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Teaching Your Fans to Shout

12 June 2012

From bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland:

If you pay much attention, you’ll hear a lot about writer’s networking. Most of the time, when we talk about social networking, we think about Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or similar sites. On those sites, I sometimes feel as if I’m primarily linked to other writers. I know from talking to many of you, that you may feel the same way.

Yet it seems to me that as authors, we ought to be spending more time trying to connect with readers than with writers.

. . . .

It seems to me as an author, that all of these resources might be helpful in spreading the word about a new book. Often we will look for ways to advertise—by purchasing television ads, getting books reviewed in newspapers, and so on. But those methods can be expensive, and to be honest, I don’t think that they’re as effective as word-of-mouth advertising. It used to be that newspapers did a lot of book reviews, for example, but over the past decade, most of the papers have shut down their book-review lines, citing the cost of it.

. . . .

So I’m wondering if it would be helpful to educate your fans on how to help spread the word. You might say something like this:

1) “If you loved this book (or any other book) the best thing that you can do for the author is to write a brief review, then post it on Facebook with a link to the purchase site.” The review doesn’t have to be extensive, just something as simple as “I just read the coolest book! Check it out: www.nightingalenovel.com”

2) You can also post your review on Goodreads or similar sites. Here are a few: librarything.com, shelfari.com, books.google.com (use with gmail), anobii.com, weread.com, chapters.indigo.ca, revish.com, reader2.com.

3) Post your review on your own private blog. Sure, it might only have a couple of dozen readers, but the six-degrees of separation principle suggests that your review could help create a domino-effect, one that would eventually help the book get made into a movie or otherwise go ballistic.

4) Tweet about the book to your friends.

Link to the rest at David Farland

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Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, David Farland, Social Media

40 Comments to “Teaching Your Fans to Shout”

  1. I am not shy about asking for reviews from readers that contact me. It often seems like they would rather send the author an email (my contact info is in the back of my books) than write a review. That is understandable, but while the email might bolster my ego, the review might help other readers find me.

    I love hearing from readers, I just wish more would also take the time to leave reviews. Sadly, people are, if I remember the study correctly, ten times more likely to leave a negative review of a product or service than they are a positive review. So, most readers who like your work are far less likely to actually tell the world about it.

    Splitter

    • A 1990’s principle of marketing: a satisfied customer will tell two people, a dissatisfied customer will tell eleven.

      I have no idea what impact social media will have had on these numbers. But it will be big – for those who use social media. For the rest, not so much.

      • Oh I don’t know, social media is a force multiplier.

        If a piece of info gets high enough in the social media data-stream then everybody knows it, whether they use social media or not. Comics start talking about it, people mention it in passing down the pub, it becomes part of the transitory language of the world, for a little while, then it’s gone. But it never really goes away, because the net does not forget.

  2. I have a friend who successfully did something similar in the back of her self pubbed book: “If you liked this book, I’d really appreciate a good review” with links to places like Amazon and Goodreads. Then “If you didn’t like it, or found problems, I’d really appreciate it if you let me know” followed by her email address/contact page on her website. Then “Whether or not I write the rest of the series is up to you. What do you think?” again, followed by her contact info. She’s gotten a great response and formed that personal connection that leads to word-of-mouth advertising: “I told author X I wanted to read more and she wrote another book just for me!!”

    Never underestimate the power of being forthright.

  3. It’s rather like going to that dance in junior high school – you’ll probably never get to dance with the pretty girl unless you ask. Sure, she MIGHT come over on her own volition, but why not kick start the process?

  4. Sorry. Read this yesterday. I’m not a fan of the idea. It is not a reader’s responsibility to market for me. Whatever a reader does or doesn’t do is up to the reader. I’m happy if a reader likes one of my books, if the reader doesn’t that’s his business.

    I’d prefer to engage a reader in pleasant conversation. I’ll even mail readers free books it they request books. Once you ask readers to do something for you, something on your behalf, a reader may believe he or she has some ownership of you and the relationship changes entirely. It becomes quid pro quo And far too familiar. Is this what you want as a writer? Not me. I believe in boundaries on both sides.

    I know an author who did this. She used fans to promote her early works. However, she alienated those same fans when she refused to write a series they wanted/suggested and when she began to write in other genres. The outcome was not pretty. She was the recipient of ‘hate’ reviews all over the internet.

