Agent Turned Author

by Jeremy Foster-Fell
(Wolcott, Vermont)

The Caterpillar and the Express Train

The Caterpillar and the Express Train

When I retired a couple of years ago to the peaceful mountains of Vermont, from a busy life of being an agent for actors in the TV and Film business in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, I decided (without any prior experience) it was time to write children's books.

Creative self-publishing



I had a few stories in rough outline that I had made up for my children and initially decided to illustrate them myself. "Why not?" I thought. I had drawn and illustrated as a hobby all my life.

After a couple of months struggling with all kinds of illustration issues, I realized I was simply not good enough for the task and fired myself from that part of the project.

I went up on to illustration websites to find an illustrator. I had to learn another lesson quickly. The illustrators that I approached were less than interested in working with a neophyte, and if they had any hesitation before rejecting the idea, the fact that I did not have a publisher ended the conversation. A couple of them were kind enough to wish me, "Good luck."

I decided to put up an advert on Craigslist locally in Vermont. The first day I had 50 replies so I took the ad down and started to go through the replies.

By sheer dumb luck, I found one reply from a local illustrator whose work I loved, and who was interested in illustrating the story I sent him. I had crossed a major hurdle, the first of many (mostly unknown) that lay ahead.

I did plenty of reading on the subject (and I would recommend the popular Aaron Shepard's book on self publishing)and as a result I decided to set up my own micro publishing company and buy several ISBN numbers from Bowker.

After 7 months of detailed work with Matthew, my illustrator, we sent our digital files to Lightning Source for printing.

After placing a small order for 30 books, I was horrified to find out that one of the earlier pages had a misprint. I had failed to notice the word 'your' was printed 'you'.

When we eventually became listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I congratulated myself for finishing the obstacle course.

That was 14 months ago. I now know that the work was really starting back then. Marketing. We have so much to learn.

This is a work in progress and we struggle to learn month by month. We have read the book at libraries and schools, and are now starting to get invitations from schools to read it with offers of "a modest honorarium", which is gratefully accepted. As we give out wooden train whistles to all the kids when we read the story, I think that has helped the event become more lively. There are several times in the story the whistle gets blown...never underestimate the ability of kids to enjoy making noise.

It also kept them awake.

In spite of this humbling experience we continued with a second illustrated book, which is due out this Spring.

Visit The Caterpillar and the Express Train.



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Feb 20, 2012
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Self Pub: The Adventures Continue!
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Jeremy, you're so humble! I'm linking to that wonderful article about your publishing accomplishments for everyone to see!

Do tell us when your SBI site is up and running so I can point people towards it.

So the adventure continues. It is fun - isn't it? - setting out in this new world of words where the old rules don't apply!

Thanks so much for staying in touch and continuing to chime in around the site. :-)

Feb 17, 2012
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Building a website
by: Jeremy Foster-Fell

Steve
Just over a year ago I decided (at your suggestion) to start to put together a website with Site Build it.

I have spent a year just researching and deciding my subject. I am so pleased that I really took my time on this project and I listened to all SBI's training videos several times, until I really understood the program.

I do now understand it and I have chosen my niche. I expect it will take most of this year to get it up and effectively operational....however I am really confident that it will work very well.

I also just had a terrific full page article published in the Stowe Reporter on my digital publishing company...which I can send to you. Many thanks for all you earlier comments and guidance ...with patience and dedication it works!!
Jeremy

Jan 04, 2012
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The learning curve
by: Jeremy Foster-Fell

After publishing illustrated children's books for a mere 3 years, we have ventured out and published our first book for "tweens": as story set in England by award winning author Jennifer Fell Hayes, called The Silver Shuttle which is now on Amazon.

The cover was illustrated by Matthew Gauvin, (as were the 3 black and white drawings inside)

What we learned from this book was that proof reading/editing is a surprisingly tricky task to get 100% right. We had two seasoned academics proof read and make corrections (one was an expert on grammar and punctuation) and after that we had a "forensic word by word editor" who still found several additional errors (One character in the book had been spelled two different ways...as had a town, which had slipped everyone else notice!)

One might assume such cleaning up would be relatively simple, but it is not. This is a job for a trained eye who really reads the story for continuity as well as study each common noun and compare prior spellings.

I advise lots of eyes before you assume your MS is fault free!

Jeremy Foster-Fell
Web Profile Inc
Micro Publisher
Vermont


Dec 14, 2011
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Thank you!
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Jeremy, thanks so much for saying so!

Dec 14, 2011
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Appreciation
by: Jeremy Foster-Fell

Greetings Steve! as we approach the close of 2011.]

