Joe Chiappetta Interview, Author of Silly Daddy Illustrated Fiction

What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?

I was somewhat raised on comic books. Much of my early and teen development was shaped by panel to panel illustrations. As such, the directness of communicating with pictures has always held a special power in my life. My observation, raising three kids and having tons of comic pals, is that I am not alone.

In fact, many people are visual learners and are pulled and retained into stories where there are more pictures. Pictures also can cut across language barriers and tend to be more universal. That combined with a lifetime of drawing Silly Daddy comics made the decision to make illustrated books a very natural progression.

How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?

Since I became a Christian in 1998, I started making works that were safe for all ages. However, anything before that period I cannot vouch for–I was pretty out there. All my eBooks have a pretty wide appeal. Star Chosen, my sci-fi space opera novel, can be appreciated by readers from 10 to 110. It’s basically Battlestar Galactica meets the Bible. Along with the sequel, Power Pendant of Planet Pizon, they’re the only books of mine that are not illustrated.

All my other works are illustrated by me and cover slightly different genres. Silly Daddy in Space has the widest appeal as a sci-fi cartoon book. It’s for ages 6 and up.

Also heavily illustrated is my book Armed with Intergalactic Weapons. That is actually my life story, but told as if it were a science fiction story set 1,000 years into the future when outer space gets colonized. I actually consider this a new genre: autobiographical science fiction.

The Back Pain Avenger, my newest release is a non-medicated memoir of my rehabilitation from decades of chronic back pain. That’s also a mix of comics and straight text narration, for ages 16 and up. It reads like a “how to get healed of back pain” book as well as a warm and funny slice of life story.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?

In drawing the covers for Star Chosen and it’s sequel, Power Pendant of Planet Pizon, I had to picture real people and blast them into futuristic styles and planets. It helps me to have a real voice and image in mind to launch out from when creating characters. That the fun part of writing fiction.

How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?

I try to have at least one in each chapter, but often it ends up like 6 comics in a chapter. Plus my chapters tend to be short so the books are full of comics and illustrations, hearkening back to my do-it-yourself zine days. That’s sort of an intuitive area for me. It’s not an exact science, but more about adding value and helping readers remember more. People tend to retain the visual stuff.

I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this?

That’s one of those opinion matters where there’s no real right or wrong. Debating about it seems a bit silly in the larger scheme of things. If the creators want to define the look of the characters, great. If not, that’s fine too. It’s just a different experience. I like to define most of my characters so I can more easily picture them moving forward. I need something concrete.

Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?

Since I’m known as a cartoonist with over twenty years in the industry, many of my readers expect illustrations. So I deliver. As for how the illustrations enhance the book, I can say this: Formatting eBooks is a relatively new trade. And I have seen some poorly formatted eBooks from others with illustrations that were definitely not designed for the small screen eReader experience. So I have an advantage in that I am specifically creating comics and illustrations that I prefer to be viewed on small screen eReaders. It’s a quality control issue. My wife and I proof my books on a Kindle. If the illustrations and cartoons don’t pop, then I know somethings wrong. So I make sure they pop.

What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?

My fan base has been increasing every year for quite some time, and it is neat to see my work reaching audiences that I hadn’t imagined. For example, I have about ten chapters of Star Chosen available for free online and that’s been read over 50,000 times. The book hasn’t even been out two years yet. That’s not bad.

How did you promote your book?

The usual stuff. I send out press releases, highlight it on my blog http://joechiappetta.blogspot.com, use social media, send review copies out, and offer free samples.

Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book?

I write most of the books in HTML code as part of the creative process. I know that sounds bizarre, but that really helps me make sure I am thinking about end user experience if I know what code is there. Images take a little time to figure out for Kindle. Reading up on the Amazon Community image file specs for Kindle, it quickly becomes clear that there is not one standard. So you have to experiment a little. I find that 520 pixels wide by 622 high images work best, but 450 pixels wide by 550 pixels high is safest. It depends on what an author wants to do with the illustrations.

Do you offer a print version or digital only?
Star Chosen has print and digital versions. All other books are digital only–for now.

How did you determine pricing?

I try to equate pricing with time spent on the project and quantity of content. For instance, Star Chosen is over 60,000 words and took five years to complete. So that eBook goes for $4.99. However, shorter works sell for 99 cents.

How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?

I have published about 30 books over the years, almost all of them have been heavily illustrated. Five of the most recent works are available as eBooks on Amazon, B&N plus my own site.

What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?

Keep the illustrations fairly high contrast. Make sure your blacks are solid blacks or they might get converted into a washed out look on Kindle’s black and white E Ink screen. If there is text lettered into the illustrations (like in my comics) make sure the lettering is very large. Zooming in is not a pleasurable reading experience.

