Incognito Press

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The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit

Posted by E on April 8, 2016

Media Kit InfographicPress kits should be part of every artist’s marketing and branding program. I’m not here to sell you on why you should seriously consider putting such a kit together – the fact that you landed on this page shows me that you already know the importance of creating a ready-made document that outlines key facts and statistics about your work. That’s why I decided to tackle this subject in Part 4 of my ongoing series The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence.

Although you can share it with readers or fans, the target audience for your media kit is, well, the media – journalists, interviewers, publishers, book retailers, as well as potential advertisers and sponsors. The kit conveys a polished, professional image of you as a writer and informs them about your Platform – the golden word of the publishing industry.

Everyone working in the arts – no matter your medium – should have a professional bio and press kit ready. Even mainstream journalists I know have their own prepared kit.

So what should you include in your Media Kit?

There are many tutorials on the web which address media kits and their importance. But in my opinion, it all boils down to three simple questions:

1. Who the heck are you?

2. Why should we care about your work?

3. Why does this book matter?

If you can answer these three questions in a friendly and professional (but not too salesy) manner, you are on your way to establishing yourself as a subject matter expert.

THE 10 MAIN COMPONENTS OF A PRESS KIT INCLUDE:

media kit anatomy1. Biography – As part of any press kit, the first and most important thing you should have is a well-written biography of approx. 200-300 words. A professional-looking headshot is not optional – you must include a photo if you want to gain traction in your career. Make it a PDF so it maintains its formatting when you email it. The Bio should include your contact information. This is basic stuff: name and email address, and if you’re not shy about receiving phone calls, you can also add your phone number and mailing address (I recommend getting a PO Box). Basically, have some means that someone can contact you. Make sure that this information is always up to date.

2. Leverage your Expertise: mention any previous awards you’ve won or publicity you have already received. Have you attended artist residencies or colonies? Include copies of any significant press clippings or tear-sheets – I provided photos of feature articles where I was interviewed, and listed scholarships I won to creative writing residencies.

3. Include a direct link to your website, portfolio and blog. I’ve harped on this before, but I can’t say it enough times: buy your own domain. It’ll only cost you about ten bucks a year and it’ll come with a professional email. If you can’t afford hosting, just point the domain to a free website where you can profile your work and establish a social media following: sites such as WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr. I discuss this process at great length in Part 1 of this series. If you have a website, you can use it to upload samples of your work, video clips, podcasts, new photos – any multimedia stuff that now becomes your calling card.

4. Artist Statement – For visual and multimedia arts, an Artist Statement is an absolutely necessary part of the business. It’s meant to allow others to understand why you are creating your art and what you are trying to achieve. Although writers don’t usually present artist statements, I’ve chosen to adopt the practice for myself. After I wrote mine several years ago, I have really appreciated how much it’s helped to define the influences and scope of my work.

laptop keyboard roses15. Exhibitions & Shows – For visual or performance artists, it’s vital that you include any exhibitions you have participated in, both group and solo, no matter how long ago or minor they might seem. Link to the galleries or theatres whenever possible, and don’t forget to include previous postcards or prints that were part of previous exhibition promotional material. Also, don’t forget to keep updating your kit as new exhibitions & shows come up.

Writers will want to list a publication history – published books, any places where your work might have been featured, etc. Even if you’re a novelist, include any poetry and/or short fiction that might have appeared in reputable literary journals. Don’t list contributions to your friends’ blogs; list only publications that have paid you for your work.

6. Current Press Releases – This is where you unveil new work; you must keep them succinct and limited to one page. You can also list press releases announcing appearances, awards, talks and any future shows. Remember to keep them up to date, especially if your data sheet includes site and social media traffic statistics –you don’t want to keep growing your following but neglect to update your stats and reflect this growth.

7. Postcards or Bookmarks. You can get fairly inexpensive, good quality postcards that will have your book cover on one side and a brief synopsis of the book on the reverse, as well as the book’s ISBN and places where it can be purchased.

RaceTraitor postcards - small

8. An Author Q&A: you can compile a short list of interview questions and responses about you and your work. This can include questions about yourself, your background and what makes you uniquely qualified, your inspiration for writing this book, your future projects, etc. This is even more useful for non-fiction titles, where your knowledge and subject matter expertise are intertwined with the value of your book.

sample press kit9. Reviews and Testimonials – this is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re popular and have a significant social media following (read: have 10,000+ Twitter followers or blog subscribers) don’t forget to mention it in your kit. Include positive reviews, buyer testimonials, and pretty much anything that shows that people want to hear what you have to say.

10. Sample copies: you can choose to offer samples of your book, i.e. a couple of chapters presented into a ready PDF, or full-length review copies. Personally, when I deal with establishment media I like to provide them with giveaway copies of my book in order to make sure they actually read it. This is what publishers do and it’s pretty much the modus operandi of the arts industry – for instance, recording studios give away tons of free tracks at a CD launch. This of course is highly dependent on your budget. To keep costs low, I don’t recommend giving free copies of your book to anybody but established journalists and bloggers with a significant platform.

Elisa Hategan bio June2016

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce my own media kit – you can browse through my kit on my website, elisahategan.com, but here is my bio in PDF: Elisa Hategan Author Media Kit.

It’s still a work in progress, in the sense that I still have to create a Q&A and add a couple of other items, but in lieu of that I might just link to a Q&A interview I did last year with a US blogger on a prominent anti-racist site.

A final word about media kit templates – you don’t have to buy an expensive template or build a bio with Photoshop. I created my Author Bio in Microsoft Word and it only took an afternoon of tweaking to achieve something I’m satisfied with. So just get creative!

Ok, I hope you find all this stuff useful and have fun putting together your own media kit!

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

work on media kit

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Posted in art, artist, media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Become a Patron and Make a Difference

Posted by E on March 22, 2016

green valleys red tree

I really need your help, folks. As a rule of thumb I don’t like to depend on others’ generosity and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely crucial. But honestly, it is.