Since I came across your site a couple of years ago I have sent colleagues to you, who have said how helpful the site was.

After a couple of years publishing illustrated children's books I am now expanding and publishing young adult books as well. My first young teen book "The Silver Shuttle" by Jennifer Fell Hayes (with a few illustrations by Vermont illustrator, Matthew Gauvin) should be out before Christmas.

I came across a great illustrator on your site a few weeks ago, and she is now working on my 5th illustrated book "Lionel Lobster and Old Man Crab" that should be completed by summer 2012.

Best wishes for the season and new year to all!!
JFF

Feb 25, 2011
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Recognition is a chaotic but not random Taylor.
by: Jeremy

I say chaotic, and not random, as there is some sense or order in chaos but none in random.

They are completely different mathematical concepts.

But Math tends to be boring to most folk!

There are few magic bullets to success (or recognition) as an artist.

You are correct Taylor, there is tons of competition, and you have chosen a particularly difficult field (or perhaps it has chosen you.)

I should put you in touch with my illustrator, Matthew Paul Gauvin, as he has made some real progress in this arena, and might be able to impart some meaningful advice (or comfort!!)

An artist has to make some sacrifices in the early stages of a career, with no guarantees of finding the rainbow. I represented many actors and models for 35 years, and they shared a similar path.

Some just get lucky, but the most common ingredient to success is often hard work and a passion for your the work. The choice of sitting working in a cubicle (but getting paid each Friday) or being in charge of your own destiny, however uncertain, is a choice we all make.

Seek every opportunity to have your work seen (without paying for it of course) and communicate with as many people in your chosen field as you can (and obviously you are doing that).

Word and mouth works.

Jeremy

Feb 25, 2011
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response
by: Taylor Mallatt

Thanks so much for your inspirational comments; they are always encouraging and nice to hear. Quick question though, how did you get started? It seems like breaking into the world of illustration is so hard and competitive; any words of advice? I would be grateful for any:)

Jan 19, 2011
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So long for now
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Yes, I meant to say that the engines don't give a damn about hyphens. The one site I built that was unhyphenated, increaseourtraffic.com, I did because by smushing the letters together I was able to sneak the term SEO into the pile! (Ended up selling the site because I didn't have the time.)

To heck with reciprocation! Like I said, I make a few bucks if you go with SBI. Not to mention that

1) I've enjoyed conversing with you
2) I like spreading the word, and
3) I turned it into content! More attention from the search engines, more visitors to the site.

Good luck!

Jan 19, 2011
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Answers
by: Jeremy

I will study all the info on SBI before asking any more uninformed questions!

Thanks for those answers..so helpful. and fascinating that many assumptions will be turned upside down. I look forward to that.

You are correct; the PR site is indeed just one town.

I assumed that you meant that the search engines do not give a damn about hyphens. (From Steve: I did!)

I hope to be able to reciprocate your courtesies one day!

When I am off and running I will let you know!

Jan 19, 2011
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SBI
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

You will likely want to narrow Vermont, but it's the SBI keyword research that'll let you make that decision intelligently. Plan on spending at least a couple days doing that, with some rather specific and powerful search tools.

Jan 19, 2011
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from Humility to Vermont
by: Jeremy

I have looked at quite a few general info non specific Vermont websites today of varying quality.

It is a huge info requirement to do it justice!

This does not intimidate me but it may be an unintelligent choice... perhaps there is a strong argument to narrow the search

Question.

I assume that there is a trade off with such a wide subject and lots of competition (even mediocre) and tons of inquiries with narrowing the field with vastly less inquiries but more focused inquiries.

Clearly 10,000 hits and 10 monetisation is not as good as 1,000 hits and 20 monetisations.

Is it more likely that someone who wanted Vermont cheese would go to "Vermont-cheese-lovers.com" than "Vermont lovers.com" that had a cheese section? Though "Vermont cheese lovers" is unlikely to bring up book people where "Vermont lovers" could if it had a book section.

Is that a rational consideration or am I wandering around in the fog?

I also assume that choice of domain name is important... but how important if the keyword search brings the site up? I find that there are many good choices taken but there are many other choices.

Clearly it is important to spend time getting the starting point right if years are to be invested in the site. I would rather put together a quality interesting site than over reach and have something that looked sparse and mediocre.

Having said that I saw that a well ranked site on sitebuildit/Alexa was on "Puerto Rico" so it can be done.

I suspect sitebuildit deals with these issues and I will discover a lot of this when I buy the program, which I will do.

Jan 18, 2011
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good luck!
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Jeremy, this exchange has been my pleasure. If indeed you go ahead with a Vermont website, you may find yourself growing rather attached to it, as I have mine.

