How to Find a Direct Line to Your Readers

On tap today we have a Q&A with author and independent publisher Patricia V. Davis, who will be a featured speaker at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC.

I first met Patricia at a Writer’s Digest event, before her first book was released. Since then, her publishing career has steadily grown, culminating in the recent announcement that she’s heading up indie publisher Harper Davis.

Given Patricia’s experience in the trenches, as well as her background in sales, she offers a unique and valuable viewpoint for anyone looking to build a career as an independent author.

An independent press published your memoir, Harlot’s Sauce, in late 2008. I’m sure you shouldered most of the marketing and publicity burden for that.  What strategies and tactics have proved most effective in getting the word out?

The key for an author hoping to connect with as many readers as possible is that she should look to connect with specific readers who’d be most interested in what she’s written. So, what you need to do first is sit down and think about who those readers might be. Which group or groups might enjoy and benefit from reading what you’ve written?

In my case, Harlot’s Sauce was about how being raised first generation Italian-American affected my worldview and attitude about myself, then how these both changed as a result of my marrying a Greek national and moving to Greece with him, in an attempt to save our failing marriage. It’s a tragedy written as a black comedy.

Well, who’d be most intrigued by a story like that?

I contacted Italian-American groups, and philhellenic groups (groups of people who love Greece).

I contacted websites, magazines, blogs that focused on female empowerment and personal growth.

In short, I made a list of the topics I visited in my story, and worked from that, writing articles to appeal to those readers in particular, and posting them on sites that had already cultivated a readership catering to those interests.

My reasoning was that if someone read a blog post or article of mine that appealed to her, she might then be interested in ordering my book.

This was my most effective strategy—it gave me a direct line to my particular readers. And it also prevented me from wasting time contacting (and probably annoying) readers who had no interest in my work.

If you could go back and do it over again, what would you do differently?

I’d do even more research than I did before my book came out, and my research was already extensive.

It’s extremely helpful to know every aspect of the publishing process from first draft to finished project—what it takes to get your book into, or blocked from, being in a retail book outlet, how to approach booksellers, which books will be most sought after by agents and publishers, the editing processes, the graphic art of book covers, social networking, press procedures … everything to do with publishing, even if it doesn’t seem to be significant or to have any bearing on your book. 

Because it all goes hand in hand, and if you’re not apprised of it, you can end up making some costly mistakes.

Too many authors are in a rush to get their books published, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Be patient, do the investigating first, whether you’re going to be traditionally or self published. All the information you need is readily available, too, either in book form (Writer’s Digest publishes a number of them), or online, like at this very blog, for example.

If you don’t do the research, and instead “learn as you go,” it’ll not only cost you sales of your first published work, but might also cost you any interest publishers may have in your future works.

Your second book is just about to be released—The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know. Tell us how that book came about.

Well, it’s a great illustration of my earlier point!

I wrote a blog post for one of my young female readers in response to something she’d written on her own blog. (Yes—it helps if you have a genuine interest in your readers’ lives.)

She was smart, beautiful, and kind, but her blog posts indicated that she just didn’t see herself that way. She suffered the anxieties a number of us suffer when we’re young, and I so identified, because when I was her age, I’d had some of the same worries she wrote about, only to discover as I grew older that I’d stressed over things that weren’t the life-or-death situation I believed them to be. 

Ironically, she and I shared a birthday, too—I was turning 52 on the day she was turning 21. So my birthday gift to her was a blog post listing a number of the things I’d learned that I didn’t know when I was 21. I told her in that post that if she remembered these things, they’d save her some valuable time, hopefully helping her to enjoy her youth instead of being crushed by it. 

Well, that post got over 200 comments! And then something happened that I didn’t expect—it started appearing everywhere online. Websites like The Frisky and Divine Caroline picked it up.
It came up in my Google Alerts for tweets and retweets. 

I honestly don’t know why it hit the nerve it did with so many, especially because I think any fifty-year-old could have written it. But it did, and the next thing I knew, Your Time With Kim Iverson (a super cool radio show about sex and relationships) contacted me to read my blog post on their program.

The day after Kim interviewed me, I had dozens of Facebook friends requests from people who’d heard me on her show. (One man actually wrote down what I read and posted it on his own Facebook page.)

