Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Things I Learned from RWA 2011

Here is my list of things I learned from RWA 2011:

  1. Harlequin and Sourcebooks are really interested in what the reader has to say in all areas of the publishing process from the cover, titles, and content to how the stories are sold.  They use their blogs, facebook and twitter accounts, and customer service emails to acquire this information.
  2. There is no one path to success. Bella Andre is not out there on the blogs, but she’s making personal connections to her readers. Courtney Milan is connecting to her readers through twitter, blog posts, and comments around the internet.
  3. Authors are probably more afraid of approaching readers than readers are afraid of approaching authors. Or it may be a mutual apprehension. Many authors tell me that they are introverts and signings are a painful process made only less painful by the readers who are brave enough to approach them.
  4. There are many types of publishing and no way is the absolute right way.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of authors deriding others for their choices under the guise of helpful advice. Some authors are really going to be proficient at self publishing. Many authors will not be. Some authors are well suited for traditional publishing. Some are not. The reasons that authors choose to self publish, go with a digital first publisher, or with a print first publisher will vary from author to author depending on her aversion to risk, her core competencies, her family situation, her goals, and so forth. Every person is different and we can’t judge whether a person is making the “right” decision about her career unless we are her.
  5. While Courtney Milan says that we shouldn’t make predictions, I have to make one. I think that the most successful self publishing authors will be those who love the business side of publishing as much as they love the creative side. There will always be the exceptions, but generally, I think that the entrepreneurial authors are the ones who we will still see self publishing five years from now.
  6. Family oriented sweet contemporaries, mostly set in some small town (make up your own if you don’t want to use a real one), are hugely popular. Every editor I talked to seemed interested in those. I have no idea why urbanites aren’t interesting. Also, the love of the cowboy hero was palpable.
  7. Editors think that authors self censor too much (and that critique partners may be doing more harm than good). I heard more than one editor say that the manuscripts that they like best are ones where they can see the raw voice of the author. Many times, submissions come in that are polished so much that they are too smooth to be interesting. Write with raw passion, authors. This is an industry built on emotion and the manuscripts have to show this.
  8. There is a lot of experimentation going on that readers don’t know anything about (and that no one would tell me either!) I was told by more than one person that pricing ebooks is not set in stone and that publishers are trying different things to see what works best. I do believe, however, that if the house is driven by hardovers, it is the hardcover policies that drive the prices of the mass market division. Interestingly though, Loveswept and Avon Impluse both set the high water mark at $5.00 indicating that there is some understanding that digital books should be priced less.
  9. Authors often skip over digital first publishing in their musings about what they will do if they leave traditional publishing. There often is a conflation between self publishing and digital first publishing. Two different things folks. An agent who gets into publishing is a digital first publisher. Agents that offer publishing service packages for fee and a percentage of profit are engaging in a business model known as vanity publishers. No one has brought up whether RWA will allow the agent/publisher to continue to be members.
  10. Editors can articulate why a reader should read a book better than any marketing person. I loved listening to the various editors share with me some of their favorite upcoming books. These editors really do have a passion for what they do and I think if anything saves traditional publishing it will be the editors and their support of the books that they love and must see published.

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

44 Comments

  1. SonomaLass
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 04:52:14

    Thank you for number four. And for all of the terrific reporting and musing from the conference.

    ReplyReply

  2. Mary (PPB)
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 05:19:47

    Thank you for #4 and YES on #5. Thank you again for #4, I don’t think it can be said too often that each person needs to follow the path that’s right for him or her.

    ReplyReply

  3. Karen Scott
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 06:10:07

    Great list, but where the hell were the scandalous bits of news? Please don’t tell me that not one author got drunk and showed her knickers in public???

    ReplyReply

  4. Gennita Low
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 08:53:57

    @Karen
    #11 See Jane, hide knickers.

    :)

    ReplyReply

  5. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 08:58:54

    @Karen Scott The bar closed at 1 am. I think that might have contributed to the lack of scandalous news in the bar. If you wanted to continue drinking it was done off site or in rooms.