I just happened upon this SBI promo page about using travel as a website subject. Maybe there's good information in it, or maybe it's all promo. I'm going to spare myself the finding out and leave it to you.

Seriously, while I promote SBI as one of my income streams, it is something I believe in wholly. Had I not stumbled across it myself, I have no idea what I'd be doing today, just that I'd be enjoying it less, and feel less in control of my own destiny.

I'll let you in on this: While I do believe in SBI wholly, I do not believe in it for the average mope. One has to be able to read the materials, apply them, and then develop some intuition based on the feedback. (Once you start getting traffic, your website WILL start talking to you. I swear!)

I'm quite convinced you're not the average mope. Let me know what happens, or if you have any more questions.


Jan 18, 2011
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thanks for all the info
by: Jeremy

My apologies for being a precocious student and jumping ahead....not the first time! my friends do not enjoy watching Jeopardy with me....

The second book is not connected and does not overlap to the first express train story (except written/illustrated and published in Vermont) Our second book is simpler and entitled "The Little Boy without a Name and without a Birthday"

Matthew illustrated the second book in water colours (the first book was done in oils, which took him over 900 hours to illustrate...a true labour of love).

I am prepared to put in a substantial amount of daily time on this website project and I have the ability to keep doggedly going on projects which is a must for something like this. I appreciate this requires serious dedication and is not a short term fad. As I am retired, and have not yet succumbed to dementia, that is a huge advantage.

I have just read your most recent e mail and I now believe that a Vermont ,perhaps somewhat specific, Vermont category would be my choice. I would have the long term enthusiasm for that and I can see as I am here it has many marketing opportunities.

I will stop bombarding you with words so that you can go about your day. I will do some reading and research and then get back to you.

I cannot thank you enough Steve,,,, and yes my wife and I had a huge laugh about actors/models with tattoos...a total disaster for that career. We have lots of funny moments with that issue!

Jan 18, 2011
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books and settings
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Nothing narrow about trains. I'm looking at the demand numbers, and you can easily create a whole site on train timetables!

Your question about Vermont makes me want to veer off and tell you about another friend of the site. Ed Shankman self-published a book, I Went to the Party in Kalamazoo. It became a big seller in - you guessed it! - Kalamazoo. Ed parlayed the attention into a real publishing contract, focused on localized titles. (Of course, it's huge that he's putting the locale in the titles.)

Anyway...

Location sites are huge with SBIers. (Scan this list of Site Build It users with gonzo traffic. I'm one of them!)

Translation: A Vermont site is a GREAT idea and there are a lot of people who have "done" other locations showing the way. A little keyword research would allow you to fine-tune the subject. Vermont entirely? Vermont vacations? Vermont real estate? It's all eminently monetizable, and I can't imagine that your books wouldn't be of interest to some of your visitors regardless of where precisely you aim.

(And maybe a print run with an alternate Vermonty title would be in order!)

Jan 18, 2011
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SiteBuildIt
by: Jeremy

I read much of the material on Sitebuildit, and that is great.

I was thinking of a "wide" subject as I wonder if trains is a bit too narrow (or can that be a benefit? I can see that too). (Webmaster's note: Jeremy's comment and my previous one crossed in the night. He hadn't read it yet when he posted this.) As our second and third book to be are not about trains that is also a consideration..

I was wondering last night about something VERMONT as I live here now and the tie in is our books are illustrated and written in Vermont and "books in Vermont" could be a sub subject... written and illustrated in Vermont. Is that too impossibly wide as a website? Vermonters are really into trading with their own indigenous supplies and they have a very recognizable brand.

Would you be kind enough to comment on that direction? I wanted to find something that was not too restrictive and there is a very active book/illustration community here not to mention snow activities/vacations/realestate(which I also am involved with here) maple syrup etc and importantly I feel strongly connected to all that stuff. Is that concept too big ?

Jan 18, 2011
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broadness of niche
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

LOL on your "platform" line!

Regarding building a larger platform site:

Yes, I would generally prefer that you not compete directly with me, but I would also not that children's books is an overwhelmingly broad subject for a website. (You named 2 books and I had pages on them!) The site has over 1000 pages, and I'm currently working on it nearly full-time, and I haven't covered 1% of what I could cover. Ergo, it took me a long time and extraordinary effort to become a force in the niche.

It comes down to keywords, that is, search engine search terms.

7.5 million people a month use a search term that includes trains. That's beyond overwhelming. 18,000 search railway trains. That's manageable, but might be a bit small. Though, actually, 60,000 search railway train.