All this hullabaloo piqued the interest of an agent, who asked me if I’d like to write a book that expounded on the points I’d made—a self-empowerment type book. That’s how The Diva Doctrine came about.

How are you preparing for the launch of The Diva Doctrine in terms of marketing/promotion?

??In marketing this second work, I’m involving as many readers of my first work as possible. Since it appeals to the same demographic, why shouldn’t I ask them what they’d like to see discussed in a book like this?

This is why social networking is so powerful. I honestly feel this was a group effort, a book created in part by me and in part by my readers—women I know from Facebook, women who blog, and women with whom I’ve exchanged e-mail addresses.

I asked them: “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” 

The responses I got were enlightening (and a bit heartbreaking). The bond I felt with the women who responded (who were from ages 16 up into their seventies) was authentic and wonderful. I’m now about to make a book trailer using photos, names, and occupations of the women whose responses I’m using.

That’s where I am right now—in a collaborative outreach to my core group of readers and supporters.

But the next part of my marketing plan is to repeat what I discussed in question number one: Jot down everyone else who I think might be interested in this work, and touch base with them, too.

A few years ago, you started Harlot’s Sauce Radio, a podcast program and magazine. How has it impacted you and your career?

Well, HS Radio started for an entirely different reason than as a self-marketing technique, believe it or not.

I’ve been sick to death of what’s going on in mainstream media—the negativity, the theatrics, the polarization, and the fact that no matter what station we’re tuned into for our TV news, what news website we’re reading, we’re getting opinions, not facts. Ted Koppel said it best in this article.

We’re also being fed the repulsive outlook from reality shows that most of us are vapid, vain, selfish, and apathetic. I refuse to believe that’s the case, and I think the writers on my podcast/magazine, not the people in those reality shows, are the true examples of who the average human being actually is.

All those on staff or who guest write for HS Radio are of different mindsets, yet they’re smart, open-minded, and compassionate in their response to readers when they disagree, and stick to facts when they’re making their wide range of points.

In short, you can really learn something from reading what they write, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Many are novice writers who gain exposure and get to work with editors who help them improve their writing without destroying their spirit or enthusiasm. Some have even gotten gigs after being published by us and I love that—that we’re giving new writers, poets, and even photographers a chance to shine.

We also get some seasoned professionals who guest for us, such as Joyce Maynard and David Corbett, and it’s a thrill for the newer writers to have their work appear alongside these successful authors.

As for the podcasts, I’m lucky because I interview only inspiring people, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson (and you, too, Jane!) who are changing the world for the better, whether they’re doing so quietly or not so quietly.

You just announced your next big endeavor: You’ll be serving as president of Harper Davis, the indie press that published your memoir. Describe the business model of Harper Davis and how it differs from other publishers.

Sit back and watch for the answer to that. We’re working on two conference formats, which will include a unique way of selling books and add to the bottom line of any booksellers who host events with us. We’re building incentives for authors to decide to publish with us instead of with a bigger publisher, where they might get lost in the avalanche of books. ??

Is Harper Davis now considering unsolicited projects? How many books do you plan to take on in a year? What genres?

Currently, we’ll be taking submissions only through our affiliate, The John Galvis Literary and Media Agency, which in itself is a unique setup. Any of your readers can find submissions guidelines on that website, along with the other services they offer.

That proviso is going to stay in place for the first year, while we find our footing, and then we’ll be taking submissions from other agencies as well.

For 2011, we already have our quota of projects, so we’re looking at projects for 2012, as well as distributors. We’ve got nonfiction so far, and we’ll be publishing novels and YA titles as well. 

We plan to start small and enhance our tiny list. But rather than put it on a milkshake diet so that it just looks more impressive, we really want it to be impressive. If we love it, and we think the author is forward-thinking enough to fit in with the plans we have for our house, we’ll publish it.  ??

You’ve had experience in so many different aspects of the book industry—acting as salesperson, author and publicist, and now as a publisher. What’s the key lesson (or two) of the business that all authors need to learn?

This is a tough industry because everybody—and I do mean everybody—wants to have a book published. I’ll bet there are probably as many writers as there are readers.

For me, that means you enter into this as a profession only if you are truly, madly, deeply in love with it.