The first and last time I begged for spare change was a year ago, in order to finance my research trip to Eastern Europe. My crowdfunding efforts and book project were publicized in a front-page section of the Toronto Star on May 5, 2015. I managed to generate approx. $2000 through private and online donations, which was enough to pay for my flight and most of my rental accommodations in Bucharest. However, while working on the book I experienced a major depressive episode which was worsened by my mother’s death in December.

Researching in Romania, 2015

Researching in Romania, 2015

I’ve found it extremely difficult to work on my manuscript, which is all kinds of awful since it involves stripping away layers of multi-generational pain and heartache in my family. It didn’t help that my research into my father’s Securitate archives in Bucharest this past spring led me on a path toward discovering that my father had actually been killed by Ceausescu’s secret police.

In January I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt, and my road to recovery has been rocky. To put it bluntly, I’ve found it extremely difficult to see a point for my life, for the traumas my parents went through…. I know we all feel like this sometimes, but I honestly didn’t see a purpose to my existence; I didn’t feel that anybody would care whether I lived or died.

An acute example of this manifested in the weeks right after my mother died – two of my closest friends didn’t care enough to phone me in person and see if I was okay. It was a brutal thing to discover – that people I really cared about, who I’d helped generate thousands of dollars in grants and helped immensely in the past – people who I thought cared about me also – seemed more interested in posting selfies of themselves in new outfits than in sending a single message of condolence. However, in the last couple of months I have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise – it’s only at hard times that you discover who your real friends are.

I won’t deny it; it’s been awful trying to understand the roots of cruelty – whether the source of my parents’ childhood traumas or my own, or even to understand indifference and lack of empathy in people who I thought were good friends. And then there’s the issue of figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Believe me when I say that trying to self-motivate yourself after a suicide attempt, when you don’t see any value in your own existence, much less in your own work, is one of the hardest things in the world.

But recently I’ve stumbled onto a new means of both inspiring AND supporting myself while writing – by surrounding myself with people who actually want to be part of my artistic process. People who care about contributing to the arts, even if it’s with a single dollar every month. So this week I set up a new crowdfunding site on Patreon.com and I hope that I can connect with new people who will be my new family.

My Patrons are the family I never had – a family that supports and sustains me through the process of creating writing that aims to make a difference. I need each and every one of you, and everything I create is dedicated to you. Please support me by becoming an Arts Patron and make a difference.

Those who know me are aware of how badly I was exploited as a teenage girl – first by a radical homegrown terrorist group called the Heritage Front, and afterwards by Canada’s own CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Network), who exploited my story as a teenage kid and stole my identity for a 1998 film called White Lies, which starred Road to Avonlea’s Sarah Polley. While I lived in hiding after sending white supremacists to prison, dumpster-diving for survival, CBC producers were enjoying the limelight and financial benefits, along with Emmy and Gemini nominations, for a movie that wouldn’t have existed without my suffering.

I’ve never had any breaks in life, and I don’t say this because I expect any sympathy, because I’ve seldom received it. I am only stating a fact – that I need every single one of you because I have no family or fallback options. I put myself through university and graduated Magna cum Laude, I published in prestigious literary journals without knowing the editors, I won every award I’ve ever received with sweat and hard work, without any connections. I have nothing at all but my mind and my writing.

I ask only for a $5 donation every month, and you will be first to know about new books and artistic projects I’m involved in. I will give you an advance copy of every new book I create, and my promise that I will continually work on producing writing that aims to make a difference in the world.

Little-Match-Girl-Illustration-By-Rachel-IsadorI appreciate any contribution, no matter how big or how small. You can donate any amount you feel like. Even $1.00 can make a difference, if enough people contribute.

In centuries past, artists depended on the generosity of strangers and art patrons to fund their creative processes – and although we might live in the 21st century, little has changed. The Arts is still a field marked by poverty and uncertainty – most of the time you don’t know where your next funding source will come from. Often you don’t even know if people appreciate what you are trying to do until the work is out there.

But in those dark, rainy days where you are alone with your doubts and your demons (and those bills that need to get paid), it sure would help to know that someone out there cares about your work.

PLEASE consider being a part of my life. Help me find the inspiration I need by letting me know that others see value in my art. Please tell me that my work matters.

Please help me by becoming a Patron.

Posted in art, grief, inspiration, romania, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Artist’s Basic Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 1: Build Your Brand

Posted by E on August 22, 2015

PART 1 – Build your Brand

Social-Media-Branding social media ideas

There is so much to say about this subject that I couldn’t do it justice in a single blog piece, so I decided to break up my points into a series of articles that I will be posting over the months to come. There are literally thousands of useful articles all over the internet on the topic of social media and developing an online presence, so I will mainly tailor this series to the artistic community – writers, media artists and anyone in the arts who is interested in building and/or expanding their artistic platform.

In my mind, there is no better place to start this conversation than at the very beginning – as Maria Von Trapp would say in Do-Re-Mi, it’s a very good place to start. And when it comes to the ABC’s of social media marketing, in my view there is no place better to start than the art of establishing your personal Brand.

Most of you are already familiar with using internet search engines like Google to expand your knowledge and drive your own self-taught process – that’s how you probably stumbled onto my blog. But I write this basic guide for the people I’ve met over the years who, on various author forums, boast with confidence that there’s no need to develop their brand until their books are complete and ready for publication.

That’s what a publisher and their marketing department are about,” is a phrase I’ve heard over and over. “I’m not going to be one of those shameless self-promoting ‘indie writers’. I want to go the traditional route so that all I concern myself with is my writing – and someone else takes care of everything, i.e. the editorial work, cover design, marketing, building my website, taking care of my press releases and book tours.”

Regardless of whether you plan to publish independently or have secured a trad contract (or are a hybrid author like me) if you still believe that someone else is going to hand you a career simply because you wrote a great book – and that’s earned you a free pass to publishing stardom – you are living in a dream world.

I am here to shatter that myth – both as an independent writer and as someone who was courted by a traditional Big Five publisher. This is not the case. Unless you’re already a bestselling writer, a highly-grossing celebrity or nepotistically connected to a publisher – in which case ghostwriters will actually write your books for you – everybody is expected to perform well past the moment you type “The End” on your manuscript.