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  6. jmc
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 09:45:31

    Re: #6 — I think a lot of readers associate urban settings with chick lit. And the most famous/successful chick lit has frivolous, material-oriented heroines who can’t manage their finances and make dubious money/professional decisions, like buying $400 shoes rather than considering their overdraft, or wasting their time in deadend jobs. Given the economy and job market, storylines and heroines like that are not appealing.

    Having said that, I still prefer urban settings to small towns.

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  7. library addict
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 12:07:57

    Great list, Jane. I’m a reader, but wish more authors understood #9. The number of authors who seem to think self publishing = digital first publishing (or just digital publishing period) is mind-blowing.

    Also, pricing. I wouldn’t even mind if agency priced ebooks were the same “retail” price of the mmpb IF we were still able to buy them on sale or use coupons. And truly don’t understand why publishers don’t get this.

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  8. lisabookworm
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 13:14:00

    I keeping hearing that most of the Agency publishers are ‘experimenting’ with digital pricing. However, I haven’t really seen much evidence of that. Most of the Agency ebooks I’ve looked at are all priced the same as the MMPB. Every once in awhile they sell a $1.99 special edition with bonus material, or there were a few sale ebooks while amazon was running their sunshine deals, but that’s about it.

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  9. Tina
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 13:27:09

    Family oriented sweet contemporaries, mostly set in some small town (make up your own if you don’t want to use a real one), are hugely popular. Every editor I talked to seemed interested in those. I have no idea why urbanites aren’t interesting. Also, the love of the cowboy hero was palpable.

    Gouge my eye out with a fork!

    I tend to be an outlier when it comes to what is popular in romance, so it is a no surprise to me that this would be right up there. Contemporary romances are my preferred sub-genre but this trend just tires me out and makes me cynical. I don’t mind small town romances per se, but the overabundance of them coupled with the not so subtle message that “small town values” are inherently somehow better than big city ones often makes me run far away in the opposite direction.

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  10. Jami Davenport
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 14:51:27

    I like #7 and #9.

    I have a tendancy to over-edit and edit my voice right out of a manuscript. I’ve been warned by some very good mentors to not do more than one or two edits on my books.

    #9–I chose the small press route because I tend to write niche stories that don’t have mass-market appeal, or at least NY thinks they don’t. I don’t have the name to do self-publishing nor do I have the time to take care of all the details a good small press will do for you. It’s a shame the many authors are forgetting the digital press opportunities out there.

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  11. Chelsea
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 15:00:22

    I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m NOT a fan of small town romance. I prefer medium to large city settings. I think the very gossipy close-knit environment of small towns is uncomfortable.

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  12. Uomo di Speranza
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 15:06:41

    Trying to stick my foot in the door within the publishing world myself, I don’t see why #3 should be a problem for anybody. We are driven, motivated writers who should be prepared to do everything ethically possible to achieve our final, published book. Don’t you think so?

    Nevertheless, please check out my blog, a place where philosophical meanings are extracted from books and applied to life, at http://meditationsofateenagephilosopher.blogspot.com/
    Thanks!

    ReplyReply

  13. Courtney Milan
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 15:17:29

    I think that the most successful self publishing authors will be those who love the business side of publishing as much as they love the creative side. There will always be the exceptions, but generally, I think that the entrepreneurial authors are the ones who we will still see self publishing five years from now.

    I have this blogpost marinating about how to tell if you have the temperament to self-publish successfully. (And I definitely agree with your #4–self publishing isn’t right for everyone, just as traditional publishing isn’t right for everyone).

    I think I would make a broader statement: you’re more likely to be successful at self-publishing the more ancillary skills you have. So entrepreneurial is a good start. But if you’re not good at proofing, that’s hard to hire out–because you’re not going to be good at figuring out if the proofers you hire are any good. Ditto for other areas. You can talk about hiring a cover artist but if you have no artistic sensibility, how will you know if the person you hire is any good?

    So the broader your knowledge/skill base in general, the better off you will be. Conversely, if there’s any area where you’re outright delusional, self-publishing is not right for you–not unless you have processes that contain strong checks and balances, and friends who are not delusional and who are willing to tell you when you are.