Now, if writing is your hobby, go ahead and have fun on your blog, or self-publish a family memoir to leave behind just for your kids. Nothing at all wrong with that. Quite the contrary.

But if you want to write for a living, you have to be thick-skinned, dog-headed, dedicated, and extremely well-organized with your time—because for the first ten years you’re probably going to be writing PLUS working that other job you have, the one that pays your bills.

My thanks to Patricia for taking the time to answer my questions. Be sure to check out Harlot’s Sauce, as well as Patricia’s memoir. (And if you’re at the conference this week, you’ll love her session Book or Bestseller?)

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22 thoughts on “How to Find a Direct Line to Your Readers

  1. Mary Tod

    I’ve been exploring this topic in my own blog under the heading of The Business of Writing. As several comments suggest, and Patricia and Jane emphasize, you need to have dedicated effort along with a plan. Just like an entrepreneur. While I am not yet published (although I do have an agent taking my book out to publishers!), I have a thirty year career in business and I’m convinced that the same principles hold – know your market(s), engage with your customers, build and execute a plan, use technology effectively, be clear about priorities for time and money, measure your progress and don’t be afraid to make course corrections!

  2. Patricia V.Davis

    How nice to stop by after settling into my hotel room in NYC tonight before the conference to see the comments written here by three of my most talented and formidable staff writers, Con, Vikki, and Dr. Pete. What none of us has mentioned in this desperate journey everyone seems to be on to get published is the wonder of it all—the sharing of ideas and the meeting of really fantastic people. Con, Vikki and Peter—if you’re not following Jane’s blog or haven’t yet befriended her on FB, I hope you will. She has tons of insight. And like you three, is one of the pluses that came out of my decision to be a professional writer…

  3. Vicola

    I’m in the same boat as Con and Peter, I started blogging really as a way to vent my feelings so that I didn’t end up biting a work colleague or going all ‘Falling Down’ and tearing my office to pieces. I never really thought anyone would read it or be interested but while writing on Vox, Patricia noticed my angry little musings and she has encouraged me not only to keep writing on there but to put the stuff together into a proper format which may one day be published. So I suppose the only pearl of wisdom I can offer on this subject is keep plugging away until you find someone who believes in what you’re writing and who has the knowledge and nous to help you. Having read Patricia’s accounts of the reality of publishing a book, the trials, tribulations, frustrations and heartaches, I now have a much more realistic picture of the journey ahead if I want to write. It’s not at all like they show it in the movies…

  4. Peter Mccarthy

    Along with Con in the post above this one, I have been encouraged by meeting Dr Pat on VOX. Having never had support for my writing until that time I was delighted to be invited to become a Staff Writer at Harlots’ Sauce Radio.

    It has been very entertaining and educational to watch as Dr Pat has taken her book through to being published. Taking us along for the ride has been a very generous thing to do and given me a reality check on the process involved to finally be published.

    Unlike Con, I have not decided to jump into writing a book but occasionally I am inspired to draw on past experiences and put pen to paper.

    Jane’s questions to Patricia have given us a look behind the human dynamo and a teaser of what is yet to come. The innovative use of new technology has been fascinating and may lead to another path for new writers to follow in the struggle to be published.

    I continue to watch with interest.

  5. Con Carlyon

    As a septuagenarian living in Australia, I really entertained no thoughts of doing any serious writing until I was fortunate enough to "meet" Patricia through blogging on the, sadly now departed, Vox blog platform. It was only when she kindly invited me to become a staff writer on her "Harlot’s Sauce Radio" that the writing seed was planted. Her encouragement and sound advice has me now started on my autobiography which will feature the pearls of wisdom I gleaned during this marvellous journey we call, "Life". Through Patricia I am now privileged to make the acquaintance of her many writing friends including Jane. For that I am most grateful.

    I did find much to ponder in the interview above. For myself, I think the most important lesson I have learned that applies to writing, as well as to life, is to not be too concerned about the destination, but do take the time to enjoy the journey.

    May you all have the success for which you strive.

  6. Porter Anderson

    @JaneFriedman re: your comment about us viewing our books as experiments, hear, hear. I’m not in my study, I’m in my laboratory! And I just hope there’s no monster in the corridor, Igor.