 

pink typewriterIn my meetings with the editorial and marketing department heads at Penguin Canada prior to me deciding to self-publish my memoir Race Traitor, the most recurring questions were related to my social media platform. The expectation was that I would bring my own fans and branding to the table – this wasn’t an optional thing. It was a necessity and an expectation.

Their marketing department was going to assist with arranging media interviews and that sort of thing, but they weren’t going to build me a website, a blog or anything like that – in fact, they wanted to make sure I already had those things already in place and ready to go.

So where do you start? Do you have to enroll in a college course on marketing, or hire one of the infinitesimal droves of self-described social media consultants out there in order to develop your presence? As artists, we don’t have the budget for this sort of thing and more importantly, these are skills you’re best to acquire yourself rather than pay others to do for you. Of course there will be a learning curve – isn’t there one in everything? – but the sooner you learn these basic tips, the faster will you be on your way to having your own platform.

world before social mediaThe wireless world is expanding at an exponential rate, and whatever has been taught in a social marketing course two years ago is often obsolete or replaced by a hot new medium – Periscope and Snapchat, for instance, are products of the last couple of years. Social media, in general, is all about the next great fad. It’s about buzzwords and ideas, newly revolving angles that give birth to new opportunities.

In other words, social media changes on a daily basis. Everything you knew yesterday is now wrong. That is what’s most exciting about it – having to stay on your toes. So unless you are continually learning and keeping up to date in the field, degrees in social media marketing (which cost thousands of dollars) are going to become useless rather fast.

A 2015 article featured in Business Insider titled “The 10 Most Useless Graduate Degrees” placed marketing at number 2 on their list of the most degrees one can possess. And according to a 2013 Workopolis article that included a segment titled Ten jobs that won’t exist in ten years, ‘ Social Media Expert’ topped the list. Given all the contradictory media coverage of what constitutes an “expert”, it’s easy to see where anyone could grow confused.

Social-Media-ConfusionThere is nothing inherently wrong with hiring a pro if you’re stumped about what to do next – the right publicity expert, strategist and PR firm can be worth its weight in gold. But no matter how you proceed, you owe it to yourself to acquire the basic set of skills that you’re going to need in order to maintain a public image – and this goes far beyond having a Facebook Page and an Twitter account.

You can ask questions and acquire skills just by sitting in on a #hashtag Twitter discussion or participate in a LinkedIn group. You can look up new trends on Reddit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! By doing your research online, you can develop enough expertise to navigate the turbulent waters of the ever-evolving social media world – you may not become an expert, but you can attain many of the skills needed to establish a successful platform on the world wide web.

confusionSo where do you start? Simple – buy your own name domain. If you have a common name, put your middle initial in it, or use a diminutive. But no matter what, have your own domain – this is crucial. You don’t have to build a website – but you can point the URL to your own blog, or Facebook page, or wherever you want it to redirect.

If you’re developing a brand along with your name, buy the url for that brand. Don’t just assume that you can wait until you’re ready to build a site, because good domain names are hard to come by, and even if you own a trademark patent on a term, it doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already purchased the domain.

It’s not necessary to buy every url extension you can – but if at all possible, buy the .com. Let’s face it, .com is where it’s at – it’s the oldest and most recognized domain extension you can have. I strongly encourage you to also buy your own country’s extension – for instance, as a Canadian I own both the .com and the .ca to both my name AND my blog, as well as publishing company. Why your own country extension? Well, it wouldn’t really matter to me if there was an Incognito Press in Australia, would it? But I certainly wouldn’t want to compete with another Canadian company by the same name – this could lead to my own brand’s dilution and confusion among clients.

The first step I took before I started this blog was to make sure that incognitopress.com was available for purchase. It was only after I had purchased the domain that I began to develop my blog and brand identity. I own a couple of dozen domains – both for my real name and my pseudonyms, and various businesses. It might cost me a couple hundred dollars a year, but it’s a business tax write-off and a vital part of my brand development.

Few things are more heartbreaking than to have spent years building up a brand, put in the hours to write blog posts, form connections on social media platforms, and then realize that you didn’t pony up the $10 or less to register your brand name url. Sadly, this sort of thing has been overlooked even by people with degrees in social media marketing.

I’ve seen this type of situation happen over and over – with business owners having to fork over thousands of dollars to a cybersquatter and/or lawyer in order to recover their brand. However, if you haven’t patented/trademarked a title and you are not a well-known brand (i.e. your name isn’t Disney, Coca-Cola, Michael Jordan or Kevin Spacey – who incidentally spent over $30,000 to get the rights to kevinspacey.com back) you might be out of luck.

social media  social media expert

So to sum up:

1. Educate yourself online. Make sure you have a Facebook account, a public Facebook Page (these two are actually different things, don’t confuse them), a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter account. For people trying to build a professional brand, these four things are no longer optional. Remember that most sites have built-in tutorials and Help sections, so if you can’t figure out how YouTube, Reddit, Pintrest or Instagram work, they make it easy for you.

2. Start a blog if you can. My favourite platform is WordPress, but Blogger is very reliable as well. I’ve used both, and each has a plethora of customizable templates to choose from. I’ve heard good things about Tumblr.

3. Start a website. The most idiot-proof platform I’ve found to create a speedy website – even if you haven’t a clue what HTML is – is weebly.com. I’ll discuss it at length in a future post, but suffice it to say it’s a beautiful and very affordable drag-and-drop web-builder system that will have you online in no time.

4. Buy a) your name domain, and b) your business name domain. Either of these will help people reach you. You can point them to your blog or weebly website.

5. Make your business name easy to remember – that means NO dashes. People won’t remember if you tell them “my website is Elisa-dash-the-dash-writer-dot-com”.

6. Don’t make your domain name too long or confusing to spell.

7. If people constantly misspell your domain, consider buying the misspelled domain as well. (For example, if your surname is MacDonald vs McDonald). In my case, the Romanian form of my first name is Eliza. When Romanians google my name or enter the url (I get a sizeable amount of traffic from Romania), they often type “elizahategan.com”. So guess what? I bought that url and now point it to my current website. No more confusion – and no other Eliza can steal away my name domain!

