Category Archives: Professionalism Series

It’s Business – Leave Emotion at the Door

Recently I’ve been disgusted with the small/indie press scene. It’s clouded with people who are running businesses that know nothing about running a business. For me, it’s painful to watch and experience.

I’ve pretty much stayed out of the Permuted Press “scandal” except to share information so authors who were thinking of submitting to them in the future could make an informed decision. I haven’t stated what I actually thought… So, here goes.

Note: I’m using PP as an example because it’s current and relevant. The way they handled things leaves a lot to be desired and could have been easily avoided. Plus, they were supposed to be one of the “better” medium to large indie presses for the apoc/horror genre.

They handled everything badly and in the wrong way. Firstly, as a “professional business” with their reputation, they should have been wiser about their acquiring and release scale/schedule. Supposedly the people that work there are familiar with the publishing world and how it works – they sure as hell didn’t show that in any way. If they wanted to grow, they should have started acquiring at a smaller scale and slowly (over maybe 3-5 years) increased their releases by a few books each year. This would have given them time to release each book properly for quality and marketing, and for them to start making their money back on the books they’d invested in. What they did, throwing books out right and left without even notifying some of their authors of release was just downright stupid sloppiness.

And, as far as the “option” for ebooks only they exercised in their contracts…they could have handled that entire situation better. It’s all in the wording and how you present things to authors that matter. Say something the wrong way and you’ll be hated forever. Be strategic and calm, in a way that makes sense and they’ll continue to follow even if they don’t entirely agree. Authors are passionate about their work; it’s part of them, in a way. It’s easy to get them upset if they feel like you’re treating them unfairly. And keep in mind, most authors don’t understand contracts completely and get overly excited and agree to things they shouldn’t, which is also prominent in the PP scandal. Authors were promised things, but those things weren’t delivered because the contracts said differently. Emotions played too much into the signing of many contracts (I believe), and is why so many authors got so upset.

Instead of springing the information on the authors a couple months in advance that after a certain date all titles will be released as an ebook until a certain amount of time (like 6-12 months) has passed, or a certain number of sales, and then the paperback will be released, PP just up and announced all of a sudden that they would only be doing ebooks unless the title was a bestseller. They basically sprung it on their authors from nowhere. Some didn’t receive an email at all and found out about what was going on via social media (epic business fail there, PP). They also said they would retain all the print rights whether they decided to use them or not, which, according to the contract the authors signed, they have the right to do, since PP took all rights.

The entire “ebook only” decision was based on the excuse that POD books cost the company too much. Just an FYI, paperbacks were to be print-on-demand, so it’s not that much of an investment from the publishing company. It’s not like they were printing 10,000 copies that were sitting around somewhere. The most cost you have on POD as a publisher is time in re-formatting the cover and inside of the book, plus the ISBN cost. That’s pretty much it. While it’s not a big deal, it would cost a lot to do all this for around 100 books versus the around 20 they’d been used to. Their eyes were bigger than their stomachs, and the business’ management is a joke.

I had a multi-book offer from PP at the end of last year, beginning of this year. I walked away from it because they wouldn’t negotiate with me for what I wanted. I never even made it to the contract phase, and I know I wouldn’t have agree to their terms, so I’m glad I didn’t waste my time or theirs. Now, I’m glad I was smart about things. I had talked to four literary agents about the deal I’d been offered (via email and on the phone). They all told me what I should have been getting, that I wasn’t being offered money wise. All of them told me to walk away unless the deal improved. I’m aware that most authors don’t have the opportunity to have the guidance I had when considering a contract/book deal. I wish they did.

I’ve had another issue with an indie press recently that really has my faith in indie presses shaken. I had signed on with a small press that offered pretty good royalty rates and was excited to have my books with them. However, the owner recently had a public emotional outburst (complete with significant other chiming in), lashing out at the press’ authors because of financial problems.  They wanted their authors to re-negotiate their contracts so that the authors would pay part of the cost for the publication of their books. Most of us said we wouldn’t and then were insulted. The press had a contract with the authors already. The authors didn’t need to re-negotiate. The press wanted them to for their own comfort because they couldn’t manage their finances. Not the authors’ fault, even though they were getting blamed in a “bitch-fit” display by the business owner.

