April Eberhardt: Literary Agent for Change

by Susan Bearman

April Eberhardt, Literary Agent

Today’s post is written by regular contributor Susan Bearman.

I first met April Eberhardt in October 2011 when she came to speak to my writers’ workshop, and was immediately struck by her genuine enthusiasm for writing, literature, publishing, and writers … especially writers. I asked her if she would talk to me for a piece on Write It Sideways and she agreed with that signature enthusiasm.

April spent the first 25 years of her career as a corporate strategist. Along the way, her belief that the whole world is moving toward direct-to-consumer marketing lead her to create a semi-custom women’s boutique clothing company. And her love of literature took her to Zoetrope: All-Story, a quarterly literary publication founded by Francis Ford Coppola, where she became head reader.

Five years ago, she became a literary agent. I asked her what led such a savvy businesswoman to take a leap of faith onto the foundering ship of publishing. “I’m an risk-taker,” she said. “I was a corporate strategist for 25 years, so I’m looking at this business as a strategist. I had a vision. I’ve had my eyes fixed on high-quality self-publishing from the outset. I jumped in knowing that it was coming and that I could help lead the way.”

Wait. What? Did she say self-publishing?

“Too many good authors are not being published,” she said. “It’s not the story, it’s the industry that’s broken. You can spend years shopping your manuscript to traditional publishers only to find yourself not published. I want to link the author to the reader. It’s a mindset, not just technology.”

Just before we spoke, Eberhardt decided to join forces with several other major literary agencies as part of the Argo Navis Author Services program of The Perseus Books Group. This represents the agent-curated model of self-publishing that she had envisioned when she started five years ago. “I had to wait for the timing to catch up to the vision.”

According to Eberhardt, some tiny fraction of writers are published by traditional publishers, and even then, it doesn’t always live up to a writer’s expectations. “Among my authors who have been published by big houses, it can be a huge disappointment,” said Eberhardt. “It’s heartbreaking—to see the promises made and then broken is crushing.”

Eberhardt gets 10,000 submissions a year. Ten thousand. “Of those, I find 15 to 20 that I think are exceptional,” she said. “I work hard for my authors. I’m in service to my authors, but it’s tough.” She currently represents about 20 writers, mostly first-time authors of women’s literary and book club fiction.

A New Paradigm

So why is an agent interested in self-publishing? How does that work?

“Most self-publishing is not of high quality,” April admits. “There has been a disregard of publishing standards and that needs to change. I’m looking at a new way of doing things, a model of agent-led self-publishing where authors get guidance to bring their self-published work to a professional level.”

“Self-publishing can, in some cases, increase your chances of being published by a traditional publisher,” said Eberhardt, “but I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. If we raise the bar in self-publishing, if we do it right, the author has the most to win. Traditional publishers take too much of the pie. They have a food chain to feed and authors get the crumbs.”

So literary agent April Eberhardt is soliciting manuscripts for this new model—a model of agent-assisted self-publishing, where authors would pay for publishing, but keep a much, much larger percentage of the profits. “I will continue to solicit submissions, but far fewer for traditional publishing,” she said. “We need some success stories in self-publishing to show it can be done right. If you do it wrong, don’t even bother, but if you do it right, you will help raise the bar.”

What Can Writers Do to Do It Right?

According to Eberhardt, the work you must do as a writer for the self-publishing market is the same as always, only more:

1. “Share your manuscript with others—not friends and family, who will of course love your work. Find an utter stranger, someone with no vested interest, to give you feedback. Evaluation from an unbiased viewpoint is essential.”
2. “Find an editor. You would be amazed at what I see. Never send out an unedited manuscript. I get glaring errors from writers who don’t bother to let anyone else kick the tires. You need someone to edit for content and to do line edits.”
3. “Hook into self-publishing at the highest possible level. Learn the business.”
4. “Read. Know what’s being published.”
5. “Think of different ways to promote your book and unearth unusual points of purchase.”

Part of raising the bar is making sure that your self-published book looks professional, and unless you are a designer as well as a writer, you will probably have to find other professionals to create a great cover design and professional page layouts. If you want your book to compete with those published by the big publishing houses, you need it to look the part.