8. Don’t let your domain ownership expire! There are lots of people who wait for domains to expire and buy them up, only to resell them at outrageous prices back to business owners desperate to get their branding back. Do you really want to be at the mercy of this new owner? Worse yet, what if they take your domain name and point it to an x-rated site? What if it’s a competitor who works in the same field as you?

9. Your social media skillset should not consist of merely posting to Facebook or Tweeting about your weekend. Nor should it take the form of constant self-promotions. When all I see in my feed is an author screaming ‘BUY MY BOOK! ON SALE TODAY ONLY’ ad nauseam, I either mute them or unfollow them. Some self-promotion is obviously okay, but why should I buy your book if you’re not interested in getting to know me and my own work? We’re all trying to establish a significant presence in our field, and there are good AND bad ways of going about it. Do not risk alienating potential friends and readers by badgering them with non-stop advertising. It’s transparent, it doesn’t work, and it actually hurts your brand’s self-respect.

10. Not all marketing takes place online! Old-fashioned human interaction is still one of the best ways to sell yourself and your work. Look up your local writing circles and artist networking groups. Read the flyers pinned to billboards at hipster hangouts, go and attend poetry reading nights, have fun at street fair events.

11. But before you go to all those conventions and register for those free talks, you’ve gotta have yourself some cool merch – i.e business cards or any kind of stuff to hand out so that people remember you. And for business cards, it’s Vistaprint all the way, baby! I’m one of their early adopters. Ten years ago I started buying business cards for practically nothing – just the cost of shipping. The quality and price are unbeatable – I’ve used them for business cards, postcards of my book covers, holiday cards and everything in between.

12. If there’s nothing in your area, start your own group! When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t see any GLBT writers groups present in my area (Toronto) so I started my own group, GLBT Writers in Toronto. Now we have about 200 members, and some of us have actually met offline!

So ultimately, remember that it takes a lot of time and effort to be an ‘overnight’ success. Here are some of my social media profiles, if you want to check them out for reference – and if you are active on any of these platforms, I would love to connect with you 🙂

My Author Website

Incognito Press Website

My Facebook Page

My Twitter

My LinkedIn profile

My Instagram

My Blogger Blog 

Me on Reddit

ts-elliot-risk-quote

READ PART TWO: Crowdfunding Your Project

READ PART THREE: The Importance of Blogging

READ PART FOUR: The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in art, artist, life, perseverence, politics, press release, publishing, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Protected: You’re not going to read this anyway

Posted by E on July 19, 2012

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Posted in activism, agent, anonymous, art, artist, books, canada, culture, depression, identity, literature, longing, media, news, perseverence, poetry, politics, publishing, rejection, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Enter your password to view comments.

Small Press vs. Self-Publishing in the New Millenium

Posted by E on September 25, 2011

Ten years ago, if I couldn’t sell my book to a Big Six publisher I would gladly have taken the small press route. Heck, even as far back as five years ago I’d gladly have signed on the dotted line, and bragged to all my friends that at least I got a “real” publisher. I’d have used words like “legitimate” and “prestigious”, and snubbed my nose at the yucky self-published vanity “authors” who used to lurk in the gutter alleyways of imprints like Lulu.

But now, with the possibilities offered by Amazon and Smashwords, I wonder if any small publisher can come even close to the advantages offered by self-publishing. Not that self-publishing is a radically new thing. It’s basically what writers used to do for hundreds of years before established imprints took hold in the last century. So I asked this question on Twitter: If you can’t sell your book to Big Six publishers, would you go to a smaller press and get small/no advance OR self-publish?”

One person managed to give a nearly mono-syllabic answer: “small press”, but when I questioned whether splitting my royalties with a press who doesn’t have the marketing dollars to launch me (and thus force me to do my own marketing) is even worth it, she didn’t respond.

The answer seems obvious to me. I don’t begrudge the efforts of small presses and their editorial teams, but the fact of the matter is, most books published by small presses rarely sell more than about a thousand copies. Small presses do not have the budget for premium spots in bookstores, for massive advertising, and do rely heavily on authors marketing their own books. Which is something I already do every single day. And when my earnings are so small to begin with, I’m not sure I really want to split my royalties 85-15 (or worse) with a small press. I’m just being honest here.

Some may argue that small presses add an indispensable value to one’s book by providing expert editorial services and cover design. What I’d suggest is that if a writer so wishes, they can easily hire out editorial, formatting and graphic design services for a flat rate / one-time fee, rather than entering into contract with a publisher who cannot pay you an advance higher than four figures.

I believe we are living in the gold rush age of publishing. For the last couple of years, Big Six traditional publishers have bemoaned what they call a new evolution of the Guttenberg Press, an electronic Golden Age that they hope to survive unscathed. Hatchette and Random House executives have flown (no doubt first class) to meet Steve Jobs in the hope that Apple can somehow squash the Amazon revolution that precipitated a system in which Gatekeepers are being eliminated faster than one can say “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

 I had a little laugh when I read about it, imagining all those execs in their crisp name-brand suits and ties, oiled briefcases in hand, walking pompously through Apple’s doors, thinking they have anything to leverage their arguments on. It was all the funnier, knowing that in the next five years, those New York penthouse residents will be lining up at their local Unemployment Office. Unless they package themselves out first, as several NY top editors already have been – and starting self-publishing consulting firms. Ah, the irony.

 This new age spells the end of MFA programs ran by greedy writers of the old generation, many of them mediocre writers in their own right, but who lucked out at a time when publishers would print nearly anything legible passed up the chain through nepotism and tapped favors. I mean, who in their right mind (aside from a trust fund baby) would spend $100K to get an MFA when there is no more Random House or Doubleday?

In the future literary universe, you’ll never get a huge advance. You’ll never have publishing execs speculate over your future success over endless luncheons. No, the only thing you will have to produce is a work that is good. Translation = that sells. That audiences, rather than editors and studio execs, will love.

 No more nepotism. No more favours. Of course, if you’re rich and can afford thousands on marketing, you’ll probably still manage to launch yourself out there. But without the gatekeepers, the world becomes a much more even playing field. Any hipster with a stack of flyers and a penchant for podcasting can generate the kind of grassroots buzz that can turn a coffee-stained manuscript into a bestseller.

