Writing a Query

So you’ve finished your novel. Hot-diggity, that’s amazing! Pour yourself a drink first because you, my good fellow, deserve one.

austin powers pouring dr evil pour one out pour liquor

Next step on your list is querying agents. Precious few writers ever get to this stage, so pour yourself another drink. Literary agents are the magical gateway to publishers and that contract you need to swaddle your brain child. Some publishers, usually small and indie ones, accept unsolicited manuscripts, but for big ones like HarperCollins or Penguin or Bloomsbury, you need an agent. Editors often have lunch dates with agents, talk about what they’re looking for, then the agent—you see where I’m going with this, right?

Even if you’re planning on reaching out to publishers directly, you still need a query. Queries are basically the blurb on the back of a book. They need to hook readers in.

People, even professionals, have different opinions on what the first line should be. Should it be “I’m writing to query Super Awesome Novel, which is a 90, 000 word YA Paranormal” or “If you think your job is bad, try torturing souls in Hell for all eternity. Without pension.”

Personally, I lean towards the second. (FYI, that’s a line from my own query letter for a YA Paranormal.) It’s something you’d see on the back flap and more inviting. Remember agents read hundreds of queries a day. Hook ’em in early. Don’t make them work for it.

The body is what your manuscript is about—and what’s at stake. This is very important. Something has to be at stake in your novel, or it’s just a discourse of events. Take Harry Potter: if he doesn’t defeat Voldemort, the Wizarding World will be doomed. Even fluffy contemporaries have stakes, like will the boy get the girl, or will the MC achieve self-peace. Stakes are what keep readers turning pages.

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Don’t make it too complicated. The blurb of Veronica Roth’s upcoming book confused me to no end and if she wasn’t Veronica goddamn Roth, I’d click away. You do not have that luxury. You are a nameless author in a sea of aspiring writers. Keep it simple, keep them wanting more.

Try to stay away from words you invented within your manuscript. If they’re an essential plot point, explain them. A good rule of thumb is three foreign words maximum. A query is no longer than a page and you have to add in word count, the genre, comp titles (published novels that are similar to yours, like The Maze Runner was marketed towards The Hunger Games fans), and maybe why you’re querying this particular agent especially. The last part is honestly up to you. Some agents like the personal touch, some agents don’t care. The actual blurb should be no more than 200 words. All that stuff I mentioned, including a one-sentence About You, should be put at the very end.

Now you’re probably shaking in your boots. 200 words? My manuscript is 100k! How do you expect me to condense that to the price of a good steak dinner?

Well, you can. Look at all those titles on your shelf. They don’t have mile-long synopses, yet something attracted you to buy them. True, that back flap was probably put together by a marketing team, but they had to go through querying, too. If they can do it, so can you.

If you’re looking for an example, here’s the rest of mine:

Matt is bored. Stoking the fires of Hell is a nice gig and all, but anything gets old after a couple of centuries. So he comes up with the most brilliant plan to pass the time: possessing a human. Soon, Matt’s having the time of his life: munching down cheese, taking joyrides on wheelchairs, experiencing high school—the works.

There’s just one little catch: he’s technically not supposed to go body-snatching, and certainly not allowed to stay long-term. If he gets found out, there’ll be hell to pay.

Yet Matt can’t bear to leave his host—or his new life.

But whatever his decision, he better make it fast. An Archangel’s already on his tail and his demon siblings are getting suspicious. And to top it off, he might, quite possibly be falling for an atheist with muscular dystrophy and an attitude.

It’s time to decide once and for all: is he a man—or a demon?

Did it do well? That, my friends, is a question I’ll answer in another post. Stay tuned for step two of the querying process: The Checklist. Or as I like to call it: Stuff To Do Before Pressing Send to Every Agent in New York.

Ciao, darlings!

My First Manuscript

I started my first manuscript when I was 15.

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(Come now, you know I was going to squeeze in a Taylor Swift gif somehow)

It was a high school romance about a handsome popular football star who bets he can make the bookish handicapped girl fall in love with him, then ends up falling for her for real. The heroine’s name was Nathalie and she just so happened to suffer from the same condition I did. The guy was called Matt, a name I always found inexplicably attractive. (Incidentally, a few couple years later, I’d name the male protagonist of another manuscript Matt, but that’s another story.) Nathalie’s BFFs were homonyms of my then best friend’s names and bore a striking resemblance to their real physical appearance.