Eberhardt also believes that every writer needs an online presence. Where you do it depends in large part on the demographics of your readers, but how you do it is what counts. “The whole issue is one of authenticity,” she said. “If you aren’t authentic, it really shows. We’ve all become very sensitive to people trying to push stuff on us all the time. Constantly selling is a total turnoff. You have to be interesting and interested.”

That means participating in an online dialogue. “Speak intelligently on the web about your book, but about other books, too,” said Eberhardt. “Every writer needs to be a reader.” Here are some of her suggestions for creating an effective online presence:

  • “Every author must have a website.”
  • Participate on other blogs.” (Comment on posts that interest you; offer to guest post on relevant blogs; do blog tours.)
  • “Have your own blog.”
  • “Facebook and Twitter, but that’s not as important for all authors. It depends on your demographic. My demographic isn’t on Facebook and Twitter, so I outsource that kind of social networking. The readers of my authors are much more active on other sites, like Goodreads and Shelfari, as well as on e-mail.”

Even Agents Have Dreams

“My dream is to have the go-to website aimed at book club readers—intelligent readers who want good fiction and to have a dialogue about the books they’ve read and loved,” said April. “There is a risk to putting out new authors, but I want a place where they can cast their shadows for the first time. I want to act in service to authors and readers.”

Her passion for this dream comes from the stories. “It’s the discovery of the unusual story that keeps me going,” said Eberhardt, “the hope of finding a thrilling new voice.”

But it’s the authors themselves who may be her biggest obstacle in realizing those dreams. “Old dreams die hard, and most writers want the dream of being picked up by a traditional publisher,” she said. “I understand it. But that’s Plan A, and it isn’t working for most writers. Let’s try Plan B.”

I asked if she had any final words of wisdom, and she decided to end our interview with a call to action:

“Consider self-publishing. Do it right. Open your mind. Let go of the idea that only traditionally-published books are real books. And finally, I would love to have every reader go out today and buy a self-published book.”

Thank you to April Eberhardt for her time and generosity. We’ll be watching as she forges a path in the new world of publishing.

  • http://elorithryn.blogspot.com/ Cathryn Leigh

    What got me in this post? – “quality self-publishing” – April, you speak my language. :}

    The more I’ve been hanging out in these circles the more I’ve come to realize that my dream is not about being an author for a publisher, but being a writer with quality work out there that is available in the format my readers want. And given some of those readers are my techno no-savvy relative, I’d like them in a printed form, but I’ve no qualms about starting electonically if that’s how it needs to go.

    I also have no qualms about sharing my work to improve it’s quality. I’ve had that feeling since before I started hanging out in these circles. It’s nice to know i”m not the only one who cares about Quality.

    :} Cathryn / Elorithryn

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      I love the new technologies and all the opportunity they offer for writers. One of my biggest qualms, however, is that “editing” and “proofreading” seem to have become archaic ideas. Just because we can doing something faster, doesn’t mean we should, and I believe bringing professionals back into the publishing loop will help ensure quality. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • http://granbee.wordpress.com Rose Byrd

    Susan, bless you for taking on us eccentric writers! I was so excited as I started to read your post today and find you being a literary agent. I will be sending out EDITED manuscripts, with illustrations, of my adult fairytale/allegorical series. This series is currently underway, with selections appearing on my blog. I have been immersed in following all of the steps you list above. One of the blogs I follow and comment upon each day is that of Kenneth Mark Hoover, also publishing with Argo Nevis! Several writers with whom I network online refer to Goodreads, which I am checking out right now!

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Rose, April Eberhardt is the agent. I’m just the lucky writer who got to speak with her and write up our conversation. Good luck with your work and research.

  • http://www.robincoyle.com Robin Coyle

    Interesting post with good information! Thank you.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Thanks for reading, Robin.

  • http://www.tanyagrove.wordpress.com tanya grove

    It’s a scary transitional time in the publishing world. I have to admit that I am one of those people who wanted to hold out for a traditional publisher because that felt more like a “real book.” But self-publishing has come a long way, and it’s much easier to produce a book of quality and also be accepted in the literary community. I’m close to being convinced, and this article put me another step closer.
    I have a question about the agent’s role in this scenario, though: would the agent be more of a publicist in this situation since there’s no soliciting publishers with self-publishing?