In the new age we are entering, the ultimate gatekeeper will be the public. Only the AUDIENCE and the power of their mighty dollars will decide if your book has a future. NOT a nail-filing twenty-five year old acquisitions editor who’s rejecting anything on her desk that isn’t vampire teen porn.

 We are in a time of golden rushes. Thousands of new writers enter the self-publishing stampede with tin pan in hand, hoping to make their fortunes. Most will fail, in the same way that most authors in bookstores will fail to earn out their advance and never get anywhere.

But a few WILL succeed. Their ideas and manuscripts WILL strike gold, and when the dust settles they will enjoy the knowledge that they did it all on their own. That their success was entirely in their hands, and the profits they earned are not going toward paying for a Big Six publishers’ Fifth Avenue office suites and expense accounts, but in their own pockets.

We need to embrace this time of revolution, rather than cower and cling to sinking ships that are too bloated to sustain anybody. We need to remember that we at least have our talents and our fresh ideas, but agents and publishers, without their 15-90% cuts, have nothing. And that it was only a matter of time, in an industry that is barely a couple hundred years old, for things to change. For the unwashed masses on the outside of the palace gates to break through, behead anyone in the way and torch the whole bloody place down.

 Allons enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrive!

Posted in art, artist, books, commentary, culture, freedom, innovation, literature, publishing, technology, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong

Posted by E on July 13, 2011

 

I guess you can chalk me up as an aspiring, unpublished hack. You know, like 99% of artists out there reading this post 😉 A hack who’s part of this ever-changing world we live in, and who knows more than my fair share about the business. So having said all that, you know what kills me? I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be the next hot new bestselling writer out there. That I’m not going to make much more than minimal wage, and that’s taking into account the artist bursaries I may occasionally win. But the thing that kills me, more than the non-existent fame and fortune all of us writers secretly hope to stumble into, more than anything, is the knowledge that I will never be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf.

This image has haunted me since I was a little girl. It has propelled and encouraged me to take my dreams of writing stories and make them unfold from hunches, intermittent thoughts, stray words, into something that takes a life of its own. It’s this dream, this vision of my books on a shelf or on a store display under the Staff Picks section, that hurts the most to let go. To know that everything I have done in my life, all the hard work I’ve put into creating these manuscripts, means nothing at all.

Yes, bad writers self-publish all the time. Breathtakingly mediocre manuscripts get uploaded onto Kindle at every hour of every day. That was my assumption when I first encountered the notion of self-publishing, when I secretly dismissed self-published authors as untalented hacks who couldn’t earn their stripes in the real literary world.

Yes, I was a snob. WAS. But that was before I started downloading self-pubbed books on my Kindle, and realized just how many amazing, incredibly-talented people have been forced by this screwed-up industry to take this route.

There is no karmic justice in this industry. Truth of the matter is this:
1) Bad writers DO get book deals. I’ve met a few in my day, people who either never wrote more than a chapter of a book and still managed to make it onto bestseller lists. Terrible writers also manage – through nepotism, inside connections and affiliations with college writing programs – to land publishing deals for their inferior magnus opuses. I’ve seen it happen. Half of them are out teaching creative writing programs. I can’t name names, but trust me. It happens more often than you think.

2) Good writers DO fall through the cracks. On the brink of extinction, the established literary industry operate like a flock of piranhas – editors concern themselves more with keeping their jobs and minimizing the risk it takes to take on unknown writers. Often they will adopt an unspoken policy of not showing interest in something unless other editors show interest. Simply put = nobody wants to take risks anymore. And nobody wants to edit.

3) Gone are the days when a diamond in the rough could be scooped from the slush pile and whittled into brilliance. Editors, for the most part, are lazy. There – I’ve said it. Not all, because I’d hate to generalize, but a HUGE majority of large publishing house acquiring editors prefer to do just that – acquire. Not edit. Not even bother trying, actually. If the manuscript in their inbox is not pitch-perfect in terms of what they’re looking for, they’d rather reject than invite a revision.

4) Publishing houses are going extinct because of bad financial practices. Case in point:
a. At the last Book Expo America, Random House rented an ENORMOUS booth to show off how much money they had. They spared no expense in putting off the image that they are doing peachy

b. Publishers will spend a million dollars for an advance to buy on a single manuscript (again, see the bidding war piranha frenzy I mentioned earlier), and add another 500K in marketing costs to justify their gamble on one person, while the money could be spent on acquiring ten talented writers (at $100K advance each). You don’t have to have a degree in investing to see how screwed up this is.

c. A reluctance to adapt to new publishing models, save for continuous attempts to unashamedly and brutally screw over inexperienced, first-time authors over their already-meagre royalties. Example: You sell your soul if you spend a year or more on a book only to find out that you’ll make fifty cents per every ebook. But if they didn’t do that, how could they afford the huge salaries of top executives, those travel expenses to international fairs, those roomy booths at Book Expo America?

So by now you’re either cheering me on, or you’ve already written me off as a bitter industry loser. As in, I didn’t win the lottery jackpot and got a book deal yet – because this is what this really is about – LUCK. Not talent so much as sheer, unadulterated luck: the RIGHT editor, the RIGHT submission, at the RIGHT time.
FACT: the vast majority of published authors out there only received one offer. That’s right: ONE offer. There was no bidding war. No hundred grand advance. Just ONE editor who had an empty slot in next fall’s line-up. THAT alone is what separates the unwashed masses like me from the “respectable” folks in the Chapters-Indigos and Barnes & Nobles of the world.

But if it was up to the industry, that’s not where I’m headed, or where most of us younger writers trying to put our work out there are headed. By misfortune of being born in this generation, at the cusp of the extinction of the bricks-and-mortal bookstores (may be another 10-20 years, but they’re going), we are being shut out of that dream we’ve all harboured: the vision of walking into over to that store display and seeing your baby in print, ready to captivate the world.

It doesn’t mean we can’t make a name for ourselves, or serious money. People have been so successful through Kindle, it would be insane not to consider it. But what I’m taking about is your work being out on the bookshelves of a hundred stores, reaching a mainstream audience that is kept away from you by virtue of the gate-keepers.