    Hey, CONGRATS on your upcoming gig speaking at South by Southwest, Jane, on self-publishing! So cool!

  7. Kevin Cullis

    @Jane. To your comments:

    "If you screw up your first book, will you have lost a significant opportunity? Can you bounce back with a new book, or with a re-release?"

    I have a problem with the first part of your statement and the thought process. Why such a negative attitude about "mistakes" and "failures?" While, yes, the industry is tough, so what. It goes back to my Napoleon Hill comment, change and move on. But let me put it into an Edison perspective. If Thomas Edison had tried one experiment, the same experiment, and failed, I can see him being a failure. But he tried thousands of ways of coming up with a light bulb. In fact, an interviewer said to him if he had not invented the light bulb years later what would he be doing? He said, "Not sitting here with you, I’d be in my lab figuring it out right now!" Ok, so what if you’ve lost a significant opportunity, learn from it and move on. An editor friend of mine was recently putting the last touches to a new sci-fi book about blue people on another planet. Then the movie Avatar came out. Sorry to hear about all of her efforts may be going out the door, but that’s they way things work out. Let’s see if marketing or a rewrite can help this puppy out. Next. Life is not fair. But look at the skills this lady learned with her years of effort. She’s a better writer because of it.

    "Patricia’s advice, I think, is a response to all the people who invest considerable time and money, then have very little to show for their efforts. It happens more often than it should."

    I’m sorry to be a little harsh here, but let’s not whine about our lack of results here. At least they tried, better than most who just had an idea and never did anything about it. I’ve seen too much of American Idol to know that I can’t sing well even though I love to, but only in the shower. That’s a dose of reality I listened to. Same goes for writers that will not learn, as you have alluded to. I was even in a critique group and one gentleman’s piece we read was all hamburger condiment and bun and no meat in the story, i.e. no protagonist. And he had over 300 pages of his book!!

    "I think most people would benefit from a little patience and study before they jump into self-publishing. Few understand what they’re getting into."

    100% agreed and THE best comment. While I whole heartily believe in giving anyone an opportunity to work at something, if anything just to better themselves, I’m neither going to be Santa Claus nor a Scrooge about someone trying. If it was easy, everyone would be doing and becoming a millionaire. But it’s not and it takes work to be successful.

    @Patricia "However, doing extensive research beforehand will definitely cut down on those mistakes."

    100% agree here. And a quote from my book,"Prior planning prevents poor performance. However, no plan ever survived coming in contact with your customers." At least I can check off "writing a book" off of my bucket list and have left my small mark, but I’m not stopping there.

    "In person, we don’t jump in and say "Nice to meet you—I have a book." Right. I wouldn’t say to every woman I meet, "Let’s get married" even though I’ve been married over 26 years to the same lovely woman. Not right, for sure.

    Thanks for the discussions and thoughts. Let’s keep on learning.

  8. Sarcastic Sam

    I found it fascinating to be mentioned by @HylaMolander above, herself, a published author. Then again, I find shiny objects on the floor, and drag them under the sofa.

    It is easy being a freewheeling, sexy, good lookin Ferret, and sometimes I have to stretch my writing talent a bit to play a human character. That’s the key, if you can stretch the character to the limits and give him an identity, and he is able to laugh at her or his self, I think any ferret can pull it off.

    Pat, you passionately believed in "Diva Doctrine". If you passionately believe in the idea, and are willing to show up, and be open to success when it comes a knockin’ then it’s possible to achieve. Writers are the strangest beings. We are never completely satisfied with our work, and we think it has to be perfect. Your example inspires us that it is our passion which people buy, and contract, and put on radio shows, it’s US!!! Not necessarily just the words, but we have to be willing to put ourselves out there to sell the work. We are the Internet imprint we work at achieving.

    Important naps await me, and I must check on my stash of poptarts.

    I tweet at @Samuel_Clemons

    Thanks Jane, for taking the time to publish your blog, I appreciate you. Thanks Pat for doing this, and Thanks to Hyla for Pointing out such great stuff. Ferrets have connections all over the world, after all, how else am I to take over?

