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Query Saturday: Unamed Vampire Romance

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

***

Caroline had been sent to the research lab to interrogate a vampire, but what lay beyond the two-way mirror was far more than that…

The largest male she’d ever seen in her life was chained by his wrists to a bracket in the ceiling. His long, sculpted arms were suspended high above his head, enough to keep him from being able to rest his feet completely on the floor. He wore nothing but a pair of black pants, and she would have found that bare chest especially drool worthy if it weren’t for the dozens of cuts, gouges, and scars that painted his torso.

A glance at his face told her he wasn’t handsome, at least not by movie star standards. He was powerful. Imposing. Forceful. No…(she searched her mental thesaurus) compelling. Yeah, that was the perfect word.

His hard, squared jaw was creased by two deep lines on either side of his mouth. His features were chiseled, his forehead high. His hair, a dark shade of blond that curled around his face, was clearly due for a wash.

But it was his eyes that made her heart want to speed up and stop at the same time. A dark forest green, deeply set, they seemed to penetrate the glaring light that shone in his face to see straight through the mirror. And into her soul.

Vampire king Lucius Mallanus has been cold for so long, he can’t even remember what it felt like to care. He has been captured by his oldest enemy and tortured for weeks, and yet he does nothing to free himself. The loss of his Mate thousands of years ago has finally worn him down. But everything changes the instant Caroline Deteriot steps through the door of his cell. He knows at once she bears the soul of his former wife and Mate, and he must do whatever is necessary to protect her from his enemies, even if it means protecting her against her will.

Caroline is drawn to Lucius for reasons she can’t understand. Vampires were never her thing, and she definitely isn’t one for overbearing men, but Lucius won’t take no for an answer. She senses the sorrow in him, and what’s more, the potential to love hiding deep beneath the surface. With more nerve than courage, she decides to enter his life and see where it leads her. What she doesn’t know is that path is full of ancient blood feuds, timeless powers, and past failures. She’ll have to pay the price if she wants a future with him, but what she doesn’t realize is the price fate demands might just be her soul…

I’m xxxxxx I’ve spent most of my life in the vicinity of xxxxxxx, XX and I don’t see leaving here any time soon. I have a Master’s Degree in xxxxx from xxxx and I’ve worked in the xxxxxx for eight years. Reading isn’t just a hobby for me; it’s an obsession. I know what writing in this particular genre is like, and what makes my book different is I think outside the box. My work will stand out because my characters are unique and memorable, which will make readers care what happens to them and want to know more.

In closing, thank you for taking the time to consider my work. The full 150,000 manuscript is available upon request.

Sincerely,

***

Interested in participating in Query Saturday? Send your query to jane at dearauthor.com. All queries are kept confidential. We are also going to start a First Page series in which we post the first page of both published and unpublished books to see whether the opening scenes hook you as a reader. If you are an author, either aspiring or published and want to participate, send your first page to jane at dearauthor.com or use our handy dandy input form.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Anion
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 04:18:36

    This isn’t a query, it’s a synopsis. A query is three or four paragraphs long, just enough info to hook us. Once I realized this doesn’t even have an opening, and seems to be an excerpt from the book (?) I stopped reading.

    ETA: Okay, I went back and had a look. Keep the last three full paragraphs, which are actually not half-bad at all. Lose the rest.

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  2. Ann Somerville
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 04:25:52

    The description is compelling (a tad cliched but what the hell, it works) but it goes on for too long – it reads as if it’s the start of the story itself, and could be cut without losing the effect. This – “(she searched her mental thesaurus)” – is really unnecessary, and ‘drool worthy’ seems a tad inappropriate given she’s looking at a prisoner who’s been tortured in some way. Could be ditched for the purpose of the query.

    The rest of it is pretty interesting (and I say that as someone who won’t read a vampire novel for pay) until we come to the bit about the author. Most of that info is irrelevant. The degree and profession don’t have any bearing on the story, and honestly, all authors are readers. All you’re doing is telling, not showing, how fabulous a writer you are. Cut or compress, unless this is information specifically requested by the press/agent (some do ask for bios with submissions.)