    Some writers, especially those with big followings and major street cred, can get away with this because it doesn’t matter. What a handful of readers think or don’t think won’t affect sales.

    I view this as inappropriate and no different than following a new person on twitter and receiving an instantaneous auto-reply that says – Check out my book! Like my site! Like my Facebook page! Tell your friends about my book! Here are my book links! Like my book! If you like my book write a glowing review!
    Blech.

  5. Like Julia, the idea makes me uncomfortable — but it’s not the idea itself so much as the expression of it.

    Here’s the thing: the things he’s proposing is all SPAM. He’s telling writers who do bad marketing to get their readers to do bad marketing instead.

    Blech indeed!

    If you don’t know how to do a good job yourself, you shouldn’t be teaching others to do it.

    BUT….

    As I said, the deep concept behind the idea is not so bad. That is, the idea of enabling your readers to talk more and network naturally.

    How do you do that?

    Well, not by promoting and spamming and asking them to promote and spam. Do the opposite. If you are the social type, then just plain naturally interact with them. Get to know them, let them get to know you. Be helpful to them in what they want to do: tell them about cool sites. Encourage their creativity.

    In other words, promote enthusiasm.

    • It’s not spam unless its repeated ad naseum. I can see why writers would get sick of this sort of thing fast, but that’s because we tend to be connected to a lot of other writers through our social media and so we see book promotion messages a lot more often. But your average reader posting a quick “I really liked this book! [amazon link]” in their facebook to their friends and family or posted an honest review to goodreads? That’s not anything approaching spam.

      What he’s proposing is just encouraging word of mouth. A lot of readers won’t naturally share the books they read and liked because humans have a tendency to talk more about what we didn’t like than what we did like. But a lot more would do it willingly with just a gentle reminder that it would be a big help to the author’s career. I really don’t see anything wrong with that.

      • I dunno, Sarah. As Julia said, you’re creating a rod for your own back. Neil Gaiman’s, “George R.R. Martin is not your b****,” would be less likely to work if you have crossed the boundary Julia and Camille have defined.

        This sounds like a great idea, at first, and it will work, at first, until readers get wise to it. It won’t take them long, they aren’t stupid, or unsophisticated about internet marketing.

        Then the writers that engaged in getting their readers to pimp their books will have to deal with the fall out. And there will be fall out because some writers will be very very aggressive about this sort of thing.

        To Use RD’s example, some guys gird their loins, walk up to a pretty girl and ask her to dance in the full expectation that she will say no, but nothing ventured nothing gained. Others follow her into the bathroom, don’t take no for an answer, and end up with a restraining order on them.

        To my mind: First write good stories. Do that and you won’t have to ask your readers to do anything and the word of mouth will not be tainted with your neediness. Then you can have a relationship with your readers based on mutual respect and clear boundaries. It may be platonic but it is unlikely to end up embarrassed silences whenever you walk into a room.

        The actions of the few will affect the perceptions of the many.

      • I disagree. Reviews are not “word of mouth.” They’re the new junk currency of book promotion. Most readers are already seriously burned on that.

        (Remember, it isn’t just authors who are doing this — companies, or for that matter, “friending circles” are abusing social media up the wazoo right now.)

        I mean, honestly, so often this particular advice is just repackaged “call to action” advice. It doesn’t even involve interacting personally with your fans.

        Real word of mouth is natural. I agree with him that it helps to train people how to deal with social media — by teaching them NOT to do that crap. Teaching them to interact, express their enthusiasm in any way that works for them.

        The first step might be engaging your readers and getting them to talk to YOU. That’s a huge step for many fans. And it can be very hard to do. But do that, and you have broken the ice with folks who will talk about you.

        And even that is not necessary — but it is the part of the idea that I like.

        • Derek J. Canyon

          I don’t see any problem with reminding readers that reviews can help an author become successful. I do in the back of my books. I have no idea if it works or not but I don’t think it hurts. I don’t believe that a large number of readers are getting upset that the last page of a book asks them to tell their friends about the book if they liked it.

    • Here’s my thinking – readers are big people. They can decide for themselves – or figure out – whether or not they want to leave reviews or tell their friends about a book. It’s none of my business.