  9. Patricia V.Davis

    This is in response to fiction writer Steven M. Moore –

    Thank you for posting this comment, Steven. Fiction writers can gather readers, too, in the same way I described in Jane’s interview. What people need to bear in mind is that when we communicate on blogs, like we are communicating now, there is actually a living person on the receiving end of our words. We need to think of talking to people on their blogs and websites in the same way we’d think about them if we met them in person. In person, we don’t jump in and say "Nice to meet you—I have a book." (Whether fiction or non) We exchange thoughts, ideas, small talk. When we gather at a party or with a group,generally speaking we gather with like-minded people, or those who share an interest with us. It’s the same for visiting people’s blogs. If you’ve written a sci-fi, google search sci-fi blogs. There are many. Same with any other type of fiction. You can find blogs about romance, vampires, mystery, etc. Read some of the postings and comments. Leave a comment about said posting or a reply to one of the comments. The more you respond to people, and show an interest in them, what THEY have written or said, the more people will be interested in you, just like in REAL life. 😉 And when people are interested in you, they want to know all about you. So they will indulge their curiosity by visiting your website or blog(which you have courteously provided for them after you’ve posted your comment.) Yes, this takes time. It takes time to build up a readership, just like it takes time to build up friendships. But to me, very often a reader is the same as a new friend. I hope this helps.

  10. Patricia V.Davis

    Thanks everyone for your responses so far to this terrific interview I had the opportunity to do with Jane, and thanks, Jane. for posting it.

    To reply to Kevin Cullis, Jane’s response to your commentary is precisely how I would have expounded on my point. However, I like your attitude and the Napoleon Hill quote. Keep the attitude,because even with research, you will be making mistakes and learning as you go, and that attitude will help you get past the frustration that sometimes comes with this. However, doing extensive research beforehand will definitely cut down on those mistakes. Thank you for commenting.

  11. Judith Marshall

    Hi Patricia,
    I totally agree with your suggestion of doing your research "before" publishing your book. I write women’s fiction, and before I independently published my novel, "Husband May Come and Go but Friends are Forever," I spent considerable time identifying my audience and finding them both on and off-line. I’m convinced that that research, coupled with smart marketing, led to my book being optioned for the big screen within five months of it’s release.

    Thanks for your insightful advice and best of luck with your new publishing venture.

  12. Hyla Molander

    With regards to book marketing for both fiction and non-fiction, I do agree it is much easier to build a platform as a non-fiction writer, but I have seen authors of fiction such as Scott James, Ransom Stevens, and Seth Harwood use as a phenomenal marketing tool.

    Jane and Patricia, both of whom I adore and admire, know of my love for Scribd. (Thanks again to Jane for interviewing me about my Scribd experience.) I knew nothing about the social reading and publishing website until eight months ago, but now have close to 80k reads there. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, it really is all about relationships. If people like YOU, they are more likely to buy your book.

    A side note about marketing: as funny as this may sound, I’ve been watching @Samuel_Clemons on Twitter, with whom I randomly tweeted one evening, only to find out that he is quickly building a HUGE audience by using the persona of a snuggly, thoughtful, poptart-eating, wise-cracking ferret. Yes, a ferret. When I clicked on his site, I discovered that little ferret happens to a phenomenal writer. Again, if people like you (or your ferret persona), they will be more apt to buy your book.

    I happen to like Patricia AND her book.

    Patricia and Jane, thank you for this terrific interview.

  13. Jane Friedman

    @Steven – Regarding how to market fiction …

    This answer is bound to disappoint, but I’ll try it anyway. I can’t offer hard solutions, but what I can point to are models that have worked for authors, depending on the unique qualities of their work, and the strengths they bring to the table.

    Here are some examples (with links to blog posts for more info!) —

    – Sci-fi author John Sundman (using conventions & professional networks):

    – Christine Lemmon (using geography as a marketing linchpin):

    – Andrew Shaffer (multimedia approach) – not a novelist, but excellent lessons are in here:

    Also check out Christina Katz’s book GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL, which has a chapter dedicated to platform building and audience development for novelists.

  14. Jane Friedman

    @Kevin – Not to speak for Patricia, but I’ll jump in and respond to your comment.

    My philosophy is: Some things in life are better done "learn as you go" (LAYG), while others are not. The question I always ask is: What, or how much, is at risk?