    I wouldn’t buy this, but only because I really, really hate vampire stories. And werewolves :)

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  3. Angelle
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 04:59:10

    Unfortunately, the query is way way way too long. The author bio too has a lot of irrelevant information, and the part about why the story’s so wonderful and deserving of publication came off as being a bit arrogant (?). (I’m talking about the “I know what writing in this particular genre is like, and what makes my book different is I think outside the box. My work will stand out because my characters are unique and memorable, which will make readers care what happens to them and want to know more.” part) You have to show your outside-the-boxness & uniqueness of the characters in the pitch, rather than trying to state it outright. But then maybe it’s just my personal preference. (Any agents / editors want to comment on this?)

    Finally 150k is a bit too long. Most agents seem to want no more than 120k, max.

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  4. Bernita
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 05:28:58

    The first para( with a little more who and where) and the sixth and seventh ( suggesting character and conflict) have the meat of a good query. Skip the physical description and the assertive puffery of the second to last para.
    Writing seems competent and the voice sounds assured.

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  5. Erastes
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 05:31:13

    Miss out the first five paragraphs, or your publisher/editor won’t read past number three.

    It’s a shame, but most publishers (unless it’s a wow of a new idea, which this isn’t the plot sounds partially like Dracula (the one with Gary Oldman in it)) want a book to be 100,000.

    Start here:

    Vampire king Lucius Mallanus has been cold for so long, he can't even remember what it felt like to care. He has been captured by his oldest enemy and tortured for weeks, and yet he does nothing to free himself. The loss of his Mate thousands of years ago has finally worn him down. But everything changes the instant Caroline Deteriot steps through the door of his cell. He knows at once she bears the soul of his former wife and Mate, and he must do whatever is necessary to protect her from his enemies, even if it means protecting her against her will.

    Then tell us what the book is ABOUT. So many queries I’ve read do what you do, talk vaguely about fate, feuds, destiny, blah blah but not what the book it actually about.

    I'm xxxxxx I've spent most of my life in the vicinity of xxxxxxx, XX and I don't see leaving here any time soon.(unnecessary, they already know where you live.) I have a Master's Degree in xxxxx from xxxx and I've worked in the xxxxxx for eight years. Reading isn't just a hobby for me; it's an obsession. I know what writing in this particular genre is like, and what makes my book different is I think outside the box. (Of course you know what writing in this genre is like, you’ve just written 150,000 words. And avoid cliches like “thinking outside the box” Instead – tell the editor WHY your vampire book is unlike all the others, and who are your prospective readers. As Angelle says, don’t tell us why your characters are unique (they aren’t!) show us in the pitch.

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  6. Jackie
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 06:13:42

    Erastes is wise.

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  7. Tracey
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 06:21:02

    I concur. Cut the first five paragraphs.

    This next part is all right, with the exception of some random capitalization. Why is “mate” capitalized? There are a few changes I’d make, though.

    Vampire king Lucius Mallanus has been cold for so long, he can't even member what it felt like to care.

    Now, are you talking about being emotionally cold, or about being dead? Either could apply, but I’m not sure which does in this instance.

    He has been captured by his oldest enemy and tortured for weeks, and yet he does nothing to free himself.The loss of his Mate thousands of years ago has finally worn him down.

    Since she died thousands of years ago, I’d think that he’d have gone through the stages of mourning long before this.

    But everything changes the instant Caroline Deteriot steps through the door of his cell. He knows at once she bears the soul of his former wife and Mate, and he must do whatever is necessary to protect her from his enemies, even if it means protecting her against her will.

    I’d cut out the paragraph following this, however. What I’d like to know after this paragraph about Lucius is “What’s the protagonist’s problem/obstacle/difficulty?” We get a hint about Caroline being in danger from his enemies, but we hear nothing about who these enemies are, what they’re trying to achieve, or why they should care about Caroline. I would like to have more of a sense of the plot.

    Next, this:

    I'm xxxxxx I've spent most of my life in the vicinity of xxxxxxx, XX and I don't see leaving here any time soon.

    Not needed. And “I don’t see leaving here any time soon” is poor grammar. “I don’t see myself leaving here” would be better, but it would still be too slangy for a query letter.

    I have a Master's Degree in xxxxx from xxxx and I've worked in the xxxxxx for eight years. Reading isn't just a hobby for me; it's an obsession. I know what writing in this particular genre is like, and what makes my book different is I think outside the box. My work will stand out because my characters are unique and memorable, which will make readers care what happens to them and want to know more.

    1) Don’t tell the publisher that you think outside the box. If you do, he or she will notice.