110,000 search model trains. 6 million search butterfly and 135,000 search butterfly tattoos. I found your niche!

(By the way, as an agent did you just want to slap models and actors who got tattoos? I know I do. I never wrote a script that said, "Bill, 30ish, tall, has a tattoo of a bullfrog on his left calf.")

I digress. Dramatically.

One thing to ask yourself is how much time you're willing to spend building/writing your platform. That's the major determinant in how broad to go.

The outfit/interface I use to build my websites has a multifaceted keyword research tool that allows you to determine demand for a keyword and what it would require from you to fill it. Here's a screenshot:



What you would want to do is choose a doable niche offering significant traffic with a likely predisposition towards your product. (Remembering that you'll want to monetize in a number of different ways, otherwise you'll be "wasting" 99.5% of your visitors.)

What's your second book about? Any overlap in subject matter with the first?

Jan 18, 2011
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website possibilities
by: Jeremy

You are correct by large generic website I was acknowledging your website and style of website as compared to a specific self promoting mono focused website (as I have today!).

You will smile as yesterday afternoon as a result of reading some of your pages I started to think about what kind of large generic website subjects I should consider....and other than the obvious copy cat children's book scenario I came up with Railway trains (and also Caterpillars/bugs/butterflies and I was wondering if they were wide enough subjects for a large general audience. I was very fond of Steam trains as I used to take a 4 hour ride to London on the Flying Scotsman in a Pullman car (with a separate velvet covered arm chair, a Lalique lamp on the table that had a linen table cloth and silver cutlery) back up to school each term. And that wasn't first class.

Do you think that Trains for one site or bugs/butterflies for another might be broad enough platforms?

Or do you think there is room for another different children's book site that does not interfere or poach on your turf or even could be used to be supportive, or not?

I have no desire to tread on any of your toes and I will seek your opinion before making a decision.

Now two of the best selling kids book are

1. Polar Express and on Amazon my book has had "other books bought by"....with Polar Express on my page sometimes which is rather encouraging
and
2. the Caterpillar (that eats and gets huge) book that sell one every 30 seconds worldwide.
There has to be some collateral benefit in that for me.

And by the way, my definition of "platform" should be "a good place to watch railway trains."

Very interesting stuff and you indeed have an extraordinary platform with a million cohorts.

I appreciate all the comments

Jan 17, 2011
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large generic websites!
by: Anonymous

It's an exciting time. Since you're an ex-agent, I'll tell an agent story to illustrate.

I built my ex-wife (3.0) a website in her area of expertise, diet and nutrition. Then she built another, more specialized one, on her own.

Shortly after, she was contacted by a literary agent, seeking a book proposal. The agent said, "Obviously, you have a platform."

Apparently platform is a big word these days. I translate it (correct me if I'm wrong) as, "Has an existing audience to market to."

So I imagine my million visitors will stand me in good stead should I ever decide to try to publish one of my stories traditionally. It certainly stands me in good stead for marketing them on my own.

Regarding this statement of yours:

The confirmation that a large generic website, coupled to the current technologies, is an eminently more intelligent marketing option, is advice I intend to follow.

By "large generic website," I assume you mean this one on the larger subject of all things children's book-related.

I want to be clear about one thing for you (and anyone else who might be reading along).

This website would have been a colossal waste of time if in the end I had used it only to market my own work.

In the month prior to this plethora of holidays (and reduced traffic) the site received 70,000 visits courtesy of 33,000 distinct search terms. Of course, the overwhelming majority of those people were looking to fill some need that wasn't going to be filled by my books.

Translation: a large website makes sense only with multiple monetization options. This sneaky page currently features five different ways for me to make money, and links to many more.

There are ways to boost traffic a little even with a modest website like your own. If you wanted to do something TODAY to double (or triple, or quintuple) traffic in the long run, I'd tell you to create a books about trains page for your website.

Remember, the search engines reward focused content in quantity. Collect a list of children's train books and compose a paragraph about each of them. It might seem counterintuitive to publicize someone else's book, but attention to them can bring attention to YOU. And...

By establishing an Amazon Associates account, you could earn a commission every time you sell one of those other guys' books. When a buyer buys a used one, you'll be earning more than the author!

Jan 17, 2011
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room for hard-working, creative self publishers
by: Jeremy

I've been struggling with the implications of the digital tech tsunami which continues to gather momentum. Not being a techi is a major setback to absorbing the options, however that can turn into an advantage after one has struggled to understand each facet, as a non techi brain might grasp the larger marketing options that have suddenly opened up without the distraction of contemplating the next technical advance.

You obviously had the stamina and the curiosity to study the emerging facts and choose a new logical path.