    Let’s say we’re talking about social media. For me, this is definitely a LAYG area. Doing social media "wrong" or ineffective isn’t likely to cause injury in the long run. Sure, you might turn off some readers, but it’s something that’s best experienced and practiced rather than studied at length before jumping in. There’s very low risk in the venture—usually very little time/expense invested.

    Now, let’s say we’re talking about retirement. This is probably not a LAYG area for most middle-class people. We will likely research the options carefully, or hire a professional to help us make the right choices over the length of our career. It’s something most of us can’t afford to screw up.

    So, where does self-publishing lie on the LAYG spectrum? I think it depends on several highly individual factors:

    1. Are you investing money in the venture?
    2. Do you expect to make a living off it?
    3. If you screw up your first book, will you have lost a significant opportunity? Can you bounce back with a new book, or with a re-release?

    Patricia’s advice, I think, is a response to all the people who invest considerable time and money, then have very little to show for their efforts. It happens more often than it should.

    So while I often advise people to "learn as you go" on many facets of the writing life, I think most people would benefit from a little patience and study before they jump into self-publishing. Few understand what they’re getting into.

  15. Porter Anderson

    Patricia and Jane, thanks for this conversation. Special thanks for your reference to Koppel’s important op-ed from the Post at

    Among your many smart points about the business here, Patricia, this one leads me to a question:

    "This is a tough industry because everybody — and I do mean everybody — wants to have a book published. I’ll bet there are probably as many writers as there are readers."

    With the rise of Internet access enabling the "writer tsunami" that’s hitting agents, editors, and publishers, can we expect that "everybody" — and I do mean everybody, too — will continue to heave copy over the transom? Or are we watching the pig move through the snake?

    Will this wave crest and recede as "everybody" discovers it’s not as easy as it looks? Or do we need to buy the super life jackets with the 25-year warranties?

    Looking forward to your session at the Writer’s Digest Conference Sunday!

  16. Steven M Moore

    Hi Patricia!
    I like your last comments. I believe it’s very hard to be an artist nowadays, maybe more difficult than, say, twenty years ago. My father discovered that with his oil paintings, and I experienced it with my writing. I put off my dreams of being a writer to make a living for my family. Now, instead of saying I retired, I just say I’m well into my third career, as a writer–full speed ahead!
    The tips you give about directing your marketing to those readers who might be interested are fine for non-fiction (memoirs, how-to books, spiritual treatises, history, etc), but fiction writers are somewhat at a loss to do the same thing. What captures the attention of a whimsical reader? I don’t have a list of people interested in sci-fi thrillers to focus my marketing efforts. My only draw is my website–I can be fairly confident that the steady visitor there is interested in what I write. But that just pushes the problem back one level: How do I get people to my website? (Yes, I know, there are techniques for that–I’ve tried them all, but I will not spam people.)
    That said, I’m having a lot of fun just writing, which, I guess, is what it’s all about. It’s a wonderful substitute for the social interaction I had at work and keeps my mind active. However, I wouldn’t mind increasing my number of readers–I think I can tell a good story and can offer some enjoyable reading pleasure to people.
    If you or anyone else out there has specific ideas of how to market fiction, please e-mail them to me. (Don’t repeat what you see in blogs–I keep seeing the same things over and over again.)

  17. Kevin Cullis

    The comment, "If you don’t do the research, and instead ‘learn as you go,’ it’ll not only cost you sales of your first published work, but might also cost you any interest publishers may have in your future works." needs my comment

    While I agree with the "don’t rush it approach" to getting your work published, this is the worst advice I have ever been given by anyone and would never follow it, especially for a beginning writer. Why? Because I don’t know of one author that did not fail. As with ANY endeavor, it takes time, effort, and hutzpah to fulfill your dreams and everyone "learns as they go," no matter what field they are striving for.

    There are two levels I will not aim for in my goals: mediocrity and perfection. Good enough and great are in between these two. Strive for one of those goals, but follow the next quote which I consider the best.

    "If the first plan you adopt does not work successfully, replace it with a new plan; if this new plan fails to work, replace it still with still another, and so on, until you find a plan which does work. Right here is the point at which the majority of men meet with failure, because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail." Napoleon Hill from Think and Grow Rich.


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