    • http://www.aprileberhardt.com April Eberhardt

      Hi, Tanya, Thought I’d jump right in here and answer your question…we as agents can play a number of roles in helping authors self-publish. We can act as editors and publicists for you (or can put you in touch with others who can do so.) Many of us act as guides and coaches throughout the process. As you point out, it’s a transitional time, with roles and routines shifting fast, so please reach out and ask us questions! And thanks to all who have commented on Susan’s groundbreaking article. We’re in this adventure together!

  • http://www.travelswithcharliebrowne.blogspot.com Lillian Browne

    Excellent article! The publishing world has changed and continues to change dramatically. Self-publishing with put authors ahead of the curve but education, as pointed out in the article, is key!

    • http://2kop.blogspot.com Susan Bearman

      Thanks for reading, Lillian.

  • http://www.thejadedlens.com Britton Minor

    Such a timely post for me, as I this very topic has been on my mind all weekend. Thanks for such a meaty and well-written/researched post!

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      It’s on my mind all the time, too, Britton. Thanks.

  • http://www.catherinestine.blogspot.com Catherine Stine

    How refreshing! I like her new vision for publishing and admission that the traditional model is, at least in part, broken. I am an author who has published both ways, and going indie has been quite interesting.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Catherine, I would love to hear more about your experiences.

  • http://writeitsideways.com Suzannah Windsor Freeman

    I just wanted to say a big thank you to both April Eberhardt and Susan Bearman for this very interesting interview. I’ve always had a strong personal attachment to the idea of traditional publishing, but things have changed so much in the past couple of years that it’s difficult to ignore the possibilities ahead of us.

    April, thanks so much for sharing your experience and future endeavours with us here on Write It Sideways!

  • http://communicatecreativity.com/ Rebecca Burgener

    Agents helping self-published authors, love it!

    I have published very little at this point in my writing journey, but I love the idea of self-publishing. I’m glad to hear that I won’t be completely alone when that time comes.

    • http://2kop.blogspot.com Susan Bearman

      It’s a growing marking, Rebecca. You definitely won’t be alone. I think it’s great that we’ll have people like April to help us.

  • http://laurellamperdwriter.webs.com Laurel Lamperd

    Excellent article. I do think the average unpublished writer might have to go the self-published route. If their book is good enough they might be picked up and published by a traditional publisher. If not, at least they have the satisfaction of seeing their book out there.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Laurel, what I love is that they are viable options now. If, as April says, we work to raise the bar of self-publishing, it will continue to grow and will soon become a welcome staple of the industry.

  • http://www.ileandrayoung.com Ileandra Young

    I think this is a wonderful article and it goes a good way towards making me feel better. I was all geared up to write a blog post today (I may still do it actually) titled; Scared Out Of Self Publishing.

    Everything I read about self pubbing is so negative and its really frightening to put your neck on the chopping block to be talked about in the same manner as some of these other authors. But of course, there is a reason they’re being slated so much and much of that is because they didn’t put in the work required to make their piece great. You HAVE to treat your novel the same way you would if it was being sent out to a traditional publisher; self pubbing is not an excuse to dip quality.

    I think my up coming blog post is going to take a slightly different slant now that I’ve read this piece.

    Thank you very much!

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Ileandra, I’m glad to hear this piece made you feel better. I think you’re right. No one should feel that self-publishing is taking the easy way out. To do it right takes a lot of work, and most likely collaboration with other professionals (editors, designers, printers and marketers). It’s hard for a writer to learn to wear all those different hats.

  • Janelle

    Sorry, but I have an almost automatic skeptic response that pops out when I hear someone talking about the publishing industry being ‘broken’, or ‘archaic’, or ‘a dinosaur’. Particularly when that someone will be making money from the people they convince that it’s true. I’d rather people talk about self-publishing (with or without a middle man) simply as an alternative route, rather than trying to scare people into it (or worse, give them pie-in-the-sky hopes).

    Unfortunately, the authors who would hire such an agent are probably the same ones who would already be planning on hiring an editing team and cover designer (ie, doing it right). The rest are (and will be) determined to do it “their way”.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Doing it “their way”. Hiring a team. Creating e-books. Pursing a traditional publishing contract. I think it’s all great. To me, the excitement comes from the idea that books and literature are not dead, despite the many obituaries. In fact, it’s alive and well and full of options and debate. There’s no better sign of health than when creativity and innovation abound.