      Do good reviews help my sales? To some extent. But I’m not looking for another way to game the system. This is nothing more than one more way to do exactly that. Authors who game the system irritate the hell out of me – as a reader and a writer.

      The best way I personally can ‘game’ the system is to write a book readers want to read and talk about. Other than that leave me out of the equation. I respect the readers. They don’t need me begging for reviews.

      Hey… I’m not just an author, I’m a voracious reader. I would be very annoyed if an author asked me to talk up his or her book. Well, I do get very annoyed because it happens more than you know. I talk up a good book because I want to talk up a good book. If an author asks me, nudges me, encourages me to talk up a book, good or bad, because of my contrary nature I zip my lips and never say a word.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t review, cross-promote books and work in cooperation with other authors. I just don’t expect the readers to do my job. My hope is they like my book. That’s it.

      • Asking for readers to review a book they like is gaming the system? I guess we disagree. I think a lot of readers don’t bother with reviewing because they never think about it. I don’t have thousands of dollars to advertise. Since I have a full-time day job, I also do not have extra hours per week to become a member of a dozens of blogs/forums/feeds/etc. to effectively market my book. Putting a little reminder in the back of my book doesn’t hurt, and it might help. Half of my books are also kids’ books, and they might not know how much power their reviews can have.

      • I have to disagree that it’s “none of your business” – it’s exactly your business. I don’t think we should spam readers, but if you’re in a personal conversation, especially as someone without an established name, I see little wrong with asking readers to tell others about your book. I view it the same way a businessman views a referral.

        Further, done the right way, I think it can increase the bond between you and your readers. They’ll feel more closely connected to your success, which will inspire them to read more of your stuff in order to have a greater influence.

        The key is not to be pushy, but being a wallflower usually leads to your work being little more than a curiosity. I learned long ago that those unwilling to help prod their careers are those whose careers rarely go far(not to say there aren’t exceptions, but, in my experience, that is how most things work).

        • I disagree. I interact with my readers on a daily basis. I don’t ask them to do anything for me. We have a bond but I also establish boundaries and I respect their boundaries.

          I agree with Iola – a satisfied customer will tell two people, a dissatisfied customer will tell eleven.

          Be careful what you wish for, this can come back to bite you in the a**.

          I also agree with J.W. Manus – when I see a boatload of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon (for indie works), I assume, right or wrong, they’ve been put there by the author’s friends, family, and associates because I know many authors who are asking for 4 and 5 star reviews from people who’ve never even read their work. I’ve been the recipient of numerous requests for exactly this kind of help to sell books I haven’t read and don’t intend to read.

          Your best marketing tool is a good book. Your second best marketing tool is yourself – be polite and respectful of your readers.

          • Doesn’t that say more about the bias against indie works(right or wrong)? Yes, maybe the writer asked F&F for those reviews, but maybe they were genuine as well. Would you prefer seeing 2s and 3s? Wouldn’t that just show the book is no good?

            I think a more accurate depiction of whether the author asked people to flood with good reviews would be if those reviewers had reviewed multiple books and were consistent. Otherwise, why even read or take into account the reviews if you believe most of them at the top to be rubbish?

  6. What I wish readers knew:

    Your review, especially on Amazon, is more than just ego-boosting for the author. It’s more than just one more opinion. It’s actually factored into an algorithm, both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, that directs people to a book they might otherwise know nothing about. You know all those, “If you liked X book, you might like Y book” pop-ups? Those links let you know that there’s more vampire/romance novels out there set in Indianapolis during March, or more alien spy stories out there, or whatever. Rather than have to wade through tons of unrelated books in a general search, this algorithm does it for you — but it only works if you tell it what YOU like. The more reviews you post, the more accurate that algorithm gets, so it won’t take long until you’ve got recommendations for all the Amish paranormal murder mysteries on offer. But dear Reader, you have to do your part:

    If you’ve read a book, review it. Even if it’s only a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It’s not just for the author’s sake, but for your own.

    • Now that is good information for a reader to know. And the best place for it would be in a general comment on an author’s blog, the one for readers not other writers. A general comment that does not ask them to game the system on your behalf.