Needless to say, I pulled my contracts and decided to go the self-publishing route. I wanted far away from the toxic emotional public outbursts that have no place in any business. I have no desire to be involved with anyone’s drama. Besides, why would I want to have my books with a publisher that might not even be around anymore when the books are supposed to be released? Why would I jump on a boat that’s already sinking? And, if the press is going to restructure to the point of the author paying part of their own cost, why shouldn’t I just self-publish and keep all the income for myself? I would rather stand on my own instead of be part of a vanity press that charges authors to be with them.

Unlike most authors, I know how to format print and ebook titles. I know how to format book covers. I know how to edit. I’ve done all these things before for myself and other small presses I’ve worked with. I’m not stuck anywhere because I can’t put a quality title out on my own.

Watching these train wrecks in action has made me want to self-publish, when that was never my first route before. But, since I have the skills to do it, I might as well. I don’t feel I can rely on any small/indie presses right now. Hopefully someday something will improve.

(Note: The information in this post about Permuted Press has come from the various posts of author who have come forward about what happened, including personal friends I know who are published with them. And, from personal experience, as far as my offer from them.)

 

@Rebecca Besser, 2014. All rights reserved.

Professional Behavior – Part 4 of 4

[Note: This article previously appeared in my newsletter. If you would like to sign up for my newsletter, send an email to projects-@-rebeccabesser.com (without the – around the @), with the email address you would like the bio-monthly PDF sent to in the body.]

By now, if you’ve read all three previous parts of my Professionalism Series, you’re probably thinking a fourth part on Professional Behavior is overkill. But it’s not. There’s no way that I’ve covered everything in just those three articles. Yes, I’ve explained what a Professional is. I’ve explained how one should communicate in Professional Practices. And I’ve even presented the importance of Professional Presentation in the world. So, why would I need a part on Professional Behavior when I’ve already explained all of that?

Because there’s a lot of personal, emotional conflict that a writer deals with all the time that can set one off and cause them to behave in ways they shouldn’t and do things they’ll later regret. That’s just how being human and dealing with life is, especially for a writer. You, as a writer, need to learn to get those feelings under control and keep yourself from doing the wrong things for your professional career.

That being said, I will be touching on some of the topics I’ve explored previously, but with more depth.

Let’s start with rejection. Writers spend a lot of time and energy on any piece of their work. There are countless hours of plotting, executing, and reworking. This makes it incredibly emotion for a writer to submit their piece/manuscript to anyone, for fear of rejection.  And, the rejection comes to us all. It’s hard not to feel like its personal, because, yes, it’s personal to you.

But rejections aren’t personal to editors, agents, or presses. They’re just business. To some that might seem cold, but it’s the way things are. Like it or not, that’s the industry as it is.

So, when you do get rejections, do not lash out with hateful emails of go running your internet mouth on social media, screaming that the editor/agent/press is delusional or doesn’t know good writing when they see it; that just makes you look bad and hurts you professionally. Chances are, if your writing is as good as you think it is, they didn’t want to pass on what you sent, but had to for other reasons.

You don’t know what’s going on beyond other computer screens. You don’t see the piles of manuscripts waiting for responses or the email accounts flooded with other submissions. You aren’t the one that has to make the choices of what’s going to sell best or will represent the publication in the most effective way. Those decisions are hard to make.

If you’re displeased with the response you’ve gotten about a submission in any way, it is not okay to go over the head of someone you’re dealing with, just because you’ve gotten a rejection. It just makes you look stupid, and makes people not want to work with you. No one likes people who try to start drama or cause them personal trouble.

[Note: Agent queries are different, as far as one passing on the project and querying another at the same agency. This is completely acceptable.]

Here’s a short example from my editing past:

I was editing an anthology and someone sent me a story. I read it and rejected it. Why? The story was okay, but there were a bunch of plot holes and there were things that didn’t support the stories concept overall—just inconsistencies that made the story not make sense. The author contacted the owner of the press I was working with and told them I was delusional. The owner contacted me and asked me about the story. I told him everything that was wrong with it. We did not use the story. The author’s attempt to go above my head failed, because there were reasons I rejected it.