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  • http://www.aprileberhardt.com April Eberhardt

    Hi, Janelle, I’m sorry you’re feeling skeptical and suspicious. While it’s always good to apply critical thinking to a new approach, I think it’s important to know that our intent isn’t to scare or convince anyone to consider self-publishing. Rather, my hope is to offer another alternative to the traditional publishing industry and the “pie in the sky” hopes it has instilled in authors which, for the great majority, will never come true for them. I have arrived at this position after years of submitting literally thousands of queries to to publishers, most of whom have replied with, “This is very good, but we won’t take a risk on a new author.” Self-publishing, done right, seems like a solution for some, albeit not all. I think it’s important to add that this is not a money-making scheme for me. It’s a way to help my authors get their work published in a respectable and satisfying way by guiding them, if they’d like, through this new and bewildering world. I’d welcome further discussion with you and others, either here or one-on-one offline. Thanks!

    • Janelle

      Some of what you’re saying – and how you’re saying it – is what makes me skeptical, however. “Traditional” publishing is, actually, trade or commercial publishing. A good agent should know the industry terminology, and not fall into the ‘hype’ of the guru set. And what publisher doesn’t take a chance on new authors every day? That sounds more like an excuse from rejected authors than a sound business policy – and let’s face it, major publishers are successful and still in business for a reason – and it’s not stupidity. And last, when you say this is not a ‘money-making scheme’ – are you thus saying you do this for free?

      Understand, I’m not ‘taking a go’ at you personally. It just seems like there are a lot of people and businesses all set to become that ‘middle man’ the self-publishers wanted so badly to avoid in the first place – they just call themselves ‘consultants’ instead.

      • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

        Janelle, I think we can all agree that the business of writing and publishing is in a state of flux. According to the most recent report from the Association of American Publishers, overall net sales YTD in all reported publishing categories decreased 4.4%. We lost Borders last year and Barnes & Noble is shaky. E-books have become a much bigger part of the equation much more quickly than most people expected, with an increase in sales last year of 117%. If we, as writers, consider writing a career, then it’s important to keep on top of what’s happening (a tough thing to do when those changes are happening daily).

        Skepticism is fine. In fact, it’s important, and each writer must come to his or her own decision about the best career direction to take. We’re lucky to have this forum on Write It Sideways to learn and share together.

        Since we’re picking nits, a quick search of the Publisher’s Weekly website reveals more than 1,000 results for the terms “traditional publishing” and “traditional publishers”, only slightly less than the number of results found when searching “trade publishing” and “trade publishers”. It’s a perfectly valid term.

        • Janelle

          Certainly e-books are becoming more popular – however, that’s merely a format, used by both commercial publishers and self-publishers. Certain self-publishing gurus have tried to equate epublishing with self-publishing, but hopefully people are getting wise to that. At the same times, figures I’ve seen show that ebooks are still only about 30% of total book sales, and that figure is holding steady.

          As to ‘traditional publishers’, it’s a term spawned by self-publishers – and is a more polite way of demeaning those who choose to go with trade/commercial publishing. It’s about as valid as calling self-publishers ‘indie publishers’. It may get used a lot – but as I say, hearing it used raises the skepticism antenna almost immediately.

  • Bobbi Junior

    I must admit that my first response to this new trend towards self-publishing makes me want to give up. It’s hard enough to convince myself that I have the gumption to write, much less figure out how to ‘market’ myself online. I am currently self-editing my journal of the past year detailing my mother’s decline as dementia takes hold. It’s a story I think needs to be told. Living it, writing it, editing it… and now marketing it? TOO MUCH my brain says! But (isn’t there always a but?) I am hearing from many sources that this is the direction that needs to be taken. The idea of an agent who will help with such a process gives me a wee bit of hope. But how does one find an agent who deals in non-fiction? What does one Google for that? I remember the days of the Yellow Pages… Sigh. This high-tech world feels too big at times, but it seems the drive to write is just a little bigger. We are “hard pressed, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair!” Courage to all those in the same boat as myself! :)

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Bobbi, like it or not, marketing is a part of any writer’s job description, regardless of whether they are traditionally published or self published. It’s part of the deal if you want readers.

      Several agents have signed with Argo Navis in this new agent-assisted model. Click on the link in the article above to see a list. They represent a variety of genres.

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  • http://serbaughman.wordpress.com Sarah Baughman

    Thanks to you and April for a very informative post. Like so many other fields, publishing really seems to be changing as a result of technology and globalization. It’s easy to be skeptical at first of some of these “alternative routes” until we realize that they’re not necessarily “alternative”…just the new norm!

