the celebration! Please make sure to visit all of the blog tour stops for more chances to win my new release!

4 Ways to Add Caffeine to Your Story

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Lately I've been reading a book by an author whose voice and story is slower and more flowing than I'm used to, Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea. The prose is beautiful and I find myself relishing her exquisite setting details and how they perfectly reflect the character's mood and the plot. It's the kind of story you savor and read languidly much the same way you sip a rich creamy mug of hot cocoa.

Most of the time, however, I find myself gravitating toward books that are more pulse-pounding. I like books that contain depth and beauty and passion but at the same time keep me turning the pages fast.

After hearing from readers over the years, I've learned that my books have more of the pulse-pounding, page-turning quality. Instead of a cup of creamy hot cocoa, my books are like an iced coffee that you guzzle on a hot summer day.

For example, Rachel Rittenhouse read my newest release, Captured by Love and said: "At no time in the book could I guess how this book would definitely is not predictable! I loved the excitement and it was refreshing to read a book that surprised me at each turn."

A recent review in Romantic Times said: “With well-drawn, realistically flawed and sympathetic characters, tight and thrillingly unpredictable plotlines, fascinating historical details and moving faith journeys, Hedlund’s novels never disappoint and Captured by Love is no exception.”

As I thought about how Rachel, Romantic Times, and others have described my books, I’ve realized, that although I never set out intentionally to be a page-turning (iced-coffee guzzling) type of author, I have evolved into that.

Not every writer will want or need to have an iced-coffee story. But for those who are interested in a fast-moving, higher-caffeinated story, here are some of the ingredients I use in mine:

1. Continuous, yet purposeful action.

As I write scenes, I look for ways to keep them from being static. In other words, I want to have my characters DOING things that relate to the plot as much as possible, rather than just sitting around and talking or contemplating.

2. Plenty of new and interesting adventure.

During my research phase (before I start my first draft), I keep a running list of all the weird, crazy, or interesting events/situations that I could use in my story. Then as I’m writing, I try to weave in as much adventure as I can.

3. Tightening the noose of the danger and dilemmas.

As the story progresses, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, “How can I continue to make things worse for my hero and heroine? And how can I make the danger more threatening?” I want to keep tightening the noose around their necks so that the situation looks utterly hopeless. Sometimes I get my characters into so much trouble, even I begin to wonder how they’ll ever get out!

4. Make every scene count.

Granted not every scene will be a knife-fight, dangerous river-crossing, or attack by a mountain lion. But even those scenes that are less action-oriented can be loaded with emotional or relational tension and conflict. If there’s nothing tense in the scene, then we need to ask if it’s really needed. Perhaps we can skip it and just jump to the next conflict-laden scene.

Those are just a few of my techniques for keeping my stories moving.

What about you? Which do you prefer reading—a hot cocoa book or an iced coffee? And if you’re a writer, which do you prefer writing? 
(This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2011)

How to Plan for a Successful Book Launch

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Every time I have a new book about to hit shelves, invariably I seem to write a blog post about ways to prepare for a book launch. I think subconsciously, the post is my to-do list. At the very least it helps me organize my thoughts and hopefully sparks some ideas for YOU.

Yes, my book Captured by Love is releasing July 1. But I haven't just now started thinking and planning for the release. I've actually been working on marketing plans for a number of weeks.

Here's a breakdown of how I usually do my release planning:

1. Brainstorm a personal marketing plan. 

Several months before the release date, I brainstorm a list of all the things I could possibly do to market my book. I include every idea. Nothing is too wild or crazy! I unleash my creativity. I take note of what others are doing, what seems to be working and what isn't.

Finally once I have a long list of ideas, I start narrowing down what I hope to do, including what I actually have the time and resources for. My list usually ends up about a half a page to page long.

2. Plan how to handle reviewer/influencer books. 

At least two months before release, I start to figure out how I'm going to handle giving away books. Every author whether traditionally published or self has to consider how to give away books for either reviewers or influencers. In my case, my publisher provides books for both (read this post to understand the difference between the two).

I take charge of compiling a list of influencers that I send in to my publisher. Usually I try to give priority to readers who've done a helpful job influencing for me in the past. Then I also try to think of some specific things those influencers can do to help with the promotion of the book.

3. Plan a special launch day celebration.

At least two to three weeks before the release, I start to plan a launch day celebration. I've varied what I've done with each book. But the point is, we can't gloss over the actual release day itself. After all, it IS a special day for us and the life of our book. Some writers even call it a "book birthday."

Birthdays always need some hoopla, don't they?