Lastly, I would think through why you want to put out a book. Write your reasons down on paper, and then discuss it with people you trust. Then see what they have to say.

Joe ChiappettaJoe Chiappetta is an American author and cartoonist, grateful to be happily married with three children. Currently living in North Riverside, Illinois, his formal education was from Northern Illinois University, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in painting.

While trained in the more traditional visual arts, his lifetime creative focus has been in writing and cartooning. As one of the key members of the Independent Comics Movement of the late 1980s and 1990s, Chiappetta’s work is respected around the globe. He is best known as the man behind one of the longest running autobiographical comics, SILLY DADDY, which has been a rewarding creative endeavor since 1991. The series has received the following professional recognition:

Xeric Award Winner
Ignatz Award Nominee for Outstanding Story
Harvey Award Nominee for Best New Series

While the bulk of Chiappetta’s work has been within autobiographical comics, he has also maintained a focus on science fiction writing. SILLY DADDY plots are notorious for taking off on sci-fi themed subplots. As a natural progression, Joe’s 2010 release, STAR CHOSEN, is a science fiction space opera for the whole family. That book is his first full length novel without pictures.

In 1998 Joe became a Christian, which is often evident in the world view represented in his writings thereafter. Due to personal experience with a number of health impairments, Joe also writes about disability issues in his work, combining humor with the intent to help others have more compassion for those in need.

From his stories, one can tell that Joe enjoys spending time with God, family, other people with disabilities, science fiction geeks, and corny jokers. Also, at a moment’s notice, he’s usually up for a good game of chess, bike riding, building forts in the woods, wrestling, foam sword fighting, and Bible study.

Simon Haynes Interview, Author of Hal Junior Illustrated Science Fiction

What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?

To be honest, I felt it was expected when writing for middle grade. We have a gigantic stash of books for that age group, and many of them have illustrations. A stray picture here and there can help to break up the text, particularly if you’re writing a longer book. (Hal Junior is about 30,000 words. In comparison, my adult books are about 80,000)

How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?

My original plan was to write novels featuring the character from my adult books as a boy. I thought back to my own childhood, and I realized the overriding memories of my teen years involved zits, braces, awkwardness with girls and other unpleasantness. On the other hand, life at ten or eleven was uncomplicated and a whole lot of fun.

On top of that, I’ve done a lot of school visits for middle grade classes. At that age many kids still think authors are pretty cool.

Do you also illustrate your books? If not, how did you find your illustrator/artist? Any suggestions for hiring an illustrator?

My original plan for Hal Junior was for a very low-key release. I even designed a cover using my own vector art, which came out well but looked too young for the book.

I drew all the internal art with pencil, then scanned it into my computer and manually re-traced it using vectors.

At this point, six weeks before release, I decided to approach the cover artist from my adult novels. We shook hands on an agreement (via email) and he turned in a fantastic piece of work. It was all kept very simple, contract-wise, but we’ve known each other for quite a few years now.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?

I did share a few ideas. It was a little easier because he’s based on the adult character, so that was a basis for the image. Putting him in a space suit bypassed the need for futuristic clothing. (Hal Junior is set in the distant future.)

How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?

I wanted one or two per chapter. I think I ended up with 30 or so, and there are 25 chapters.

I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this? Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?

Yes, seeing the character in the flesh can detract from imagining them yourself. I’ve seen middle grade fiction where the characters on the cover look like 18-year-olds, but apparently this is an industry thing where kids (apparently) don’t want to read their own age group, they want to read and experience life as older characters. That’s one reason I decided my original cover wasn’t up to the job.

Re the illustrations, they’re a great way to explain something without filling the text with info-dump. For example, the characters use an airlock, and instead of explaining at length I just included a diagram. Another character feels ill when he learns where their food comes from, but instead of going into the whole process I illustrated it.

There are also many sight gags. E.g. Hal Junior notices how spaceships, stations, etc, all seem to be the same shade of grey (gray, even.) There’s an illustration showing piles of paint cans with ‘Grey’, ‘More Grey’, ‘Yes, it’s Grey’ and ‘Red’ on the labels. (The latter crossed out with ‘Grey’ written in.)

What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?

It’s still a week until the official release, and first reader feedback on the images has been sketchy. (Hah!) One reviewer commented that the illustrations were ‘witty’, and that’s good enough for me.

How did you promote your book?