      Because that never ends well 🙂

      And if enough authors put it up there on their blogs. that posting reviews helps Amazon to find books you will like, then maybe it would become general knowledge that everybody knows without them even having to read it on the net.

      Then there would be no need to ask readers to review your book, they’d do it as a matter of course.

      I think that is a lot healthier than asking for a thumbs up.

      • I agree that the key is to help encourage readers to review and let them know what a review can do, but not to tell them what rating to give. If you’ve built a good product, most of the time you won’t have to guide them to the “right” kind of review – it’ll flow naturally from what they read. But I think showing them there’s a purpose beyond ego-inflation is a good thing.

    • Sarah, yes, that’s true….

      BUT all this flogging for reviews just screws up that algorithm — clouds it.

      When authors are out there pushing readers to do things they wouldn’t naturally do, it adds a level of unmeasured data: specifically, that reader may like the book okay, but she reviews it because she’s jazzed about supporting the author. The more reviews she does with the idea of supporting the author, the more her actual taste — and the “if you like this you might like that” aspect of the algorithm — goes out the window.

      The other thing to remember is that the algorithm involved with reviews and “likes” is the personal one. Likes and reviews are all about trying to improve recommendations FOR THAT PERSON. It doesn’t have nearly the big part in the algorithms associated with the book.

      • Which is why an author should give them the entirely neutral information that reviews affect the books the algorithms and will therefore the books they are shown under “If you like this” or “You may like this”.

        That might make readers think twice about puffery too. It won’t stop people gaming the system, people like to think they have an edge even if it’s cutting their own throat, but it might lessen the number of people falling for it.

        • Yep.

          Also, those who don’t game the system will benefit when the system changes to nullify the games others are playing.

          I found that one out when I was writing for eHow (SEO article farm): when Google changed the algorithm to favor pages with “genuine quality” my income doubled. Everyone else’s plummeted. Unfortunately, there were so many people gaming the system, that eHow’s overall income from the freelancer program dropped tremendously, and so they shut it down.

  7. Derek J. Canyon

    I’ve been including a “help me sell more books” section at the end of my books for a while now. Not sure if they help or not (my best selling book only has a .4% reader review rate).

    But, if anyone wants to read an example of the kind of stuff I include, you can visit my most recent blog post and feel free to use the boilerplate in your own books.

    If enough authors start asking readers to help, maybe we can change the default reader behavior so that review rates for everyone increase.

  8. Reader Hat on: There are writers who have earned the right to ask me favors. They do that by writing books that blow me away, excite me, make me feel like a better person for having read their book/s. But if a writer hasn’t earned it, then their begging for favors is just that, begging, and it’s annoying. It generates ill-will and at worst lands them a spot on my “permanent ignore” list.

    As a reader, I don’t have much respect for any writer who treats their work like a get-rich-scheme. If they don’t have enough faith in their own work to put it out there and let it find its audience–and appreciate the audience they do find–why should I? As a reader it is annoying as hell to follow buzz only to find out its being generated by blowflies on a pile of crap. I’m to the point right now where if I see a recent book with a large number of reviews on Amazon, I pass on by. I figure it’s just crap promo. That’s what gaming the system does to this reader.

    My recommendation is to turn one’s focus on writing good books, and keep writing better books until you reach the point where fans are asking what they can do for you.

    • I’m personally hoping for some 3-star reviews sometime. I tend to look for the lowest-star reviews and read those first, when I’m looking at books. (Selfishly, I’m hoping there aren’t toooooo many below that. But, well, whatever. If someone clearly explains what bugged them? I cannot complain.)

      • I wouldn’t mind getting a few of the kind of one-star reviews that show the reader Completely Did Not Get It:

        ‘These Harry Potter books are a fraud! None of the spells work when I say them!’

        ‘This book about John Lennon was a total ripoff! I already knew who the murderer was. What kind of mystery is that?’

        These reviews can be gold, because people blog and twitter and twaddle about them, and people will come just to see the funny man with his underwear on his head having a rant in public. If the funny man is wrong enough, this can actually drive sales. It has happened that I’ve teetered on the brink — do I buy this book or not? — until I read one of those reviews. Then I said to myself, in effect, ‘OK, disagreeing with this maroon is something I can be proud of. I’m willing to put my money on that.’

