The Art of Business & The Business of Art—Breaking Rules to Reveal Our Audience

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There are a lot of fabulous blogs and books on business, especially for writers. How to promote, do a tour, switch an algorithm, etc. But, I tend to be a broad strokes kind of gal. I dig simple. Simple works. Simple doesn’t have an expiration date.

ART is a Business & Business is an ART

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

When companies forget they are servants and act in a way that makes consumers serve them? That’s when they get into trouble. Businesses are in business to…make money. NO. Businesses should be in the business to serve people.

Artists are in the business of “making and selling art.” NO. They should be in the business of serving the audience. It is a TWO-WAY dialogue driven by core needs.

This is where many writers need to breathe into a paper bag because they break out in hives at the mention of “business.” But, if we want to create anything that people want to PAY MONEY for? We are a business.

Be the Consumer

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

The power of empathy is particularly crucial. Humans are actually very simple. Most of our decisions are driven by the primal brain. We like to feel good about a purchase. We often can’t articulate WHY we made a decision because it is the non-verbal part of our brains at the steering wheel when we choose.

Also, the product is all about US.

Friday, when we talked about breaking rules in writing, there was a lot of mention about writers simply breaking rules to break them. Yet, I would challenge every artist (or business) to step back and feel. Think about the customer FIRST and ego second. Money LAST.

Case in Point

I never set out to be the social media expert for writers. Yet, as early as 2003, I knew social media would completely alter the publishing paradigm. Anyone who bought an MP3 and had an ounce of imagination could see the domino effect ahead.

Tower Records–>Kodak–> Big Six Publishing

I was very grateful for the computer and marketing people who attended conferences to teach social media, but I had a couple of problems.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

First of all, I knew writers would eventually HAVE to have a brand and social media platform or be dead in the water. The problem was that these computer people didn’t know how to talk to creative people who had trouble opening their e-mail. At the time, many writers (and editors and agents) refused to even USE e-mail.

Thus the presentations actually scared people because they didn’t empower them.

Writers mentally checked out because the computer people made “branding” and “platform-building” too time-consuming and complicated. 

The marketing people did the same thing (and, in my mind, many of their tactics were from a 20th century playbook). Their approach didn’t fit into a world where everyone was instantly connected and the flow of information was dynamic and light-speed.

I.e. Having a Facebook Fan Page for EVERY BOOK. Really? O_o When the heck would we have time to WRITE?

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Additionally, one thing I noticed (being a salesperson for many years) is these experts failed to consider their audience. They were talking code, algorithms, apps and technology to a group of people who averaged (at the time) over 50. Writing, when I started, was something people often did when they retired or the kids were out of the house.

Their CUSTOMER was my mother who was afraid she’d delete the Internet, yet they failed to connect with “her” in a meaningful way.

As far as the marketing and PR people? There was far too much high-pressure sales involved in their methods. Yet, NO WRITER in the room was thinking, “Hey, I am just going to write about dragons until my dream job in high-pressure SALES comes along.”

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I noticed many of these early experts had “affordable packages” available. In my mind, they were scaring the audience into feeling powerless in order to sell them something.

That ticked me off.

Ticked me off enough to write my first book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I made it a point to think from the perspective of my customer. MY mission statement was to serve my customer, not the other way around.

I knew writers often were not able to write full-time. Many of us have spouses, kids, a day job, older family members we care for. We needed an approach that was simple and that didn’t have to be outsourced. Many new writers don’t have a lot of money. They couldn’t plunk down $10,000 for a PR guru.

Also, social media and the Internet shifts faster than any of us can keep up. Amazon is constantly changing and if our focus is on juking those changes, we will be like my cat who can never quite catch the red dot. That was WHY I wrote my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. ONE book. One manual.

Thus, when we talk about breaking rules in business or in art, it MUST be to better serve our audience/customers. It must be SIMPLE and it MUST BE TIMELESS.

When we are being clever simply to be clever? Good luck.