    2) Don’t tell people that your characters are unique and memorable. I’ve already spotted several things that make them less than unique:

    a) A vampire king. Vampire kings, princes, nobles, rulers, etc. are very common in the genre. Just once, I’d like to see a vampire lumberjack or a vampire bus driver–someone with no noble or royal blood at all.

    b) A reincarnated mate.

    c) Brooding grief/sorrow on the part of the vampire.

    d) The guy not taking no for an answer. (I know that’s supposed to be romantic, but to me it always comes across as stalker-ish.)

    So no, don’t tell me that the character is unique and memorable. Show me why he or she is unique. Show me what makes Lucius different from all other vamps.

    Finally, your manuscript is very long. According to http://www.pwcwriters.org/penpoints4.htm, 150,000 words is the upper limit for a hardcover novel. It might be better to do some judicious cutting before submitting your manuscript anywhere.

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  8. ChoptLivers
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 06:48:14

    I was reading this and thinking, I’ve read something similar to this before…

    http://www.ellorascave.com/Excerpts/Excerpt_bloodofthedamned.htm

    The query has structural problem, but I’m afraid, it also had originality problems. Vampire king, held prisoner, finds his life mate the second she steps through the door. We’ve seen so many variations of this. So many. I’m afraid I’d pass no matter how good the query was.

    I’m sorry. I know it’s a painful thing to read. But somebody told me this too many years ago and it made me want to try harder. So, I hope you’ll try harder. You can do it.

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  9. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 06:48:39

    I’m going to agree with the others~idea definitely has appeal, but it reads a little too long, IMO, to be a query.

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  10. Leslee
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 08:01:25

    As a reader, I would be interested in seeing this book. I loved vampire paranormals and have since way back. Then every other book was vampire and I got bored with reading the same exact thing just written by a different author. I would like to see if she brings anything new to the genre like J.R. Ward did. I also agree with previous posts that it needs to be trimmed down and “drool worthy” needs to be replaced with something less jarring.

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  11. Treva Harte
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 08:46:41

    I thought the book might have potential but I was more intrigued by the xxxx of the author’s life. If it’s relevant, put it in — how does the author know what she’s talking about? She donates blood for vampires? She is a professor of vampire genre literature? Otherwise xxxxx it out for real. Anything that can tell me you are a professional, can edit and meet deadlines, do your research, can write — leave it in. You’ve read a million vampire novels? Ehh, I don’t care.

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  12. Amie Stuart
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 08:49:16

    Agreed…way too long, and too much superfluous stuff in the about you paragraph. Don’t tell the editor/agent why your book is different, show them in your blurb.

    What does she want? What does he want? Why can’t they have it and how is it resolved.

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  13. Anion
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 08:52:25

    Doh. I didn’t even read the bio. I agree with the other comments on it.

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  14. Maya
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 09:24:15

    The parts that are her POV are in past tense. That parts that are in his are in present tense. ???

    Her descriptions of the scene are compelling, but the fact that she looks at someone in extreme physical distress and puts her emphasis on her level of attraction seems to imply that she is either very shallow or very cold or both. Doesn’t point to’soul of loving mate’.

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  15. vanessa jaye
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 09:52:07

    More of the same here, ditto what everybody else said. Initially I thought we’d been dropped in the middle of a scene excerpt from the ms, but the last 3 paragraphs are the real meat of the query. The last paragraph/author bio needs works along the lines of the previous suggestions (take them to heart).

    And as someone else asked, where’s the conflict? You mentioned the danger from his enemies, but what’s the conflict between the hero/heroine? You might want to highlight/indicate basic character traits and/or goals that are in opposition.
    For example:

    Passionate, paternalistic vampire King wants his freedom vs cool headed independent scientist whose next big promotion in male dominated field depends on her completing her study of this being.

    He believes she’s his reincarnated soul mate. She believes he has no soul. Besides all that soulmate claptrap has no provable basis.

    But the longer he’s in captivity, the stronger the attraction between them grows and the closer the unknown danger to both of them draws near.

    I’m just throwing stuff out here as an example (this isn’t exactly the set up of your book), but your query would be stronger if it could provide a better framework for the story/conflicts.

    Having said all that, while the query (and excerpt) doesn’t read as ‘original/unique’ as stated in your last paragraph, and taking into account that I don’t really go out of my way to read vampire stories, I would find the whole Alpha hero/King Vampire hero extremely appealing/delicious, as would many (many) other readers who adore this type of old school big/bad Alpha hero. And I like your voice from the excerpt snippet.