I’ve done everything right. I’ve played by the rules. I’ve gained a few prizes here and there, won substantial artist grants, gotten my name out there. I was even accepted by the most prestigious MFA program in Canada this spring, but because I have no money whatsoever, I’ve had to defer my spot.

I’ve had not one, but two literary agents. The first was more lazy than money-hungry and spent his entire day on Twitter playing the role of big agent man but not making any sales. At all. So I fired him and started fresh. The second agent seemed more promising. I listened to him, for a while, when he told me to add more violence, more of a 24 (the TV show) plotline and more “dirty lesbo sex” to my novel so it would sell – and I did all this out of fear that he would not submit my book to publishers. Until I couldn’t take it anymore and told him I was finished. With the power struggle, and with the proposed changes. Really finished.

For the last two years I’ve allowed myself be bullied by this industry – by agents, by writer forums where self-aggrandizing, arrogant assholes who published mid-list books pull rank on new writers, by editorial rumours of what sells, by everything. And at the end of the day, what did I get?

A manuscript that has been so twisted it seems foreign to me, but meets the vision of what the industry seems to want. And sure enough, it has received several generous editorial compliments over the past month, yet it keeps getting rejected. The rejections, of course, are all over the map – editor X will praise this and complain about that, and not a day later, editor Z will complain about this, and praise that which someone else had taken issues with. But nobody wants to take a chance on me.
Nobody.

The truth is, the literary world these days is a shitty, soul-wrenching crapshoot in which only the lucky and the well-connected will find a spot to land in. And if you are like me, if the only thing you ever had to cling to in your life was writing, you’ll keep on struggling, crying, and creating.

You belong. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

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How to lose your faith in the publishing industry in a minute and a half…or less

Posted by E on May 29, 2011

It was about eight years or so, give or take a couple of months, when my partner invited me to a friend of hers’ cottage party. I’d been to plenty of those with my old varsity fencing team (where coaches and athletes got drunk and made out), so I didn’t think anything of it. Later that night I would feel ridiculously underdressed, having just realized that the so-called “cottage party” was really an assembly of über-wealthy people gathering in the most-done up fancy cottage I’d ever seen. A rustic mansion, if you will.

So, as I typically tend to do at the few cocktail parties I’ve ever attended, I stood in the corner pulling down on my short skirt and trying not to look too awkward as I sipped on my absurdly-expensive glass of Merlot – which probably cost less than my entire get-up. Alas, you get the point.

Then the hostess of this lavish banquet – which was spread out over a twenty-seat table setting, if you can imagine – came over, put her arm around my shoulders, and asked, “So I hear you’re a writer?”
I nodded, which prompted her to break into a smile as she said, “Well, then, I have to introduce you to one of my dear friends. His book is coming out imminently.”

Fast-forward a half hour later. I was sitting in the “Lodge” part of the mansion, a glorious spectacle of exposed brick and a rustic fireplace that went up twenty feet, across from a bespectacled middle-aged man smiling benevolently at me as he knocked back his Merlot faster than you could say “publishing deal.”
This was it, the eager young writer in me thought. My chance to glean a few words of wisdom from this self-professed self-help guru. I leaned forward, my eyes glowing with adoration, and asked him with bated breath what all of us unpublished writers really want to know, “How did you do it? How did you break out?”
My new friend leaned back in his overstuffed chaise, looked left and right conspiratorially, then met my eyes again.
“Well, first of all,” he started to say, pacing his words out evenly, slowly, no doubt enjoying the act of stretching out the anticipation of a seemingly-vapid twenty-something, “you’ve gotta do your homework. You’ve gotta get yourself an agent. Not just any agent, but a Jew agent. I did my homework and made a list of a couple dozen Jew agents in New York, and I targeted them specifically. Those New York Jews, they’re connected to everybody, they know everybody. So I persisted until I got the best agent, and like I said, I made sure she was a Jew agent, a real shark. That’s the most important part.”
He took another sip while I tried to digest the information. Then he dropped another bombshell.
“She told me all you need is a good title and a gimmick. You don’t even have to write the book.”
I nearly dropped my glass. “W-what? I thought you had to finish a manuscript….”
My friend shook his head vehemently. “No, no, that’s just for amateurs. No, in this business, all you need in a catchy title that can be spun off into a dozen books. She got on the phone with her editor contacts and already got me multiple book deals. Get this, I hadn’t even written more than the first couple of chapters.”
“B-but… how can they do that?”
He chuckled, delighting in my shock. “They’ve got their own writers, my dear. Their own in-house writers. They don’t need you to write the book. All you need is a platform and a gimmicky title – and of course, a Jew agent – and you’re set.”

This was the night I “woke up” when it came to the publishing industry, the moment of personal nadir when I lost my childish naiveté about how things really work. Before that, I thought that in order to get published, all you had to do was write a brilliant book. And then I came face-to-face with someone who was to hit stardom within a few months, and who had done little, if nothing, for it. Not just that, but whose attitude about Jews made me uncomfortable.

I knew then that there are other factors at work in an author’s success, and that luck, rather than simply talent, plays a huge part in it. In the last eight years, I’ve shared this story with a lot of close friends and aspiring writers who believe in “the system.” Not that I don’t, of course. But there’s something flawed, I think, in a process that allows someone to skyrocket to best-selling stardom and have “his” book(s) translated into 30 languages when they’ve done not a hell of a lot, other than come up with, yes, a catchy title. Of course, this man enjoys his success, and how can I blame him? But personally, I think I would have a slight twinge of guilt, a modicum of personal discomfort, in representing a franchise that I didn’t even write or create.
But to each his own, I guess.

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Why I Don’t Expect Anything From You

Posted by E on May 3, 2011

 

Let me say this now: I don’t expect anything from you. From anybody. All my life I’ve had to prove myself. You’d think by now I would get used to it. But there’re a very distinct difference between getting used to something, and accepting it as pure, undiluted fact.