The Reliant Robin: Image via "Top Gear"

The Reliant Robin: Image via “Top Gear”

I’ve read authors who were being artistic and decided they didn’t need quotation marks or tags. Yet, I ask: How does this help the reader consume the story with page-turning passion?

I could be super clever right now and write a novel in text speak, but who (now) wants the brain cramp of rdng 4 OMG hrs w/ppl txtng & LOL as u DYH or STHU?

Um, but it is my ART *sniffs and rearranges beret*

Why Should We Break Rules?

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Because it MIGHT just pay off! ~Johnny Cat

All rule-breaking (in my POV) must be to better serve the consumer not the creator. Though I am not particularly fond of Hemingway’s writing, he was a journalist. Fiction, at the time, was BLOATED.

Yet, people in Hemingway’s time finally had photographs, film and newspapers. They KNEW what a whale looked like, so why insult them with a 100 pages describing one?

I imagine this overwriting drove a journalist nutso, and it took a journalist to whittle fiction down to the bones and bare form story.

See, when Melville write Moby Dick he was serving the audience/consumer of his time. He didn’t make the assumption his potential readers were all world-travelers and had seen what he’d seen. Thus, all those details were important for HIS readers.

But, as technology and the world changed, that massive amount of description and exposition were no longer necessary and actually got in the way of the story. It insulted the reader’s intelligence. I feel this was probably a driving force behind Hemingway field-stripping prose.

Did everyone LOVE Hemingway? No. There are people like me who like more description. BUT, there was obviously an audience who appreciated that an author finally wasn’t wasting their time using every fancy adjective, adverb and metaphor they could stuff into a paragraph.

Breaking Rules Begins with a NEED and a Vacuum

When I started writing about social media it was because no one was saying the things I needed to hear. I needed something simple, timeless and effective. WANA methods worked in 2008 and they still work today because they are simple and functional.

Instead of trying to alter the authors’ personality and make them rely on all their weaknesses, I created a method that harnessed the writers’ personality and allowed them to play to their strengths.

This is why artists can be particularly good at business once the fear-factor is peeled away. We have great powers of empathy. Remember, in the last post, I said our goal is to write the book people don’t yet know they want.

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi wrote a FABULOUS series of craft books because there were none like the ones they as authors needed. They, themselves wanted simple and effective tools deepen characters, yet none were available…so these gals stepped in and WROTE them. I HIGHLY recommend just getting them all. The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

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If you are SERIOUS about writing a great book this year, just go use that gift card you got for Christmas and get these books, today.

Moving on…

Giving Consumers What They Don’t Know They Want

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Henry Ford once said if he’d have asked customers what they wanted, they’d have requested a faster horse.

When social media became a game-changer, my potential customers wanted the Internet to implode. They wanted things to remain the same, even though the paradigm of the time was highly unfavorable to writers. As of 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Yet writers (like all humans) feared change.

Here’s the thing, anyone literate can write. This means anyone literate could write a book, right? But what is different about us as artists? The world relies on our eyes. We see what others can’t.

I saw THIS in the future...

I saw THIS in the future…

saw that brick-and-mortar was crumbling and that social media would eventually empower authors. Though many writers kicked and screamed and begged for the Web to eat itself in a digital black hole, I knew in my heart that was BAD (and wouldn’t happen anyway). Time would prove what I believed. I merely had to stick to my guns no matter how many hateful comments I got on my blogs.

In my heart, I knew I was serving my audience.

Business & Art

Hemingway reinvented writing because he didn’t like all the fluff. He wrote the book he wanted to read and took a risk others would read his books and like them, too. Instead of doing what everyone else was doing, he did something different.

When we break rules, instead of “being different” we should “differentiate.” We need to follow our passion and look for the vacuum yet to be filled.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

I’ve done business consulting and one of the first things I advise is for the company to pull the annual reports of their top five competitors. Annual reports are dreadfully boring but highly valuable.