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  16. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 09:54:09

    I agree with the others who’ve said this reads more like a synopsis, or even an excerpt, than a query. The writing is excellent but if this were an excerpt I would say you’ve failed to convey a range of emotions. The man is chained and wounded, but she’s ogling his hot bod and musing on the perfect word to describe his face. I agree with Maya that she seems cold.

    Something that bugs people about vampire romances, from what I’ve heard, is lack of choice on the part of the herione. You say she chooses to enter his life, but also that he is overbearing and won’t take no for an answer. The fact that she has the soul of his former wife speaks more of fate than choice. He loves her, or his ex-mate’s soul?

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  17. Diana Peterfreund
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 10:06:21

    Paragraphs 2-5 don’t add anything to the query and should be cut. they definitely don’t jibe with the assertion that it’s “outside the box.”

    The query should be rewritten to focus on this part:

    With more nerve than courage, she decides to enter his life and see where it leads her. What she doesn't know is that path is full of ancient blood feuds, timeless powers, and past failures. She'll have to pay the price if she wants a future with him, but what she doesn't realize is the price fate demands might just be her soul…

    The “interview a captured vampire” (cute: like silence of the lambs but with a vampire?) is set up (I’m picturing maybe a chapter or two of the book). The para quoted above is what ACTUALLY HAPPENS in the story. Don’t gloss over it. Whose feuds and powers and what failures? Be specific. Specificity is a plus when querying.

    Finally, unless where the author lives or what the author does for a living has anything to do with the story, leave it out. Go ahead and say you’ve got advanced degrees, fine. But the only bio info we’re interested in is stuff that relates to your story.

    And also cut the part where you make qualitative statements about the novel. Agents do not like being told that the book is good. They assume you think your characters are unique and memorable, and they want to make decisions for themselves. It especially doesn’t bode well when there are so many common elements highlighted in the story (soulmates, cold unfeeling vampire lords, timeless power, ancient blood feuds, etc.).

    I recommend reading the query section on the Fangs Fur Fey livejournal community, to see successful queries by other urban fantasy authors.

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  18. Jules Jones
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 10:47:25

    What they all said. My reaction after the first two paragraphs was “But this is an excerpt or a cover blurb, not a query.” As has already been said, chop the first five paragraphs (or possibly just 2-5), and you have the basis for a decent query.

    The bio paragraph needs some heavy trimming. In particular, the Master’s degree is irrelevant unless the subject matter is either directly relevant to the book, or is something that will make good publicity fodder.

    150,000 words is likely to be too long in the US, though I’m not sufficiently up on the print romance market to be sure of that.

    It’s not as unique or memorable as you think. But your writing is good enough to make me want to read more.

    And don’t be disheartened by the comments — writing query letters sucks, and it’s something a lot of good writers struggle with.

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  19. Wendy
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 10:52:07

    Um. I liked this part:

    Caroline had been sent to the research lab to interrogate a vampire, but what lay beyond the two-way mirror was far more than that…

    The largest male she'd ever seen in her life was chained by his wrists to a bracket in the ceiling. His long, sculpted arms were suspended high above his head, enough to keep him from being able to rest his feet completely on the floor. He wore nothing but a pair of black pants, and she would have found that bare chest especially drool worthy if it weren't for the dozens of cuts, gouges, and scars that painted his torso.

    A glance at his face told her he wasn't handsome, at least not by movie star standards. He was powerful. Imposing. Forceful. No…(she searched her mental thesaurus) compelling. Yeah, that was the perfect word.

    His hard, squared jaw was creased by two deep lines on either side of his mouth. His features were chiseled, his forehead high. His hair, a dark shade of blond that curled around his face, was clearly due for a wash.

    But it was his eyes that made her heart want to speed up and stop at the same time. A dark forest green, deeply set, they seemed to penetrate the glaring light that shone in his face to see straight through the mirror. And into her soul.

    But after that part, it all kinda went screwy, is it an excerpt or a blurb? or some kinda weird middle part excerpt part blurb thing? I haven’t a clue but I don’t like the whole..

    He knows at once she bears the soul of his former wife and Mate

    I really don’t like stories that feature this type of thing.I just think that the heroine should be her own person and not some kind of imitation of someone in the guy’s past. It doesn’t seemed genuine to me.