I believe it’s along this crevice of uncertainty where a lot of artists trip and fall through. Not because they don’t have passion and belief in their own abilities, but because that vision comes to be chipped away, slowly, incrementally, over the years – at first by other kids in the playgrounds of our childhood, then by the parents who scoff at their dreamy progenies and try to corall them into soul-murdering professions lest they risk permanent dissaproval. Whether it’s a tacit dissaproval or a barrage of rejection letters, eventually confidence can come to collapse unto itself like an erosion of rock formations along a sea edge. The rockface is corroded in invisible increments, for months and years, and after a while simply dissolves into the seawater below.

I can’t even start to pinpoint where I began to fight against the wave. It would probably be easier to ask when I didn’t have to struggle. As far back as I can remember, I was always in the corner, watching others come naturally into that which took me eeons of strength and resolve to achieve.

I was the angry kid, the jealous kid, the one who came to school unwashed, snot-nosed and with lice. No parent ever helped me do my homework, pack my lunch or iron my school uniform. Everything I ever did, I did alone. No one celebrated my small victories or wept with me over my petty defeats, over the courtyard bullying, the horrible names kids love to call outsiders like me.

In this new country of Canada I no longer wore a tattered dress or ran around the streets like a stray dog, but the physical and mental scars of my past turned me into an angry, defiant teenager who didn’t fit in anywhere. After years of peer bullying and foster homes, I dropped out of high school, fell in with a rough crowd, later turned against them and moved across the country. And finally, at 18, I pulled my shit together – I took a high school equivalency exam and to my surprise passed it on the first try.

Why not reach higher, I thought, deciding to apply to university next. Based on my entrance essay, I was accepted into every university I’d applied to. Ecstatic and in awe, I decided to share my good news with a Youth Employment Services counsellor at the downtown youth bureau, thinking he’d believe in me. To my shock, he took it upon himself to pull me into his office. He closed the door and gestured for me to take a seat. “I heard you’re applying to university, Kat.” (that was my nickname then).

“Yes,” I beamed. “I got my acceptance letters this week. Can you believe it? From all of them.”

“Hmm, right, yes,” he said gravely. “I wanted to speak with you about that. You do know that university is very, very difficult, don’t you? It’s extremely tough to keep up with the academic demand. Not a lot of people make it.”

“I don’t think I’ll have any problems,” I said.

He frowned. “Yes, well, the thing is, I would hate to see you fail after a semester. You do know a lot of first-years drop out after six months, right? I’d hate to have you lose your place in our program, only to start from scratch in a few months…”

I was furious, looked him right in the eye and said, “I won’t be back here. Do you think I WANT to be in a program that discourages me from pursuing higher education? I mean, you’re a social worker, aren’t you supposed to encourage me? I know I can do this. I don’t need you to tell me what you think is good for me. You know absolutely nothing about my potential!”

Over the four years that followed I was a Dean’s Honour List student, received scholarships every year and graduated magna cum laude. But along the way, I learned that no matter how certain I am of something, no matter how palpable my vision is, I cannot make anyone else have faith in me.

We live in a world where people have been knocked around so many times that they have become jaded. Where miracles don’t happen anymore. Where it is easier to dismiss someone with a flick of the wrist or a sarcastic comment than to give them the benefit of the doubt. And where your worst adversary is another wounded person angry at the world for dismissing their own dreams; someone who’s given up, and now serves to mock and ridicule those who still struggle forward.

To be perfectly honest, other than my partner and the odd friend here and there who have known me long enough to witness the blood, sweat and tears that have propelled my goals into realization, I don’t really think anybody believes in me. Sure, I am surrounded by well-meaning, good people, but do they REALLY think I can succeed?

Does my agent genuinely think I’m a brilliant writer? I honestly don’t know. Probably not. Does he even believe he can sell my book, or just that its subject matter makes it an easy sell? It’s hard to tell. Will the publisher who buys it take a leap of faith because she or he genuinely loves my writing, or will the decision be made simply on a financial calculation at the pub board? Likely the latter.

What I’d love more than anything is to have that dream we all have – to be recognized for our talents, to be praised, to be loved. I mean, isn’t that what we all want? But through my life I’ve received surprisingly little praise, fewer compliments still, and certainly more rejections than acceptances. I’ve never been “discovered” or hailed as a genius of any sort. The few compliments I’ve received make me oddly uncomfortable; I hear them so infrequently that I’m suspicious of their intent. I may have published a few pieces here and there and won my share of grants, but it was always through a blind, anonymous jury. And afterwards, nobody’s ever called me up and said, “you know what? I really loved your work.”

I’m being sincere (and perhaps slightly bittersweet) when I say that I’ve always been the little match-girl, standing on tiptoes in the snow outside a beautiful mansion, peeking into a world where I’ve never belonged. And as much as I’d love to be invited inside, that’s just the way it’s been and will probably always be.

For someone who has battled depression and suicidal impulses most of my adult life, this is a very difficult thing to accept – that nobody will ever save me but myself. That if I don’t choose to live, nobody else can do it for me. Just like nobody else can have faith in my ability to thrive like a dandelion through cracked cement. Only I can do that.

That’s why I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve never gotten anything for free. I know that I have to constantly fight back my own fears of inadequacy and self-doubt. The truth is, I may not have had much of a childhood, but the one thing, the ONLY thing, I have clung to, is my idealistic faith in people and their ability to accomplish that which is closest to their hearts. If I didn’t, if I’d become as jaded as the world around me, what would be the point of anything?

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On nourishing the best minds of our generation

Posted by E on July 22, 2010

Writer colonies, retreats, artist centres, whatever you call it, are intended to provide that all-too-elusive sense of belonging and recognition to writers who otherwise labour away in the seclusion of their own abodes and their own idiosyncracies and particular neuroticisms.
Coming up for a breath of fresh air, as in attending a colony and being able to create while at the same time surrounded by a whole bunch of other creative minds is invaluable. The colonies are more than just a place to eat, sleep and write — they might just lead to new friendships and new perspectives that can enhance our otherwise solitary work.

Luckily for US artists, the United States provides an abundance of colonies and fellowships one can apply for. Places that have been frequented by artists like Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, etc. I could start rattling off the names of a whole lot of places, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, for something like 30-50 bucks and the cost of mailing in a portfolio, you can apply to attend artistic residences where all your accommodations, meals and board, etc, are completely covered up to 8 weeks.