As you can tell, Bittersweet (its title) wasn’t wish fulfillment of self-inserty at all.

Yeah, I have no idea how I typed that with a straight face. It was crap. Complete total undiluted shit on paper.

This is not false modesty. Take a look at a line I wrote for a romantic scene:

“Green flames flickered behind peach curtains.”

Let me save you the torture of guessing—I was describing eyes.

I never finished Bittersweet, thank God. I dickered around with several out of sequence chapters, got bored and went back to writing Naruto fanfiction.

Not that it was much better either, mind you. My point is we all have skeletons in our closets. Overblown, violet sentences we pray to Christ above never crawl out of the seething turgid mess that is the Internet and/or our hard drives.

We improve. We strive to do better. I reread my old stuff sometimes for kicks, or simply to remind myself to never fucking ever describe eyelids as “peach curtains” again.

My Writing Playlist

I’m the kind of writer who requires absolute silence while I work. No movie soundtrack, no music, no TV, no talking.

Change ‘watching’ to ‘writing’ and that’s me. The tears are very real.

I inevitably end up paying attention to whatever else to going on, and I have an unfortunate habit of acting out character dialogue. Ya know, to make sure it’s realistic. I’m not weird or anything.

Only when I’m in a far more disruptive environment—like on the train with a screaming baby on my left and some guy yelling on his cell on my right—can I write with music.

I have specific playlists for different scenes. Like say, if I’m writing a fight scene, I listen to Kesha’s Warrior from Warrior.

Warrior by Ke$ha, "Born to break the doors down." #Kesha #Lyrics #Warrior:


Cut the bullshit out with a dagger,
With a dagger, with a dagger.
Do or die we all gonna stay young,
Shoot the lights out like a machine gun.
Think it’s time for a revolution,
Revolution, revolution.


Putting aside Kesha’s ongoing legal war with her producer Dr. Luke (which is an all too realistic glimpse into the dark side of the music industry), this is a powerhouse of a song. It’s empowering and unapologetic, and gets me geared up for the ass-kicking my characters are about to dispense.

Romantic and breakup scenes are easy. Taylor Swift’s catalog is full of poignant, incredibly well-written songs about love, loss, and desire.

She can swing from happy—


Across the room your silhouette
Starts to make its way to me
The playful conversation starts
Counter all your quick remarks
Like passing notes in secrecy

Enchanted, Speak Now


—To sad—


Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it
I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it
After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own
Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone

All Too Well, Red


—To angry in the space of a 2006 track list. (In case you didn’t catch on, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan.)

For tense scenes, an oldie but goodie is Another One Bites The Dust by Glee. I know, I know, it’s originally by Queen, but I adore Johnathan Groff and he’s cute as fuck, so let me have this.

*ovaries explode*

There’s a throbbing urgency to the beat, making it perfect for interrogation scenes or the calm before a storm.

Descriptive scenes are a necessary evil. I absolutely loathe them because I either go too far, pile on adjective after adjective, or too little, like “The dog is blue,” or something. I’m improving, slowly, with the help of Julie Kagawa (which I talked about in a previous post) but it’s not something I relish.

I don’t have a particular playlist for descriptive sections since it depends strongly on mood. What are my characters feeling? Are they running for their lives? Are they particularly fascinated by an item that calls to their hobby or past? Is the atmosphere gothic or chill?

Usually I just stick with the playlist I have playing because of aforementioned mood reason.

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That’s about all the scenarios I can think of for now! What about you? Do you listen to music when you write and what kind?

Scrivener vs Microsoft Word

Natalie: We have a visitor at our humble blog today. Please welcome unicorn, my very good friend, and writer extraordinaire Aly to Writerly Conundrums!

Aly: *bows* Why, thank you ever so much! I’m happy to be here.