    All that being said, the ancillary services market for self-publishing is really just getting ramped up. I suspect that in the future there may be services that spring up to help out those authors who have serious writing talent but lack entrepreneurial vision.

    I feel confident in predicting that the future will hold death, taxes, and spam. Everything else is negotiable.

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  14. Janine
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 16:10:06

    Editors think that authors self censor too much (and that critique partners may be doing more harm than good). I heard more than one editor say that the manuscripts that they like best are ones where they can see the raw voice of the author. Many times, submissions come in that are polished so much that they are too smooth to be interesting. Write with raw passion, authors. This is an industry built on emotion and the manuscripts have to show this.

    Yes. Thank you for making this point. I so agree with this, even based on much of what I see published. I think it stems from fear of taking risks, that if you write something different, no one will want to publish it, and if you put your passion out there, you will make a misstep. Those fears aren’t totally invalid, and I think they affect critique partners as much as they do the authors themselves.

    But writing that plays it safe doesn’t stand out either, and sometimes it can be downright lifeless.

    I will say — based on personal experience of someone who has done a lot of critiquing and has also been critiqued a lot — that critiquing is at least as much an art as a science. It’s good to recognize those moments when your CP has written something unique, and passionate and dazzling (or if they are a beginner, nearly dazzling — almost everyone has at least a few of those moments if they haven’t been critiqued to death or read too many writing manuals)– and praise them. And if you can, be specific in your praise, so they will understand what they did right as well as what didn’t work.

    Most of all, you have to recognize what makes your CP stand out, what they do best, and help them bring that out more. I think writers need CPs or beta readers, but the role of a good CP isn’t to make the writer conform, or write the same way the CP does. And that’s something anyone who critiques (and I include myself) needs to remind themselves from time to time.

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  15. MaryK
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 16:10:53

    #7 is interesting. There’ve been small press authors who IMO lost their appeal, or at least some of it, when they were picked up by a major publisher. I’ve always assumed it was the editors smoothing them out for more mass market appeal.

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  16. Nonny
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 16:45:56

    I’ve seen #7 happen a lot. I think it stems from all the “rules” that get repeated in writer’s groups. Usually, they are not bad for guidelines, but when taken to an extreme, it’s stifling. I have seen so many people in crit groups who felt that they basically had to sandpaper off their own voice in order to fit with “the rules”. The result being is that you get a whole bunch of stories that all sound the same, and any distinctive voice is lost.

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  17. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 17:12:00

    @library addict: The Agency priced houses are driven by hardcover sales, in my opinion. And Agency is their “tool” against Amazon. Agency pricing is really benefiting BN the most. They don’t have to discount to play in the ebook field and thus their ebook business can grow under the pricing subsidization of the publishers.

    Agency pricing has really nothing to do with Apple and everything to do with Amazon.

    Of course, these business decisions suck for we readers, but this is my understanding behind them.

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  18. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 17:38:55

    @MaryK Ironically, I’ve heard that small press authors going to NY are the ones self editing their content down rather than the editors asking for any changes.

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  19. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 17:39:39

    @Courtney Milan I’m still trying to decide if hiring a publishing services company is still self publishing.

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  20. Julia
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 18:22:18

    “Loveswept and Avon Impluse both set the high water mark at $5.00 indicating that there is some understanding that digital books should be priced less.”

    I’m glad to hear this. It’s encouraging as a reader who reads in both traditional and eReader formats.

    Also, long live the cowboy hero!

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  21. Ridley
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 19:06:54

    Oh gag me with the small town contemporaries. They reek of Sarah Palin’s disgusting “real America” comment and they can just shove it.

    Real America is multicultural in every sense of the term, and I’d give anything to see more of *that* reflected in contemporaries.

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  22. Lilian Darcy
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 19:07:25

    Re #6, IMO many people in cities still live a small town life in terms of their social circle and routine, e.g. my in-laws, NY born and bred, but with a Sicilian village mind-set – its all about family and food. I think you can use urban settings and still have that family/village feel and I’ve done it many times in my books. Thanks for the list, Jane, V interesting.

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  23. Las
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 19:48:59

    #6 depresses the hell out of me. I’ve been trying to get into more contemporaries lately and reading that just makes me not want to bother.