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  20. morgan saylor jones
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 11:02:01

    Dear anonymous submissive – what the upthread said. I thought Erastes' rewrite was right on, and the other blogistas make good points (especially Tracey's observation about the dearth of lumberjack vampires).

    I’m also a little put off by Caroline’s character. Is she in cahoots with Lucius’ “oldest enemy” who apparently controls a research lab? Is she getting her paycheck from a torturer? If so, where’s her moral outrage? That should be front and center of her reaction to Lucius. Instead of drooling over his chest, she should be thinking to herself, “I’ll be damned if I enable vampire abuse! Im going to take some digital pix and post them on YouTube and see if I can get a congressional inquiry going.”

    That said – I think you have talent! Like Ann Somerville, I've never been able to get into the vampire subgenre, and yet the first five paragraphs of your query sucked me in. If those are the opening lines of your novel I would want to read on. After re-writing the query along the lines suggested above, and emphasizing the parts of the book that are different from other vampire stories, you could submit the first 1-2 pages as well (although I agree with ChoptLivers that it is a little too derivative of Blood of the Damned, which, btw, lost me at “He made her cunt cream just a little.” Stuff like that always makes me think of yeast infections).

    So don't be discouraged. Keep going. You obviously have passion since you've cranked out a 150,000 word novel. If you can't edit it down to 120,000 words, then set it aside for now and write another one.

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  21. Jules Jones
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 11:20:12

    Wendy @19 prompts me to add: from an author’s perspective, that part is appealing writing, but it’s not what should normally be in a query letter. What most editors and agents want in the query letter is a very short 2-4 paragraph synopsis of the book, not something that reads like an actual excerpt from the manuscript. The agent or editor will be looking at the query page for a quick idea of the plot and characters, and then go to the sample pages (or ask for sample pages) to see what the actual writing is like. You can’t show off your writing in a 2-4 paragraph synopsis of a novel, but agents know that.

    Forgot to mention — one *good* thing is the mention of a complete manuscript ready to go. Someone who doesn’t already have a track record will not be able to sell a partial manuscript.

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  22. Shannon Yarbrough
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 13:09:28

    It is definitely too long. The first four paragraphs are too much description. You should have already built up to the plot and climax in that amount of time. “The largest male” sounds so blah….or almost like a large penis. The first sentence caught my attention, but you lost it really quickly after that. As an agent, I wouldn’t have even finished reading it probably. I’d keep that first sentence, scratch the next four paragraphs and save that for the synopsis and start with the paragraph about the Vampire King. 150,000 words is probably too much. An editor will cut this down really quick or make you break it into a serial.

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  23. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 19:35:29

    Superb advice here, and well worth following.

    My attention, too, began to wane as soon as the query started sounding like a synopsis. The cutesie phrase drool worthy was a particular turn-off. As a result, I stopped reading for a bit — not a good thing to have happen if you’re pitching an agent or editor, who’ll likely not return for more.

    Although I’m still fond of vampires, I’m really tired of the fated-mate trope. Therefore, when I got to “He knows at once she bears the soul of his former wife and Mate, and he must do whatever is necessary to protect her from his enemies, even if it means protecting her against her will,” I lost interest. That plot development was not only an enormous, and abrupt, leap, but this device (and I mean FATED MATE in glaring, marquee-size letters) is starting to hit my gag button. Done with subtlety and originality, the concept might still work for me. But how unfortunate it’s rarely handled that way! (Granted, this is purely a matter of personal taste.)

    All in all, I think this writer sounds very capable, with a good deal of promise. (And I apologize for talking about you rather than to you!)

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  24. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 12, 2008 @ 20:54:03

    Too long.
    Cut it to one paragraph and mention the genre, the heat level, the mood (dark, light, funny, angsty) the main conflict and the setting.

    In particular, I picked a few things up:
    1. The “mate” thing is really old now. Feehan’s first book came out over a decade ago and unless you’re already doing it, you need to find a new angle, which I didn’t see here.

    2. Change the hero’s name. There are far too many vampires called Lucius. If you called him Fred, the editor just might be more interested.

    3. The heroine sees a man being tortured and she considers his chest “drool worthy”? Unless you’re writing tongue-in-cheek, or alternatively a BDSM book, don’t go there. And she notices his hair needs washing?

    Your information paragraph needs a little tweaking. At the moment it sounds like a response to a list of questions.

    But many congratulations for being brave enough to do this. I do hope something said here helps you to sharpen and hone your work.

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