What are these companies bragging about to their share-holders? Well, their strengths, duh. Is that where a new business/entrepreneur will find their niche? NO. And, btw, it is the DUMBEST place to try and compete.

The trick is to look at the reports and see where their competitors are struggling. What they are promising to improve (or even fail to mention but should be there)? Find that gap and there is your business plan (book idea).

Breaking Rules in Creating

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If we are simply writing retreads of everything already available, we aren’t differentiating.

Oh, but my vampires glitter, they don’t SPARKLE. 

Nooooo, that is being different, not differentiation.

Anne Rice is almost solely responsible for CREATING the vampire craze because she dared to write a book from the vampire’s perspective and stuck to her guns even when criticized.

Charlaine Harris asked a “What if?” with her Southern Vampire Mysteries.

What if vampires have always been around but hidden because they had to feed on human blood? What if that blood could be synthesized and vampires could “come out of the coffin”? What would the world be like with predator and prey trying to coexist? Could they?

POOF! Formula for best-selling books and the highly popular HBO series True Blood.

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T. Jefferson Parker broke the rules in his thrillers when he mixed first person and third person and he chose to write the ANTAGONIST’S perspective in first-person.

But, he didn’t do this to be clever.

When T. Jefferson Parker writes from the perspective of a car thief or a gun-runner in first-person, we (the reader) are more intimate with them. We understand their whys and become emotionally vested. This increases tension because we find ourselves often rooting for the bad guy even when we know we probably shouldn’t.

This literary device is unique. It stretches our empathy and our minds.

***Note, this is why understanding rules helps us effectively break rules.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter from inspiration, but she stuck to it despite rejection because, in spite of what she was being told, she believed a YA male protagonist would be popular. So did Jonathan Maberry in his Rot & Ruin series.

These authors not only soul-searched for the book they wanted to read but wasn’t there, but they looked to what books weren’t being written.

We can criticize 50 Shades of Grey all we want, but E.L. James wrote the books she wanted to read and the ones no one else was offering.

All these authors created the books readers didn’t yet know they wanted to read. They all broke rules, whether it was asking a new question, playing with POV, offering up a teenage boy protagonist when most readers are female, or even whips, chains and handcuffs.

This is to say, READ. Books are not so cost-prohibitive that we are really “competition” for each other. It’s why teamwork works so well in our world. People generally will buy/read more than one book.

When we read the genres we love (that we are writing in), look at the strengths, but take time to ponder what you might be able to do differently. What could you possibly combine that normally doesn’t go together? What audience has no voice?

Get in the head of your audience and look for what you have in common. What is the need your book can fill?  Write what scares you, because it probably scares your readers too.

Maybe it is a sexy 53 year-old spy, a vestige of the Cold War relegated to being invisible because of age….but she is fit and sexy and KICKS @$$.

From the movie "Red"

From the movie “Red”

Maybe the protagonist struggles with her weight or an eating disorder. Perhaps your male protagonist struggles with how to be strong in a world where strong males get a lot of pushback. Or maybe he has a learning disability but that turns out to be why he is the perfect hero.

Perhaps it is an underrepresented ethnic group or writing from the perspective of those most overlooked. Sure, we have dozens of Navy SEAL books because SEALS are “hot”, but what about the brand new Airman in Supply who uncovers a vast conspiracy but no one will listen?

Your audience wants to see a part of themselves in your work. How can you do this better?

Just getting the brain-gears moving 😀 .

We will continue to explore ways that art and business merge, how to be creative and how to better serve our customer (reader). Some ways to create an edge in this highly competitive world. Just remember that success is about simplicity and service. Stick to those? And that’s a great foundation.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Winner for DECEMBER is Chris Phillips. Please send your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD DOCUMENT to kris teen at wan a intl dot com. Or you can send a query letter or five page synopsis (1250 words) in a WORD document. Congratulations!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Love reading your blog!