The funny thing is, the author who believed me to be delusional, sent me a friend request on social media about a year or so later. Me, finding it all pretty amusing, accepted. We’ve not interacted much, and I’ll never knowingly work with said author. That means, even if I know about an invite only project or a special open call, I won’t take the time to ever tell that author about it. Why? Because I won’t back them with my name as even an indirect reference. I don’t care what the author thought of me, but I thought it was completely unprofessional of them to try and get me in the middle of something that wasn’t my fault and I knew I was right about.

You’re probably wondering why I did let the author into my social media circle… Well, I hope maybe they’d learn something. Heck, I hope they read this series and learn how to be more professional in the future. We all make mistakes and we can all learn to do better. That is my hope with this series, that I can steer authors in the right direction to be more successful by being more professional.

Moving on…

Reviews are another area where authors have emotional turmoil and tend to backtalk or backlash.

Face it, not everyone is going to like your writing. Not everyone is going to love your book/story. Yes, people will point out your flaws publically. No, they don’t hate you. Yes, they feel cheated because they spent money to buy your book/story and wasted time reading something that wasn’t that great. The reasons for bad reviews are usually either there were actually issues with the book/story or because it just wasn’t for them. Usually, the “just wasn’t for them” people don’t get as mean.

You will get bad reviews, because it’s not possible to get all good ones.

No one is out to make you cry. Readers and reviewers are not your enemies. When and if they tell you there are issues with your book/story, listen! Don’t get all huffy and pissed off. Whatever you do, don’t insult them or be rude to them. If a review bothers you so much that you are overwhelmed with emotion, whatever you do, do not respond by commenting on it, or telling the person off! That’s very unprofessional.

If anything, you should take the time to thank them for reading your work. That is professional! After all, they took the time to read your book/story, and they took the time to write and post a review. More than eighty percent of your readers won’t do that for you, ever!

Here’s how you should think of it…

Did they read your book? Yes! Plus for you, you have a reader.

Did they review your book? Yes! You have a reviewer!

Did they tell you exactly what they didn’t like about your book? Yes! You have feedback! And honest feedback from readers/reviewers is one of the hardest things for writers to get. Value it, even if it doesn’t stroke your little pansy ego.

And beyond the pluses of it all, there are just mean-hearted people in the world who want to drag you down and make you miserable.

Why? Who knows! It could be because they are one of those constantly miserable people who need company in the pits of Asshole-ville. Don’t move to Asshole-ville to be their neighbor. Ignore these people because they aren’t worth your time and attention.

Before you start whining about bad reviews ruining your book sale, you should know that a couple bad reviews are actually good for book sales! If people even consider the reviews before buying your book, the fact that you have one or two people who don’t rave about your book/story like lustful, worshipping groupies will make your reviews seem more “real.” Often, people think the best reviews are left by your family and friends. So, a couple haters can do you good.

Besides, if you’re considering purchasing something, don’t you want to know the good aspects and the bad ones so you can make an informed decision? Think of it that way. There’s an opinion at both ends of the spectrum, which means the product most likely lands in the middle.

If you’re getting all bad reviews, it’s time to take a look at your work and see what you can do to improve it. It’s disheartening, but sometimes writers need to rework their book/story to make it better for the readers. Especially now that it’s so easy to self-publish—there are a lot of books/stories in easy reach of the public that have never been through a thorough, professional edit. That can really hurt book sales.

At no time ever should you go on Amazon or anywhere else and leave comments to reviews of your books/stories. If you want to thank someone, do it in private. People’s reviews are their opinions. You should not try to explain your book/story to them or convince them they are wrong because they didn’t like or understand your story.

What you should take away from reviews overall is how your book/story was perceived by a variety of people. Everyone sees and processes things differently, especially writing. Chances are though, if you get a lot of people making the same comments, there’s an issue there that you need to work on as you move forward with your future works.

Use reviews for insight and stop seeing them as personal attacks.

Do not respond like they are personal attacks.

Speaking of personal attacks, you control how you respond and how other people treat you. You don’t want to lead them into attacking you by letting your emotions drive how you deal with the public, i.e. attacking them.