Do we have another 2000 words? 😉 I don’t set much store in trailers, I’m afraid. I’d sooner spend the money giving away free copies. I do have a website, and I’m active on many forums and book sites. It’s important not to annoy people by posting ‘buy my book’ messages all over the internet.

I believe libraries and schools will be the primary market for my book, so I’ve been concentrating on these venues. There’s a big hole in the market where junior science fiction ought to be.

Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book? Do you offer a print version or digital only? Any tips you can offer?

I’m offering Hal Junior as an ebook and a print title.

I’m a programmer as well as an author, and one of my projects is the yWriter novel-writing software. I recently modified the program to make it easy to export to ebook-ready HTML and print-ready LaTeX (which can be converted to PDF.)

Once the programming was done, I laid out my novel in yWriter in such a way that I could generate both types of file from the same project.

What are your sales numbers? Are your illustrated book(s) selling better than your other titles?

It’s too early to answer this yet – not released.

How did you determine pricing? Have you played with pricing? How has it affected your sales?

I looked at similar titles with a similar page length. I believe $4.99 for the ebook is about right, and $6.99 for the paperback is cheap. I can always raise the paperback price later if need be.

How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?

Hal Junior is my first illustrated book. None of my adult titles contain illustrations.

Do you have more planned?

I’m torn between writing Hal Junior 2 and Hal Spacejock 5. The Junior books are quicker and easier to write, but Hal 5 is well overdue!

What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?

Decide what you want the illustrations to do. Are you adding to the text, or supplying full-page illustrations of scenes from the book?

Simon Haynes was born in England and grew up in Spain, where he enjoyed an amazing childhood of camping, motorbikes, mateship, air rifles and paper planes. His family moved to Australia when he was 16.
From 1986 to 1988 Simon studied at Curtin University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, Creative Writing and Literature.
Simon returned to Curtin in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.

Simon has four Hal Spacejock novels and several short stories in print. Sleight of Hand won the Aurealis Award (short fiction) in 2001, and Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch was a finalist in both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards for 2008.
Simon divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with frequent bike rides to blow away the cobwebs.
His goal is to write fifteen Hal books (Spacejock OR Junior!) before someone takes his keyboard away.
Follow Simon on Facebook and Twitter.

Selina Fenech Interview, Author of Memory’s Wake, Illustrated YA Fantasy

My third interview in the illustrated fiction author category is with Selina Fenech. Both author and illustrator, Selina has carved out a fantastical world in Memory’s Wake. Read on to find out more about why and how Selina put together this Young Adult Fantasy.

What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?

I’ve been a professional artist for almost ten years now, and am just entering the world of writing. It seemed to make sense to include some of my artwork in my novel. I almost went the opposite direction, publishing without illustrations under a pen name, just in case the novel really bombed and ruined my name as an artist 😉 But thankfully my writing has been well received so far, with all 4 and 5 star reviews.

How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?

I always intended my novel to be a young adult novel. It’s a style I prefer to read most myself even though I’m past the standard market age for “Young Adult” books. YA books can be dark and gritty, but they still have a level of innocence and excitement that I love, which is what I wanted to achieve for my book.

Do you also illustrate your books? If not, how did you find your illustrator/artist? Any suggestions for hiring an illustrator?

I was lucky that I could illustrate my story myself. If I couldn’t do it myself, I probably wouldn’t have illustrated at all. The novel itself is a full length novel that doesn’t necessarily require illustration, they’re just a bonus!

When seeking an illustrator (speaking from the illustrator’s perspective!), be sure to treat the illustrator as a skilled professional. Give them the same level of respect you might a doctor or lawyer, because most artists spend just as much effort and time learning and practicing what are very specialized skills. For both illustrator and client, it is always best to work with a contract, so each party has a clear understanding of what work will be done, time frames, costs, and how many changes an illustrator is willing to do based on clients requests.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?

I had a fairly clear idea, but when I started illustrating, of course I had to develop much more detailed designs for each characters clothes. And then each character changed clothing a number of times during the story, particularly my main character Memory, who begins in jeans and a t-shirt and undergoes a number of transformations throughout the book, which are somewhat symbolic of her internal transformation through the book.

How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?

At first I thought I’d just do one small illustration per chapter (28 chapters), but I kept thinking of other scenes I wanted to illustrate. And then I felt the illustrations were unbalanced, too many of one character, or too many for some chapters and not enough in others, and I just kept adding to the list. It became an ongoing joke between myself and my husband. I’d keep announcing, “Just 2 more illustrations to go!” Then I’d finish some, then announce “Just three more illustrations to go!” I ended up with 44 illustrations in total.

I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this? Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?