  9. Glad you weighed in, Jaye, because I know you’ve read some of my stuff. I value your opinion, so I want to know what you think of the page I put at the end of my books, under the heading “Feedback Appreciated”:

    “If you’d like to take a few moments to rate [____] and let your social networks know what you thought, be assured I really appreciate it. Reviews, ratings, and comments are how authors get readers, and all my readers are important to me.
    I read all the reviews of my books, and really value what you have to say, so if you’d like to go to the book’s sales page and leave one, rest assured I’ll appreciate it. If you’d like to let me know personally, please write bridget@bridgetmckenna.com.”

    It seemed unobtrusive enough to me, and I’d never ask anyone to leave “good” reviews, but does it bother you? The beauty of electronic publishing is that if I decide I’m offending readers I can republish without this. Works for me either way. Thanks in advance, anyone who wants to weigh in.

    • I look at it this way: at the end of every single Kindle book I’ve ever read, Amazon pops up a thingy and asks me to rate that book. Amazon is doing that for its OWN good, to help improve their service to me. If Amazon, the seller of that book, can ask me for my opinion, I have absolutely no problem with the WRITER of that book doing the same, especially in such a polite, gentle, enthusiastic way. As someone upthread said (too lazy to scroll up!), writing is a business and this is asking for a business referral. Those that ask, get. Those that don’t, don’t. It’s not a hammer saying “Give me a 5 star review”. It’s a gentle reminder. No different than the sign at the cash register that says “We appreciate your business, please come again.” It isn’t spam. It’s one more page in a book they’ve already purchased.

      For those who object, do you offer a snippet of your next book in your current book? How is that not spam? You’re shoving your work in the reader’s face, all unwanted, aren’t you? (please note the invisible “sarcasm font”). Do you include the words “please visit me at my website”? Isn’t that “forcing” unwanted friendship on a reader?

      Personally, I see it as a way of saying “I’d like to form a connection with you; let’s do tea sometime over on Twitter”.

      Frankly, I think some readers will respond well and some will treat it as no more important to them than the copyright page, but I can’t see readers getting peeved at an author for it, unless said reader already has anger management and boundary issues, in which case there’s no pleasing them anyway.

      • Once again I disagree. A snippet and a link provide a reader with additional material and information in the event he or she wishes to learn more about an author or read other books by that author. Yes, it is a form of marketing, but it is a passive form of marketing. I am not asking a reader to act on my behalf.

        You may have no problem with an author asking you for a review. Great. But you are one person.

        Whenever I look at this issue, I do look at it via Neil Gaiman’s post (which I believe is mentioned somewhere above) – George R.R. Martin Is Not Your B****. http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

      • I think you said it well. You’re not a carnival barker, but you are a businessman. Encouraging reader participation is not a bad thing, and it’s definitely not mandatory. Do it politely, respectfully, and rarely.

    • Hi, Bridget. Farland had me at “connect with readers” and lost me at “educate fans.”

      There is a difference between an invitation and a demand; between an “open door” to a welcoming place and a hustler on the sidewalk shoving fliers at passersby and begging them to come inside.

      Readers are evolving. They have discovered how much fun it is to connect with their favorite writers, even at times to influence what is written. What bothers me about Farland’s advice is that it plays into desperation and fear. Many caught up in anxiety could read that advice as saying, “It’s not enough to promote promote promote, now you have to enlist your readers into promoting promoting promoting–or you will be a forgotten LOSER.” I don’t know how many books that sells, but I know for sure that writers caught up in promotional frenzy are not doing their primary job, which is writing more books.

      Issue invitations with links to blogs and websites and social media–a beautiful thing. Open the door to fan interactions as much as you are comfortable with–and be grateful when fans do pay attention and proud that you’ve created something worth paying attention to. But educate them? Turn them into your marketing machine? Not their job.

      • Thanks for posting this response, J.W. It’s all I’m saying.

      • There IS a big difference, and I recognize that people come down in different places as to what constitutes–for them–and open door vs a sidewalk hustler. I worded my “outro” page in such a way that for me it seems to be the former. Other’s mileage may vary. I certainly don’t want to p*** off readers.