Something very important for Professional Behavior is that you set the tone for the people around you. You set the tone for what you’ll allow, accept, and deal with. Be it on social media, your blog, or anywhere else you deal with the public in general.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that if you allow people to attack you and/or you argue with them, you’re showing people that you allow that behavior around you, that you embrace it. You should never get into a public argument with anyone, about anything. This messes up your Professional Presentation and has no place in your Professional Behavior. Think cause and effect. Most of the time, when people lash out, they feel like they’re defending themselves. Don’t give them reason to feel like they’re defending themselves from you.

So, how should you handle those situations of conflict? Cut them out.

First, be polite and try to defuse the situation by saying everyone has a right to their opinion. But, if the person continues to do the same things (causing conflict), block them, unfollow them, and/or ban them from your web-space. I don’t care if you like the person most of the time. As a professional, you don’t have time to deal with people’s troll-like behavior. And, if they wanted you to be considerate of them, they should have been considerate of you. Allowing them to continue with their ill-mannered behavior causes other who sees it to lose respect for you. By allowing them to continue to do so, you are telling other people that they don’t’ have to respect you either.

Be strong and set the behavioral tone around you to match your desired professionalism.

You control your Professional Behavior by how you act in every situation—especially those emotional situations that are difficult. You also control how others act around and toward you by what you allow. Let the way you act be an example to all of a true Professional.

 

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©Rebecca Besser, 2014. All rights reserved.

Professional Presentation – Part 3 of 4

So far in this series I’ve covered what being a Professional means, and how to exercise Professional Practices. Now I’m going talk about Professional Presentation.

What I mean by Professional Presentation is what you show the world. This will be beyond your social media interaction, but it also includes it to an extent.  I’m talking about a blog or website, something of your own that represents you. It’s getting to the point worldwide that you don’t look professional if you don’t have a website someone can visit. People will be suspicious of you not being the “real deal” or a fraud out to take them for whatever you can get from them if you don’t have a professional web-space – blog/website.

Don’t believe me? How many times have you gone to look for something online only to find no solid web-space for the person or company, so you don’t take them as seriously?

Most businesses have websites or pages on Facebook, or even Twitter accounts, where they can communicate and interact with the public, even if it’s just for coupons and sales. In that type of market and informational structure, how can you afford not to have something cyber-solid that people can visit about you? Don’t you want to get your name out in the world? What professional wants to stay hidden?

Having said that… I’ve been disappointed about literary agents and their websites or lack thereof. Most agencies have a website, but a good number of literary agents don’t even have a blog, let alone a website. This, to me, showed a lack of professionalism on their part. How are authors supposed to submit manuscripts to them? How are authors supposed to know what they are looking for and what format they are interested in? Their lack of professionalism makes it almost impossible for authors to be professional with them.

Having web-space gives people information. If you’re an author, it tells people about your books and where they can find them. It also gives contact information, so that other professionals can contact you about projects and working together. Without that, you miss out on a lot of opportunities.

You may be thinking that you can’t afford web-space or you don’t have time to maintain it. But, both are not true. You can get a free blog with Blogger or WordPress that is easy to maintain. Heck, even if you post something on your blog twice a month, that’s better than nothing at all. And, at that rate you’ll have at least twenty-four posts in a year – sounds better and better, doesn’t it? Plus, there are simple ways to feed your blog to your Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and Amazon profiles automatically! That means, you post on your blog and it feeds out to everywhere someone could possibly be seeing you on the web if you have yourself out there to be found.

Websites can be a bit more complicated, but WordPress sites aren’t too hard. If you have a handle on them blog wise, handling them as a website is easy.

You could also pay someone to build you a website, or you can take the time to become somewhat tech savvy and buy software that helps you build a website. They range from $50+. There are also Domain Hosts like GoDaddy who not only sell you a domain at a reasonable price, but a blog comes with it, and they have tools built in to help you build your site with templates!

Honestly, websites aren’t nearly as complicated as they used to be. All it takes is a little bit of time and research to know what’s right for you. Blogs are simple, so you if you aren’t “techy” that’s where I would suggest you start.

[Here’s a great three part article I’ve read recently that helps explain what an author’s website needs to be successful, and other tips: http://literary-agents.com/author-website/]

Your web-space should be a place to show your Professional Presentation, meaning you should have decent photos of yourself, if not professional ones. You should strive your very best to make sure your posts/pages are proofread and they are absolutely the best they can be. Also, it shouldn’t be the main place for public rants and temper tantrums – people will not take you seriously if you behave like a ranting ex-wife (see Part 2 of this series:  Professional Practices). This should be where you post informed, intelligent articles about whatever you want to talk about, which should, for the most part, be about your writing. It’s your professional space after all.