The temptation is to hang on the the known status quo. It is easier and safer, even though the status quo is in jeopardy of extinction and with the exponential speed increase of technology the life term of any given status quo gets shorter. I have mostly been thrilled at contemplating the opportunities created by change rather than having suffered from petrification.

Reading some of your pages yesterday focused my suspicions, that selling a book on a simple single book website was a royal waste of time. The confirmation that a large generic website, coupled to the current technologies, is an eminently more intelligent marketing option, is advice I intend to follow.

To comment specifically on the remark, "...room for a few hard working creative self publishers..."

This new technology has made it possible by the "new economics" of communication.

Two aspects of note:

1. Narrow specialty subjects can be published very inexpensively and reach their very limited global audience economically. The days of having 5,000 books in the basement entitled "Studies on left handed Guatamalan monkeys" are over. If there are 50 people in the world interested in 'sinister' monkeys, they can now find each other and communicate free or a minimal cost.

Our planet has a huge benefit from this change as conventional publishers would not have published esoteric, limited sale monkey books. Add to this that the 'consumer' interested in any narrow field can find material published on their subject quickly anywhere in the world.

2. The general publishing market (as in children's books). Here of course the option of very inexpensively publishing now exists but the bonus of the world looking for you, as a few were in esoteric subjects publications, does not.

That is the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that you have handed me. Thanks!

Now we can return to the statement about "...room for a few hard working creative self publishers"

The "micro publishers" and "self publishers" have the production side of the puzzle figured out. When they find a marketing pathway to economically reach a huge audience, they will have the other piece.

It will take lots of creative hard work, and professional products, and as always a soupcon of good luck, but I believe that the people who work hard create more opportunities to be lucky.


Jan 17, 2011
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Attracting readers
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Jeremy, thanks so much for writing back! Good to hear from a fellow refugee.

I was intrigued by what you said here:

I believe that there is room for a few hard working creative self publishers to succeed in this fascinating new technology.

I bumbled into birthing this site when I wrote a few stories for my daughter as my H'wood career was crashing. I could no longer bear the thought of working to get agents and publishers interested in my work. And so the site was born. I imagined myself marketing directly to the public.

Very quickly, the site itself became my focus, rather than the stories, as I came to realize that one can lure an audience on the web quite easily, merely by generating a whole heck of a lot of words on a specific subject. And if there's one thing I can do, it's generate a whole heck of a lot of words. Barring some earthquake over at Google, the site should easily reach a million visitors this year.

Question: Would you care at all to expand on your quote above? As much as I enjoy hearing about what you've done, I'm more interested in what you plan to do!

Jan 17, 2011
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Thanks so much, Steve
by: Jeremy

I was a SAG agent for many years and also owned a well respected model agency in Manhattan since 1970. My wife was a SAG agent in Miami.
The 2007 economy put an arrow in our heart (and many competitors too).

As you know (you were in the script writing business) the economy affects film and TV production dramatically...hence so many low cost reality shows!

Our first book did not sell well the first year. I had thought, with my wide range of contacts, that "they" would flock to buy it just out of curiosity. The few that did sell (almost 100) were more as a result of the three book readings we did. My illustrator Matthew Paul Gauvin, who is in his mid twenties, came along on the book readings. We have a first paid honorarium reading next month with an anticipated audience of eighty.

We entered the Writers Digest competition last year and just received our "evaluation' which was really very decent for our first book. We also learned where we could have improved and we have put that knowledge into our second book.

We are tenaciously moving forward every day in the self education of book marketing. I believe that there is room for a few hard working creative self publishers to succeed in this fascinating new technology.

What is wry humor, is that for years I sat in judgment of hundreds of actors' 8x10 photos and resumes that flooded each week into my office. Now the shoe is on the other foot, I have a pang of guilt for all the manila envelopes that were opened and not replied to!

All of Aaron Shepard's books were worth reading so your link is fine. I found him concise, intelligent and informative. A rare combination in the dense information field. When I went to your site yesterday I felt the same reaction and I have much enjoyed the information and will keep at it. My illustrator Matthew actually sent me your link yesterday, and I have just returned the information to him that you sent to me for the illustrator section so he can write something too.

Jan 17, 2011
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Getting on the self publishing train
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Jeremy, thanks for a great post. (This, by the way, from a fellow show biz refugee.)

Question: Did I link to the right Aaron Shepard book? He has at least three.

Also, I want to give you a heads up that there are free web hosts that don't slap a banner ad on top of your page! I've used freehostia, and I like them. The only cost is a few bucks for my own domain name.

Given that you guys have now done a second book, can we ask: Did you sell a bunch of the first?

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