  10. Kat, that’s pretty much what I was going for in my “outro.” And yes, I do also include a link to my website and invite people by so I can connect with them. I also include the covers and some copy for my other books, just in case the reader liked the one they just read. It’s a sales tool, it’s a social tool, it’s me saying “Let’s get acquainted.” I’ve never been concerned about it in the least until I read some of the comments here.

  11. Great tips on how to share a book and get your book out there without being annoying! (Or get yourself unfollowed.)

  12. Readers have one “job”: to read.

    That’s it.

    Writers have no business asking them to rate, review, chat, discuss, share, or do anything else.

    Promo is the AUTHOR’S responsibility, not the readers.

    Saying “I don’t have money for promo” and “I don’t have time for promo” and all the other stuff…..readers don’t care.

    It looks unprofessional to ask readers to do YOUR job. For free.

    There are plenty of authors who will rationalize why doing this is okay, and that is their prerogative.

    And it’s the readers’ prerogative to buy your book, read it, like it, and say nothing.

    • I don’t see how it’s not promo to ask them to write a review. A review is an extension of marketing. You don’t spam friends and family with, “Go to Amazon and 5-star my book,” but asking for feedback is something I thought we were supposed to do.

      Of course no reader is obligated to review your book, but I don’t understand all the animosity here towards asking readers, if they enjoyed the story, to let others know. There’s a difference between encouraging potential readers to rate your work, and in directing them what to say. And, obviously, no one is under any kind of obligation, but I think writers might miss a vital part of the market by acting indifferent to whether someone reviews their stuff. Some people might react poorly to that kind of indifference.

      I liken it to a restaurant asking you to fill out a survey card. Most folks won’t, but some are spurred when they wouldn’t have otherwise. They may write you a crappy review, or they might write a good one, but by relying on the vocal minority to always do it, I think the writer cuts himself or herself off from a way to connect with and understand the audience.

      • But if the customer’s job is to eat, won’t he be offended by your putting a politely worded comment card on their table? “Please take a moment to tell us about your dining experience.” What nerve!

        Wait…no. They won’t. Many of them won’t register it at all, many others will glance at it but not feel like filling it out, and a very few will give some feedback that might be helpful.

        Okay, I know books aren’t restaurants (though Henry Fielding made just such a comparison, rather hilariously, in the opening pages of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. But two paragraphs in the spirit of “please give me feedback if you’re so inclined” is not the same thing as “Give me a five-star review!” It is not asking the reader to game the system on my behalf.

        And how can my blog be a better place for the information that reviews are helpful? This assumes the reader is going to rush from my blog to my book with that information fresh in her mind, or that she reads my blog at all. I can write an article on the subject, and it will be largely forgotten as soon as I write another.

        I’m happy for there to be different opinions on the subject, ‘cos otherwise we’d be a bunch of zombies…. …we’re not, are we…anyone…? So some of us may choose to write a few words about it at the back of our book, and others may not. The ones who do (or do not) are not hurting the ones who do not (or do). The accusations of some sort of wrongdoing, however, do sting just a bit.

  13. There is a big difference between encouraging people to leave a review and asking for a positive review.

    Reviews are how we get the word out about our work. They are also a huge factor for many readers in their decision on what to read next.

    A well done review helps the author (whether it was 2 stars or 5) and other readers. Of course, a reader has no obligation to review, but it is a nice thing to do.

    Also, readers are great. Fans are even better. We would all like to have more fans. Readers become fans not because of the words, but because of the connection they have with the author. Treat readers well by writing good books and responding to their emails with sincere gratitude that they took the time to read your humble text, and some readers will become fans. Fans spread the word.

    The reverse is also true. Ignore readers or treat them badly and they will not become fans. We see this from indie AND some big named Big Six authors.

    Maybe some people continue to write only for the love of writing. I will be honest…part of my motivation is knowing that people are reading and, my hope is, enjoying my books. Other people write literature far better than I could. In the end, I am just an entertainer.

    Splitter

    • C.S., entertainer is an honorable profession–maybe the second oldest. It’s what all artists do in some way, it’s just that some of us would rather call it “art,” “literature,” etc. If what you’ve done entertains–holds the reader between their world and the one you made for them (intertenere: to hold between)–you’ve done something special. Take a bow!

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