Natalie: Today, we’re going to be debating the merits of Microsoft Word versus Scrivener (which I can never spell correctly on the first try) as the ideal writing program. I’m defending Word, and Aly’s speaking for Scr—I can’t even be bothered to look up the right spelling. Because apparently, she likes complicated things no one can figure out.

Aly: Scrivener for life.

See, Microsoft is incredibly finnicky. It crashes, it dies, documents crash and burn and your life’s work disappears into a cloud before you can press CTRL+S.

Scrivener eliminates that problem by having an automatic back up and save system so your documents are always safe.

Natalie: Two words: Auto-save and Auto-recovery.

Aly: I have lost many a manuscript to Auto-save and Auto-recovery because it never saved my just-written pieces.

Scrivener saves and backs up every other word, so you don’t have that problem.

Natalie: Word Auto-saves every few minutes, so the most you’ll lose is a few sentences.

Plus, unlike Scrivener, it’s user-friendly. I downloaded the trial version a few months ago and spent ages looking for the ‘New Note’ button in the Characters tab. It’s too fiddly and unnecessary.

In Word, I simply add notes at the top/bottom of each chapter. Or paste sticky notes on my desktop.

Aly: That’s what’s so cool about it! Each project you start has one file, with character profiles, scenes, settings and backgrounds in one place so you can click back and forth easily. Unlike Word, where everything is separate and temperamental.

You don’t need to fork out hundreds of £££ to get the latest edition either. Scrivener is a one-off cost of $40 (half price if you complete NaNo) and it updates for FREE.

Natalie: But Word comes in a bundle with PowerPoint and Excel and other programs. Normally, people buy it WITH their computers as teenagers for essays and such, so you don’t have to spend money at all. It has five licenses, so it’s great for value. Why get a fancy program when you can open a new Word document for characters, places, etc?

Aly: Not EVERY laptop has that feature. Sometimes, you need to buy a cheap replacement and it doesn’t come with Word. Sometimes, you don’t have the cash to pay more for Word. With Scrivener, once you buy it, you can use the same licence on a number of different computers, as long as they run the same operating system.

I’d also like to mention that the more Word documents you create, the more space you consume on your computer. Scrivener doesn’t have that problem. So if you’re an avid gamer like myself, and want to buy the new edition of Skyrim, the last thing you want to do is have to shift some Word documents (or, gasp! delete them entirely) to make more space

Natalie: A 90k manuscript is at most 600+KB. A ten-second audio clip is larger than that.

Aly: Never say never. KBs add upAll it takes is 1000,000 Kbs to make a GB. On a Scrivener folder, you can also add a password to save it from viruses. Whoever tries to hack into your computer needs the password to get into the folder. 

It’s a fort.

Indestructible.

Untouchable.

Natalie: Pfft, Word comes with a password and read-only option, too. I like it because it’s minimalist. You can’t procrastinate by creating fancy folders and notes.

Aly: Actually, Scrivener is pretty minimalistic too. It offers you the option to create character profiles etc. but you don’t HAVE to do it. Also, Scrivener has a playlist option.

Natalie: Which means writers will waste time matching songs to their OTPs instead of, you know, writing.

Aly: NOPE. Because you do that before you start writing. As in, at the beginning of the novel. Before your baby becomes a baby and is only a writhing cell.

Scrivener has another really cool feature. A lot of writers set themselves goals. 1,000 words a day, 20,000 words a month, you name it. You tell Scrivener, and it’ll set you that goal you desperately want/need. You can then check your progress bar (red for ‘not yet’, yellow for ‘almost!’, green for ‘you did it!’) and it’s super motivational. Thanks to Scrivener, I once wrote 40,000 in two days.

Natalie: Okay, fine, I’ll admit that’s pretty cool. But ANOTHER motivator is the all-mighty refrigerator. I stuff myself with cheese sticks as a reward for completing my word count.

Aly: Scrivener keeps the weight off and the mind full. (You can quote me on that, guys.)

The only feature of Word I liked was how it would turn my novel into a book when I finished, so it made it easier to read through. But that’s it. Everything else was too fiddly and temperamental for me to even bother dealing with.

Scrivener is designed solely for writers and their novels. How cool is it that someone out there thought of a program like this? If you use the tutorial when you first download it, it’s quick and easy and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Natalie: *strokes screen* Shh, baby, she just doesn’t understand you. 