    1. Thank you! I love you take the time to comment ((HUGS))

  2. As ever, worth reading and digesting

  3. Thank you Kristen. I really enjoyed the part about writing what you want to read. That’s what inspired my first novel, Unspeakable, and also has inspired the story that I have fermenting in my brain. I really appreciate your insight.

  4. Thank you, that was great insight.

  5. Great motivation for my new years, Kristen! I’ve been meditating/praying on how to make a difference in my writing a lot… and I’ll keep with it because I know there is something I have to say that only I can:>) This is what I love about the new paradigm… it gives so many new authors a chance to bring their unique view/style/perspective. Thanks for encouraging them to stick to this for the audience’s sake.

    p.s. Happy New Year!

    1. “…I know there is something I have to say…” Ding! Ding! You’ve hit the nail right on its proverbial head!

  6. “Um, but it is my ART *sniffs and rearranges beret*” A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes fewer words can MAKE a picture.

    Also glad to hear that simplicity doesn’t expire! I’ve been blogging for two years now and I’m wondering how my blog needs to develop. Any feedback welcomed!

  7. Talk about timely! You answered the question I’ve been pondering for several days. I’d already bought into the “write what you want to read concept.” Then you threw in the “write what scares you, because it probably scares your readers too.” Bingo. Thank you from the bottom of my shaking stilettos. I’m taking the plunge.

  8. Interesting stuff, I especially liked the Henry Ford quote! Connecting with our audience, especially with a northern UK niche like the one my book is aimed at has never been so difficult despite, or perhaps because of, the digital age.
    Very much enjoying your blogs!

  9. Nothing like a great post to get the brain juices flowing on a Monday. Thanks, Kristen.

  10. Thank you Kristen, as ever your posts are inspiring and helpful 🙂 Happy New year to you.

  11. Got me with the blue steak!

  12. Reblogged this on amanamblog's Blog and commented:
    why not pick the art and get the ground breaking boom

  13. I dare to write what I’d like to read. I don’t know how many readers like it, but I am enjoying the journey at least.

    And I hate snakes so I wrote of my protagonist having to step on a floor of them with moccasins and feeling them squirm underfoot. My readers told me that scene gave them shivers. Me, too!

    I loved the Henry Ford quote which fit perfectly your point. Have a successful 2015!

    • Diana Stevan on January 5, 2015 at 11:08 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristin. I didn’t plan to write a book I wanted to read but I did. I incorporated time slippage, romance, mystery, and a female protagonist that isn’t perfect. Struggling to find the right match when you’re divorced and have a child is challenging, but that’s who she is. I like your examples – Hemingway, Rice, and Rowling. Thank you and Happy New Year.

  14. I read your emails all the time but don’t usually comment. I just wanted to let you know what an incredible inspiration you are to me as a writer. You make me think. Thank you for that. Happy New Year Kristin. Am so glad things have eased up in your personal life after a rough ride.

  15. Simply put, your information is priceless and thanks for freely sharing it.

  16. I don’t agree that J.K. Rowling was being that provocative in chosing a male protagonist. Yes, most readers are female but if you look beyond the romantic genre most protagonists are male. J.K. Rowling even shortened her name like that so people would assume she’s a man. Many female authors do this and the worst part is – it works. It’s well known that women read more male characters than vice versa.
    That being said, it’s good that she picked a male protagonist because of this very thing. Had she chosen a female lead, Harriet Potter wouldn’t have gotten as many boys reading as Harry Potter did.
    Sadly. *Sniffles*

  17. An example of doing what you want from a story versus giving the audience what they think they want/going for the money:

    Avatar the last airbender became vastly popular because it offered so much to both adults and children. When it ended we craved more.