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  24. Joy
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 20:30:06

    Well, I like small town contemporaries. With or without cowboys (although IME romance “cowboys” are usually ranchers or rodeo riders, not so much hired cowhands) I’ve lived an urban/suburban life in the East Coast, so small towns and agricultural/ranching settings, especially in the West are like exotic settings for me.

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  25. Chicklet
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 21:44:25

    #6 is why I’ve been reading so many mysteries and crime novels lately; if I was interested in small towns, I’d live in a small town. I like living in a city, and I’d love to read more contemporaries set in cities.

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  26. Patricia
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 22:07:23

    Re #6. I think this trend started as a result of the huge success of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. However, Carr’s was neither family-oriented (more town-oriented) nor “sweet” (actually quite sexy). I’ve tried a few “small-town” series, which seem to be about cooking, crafts, etc.& they are not for me. Carr’s series is unique.

    Re self-publishing. I don’t want to use an e-reader & read on a screen for hours. Many of my fave authors are only writing these, &, with that, they lose me as a buyer.

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  27. Jennie
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:07:15

    I will chime in and agree on not being such a fan re #6. Not interested in small towns, nor in cowboy heroes. I’d probably read more contemps if there were urban-set contemps with realistic heroes and heroines that don’t include a suspense or mystery plot.

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  28. Courtney Milan
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:35:15

    @Jane: I think I’ve told people that calling what I did “self-publishing” or “going it on my own” would be wrong. I definitely didn’t do this on my own.

    But I don’t see much distinction between my hiring six people to help me self-publish, or hiring a general contractor, so to speak, who hires those six people. I’m not sure where to draw the dividing line, though.

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  29. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:38:17

    @Courtney Milan I’m looking at these definitions right now.

    The lines are super blurry.

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  30. Jane
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 23:46:15

    @Jennie I think what makes these books popular isn’t so much the setting (i.e., small town) but the feeling of community that is harder to get in urban settings. The key to these books, in my opinion, is the very connected nature of the books. Each book contains a singular romance but there are also many other connections (friendships and romances) that are made and then carried on in other books, some that don’t culminate until three or four books down the road.

    Do you remember the Conard County series by Rachel Lee? I think that these books are somewhat patterened after that but by placing several series books together in one book. It’s also a derivation of Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall, Dark, and Dangerous series that she successfully translated into the Troubleshooter series.

    I think that it can be done successfully in an urban setting as Lillian Darcy pointed out upthread. The problem or challenge is that no one who is doing the smallish community in an urban setting is as successful as Wiggs, Macomber, Robyn Carr.

    One editor I interviewed (was it Alicia Condon?) said that authors make the trends. So we haven’t yet seen an author really make the community in an urban setting reach the heights of the other contemp authors. It doesn’t mean that those shouldn’t be written, just that no one has blown the doors off the market like Macomber, Wiggs, Carr and the like.

    Writing to the market is fraught with problems. If you don’t have one of these manuscripts and you start writing it now, by the time you try to sell it, the market may have moved on.

    I think it is easy to see that in the post Hunger Games dystopian YA glut.

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  31. Suzannah
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 02:48:39

    I agree about the “community” aspect of the small town books. I live in London, so have none of that in real life, which may be why I like reading them so much. I know small towns aren’t really (always) like that (one of my friends lives in a village outside London and a neighbour took a dislike to her and started a rumour that her husband had left her, whereas none of my neighbours would (a) know if I even had a husband or (b) care). But the books focus on the positive side of those communities, and I love following the stories through a series. I’ve nearly finished Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove books, and now I think I’ll try the Virgin River ones. Like Joy said at post 24 above, these are exotic settings for me!

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  32. GrowlyCub
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 09:39:12

    I live in a small rural town and as far as I’m concerned that close-knit community bit is pure utopia. It just isn’t reality for me and I want nothing to do with it in my reading either, which is why I don’t read contemps any longer.

    I’m behind due to total laptop death (typing on the phone is the pits). Do I understand correctly that Courtnay Milan is no longer traditionally publishing at all?