I think we have to agree to disagree on this one. ALL HAIL BILL GATES.

hail

Aly: I think so, too. I will never stop fighting for Scrivener rights hahaha.

Natalie: Thanks again for being here! (Even though our debate threatened to tear our friendship apart more than the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. #notreally)

Aly: Thank YOU for having me!

/fin


You can check out Aly’s writing on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/bookishaly. It’s dark, sexy, and poetic, and I have no idea why you’re still here reading this when you could be checking out Last Winter.

We Are All Nick Miller

This is Nick from New Girl. (Which by the way is an amazing show. It’s hilarious and flips the Maniac Pixie Dream Girl trope around.) He has… issues.




He also happens to be a writer.

He’s determined to finish his zombie novel.


He has writing idols, like we do.









He procrastinates.



Meticulously.

He knows the pain of research.

He cheats on his word count.



He binge-writes.

And he understands that means a lot of typos and weird word choices.


He has the perfect response when people ask how your manuscript is going.

He knows what being a writer is all about.

In short, we are all Nick Miller.

Write, Kill, Revenge (A Short Horror Story)

Happy Thanksgiving! Because I like being contrary, here’s a short horror story I wrote for school last year.


 

Write, Kill, Revenge

Log#666

Just sent off the final draft of Robin Hood and the Twelfth Hour to my editor. Twenty freaking years worth of cat-and-mouse between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham finally come to an end. I’d open a bottle of champagne if the doctor hadn’t told me to cut back. Age may only go up, but it sure likes to bring you down.

Anyways, I’m going to bed. If Sharon isn’t asleep yet, I may just get lucky. More later.

Log#667

My editor called. She loves everything about the new book—except for the part where Robin Hood dies. She wants me to rewrite it.

I told her everything in the series had been building up this to moment. Robin Hood is an anti-hero. He’s isn’t going to marry Maid Marian and go riding off into the sunset. His sacrifice is the purest expression of love he can manage.

She got really testy after that and said she had to consult her boss. I told her to take her time. Robin ain’t going anywhere, am I right?

Log#668

As my editor has so fake-happily informed me, Robin Hood and the Twelfth Hour has been given the green light. I would’ve said “I told you so,” if I wasn’t scared she’d jab out my eyes with a nail file.

We talked a little while on cover design and minor revisions to speed up the pacing before hanging up. Right before the cut-off, she added, “You’re going break a lot of fans’ hearts, Joe,” then beep beep beep.

Jeez, Robin’s just a character. Ink and pressure on paper. If people want a happy ending so bad, they should rent Disney’s version. Anamorphized animals and musical numbers; should be right up their alley.

Log#669

Had a weird dream last night. I was in the Sherwood Forest, attending Robin Hood’s funeral. All the Merry Men were crying and Maid Marian delivered a eulogy on Robin’s numerous good deeds. During the lowering of the casket, it suddenly burst open, revealing a blackened Robin Hood with his neck stretched unnaturally long from being hung at the gallows.

“This is your doing,” he’d hissed at me before lunging forward, fingers outstretched.

That’s was also when I woke up, sweaty and a little more than disturbed.
I spoke to Sharon about it and she said that dream was my subconscious speaking to me, saying I covertly didn’t want to kill Robin. I should probably mention here that she’s totally on my editor’s side and thinks I’m making a terrible mistake.

Well, I’m not changing a single thing. Take that, Freud!

Log#670

Book came out yesterday and fan letters are already rolling in.

Unfortunately, most of them are negative. Here’s a sample of some of the wilder ones:

How could you kill off Robin Hood? He and Maid Marian should’ve gotten married! You’re going to bring him back to life, right? Please tell me it was all just a misunderstanding!

I’ve always been a huge fan of your work, but this is just unacceptable. Other than the shock factor, there’s no point in you killing off the main character. I would even rather the ending be left ambiguous than what you did.

I only have one thing to say: bring back Robin Hood. You’re the writer. You’re God of your own world. Just write him back to life, please.

This must be what Arthur Conan Doyle felt like when he killed off Sherlock Holmes in 1893. Least I don’t live in the Wizarding world or people would be sending me Howlers.