    When its continuation, The Legend of Korra, was announced, people went crazy. Then the show arrived and it was …
    Well …
    It was fanfiction, really. It was as if the writers had hit up and tried to bring to life all the zutarian fanfiction just to make amends for them not getting their couple in the previous show.
    They tried to give the audience what writers and audience thought they wanted. The result?
    A dumbed down show. What made people love the romances in the original show was how toned-down they were and how they played on character, not the other way around (characters ruled by romance).
    Plot created romance, not the other way around.

    Because of this viewers fled from Korra during second season when they gave up on it after a somewhat okay first season.
    In the third season the writers returned. Strong. It was obvious to me that they found their old inspiration and returned to what mattered: moral, themes and CHARACTER. Romance and comedy came second.
    Which made all the romance and all the comedy so much, much better. Because both depend on context so much.

  18. This is a great post and reminds me of why I didn’t like certain classic authors that everyone else enjoys: they take the reader for granted. I think we can break rules as long as we don’t perform that cardinal sin.

    • Rachel Thompson on January 6, 2015 at 9:44 am
    • Reply

    My background is business but I’ve always been an artist, musician and later a writer as well. My observation is that artists don’t know or want to know business–they feel it affects their art. It does not. Artists that make it have business skills. Part of doing business is delivering a salable product. Artists need to understand that art is only half of the equation, the other half is all business. So while doing the art, whatever it is, forget business, but, when the creative process is done, put on the business hat or no one will read you.

    1. I agree, but I think it’s less intimidating when we realize business doesn’t HAVE to be stuffy and stale and terrifying. It, too, is an art. Yes, it has boring parts, but so does writing *cough* revisions.

  19. Great stuff. An excellent guide to seeing what’s needed (those annual reports!) and what people want and yet understanding that they themselves may not see it clearly.

    Another example: yes, Anne Rice relaunched vampires with her look at the world through their eyes. But just the year before, Fred Saberhagen published *The Dracula Tape*, the first of many successful books doing some of the same thing. Just an example that when a need exists, you can see the signs in many places, and you have more choices than being simply “first or worst” into it.

  20. If breaking rules is intended as a positive direction, I’d argue that Sharknado is the counterpoint that “just because it doesn’t yet exist doesn’t mean it is worth inventing”. The Lego Movie is, says it all: creativity versus a single-design mindset is worth fighting for…even if all you can come up with is a double-decker couch. Also, can anybody get the song ‘Everything Is Awesome’ out of their heads once they’ve heard it?

    1. Yeah, but Sharknado rocks. It is so BAD it is AWESOME. And hey, the double-decker couch SAVED THEIR LIVES. And…everything is awesome!!!! Thanks a lot 😛

  21. Great post! Ever since I met you, I’ve been thinking about self-publishing. I feel lucky because not only did I grow up with my mom owning a bookstore, I also was an instrumental employee at a small business start-up, so I got to learn a lot about business. I’m actually looking forward to the (daunting) task of learning more about business and publishing. …now if I could just finish all this editing!!

  22. Also, thanks for the post. Part of my plot is spiritually-edgy and you help me feel more confident with keeping that aspect of the series! So, thank you!

  23. Great post. Just found your blog <> and am a fan already. Thanks for the awesome encouragement. Now, back to work on the manuscript…. 🙂

  24. Every time I start thinking “Oh, but will it sell?”, I find myself strait-jacketed and unable to write anything that doesn’t sound forced and plastic. I’d write the stories that are in my head and write them as my heart wants even if no one but me ever read them. And sometimes that frustrates the non-discerning reader who is expecting an HEA from a book clearly marked “Fantasy” or thinks the HEA was too predictable in my clearly marked “Romance” novel.

    But the readers who thirst to be swept into another world don’t seem to mind when I give them a protagonist who makes rash decisions and takes reckless action and who is not entirely likeable. Or when I portray a protagonist’s family as much less super-supportive and totally perfect a la Leave It to Beaver. Or when I kill a treasured protagonist because the story demands nothing less than the ultimate sacrifice.