This is something I worried about. I almost went down the path of avoiding showing any of the characters faces for this reason. I do think readers form, and want to form, their own idea of how a character looks, and when presented with a different alternative it can be jarring (just look at the trouble that movie casting goes through when making movies from books!). In the end I went with including the characters faces, but tried to make them not overly unique faces, if that makes sense. I haven’t had any complaints that people didn’t enjoy seeing the characters in the illustrations. I think part of it is also because they meet the characters in words and pictures at the same time, rather than forming an opinion first then seeing alternate images.

What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?

My book has only been out for a few months now, but I’m starting to see more readers amongst my fans, which before were primarily art fans.

How did you promote your book?

I tried a bit of everything. Because the book was illustrated, I could use the pictures in a book trailer, and also release a few of the pictures leading up to the book release as teasers which people loved. I have a website for the book www.memoryswake.com where you can see some of my older posts about the big launch week program I organized to promote the book. I use Twitter a lot (@selinafenech) and it’s a combination of art and book promotion, and also just general chatter, since no one is interested in just being advertised to all the time.

Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book? Do you offer a print version or digital only? Any tips you can offer?

I set my book up for print (paperback and hardcover) as well as ebook for Smashwords and Kindle.

At first, I only included the illustrations in the print versions. Laying these out was more straight forward, a what you see is what you get approach that I could also double check with hard copy proofs of the printed books.

Ebooks are a little trickier, because the one ebook can be viewed on any number of different device types, and people can adjust font sizing, screen colour and so many other options as they wish. It makes it hard to control formatting. My advice for those considering including illustrations in their ebooks is to not be too set on an exact formatting you want. Different devices will resize the images and treat them in different ways. It’s hardest to get images to show as “full page” images, and smaller images within the text work better. For myself, having the images appear where they are intended to within the text was the most important part.

How did you determine pricing? Have you played with pricing? How has it affected your sales?

I offered the book at a sale price during launch week, which a lot of people took advantage of, and since raised the price slightly. Otherwise I haven’t played with the price much. One thing I did which worked well, is during my launch week promotions, I offered a voucher to anyone who purchased the paperback to be able to also purchase the ebook for 99 cents so they could start reading while their paperback was being shipped. A lot of people took up that offer.

How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?

I currently only have the one book published and available, Memory’s Wake. I’m about to publish another novella, however it won’t be illustrated.

Do you have more planned?

Memory’s Wake will be a trilogy, and I plan to illustrate the following two books as well. I’m hoping to have the next book out in late 2012.

What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?

From my point of view it’s a little hard to judge because many of my readers were my art fans first, but the illustrated format has been well received and people seem to really enjoy seeing the scenes and characters as they read. Of course, illustration isn’t appropriate for all books (which is why I’m not illustrating my urban/paranormal romance novella), but for books like Memory’s Wake, which already have a strong fairy tale theme, the illustrations help bring the book together as a nice package.

Born in 1981 to Australian and Maltese parents, Selina lives in Australia with her husband, unnamed cat, and a lorikeet who’s far too clever. During her life Selina has found ancient Roman treasure, survived cancer, had knights joust at her wedding, earned a living from her art, written a novel and eaten every bizarre and wonderful food put in front of her.

Follow Selina on Facebook.

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Laura Lond Interview, Author of My Sparkling Misfortune Illustrated YA Book

In my quest to learn more about the illustrated fiction market I decided it might be more beneficial to interview author’s of illustrated books gleaning their advice and applying it to my own situation. Laura Lond, author of the YA fantasy My Sparkling Misfortune, starts off this series of author interviews.

What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?

The idea to add illustrations had come rather spontaneously, after the book was completed. I already knew an artist who worked on foreign language editions of my other titles, and I knew she’d do an excellent job. I wanted to offer my readers the best product I possibly could, so I thought, why not try enhancing it this way.

How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?

I did not think of any of that as I was working on the book, I just wrote the story the way I felt it needed to be written. Then, when it was completed, I tried to determine what audience it would fit best. Given the plot, the length, and the style, it looked like a MG/YA book. Adding illustrations seemed to move it closer to MG in many readers’ eyes. While I personally see no reason why YA or even adult books can’t be illustrated, I don’t fight it. I let the readers be the judge.

Do you also illustrate your books? If not, how did you find your illustrator/artist? Any suggestions for hiring an illustrator?

I have no artistic abilities myself, so I work with a professional artist. I found her through a publisher in Kiev who handles the Russian language edition of my YA fantasy trilogy. It was their idea to have the trilogy illustrated, and when I saw how well the artist had handled it, I decided to have her work on this new series as well. She had perfect credentials and a long list of published works, so I did not have to worry about anything. If you are just starting out though, testing the waters with a new artist, I certainly do advise to do your research, check references, possibly get in touch with their other clients and see whether they are satisfied with the results.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?