Log#671

Had another weird dream about Robin Hood. This time, he chased me through the Sherwood Forest, claiming that he’d put an arrow through my heart if I didn’t write him back to life. When I refused, he did just that and I bolted upright.

Must be those stupid letters. I’ve stopped reading them altogether and just dumped them in the fireplace where they belong.

Oh, wait, I hear Sharon leaving for the grocery store. I need to remind her to pick up some ointment—I have an oddly shaped bruise on the left side of my chest. I must have bumped the bedside table in my sleep or something.

Log#672

Well, that’s the last book signing I’ll ever do in the foreseeable future.
All my fans did was pester me with questions on the next Robin Hood book and I had tell them, through gritted teeth, that there wasn’t going to be another one because Robin Hood is dead. Gone. Food for the fishes.

A couple of them cried when they heard too. Jesus, if that’s how they get wherever a character dies, they’re going to be wrung dry before George R.R. Martin finishes A Song of Ice and Fire.

On a side note, I’ve reminded my gardener to take his shoes off if he needed to come in the house. I’ve been spotting muddy footprints all over the place lately. He denied it of course (he has to keep his job after all), but I gave him fair warning. Any more of that and I’m docking his pay.

Log#673

Sharon’s changed her perfume. It’s a sort of musky smell that puts in mind tobacco and pine trees. I wouldn’t mind it so much if she didn’t do her walk-in perfume trick all over the house. Now the whole place seems like an evergreen forest.

To top off today, I had to fire the gardener. The dirt-tracking was getting out of control. I’ve even seen prints in my office, which he shouldn’t even be entering in the first place. He swore he’s never been in my office, but forensic evidence doesn’t lie. Who knows why he’s skunking around. Good riddance, I say.

Log#674

They’ve started a Bring Robin Back petition. I’m sad to say it’s actually gaining media attention and now signatures are pouring in from all over the world. The phone’s been ringing nonstop from nosy reporters so I disabled it. Sharon isn’t happy about it, but she grudgingly conceded after I pointed out she still had her cell phone.

I fired the maid today too. She keeps shadowing me for some reason. When I confronted her, she denied it just like the gardener, but I wasn’t taking any chances. For all I know, she’s taken money from those Robin-lovers to spy on me.

Who’s laughing now, losers?

Log#675

Sharon says I’ve been acting strange. It’s not me who’s strange; it’s those crazy Robin-lovers. They’ve started camping out on the lawn, holding up signs proclaiming Robin’s likeliness and slapped on the bottom are slogans like: ‘WE WANT ROBIN’, ‘BRING BACK ROBIN’ and ‘ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE BROUGHT SHERLOCK BACK. WHY CAN’T YOU?’

I want to go out and yell at them to get a life. Robin Hood’s just a freaking character! He’s not even real, for God’s sake!

Plus, the bastard has been single-handedly responsible for the dark circles under my eyes the past few days. Just for that, I’m not writing him back to life. Not now, not ever.

Shoot all the arrows you want, punk.

Log#676

The Robin-lovers have broken into the house. I can hear them. Smell the wood of their signs. Creeping around, tracking mud all over the place. Inconsiderate jerks don’t even have the decency to wipe their shoes.

Well, I’ll take care of them. I had a friend of mine mail me his Smith & Wesson. It’s not murder if it’s in self-defense.

They started it, officers!

Log#677

Sharon’s left for her mother’s. She says she’ll come back after I’ve screwed my head back on straight again. My head’s on straight, it’s her head that isn’t on straight. She was wearing a crooked hat. A CROOKED HAT! HA!

Log#678

Sharon’s back and she’s working with the Robin-lovers. She was always on Robin’s side, never my side. Wedding vows? What wedding vows? I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals and betray you. BETRAY YOU! GEDDIT?

She must have been the one to give them a key to the house in the first place. She’s plotting against me. They’re all plotting against me. Robin was always good at gathering followers. Smarmy sounds like slimy. He’s a slimy one.