    As far as Sharknado, it’s so bad that it’s worth (limited) watching. Have you seen The Nostaligia Critic’s video review of it? Hysterical. 🙂

  25. I’ve worked on my book as a way to cut the boredom. I’ve got the kids out and married and I was becoming bored. Most people will find a volunteer job or a paying one and fill their time that way. I’m struggling with a disability that gives me really no way to work.

    I had an idea about a story about a former prostitute-turned vampire who hid in her crypt until Hurricane Katrina and some thugs dropped an almost-dead angel on her doorstep. She “saves” him by turning him and what happens after that happens? Lilly’s Angel actually was good enough that I sent it to a few friends and ended up doing self-publishing.

    Of course, I left it at a cliff-hanger, which is something I kept getting told that readers hate those and I should make the happily ever after instead. But there’s not an HEA for awhile, the book is now a series and I’m finishing up writing book 3. Book 2, Marcus’s Vampire continues Lilly’s story with her maker and what she finds when she meets him. Book 3? The vampires are ramping up to start a war with the angels for their freedom.

    I’m still trying to figure out all the marketing and find time to do it. I have been a dynamite salesman since my teens and I know how to do it one-on-one. I feel like I shine at that and most people will get the books. But doing it online is daunting, I find myself trying to try to hard or get things so complicated that I just give up.

  26. This is a well-written, interesting post that drew on cross-industry experience, like mine with retailers. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that brick and mortar is crumbling, there are cracks that have been filled with the convenience of internet commerce.

    On to writing, I comprehend the Hemingway example, but what of Shakespeare? Did he not elevate language and art at the same time, doing so through elaborate dialog, while creating vocabulary, in forms that seemed far above the commoner audience that he achieved? I am one to aspire to elevation, not seek the lowest common ground, and happy you acknowledged that digressing to text speak vernacular is not the creation of art.

    P.S. I also enjoyed the brief mentions that captured the history of WANA. 🙂

    1. Actually, I mentioned Shakespeare in Friday’s post :D. Brick and mortar is crumbling. The mega-store is out of trend and unsustainable. Borders is gone and only flagship B&Ns remain. I DO think we will see a resurgence of the indie small bookstore with Espresso-machine type technology for POD. The cold-blooded giants are losing in this climate change and the small, adaptable mammals will thrive.

      1. I cede to your assertion that brick and mortar is crumbling (for books). I didn’t put your statement in proper context.

  27. People in general don’t tend to like changes, because we need to be/feel like we are in power. But there is nothing more dangerous than saying “but we’ve always done it that way”. I think you are right when you say we are losing focus as to where our priorities should lay, with the consumer, customer, the person(s) who will read what we write .

  28. It seems to me the best advice is always do what you love. And that’s just what you’ve captured here. Sure, it’s great to happen upon the next trend. But if it doesn’t come out of what you really want to do, then it’s going to be pretty short-lived. Thanks Kristen!

    • Laura Irrgang on January 7, 2015 at 11:07 am
    • Reply

    Thanks as always, Kristen. You had me at Shaknado.

  29. I just found you. This is fantastic! Thanks so much for these thoughts; I’ll be coming back.

    1. Great to meet you, Maura!!!

  30. I love your blog Kristen, the posts, the content, the message, and your honesty, thank you!

    1. Well, I just want to tuck you in my pocket and keep you! ((HUGS)) Thank you.

  31. Yes yes yes. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Again!

  32. Brilliant article, Kristen. I’m about to a. post it on my blog, b. post it on twitter and FB and c. buy your book.(I know I sound like I’m crawling, but I was truly impressed. 🙂

  33. Somehow your writing-related posts always get my gears going not only for my writing, but for my real-life stuff as well. Thanks for keeping us all motivated!

  1. […] The Art of Business & The Business of Art—Breaking Rules to Reveal Our Audience. […]

  2. […] just read a great article by Kristen Lamb on her blog, called The Art of Business and the Business of Art. It was all about readers and writers and social media. I was so impressed, I felt I had to mention […]

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