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  33. Jami Davenport
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 09:48:24

    I was born and raised in a small town of 1500 people in the middle of nowhere. I’ve read a few of these small-town books and been turned off by them. I loved living in a small town, but it was nothing like these books portray. I wonder if these authors have ever lived in a small town? I think one of the previous comments said it all. A small town can be a community of people even in a large city. It doesn’t need a small town setting.

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  34. Liz Talley
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 10:10:52

    Really enjoyed learning what you learned, Jane.

    I learned I can no longer wear sky-high heels no matter how beautiful they are…which sucks.

    In regards to small towns, I write them for Harlequin. I’ve lived in them, I love them for varying reasons, but I do get they can be nauseating. Still, it appeals to middle America at a time where things are changing so quickly that there is something comforting about a slice of Aunt Mabel’s rhubarb pie. But that being said, I’d love to see something urban with a sense of community – an apartment building, an office building, hell, a dog park. It would be absolutely wrong to imply no community exists in an urban setting.

    Also, no. 5. I agree. I’m hugely positive about self-publishing, but I have no urge to engage in the business aspect. With kids at home and a demanding writing schedule, I don’t have time to learn. So, I hope Courtney’s prediction will come true – that we’re on the edge and there will be “entities” who will evolve to help those as clueless as me.

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  35. Ros
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 12:03:40

    @Jane: I agree that the definitions are very blurry. I think that scares me a bit, because people are already so easily scammed by, for example, PublishAmerica, and I worry that this new move towards self-publishing services is going to make that even easier for the unscrupulous types out there. Right now, it’s easy simply to tell wannabe authors that they should not ever have to pay to have their book published because reputable publishers don’t work that way. But buying in services as a self-publisher does require upfront payment which is fine so long as you know exactly what you are paying for and why.

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  36. Ros
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 12:06:11

    @Uomo di Speranza: #3 isn’t about producing your book, it’s about approaching and establishing relationships with readers. Lots of authors find that very hard for a number of reasons. That doesn’t mean that they don’t do it, but it’s extremely unhelpful to simply dismiss the way that authors might feel about that.

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  37. Jody W.
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 18:05:37

    I like small town settings. I like urban settings. Just depends on the characters and plot. I might be slightly more inclined to pick up a book with a small town setting because I assume it might have more humor than an urban setting. That’s also dependent on what hints there are about humor in the blurb.

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  38. Jackie Barbosa
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 18:42:18

    I was so happy to read #4 in this list. To semi-quote Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

    There seems lately to be a very bitter divide between traditionally published and self-published authors (akin to the one we used to see between print published and epublished authors) with each sneering at the others’ choices, often accompanied by the claim that X method is best because “*I* make a living it at.” /sigh

    Some of this tension rises from what I believe to be good intentions–specifically, writers on all sides are trying to warn one another of the potential pitfalls and traps that are out there. We don’t like to see our colleagues (I use the term loosely since writers obviously aren’t colleagues in the classic sense) taken advantage of by unscrupulous actors, and frankly, there’s no method of publishing that’s absolutely free of abusive practices (yo, Dorchester). But there’s a fine line between friendly advice and outright disdain for the “stupidity” of someone else’s choice, and all too often, it’s crossed over.

    I’ll add that although I’m not much of one for making predictions, I think the “blurry lines” between self-publishing and what we now call “vanity/subsidy publishing” is going to disappear. All we have going forward is publisher-financed publishing and author-financed publishing. The problem with vanity/subsidy publishers was that they often tried to make themselves look like “real” publishers when, in fact, all they were doing was packaging your self-published book at an exorbitant price, giving you no real chance to earn back your investment. These sorts of companies and services will still be out there (and probably even proliferate), of course, and some authors will make the mistake of overpaying because of them, but in the final analysis, the difference between a vanity or subsidy-published book and a self-published one is nil in terms of who bears the financial risk, so we might as well give up acting as though one is bad and the other is just dandy.

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  39. Christine M.
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 19:08:18

    @GrowlyCub: You’re correct. there’s some info here: http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/courtney-milan-on-self-publishing/ and if you make a quick search with her name on DA there are a couple of other posts which mention her new adventure in publishing.

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