Log#679

The Robin-lovers have taken it one step further by dressing up as their hero. I saw one of them today. He even had a bow, the nerve. He smells of my wife’s perfume too. They’re probably sleeping together. She ain’t getting one cent of money after the divorce. Let her cosplay with the vagrants. The whore.

Log#680

That particular Robin-lover is sneaky. I can feel him following me, but I can never catch him. Every time I whip around, he’s gone. Gone like the wind, hehe.

But I’ll get him. Turn my wife against me, will you? Turn my whole fanbase against me, will you?! I’m getting rid of him, once and for all. Self-defense be damned.

Log#681

Cheeky scumbag pulled a Robin Hood—left me a note on the dining table. Robin Hood and the Four Crossroads, chapter 15. No originality whatsoever.

He’s challenged me to a duel at midnight in my old office. If I lose, I have to write Robin Hood back to life. If I win, he’ll go back to where he belongs. Screw that. If I win, I’ll send him back to his maker. Once and for all.

Log#682

It’s 11:55pm. I have my Smith & Wesson and from what I’ve glimpsed, dork only has a bow.

Log#683

11:59. C’mon, Robin Hood. You wanna play hardball? Let’s play hardball.

 

FAMOUS WRITER JOE EPSTEIN FOUND DEAD IN HIS HOME

American writer Joe Epstein, most famous for his 12-book Robin Hood series, was found dead at his residence at 9:34am this morning. The cause of his death is internal bleeding and excessive blood loss from what appears to be two gunshot wounds to his left lung and heart respectively. A Smith & Wesson was collected at the scene with Epstein’s fingerprints on it.

Epstein’s spouse, Sharon Epstein, claimed her husband had been acting “strange” before the time of his death. “He thought everyone was against him and pointing out ‘evidence’ that wasn’t there. I know he was under a lot of stress because his fans wanted him to bring Robin,” she wept, “but I never thought he’d go as far as to take his own life!”

The Robin Hood series is arguably Epstein’s most renowned work, having garnered numerous literary awards and been on many bestsellers’ lists. The last book, chronicling the character’s noble sacrifice and ultimate demise, sparked outrage among the public and many called for the writer to write him back to life. When Epstein stood by his decision, protests and “BRING ROBIN BACK” campaigns followed, including an online petition, which currently stands at 10,894 signatures, and a sit-in in front of his house.

The sit-in was going on at the time of Epstein’s death, but the police suspect no foul play.

“It’s most likely suicide,” the head of case stated. “The man wasn’t in his right mind. We found a journal in his computer and the entries are quite…disturbing. He actually thought someone, or Robin Hood, was out to get him. We found a note, calling for a ‘duel’, which may be his version of a suicide note.”

So far, the police are ruling Epstein’s expiration as suicide. Coroner’s report will come out on Tuesday.

 

Books I Read When I Write

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King

Choosing the right reading material while writing is very important. Either a) it makes you feel utterly inadequate and insecure because the author’s work is rainbows and unicorn hair made into prose (*waves at Markus Zusak*), or b) it’s utter shite and you laugh so hard, your face turns the color of the Communist Manifesto. The main thing is it motivates you to write.

I’m very picky about what I read when I begin an intensive writing session. My style is first-person, past tense and I make a point of choosing similar books, so my Muse doesn’t get confused and book off.


She’s a fickle one.

I also avoid dreamy, literary stuff with a lot of metaphors and musings on life in relation to a perfect storm or something. Your writing will inevitably absorb part of what you’re reading and I want it stay as true to my usual ‘voice’ as possible. Oh, and it has to have a spark of humor.

I told you I’m picky.

Sometimes I can’t be bothered to try something new. There’s always a chance it’ll be a dud and I hate not finishing books. That’s when I turn to an old friend:

Summer’s Crossing by Julie Kagawa is a novella from her Iron Fey series, which is—you guessed it—about fey. The Summer Prankster ranks high on my Book Boyfriend list. Puck is delightfully witty and an entire book in his POV really lets his humor shine. The series as a whole has kickass world-building, and Kagawa has a way of describing places and people without going overboard. I suck at description scenes, so reading hers provides a good starting point for my own stuff. And she can write fight scenes like nobody’s business.

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My dear writer friends currently writing Fantasy, this is definitely a series you want to check out.

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