We in Canada are not so lucky. Although arts councils are there to provide much-needed support to artists as they work on their projects, they don’t fund colonies or retreats, at least none that I know of. And all the ones I’ve checked, including the famous Banff Centre for the Arts, charge a hefty thousand bucks for five days of accommodations and meals….which, to be frank, who can afford unless they already have a day job, and therefore not exactly a full-time writer to begin with?
I witnessed something odd at the Humber Summer Workshop I attended (on a scholarship, thankfully!) two Julys ago: most of the participants were made up of middle-aged professionals, otherwise-known-as weekend warriors. Not to generalize, but what I’ve observed is that often those who can afford those expensive workshops are the same people who hardly have the time necessary to complete a full-length work, quality notwithstanding.

It’s a damn shame that we can’t offer as many possibilities as the US and other European nations provide their artists. People here bitch and moan every time funding gets cut at the individual level, but sometimes I think that perhaps if there was a place we could escape to for just a little while, where we wouldn’t have to worry about distractions, finances, etc — that it might be as useful as a big-ass cheque. And equally inspiring. Not that I’d be willing to trade my OAC and CAC funding, thank you very much 🙂 but still…. wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a place existed?

I know, going to a writers’ colony for a month is no guarantee that you can produce something substantial, but then again, neither does getting a huge chunk of money insure that a writer is able to commit to the page. But having said all that, the only place that I’ve found which subsidizes Canadian writers is Berton House in the Yukon, but you have to already have published at least one book to go there. And, well, it’s quite desolate and not exactly large enough to accommodate more than one or two persons at a time.

Sadly, even though financial assistance might be provided to one or two people per program, overall it seems that Canadian writing centres seem more geared toward weekend-type writers with large bank accounts than toward the younger or less affluent people who could most benefit from an opportunity to allow their brilliance to shine through. And in the end, through this insidious practice of cultural and financial elitism, everyone suffers.

Oh, I know — writing programs are basically lucrative cash cows that keep MFA grads and other senior writers employed, but at what cost? By excluding the talented in favour of the rich (though if you’re both, you’ve hit the jackpot!), how exactly does our culture advance?

One of my biggest dreams is to someday own a place where people can come and work on their projects, a place where all costs would be absorbed, and the artist is free only to create. But until I sell a crapload of books and maybe close a movie deal or two, this will remain a wishful dream.

Posted in art, beauty, canada, commentary, freedom, poetry, thoughts, Uncategorized, usa, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

On Winning an Ontario Arts Council Grant

Posted by E on June 30, 2009

There is nothing more affirming for a writer than the day when he or she earns her first coins for a story or a poem. So much of our lives are spent in the solitude of a closed room, in the reflective light of a computer screen, battling with our own, unique critical selves that keep themselves perched upon our shoulders and echo back at us the doubts of the world – you’re not going to get this done, this project is too ambitious for your own good, who are you kidding, etc.

And then there are moments of illumination, when everything becomes possible again. Like when a blind jury of four judges sift through hundreds of applications and select only twenty or less writers in all of Ontario to receive a significant award such as this.

Last week I suddenly found myself among them. Last week, I earned the privilege of calling myself a paid writer. Last week, I realized that somewhere out there in this world of ours, four authors who knew nothing about me saw enough merit and potential in my project that they decided to fund it.

Last Monday night I opened the mailbox and found a thick brown envelope from the OAC, and all the butterflies in my stomach started to flitter: finally, I would have my answer. I had been praying for a sign that my work possesses the value I believe it has. At the kitchen table, I tore open the envelope quickly, not wanting to allow the seepage of doubt to intrude into this moment I’d been waiting for. Then I read the first words: “On behalf of the Ontario Arts Council, I am pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a Writers’ Works in Progress Grant towards ______ in the amount of $12,000” and out slipped the blue $12k cheque as well, and I don’t remember much after that except that I jumped up and down, screaming: “I got it! Oh my God, they gave it to me!!”

When I sent in 40-some pages of my non-fiction manuscript to the Ontario Arts Council back in February ’09, I hoped against hope that I would be one of the few to be awarded a Work-in-Progress grant. I took the application as both a testing of waters (“let’s see if others see some promise there”) and a desperate attempt to generate some funds to go toward the research costs I need for this book. I didn’t have any expectations of winning the $12,000 award – in fact, I spent the excruciatingly long four months that followed vacillating between blind optimism and total disbelief. I pity those around me who constantly urged me that my writing was indeed good enough, who kept saying “You’ll get it, I just know you’ll get it. How could you not?” You know who you are – and I thank you for being there when my confidence had failed me entirely.

Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why is it that I have such persistent doubt in my ability to complete this manuscript? It seems that everything else in my life that I put my mind to, I have been able to pull through. But writing is another world – it is like standing naked in front of a mirror, staring at yourself. You see yourself for who you really are – you see all your flaws and imperfections, and all your demons and your scars and all the things that you hope nobody else can tell just by looking at you.

When I am alone in front of my computer, I see not only all that I can accomplish, but all the places where I have been broken. I see my weaknesses crumple in front of me like a nest of snapped bones gathering at my feet. There is no ego left – there is only the pain that I am trying to translate into words, that I am trying to expel from my body so I can be sane again. This effort is what’s earned me this $12,000, but it has come at a price – the price of having to be brutally honest with myself and my past. The price of blood-letting my life onto crisp paper.

But as of today, my manuscript has become a full-time job. I no longer have the excuse to procrastinate, now that I have entered into this contract with those faceless benefactors who have glimpsed the value of my vision and have decided to fund it. Writing my book is no longer an optional exercise but a real job. It would take someone working minimum wage over 7 months to make this kind of money. I have not failed to realize this – and this awareness is such a powerful thing.

The OAC money will definitely go a long way in covering my expenses as I work on my manuscript; most importantly, however, it is the surge of confidence and motivation that it generates in my own soul, the impetus that others’ faith in me creates, that will always be priceless.

Thank you to all those of you who believed in me – despite my best attempts to dissuade you.

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