Yes, of course. We had discussed all that with the artist, especially the two main characters. As for the illustrations themselves though, I gave her the freedom to choose what scenes she wanted to do and in what way. All I said was that I wanted one illustration for each chapter. The rest was up to her.

How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?

Since I had to pay out of my own pocket for this independently published book, finances had a lot to do with the decision. I could afford ordering 10 illustrations, one for each chapter, and it seemed sufficient. The artist ended up doing one more and giving it to me for free just because she liked one specific scene.

I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this? Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?

Unless illustrations are poorly done, I don’t think they take anything away from the reader’s enjoyment of the book. I’ve always liked illustrated books myself. When we read, we still create the characters’ picture in our head; to me, it’s fun to see an illustration and compare how well it matches what I imagined. Sometimes it’s a great match, other times I disagree with the artist’s rendition. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now, if the book clearly says the character has dark hair and I see them blond on the picture, that’s a different story. I think such blunders are easy enough to avoid or correct, and they shouldn’t make their way into a published book.

What has been the response from your readers? Did you notice your fan base increase dramatically?My Sparkling Misfortune

I often see readers and reviewers comment on how much they have enjoyed the pictures in my book. Unfortunately, I also see a small percentage of comments stating that the particular reader was reluctant to pick up my book because it is illustrated – in their mind, illustrated book means children’s book. So, as you see, this can be a little tricky. I trust the readers though. My experience shows that someone might not want to read a MG book, but when they see it mentioned favorably in blogs they trust or on Amazon, they’ll give it a chance – and then post comments along the lines of, “I had almost passed this up, I’m so glad I read it.”

How did you promote your book?

I’ve been promoting mostly through reviews, trying to get the word of mouth going – doing giveaways, contacting bloggers/reviewers with established followings. The main character, Lord Arkus, has his own Facebook page. I’ve also submitted the book for a couple of awards; it had won the 1st place in one and become a finalist in the other. Being able to mention that it is an award-winning book helps.

That’s about it. I have no time to blog, tweet, etc. I go to some book-related message boards, but except for having my books mentioned in my signature, I rarely promote there.

Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book? Do you offer a print version or digital only? Any tips you can offer?

I formatted my book in MS Word, then created an ebook with Mobipocket Creator. There was some reading and learning to do when I had first started, of course, but I did not have any problems. MS Word is easy to format the text and insert illustrations where I want them; Mobipocket does a great job of creating an ebook. I then check how it looks through Kindle for PC or on my Kindle.

I have printed edition available as well, offered through CreateSpace. I did the book in MS Word as well, using their templates, then converted to PDF.

What are your sales numbers? Are your illustrated book(s) selling better than your other titles?

Since releasing My Sparkling Misfortune in January 2011, I have sold a little over 300 copies. Not much, but the sales are growing. When I don’t do much promotion, the book seems to sell around 20-30 copies per month. Doing promos or being mentioned on a prominent blog helps, of course. My bestselling month was May, with 83 copies sold. Yes, MSM sells better than most of my other titles. It has never been offered for free, so I don’t have any number of free downloads.

How did you determine pricing? Have you played with pricing? How has it affected your sales?

Since the book is not long, only about 33,000 words, I didn’t feel comfortable charging more than $1.99 for it. I did not want to go less than that though, either; it is a quality book, and I had invested in a professional artist. The price seems to work well. Yes, I did a $0.99 experiment, lowering the price for a week. It gave a good boost at first, then sales went back to what they were before. I think I will stick to $1.99.

How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?

Just this one. My other titles are not illustrated.

Do you have more planned?

I plan to release the sequel to My Sparkling Misfortune in October 2011, but it will not be illustrated, at least not right away. The reasons are purely financial. Fortunately, illustrations are easy to add later on. If the book sells well, I might consider doing that in the future.

What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?

If you can draw your own illustrations, things are much easier for you; I’d say just go for it. If not, it is a considerable investment, so I would advise to do some careful thinking. Why do you want illustrations? Do you think it will boost the sales? It might help, but not necessarily so. Do you think the book will benefit from being illustrated and you don’t care how soon you recoup the investment? In that case it is probably worth a try.

Laura Lond is an internationally published author of several novels and a collection of short stories. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Having worked for 2 years at a literary museum, Laura entered the world of business, working for large international corporations like Xerox Ltd. and Fluor Daniel. After moving from Europe to the United States, she has been self-employed as a freelancer. Laura lives in Illinois.

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