You do need to be yourself though, as much as possible. There are millions of people in the world, but only one you. True fans will follow you, but you don’t want to be intentionally abrasive, because writing is a business, at least, if you ever want to sell any books. If you don’t, feel free to keep sitting in the dark corner and don’t bother wasting your time on a website that no one will want to visit. No one likes assholes. The web-space is about Professional Presentation, not about your personal life or butt-hurt over random things in life.

[Note: If you want to post pictures or anything else about your pets and your family, they should be contained on a personal blog or web-space, not your professional area. Professional areas are for business and advancing your career.]

Even though your web-space is as professional as you can make it, there will still be internet trolls who seek to make everyone’s lives miserable and ugly. In light of this, continue your professionalism by not having their crap smeared across your web-space: make it so all comments have to be approved by you before they go live. This will keep the attention whores to a minimum and hopefully keep people who want to argue just to argue away from you. But, it’s the internet, so they will always be around; it’s your job not to give them a place around you.

Speaking of which, do not engage in a public argument on your web-space! This makes you look as petty as the one who started the commotion. Let things go that will do nothing but damage you or waste your time needlessly about things that don’t matter.

Professional Presentation will take time to start up and build, but it will be worth it in the end. You will look more professional, and more people will want to work with you. If you’re striving to be more professional, put your best foot forward for the world to see.

 

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©Rebecca Besser, 2014. All rights reserved.

Professional Practices – Part 2 of 4

[Note: In this article I talk about English, but replace that with whatever other language you use to write or do business as it applies to you.]

Previously, I talked about what being a professional meant. Now it’s time to talk about Professional Practices. These are things that you’ll do all the time to respect other people’s time and, in doing so, will have other professionals see and treat you as a professional.

With writing, all conversations that you have in a professional manner (meaning with anyone you will be doing business with or you want to publish you) should be in actual English. What do I mean by this? I mean that when you’re talking to a press, editor, or agent about publishing your work you should not use “text speak” and replace words with letters or numbers. Actually, if you’re a writer you should be striving to show that you have a grasp of the English language in all of your social media and public communication efforts. Why? This is important because, in reality, you are going to be judged by your use and understanding of words and punctuation –grammar. As a writer, your words usage should be witty, ironic, and intelligent to say the least.

A writer should have a better overall grasp of English than the common person, and it should show in everything a writer does that involves words.

[Note: The only exception to this rule is Twitter, because Tweeting only allows so many characters. Even then, you should strive to use words in a creative way.]

I’m sure some of you think I’m going overboard with the proper English stuff, but I assure you, I’m not. If I had to choose to edit or review something and I had two people asking me to do so…do you think I would choose to work the one who knows how to use words and punctuation? Or do you think I would choose to work with the one that replaces words with numbers and letters, and doesn’t use punctuation or capitalization at all? Which would I take more seriously and want to have as a colleague? Obviously the one who can show that they are a professional—the one who can communicate like a writer, not a fourteen-year-old girl with her first cell phone.

On top of the professional aspect, there’s the intelligence aspect. Not speaking/communicating like a professional gives you the image of being slow-witted. Obviously, someone who can communicate clearly, and in proper English, shows more intellect.

As a professional writer, you want to be seen as intelligent and talented.

Another way you should always exercise Professional Practices, is in submissions. You should always strive to send out the best edited, most professional cover letters, queries, and manuscripts. Obviously, I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s really important.

Sending out professional and well groomed work (with the above communication tips taken into account) will increase your chances of publication and professional credibility. Just think… If you do all these things right, you’ll get more attention than the other people submitting, especially if they aren’t showing themselves as a professional.

And, should you get a rejection, you never ever reply harshly or insultingly. That’s as bad as “text speak.” No one wants to work with someone who has bitch-fits when they don’t get their way. That’s like working with a two-year-old, and that’s something a lot of professionals won’t do. You’ll get yourself black-balled fast!

Professionals are polite even when they don’t get their way.