4. Plan events that happen during the release month.

While I'm planning the launch day celebration, I decide what I'll do during launch month. The average midlist book usually has about a month on the "special" shelf before other new books arrive and take over the showcase. Writers have to maximize that month of spotlight. There are numerous things we can do to promote all month long (but hopefully without being obnoxious):

• Have a Goodreads giveaway

• Have a targeted blog tour (for example, my blog tour for Captured by Love takes readers on a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the book)

• Do guest posts or interviews

• Plan a local bookstore event in conjunction with a signing

• Create a Pinterest novel board

• Contact local libraries about carrying the book

• Update Facebook Page banner to reflect the new book

• Update website (include early reviews, discussion questions, excerpt, etc.)

• Have a social media sharing contest 

• Send bookmarks to influencers to pass out in their circles

• Have a Facebook Party

5. Write an author newsletter.

I'm not a huge newsletter fan. I don't want to bother my readers every few months with things that don't really matter. In fact, I think if we bombard readers too often with newsletters, then when we have something important to share, our readers will be in the habit of glossing over our emails (or deleting them without ever opening them).

So, my philosophy is to only email my readers when I have something important happening, like the release of a book. I write a fairly short letter, include pictures, links, and something special for them. I usually put the letter together and send it out close to the release date after I have all of my launch planning information in place so that I can make my readers aware of all the events.

Those are some of the things that I do during launch time. The possibilities are endless!

What else have you seen done for a book launch that you thought was particularly helpful or unique?

Hurrah! You Wrote a Book. Now What?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

This question came in from Nat: "I am almost finished writing a book. I don't know what the next step is. Do I get an editor or a literary agent first? And how do I find one. I will take all the help and tips I can get!"

Times have changed drastically since I first started querying books in the bygone days where writers had to print out their manuscripts, rubber-band the pages together, and then send them in to publishers with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Of course back then, I thought I was ready for publication, but I now realize I wasn't.

It took many long years of learning, growing (and even a seven year hiatus), before I finally reached a point of maturity in my skills. When I jumped back into the publishing scene after my break with a new book I'd written, I realized just how different things were and how they're still constantly evolving.

So, what's a writer to do today in this ever-changing industry? If you've completed a book, like Nat, you may be wondering what the next step is.

If we were sitting down having coffee together, here's what I'd say:

1. Set aside your book.

I know that's not pleasant advice to hear after you've spent so much time on that baby, not when you're so madly in love with it and want to see it in print more than anything else in the world.

But the best thing you can do for the book is to give it a rest and give yourself a break from it. The time and distance away help lend an objectivity that is essential for editing. Even after publishing and writing many books, I still always set aside a manuscript when I finish–often for weeks, if not several months. Then when I come back to it, I'm able to edit with a clarity and objectivity that wasn't there before.

2. Carefully self-edit your book. 

As tempting as it may be to skip a thorough self-edit (and merely gloss over the book), you shouldn't shortchange yourself. If you do, you'll surely pay for it later.

As I begin the process of self-editing for the first time after finishing, I usually combine a macro level (big picture edit that addresses plot, characterization, setting, etc.) with a micro level (sentence level edit that deals with word choice, repetitions, etc.).

3. Get outside feedback from beta readers or critique partners. 

Beta readers are "first readers" who read in order to give their general impressions. They don't mark up things or get nit-picky but rather relay more general impressions. Beta readers can be genre fans, your target audience, friends, other writers, etc.

Critique partners, on the other hand, are usually writers who are familiar with your genre. After working out a reciprocal partnership, you exchange books and offer feedback (within the manuscript itself) that is more specific than what beta readers give.

The more qualified a person is (i.e. multi-published author or avid reader of your genre), usually the you will be able to give their feedback greater weight. The less qualified, the more you will need to sift through opinions before going back to the editing process.

4. Look for an agent or professional editor. 

After spending hours and weeks and perhaps months rewriting and editing, then you might be ready to search for an agent (if you're traditionally publishing) or a professional editor (if you're self publishing).

I don't recommend searching out either one too soon (before you've done the above steps). For one, you could burn bridges with agents by sending them material that's poorly edited. And secondly, you don't want to pay a professional editor to do some of the editing that you could have taken care of yourself.

Once you're ready, I suggest investigating and compiling a list of possible agents and editors. Do the research to find the ones that represent what you write and look carefully at their guidelines. Check references by contacting their clients. In other words, do your homework. There's no quick and easy way to find good agents and editors besides taking the time to thoroughly research.

5. Start writing your next book. 

No matter which of the above steps you're in, I highly suggest starting another book, especially when you're in waiting mode. The process of delving into another story can help in a number of ways.

First writing takes your mind off the LONG waits that are inherent in the publishing industry. Second, when an agent or reader asks about future books, you'll be able to tell them you already have more in the works, which shows that you're out to have a writing career versus just publishing one or two books.

So that's the advice I would give Nat. How about you? What advice would you give someone who's finished writing a book and wondering what to do next?

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