[Something to keep in mind: I’m an editor and have sent out rejections. I don’t like to do it, but often times it’s because of poor formatting, terrible grammar, and sometimes because I’ve accepted something that’s very similar. So, even good writing doesn’t get taken if it’s too close to something already accepted. Editors don’t hate you.  It’s not person—don’t take it personally.]

Another thing that goes along with not having a bitch-fit when you get a rejection, is that you shouldn’t go on social media, your blog, or anywhere else public and bitch about a rejection or call an editor an idiot. If they see it, or if another press or editor sees it, they will not want to work with you. No one wants to work with someone who blows things out of proportion and makes a public fuss about nothing.

Plagiarism and royalty issues are another story. If a press or person is breaking the law, it’s okay to warn other authors to stay away from them. But, do it when you’ve calmed down, so you don’t sound like a ranting ex-wife. No one will take you seriously if you sound crazy.

You also shouldn’t repeatedly email a press or editor to check on your submission. They have it (more than likely) and they will get back to you when they’re ready. If a few months go by and you don’t hear back, it’s okay to send them a quick email to confirm that your submission was received. Otherwise, leave them alone! Being a needy writer is just as bad as being rude or having a bitch-fit.

Basically, you should always treat presses, editors, or agents with the utmost respect. Because when you don’t, you are the one who is being unprofessional.

Recap: You should show that you can communicate intelligently with words, and you shouldn’t show your ass when you don’t get your way—ever!

In these small ways you can put Professional Practices to work for you.

If you’re a professional, act like it.

 

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©Rebecca Besser, 2014. All rights reserved.

Being a Professional – Part 1 of 4

There are many definitions for professional/professionalism, most of which expressing that a professional is someone who does something, a skill or practice, for money. But, there’s more to it than that, which is why I’m sharing with you these definitions of a professional:

Professional: a person who is an expert at his or her work; a person who engages in an activity with great competence.

Before you can even think about making money as a professional for any skill, you must first learn the techniques and tools that go with it. Since I’m a writer and that’s what this newsletter is about – writing – that’s what this article will be about; the skills needed to become a professional writer.

The definition says that a professional is an “expert at his or her work” and “a person who engages in an activity with great competence.” These both give clues that will lead you to being a professional writer.

You must learn spelling and grammar, and POV and tenses to be an expert at the craft of writing. You can’t depend on an editor to do everything for you. It’s unfortunate that most writers believe they don’t need to know how to actually write properly – with correct spelling and grammar – and expect all of it to be the editor’s job.

Editors are not there to clean up your mess because you don’t want to learn things for yourself. They’re there to catch the mistakes that slipped past the writer, because it’s virtually impossible for a writer to catch all their own mistakes. We all make mistakes and it helps to have a second set of eyes.

If you want to be a professional at anything, you must learn the skills and become an expert.

Once you’ve learned the skills and know how to be an expert, you then have to use them with “great competence.” What does this mean? It means don’t be sloppy or lazy, but always strive to do your best. This applies to writing, formatting, and following all submission guidelines. They’re there for a reason and a professional knows this.

Once you have the skills to be an expert and exercise those skills with great competence, you’ll find that your acceptances will increase and more and more people will want to work with you.

No one wants to work with someone who can’t write a decent sentence or can’t use punctuation properly – that involves a lot of editing work and time. They want to work with someone who has clean writing that’s clear and that will take a minimal amount of effort to publish.

Some would say this would be laziness on the publisher’s part. And they would be completely wrong. This would be laziness on the part of the writer for not learning their skill, for not becoming a professional expert at their craft. The writers who think that it’s laziness on the part of the editor or publishers are the ones that haven’t taken the time to learn their skill; it’s a very bad attitude to have. They’re the ones you’ll see griping about not getting acceptances and slandering editors or presses that don’t want to work with them. That in itself is immature and unprofessional (I’ll cover more of that in the 4th part of this series on professionalism).

The fact of the matter is, if you want to be a successful, professional writer. You have to learn your craft well. You have to know spelling, grammar, POV, and tenses. You can’t depend on others to do it for you.

You are responsible for the quality of your writing. Editors aren’t your grammar maids, just there to clean up your mess!

Because remember what professionals are:

Professional: a person who is an expert at his or her work; a person who engages in an activity with great competence.

 

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©Rebecca Besser, 2014. All rights reserved.