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      The “new norm”. I think we’re somewhere between “alternative routes” and a “new norm”. It will be so interesting to see how things shake out, if they ever do. Or if we’re in for a lifetime of constant change. I remember when I was in eighth grade a teacher saying: “Change is constant, but the pace of change in your lifetimes will continue to accelerate.” How right he was.

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  • http://conversation2sales.com Lesa

    Publishing is an industry in a state of flux right now, regardless of whether you choose to believe it or not. A decade from now, it will look very different than it does today. I can’t say what it WILL look like, but I hope it is what April envisions — quality books produced on a more direct-to-consumer model. Consumers would benefit from a great selection of quality reading material and writers be better paid for their work. That sounds like a winning combination.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      I hope you’re right, too, Lesa. Here’s to higher quality reading and better pay for writers.

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  • http://teabuddy.wordpress.com/ Shona Patel

    April Eberhardt is my agent. No other agent is such a fearless advocate for her writers’ work. Her excitement is contagious. She worked painstakingly with me to polish my manuscript and make it submission-ready. Her main goal is get a professional looking book out and let readers be the judge. I feel very fortunate to be repped by her and no praise is high enough.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Shona, thanks for sharing your experience with April. In all our interactions, I have found her to be incredibly generous to the writing community.

  • http:habisha.wordpress.com Deborah Turner

    This is interesting and going in the right direction, in my opinion. Self publishing needs to have the same standards as traditional publishing if it’s going to be looked at as legit. But I am curious how the agent functions in self-publishing — as editor, agent, packager or exactly what? Maybe a little of all of it. And why pay an agent to help you with a self-published book unless you are eventually looking to go traditional? Still some questions I’d like answered.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Deborah, I agree about raising the standards. Since this is a brand new model, we’ll have to follow the agents participating to see how it works.

  • http://www.AdamPepper.com Adam Pepper

    I must admit, I started reading this piece with great skepticism. As an author who’s been both agented and self published, I have my doubts as to the value an agent would bring to the table in this relationship. But after reading, I believe April is a genuine advocate for her clients. She has passion for what she does and believes in the work she takes on. That faith alone is something she is bringing to the table. We authors can be a fragile bunch. Sure we need logistical support but a confidence boost is helpful too.

    Elevating our game is something all writers should be working at, with whatever support system we have in place. That alone is an admirable pursuit.

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Well said, Adam. You are in an excellent positon to see both sides of the publishing card. How have your self-published works fared? We’re looking authors to share the self-publishing stories.

      • http://www.AdamPepper.com Adam Pepper


        Thanks for asking. My self publishing journey has been quite an exciting road. I’ve published two novels, the first, SYMPHONY OF BLOOD, a gritty, urban fantasy tale last July, and just this past January, SKIN GAMES, a crime drama. I’ve been steadily building on the grassroots following I already had from my small press books. Sales are steady but not extraordinary. But more than anything the passion has returned. As I mentioned, I have been agented in the past, twice. Neither agent succeeded in landing me a mass market deal. It happens. I try not to be bitter, but I am disenchanted. The business is just so discouraging at times. But now I know with each book I write, it will have a chance to find an audience. That alone has motivated me and really made me feel good about my work again.

        I’d love to talk more if you are looking for authors to share their stories.

        Thanks again!


    • http://teabuddy.wordpress.com/ Shona Patel

      Adam, in all my dealings with April, I have never met a more sincere person. She has her writers foremost in mind. This is a frustrating time for both writers and agents. April is very respected in the publishing business and very well-connected with editors: she knows many of them personally. She strategically targets her submissions and the editors trust her judgement. She works so hard only to find we are up against a wall. There has to be another way to fly over the cesspool of self-publishing to reach readers. Elevating the game, as you rightly pointed out, is the key.

  • http://www.tracyclark.org Tracy Clark

    As a writer whose work has been to aquisitions meetings at major publishers TWICE this year (with two different books) and has not been made an offer, I find myself pondering what I once eschewed: self-publishing. I have to believe that my work is good enough if it’s gotten that close. I’m not quite ready to give up and am currently revising the latest novel in hopes of better luck in a second round of submitting. But if it’s a no-go on that round, I can’t give up on the project and will likely consider this route. Your post made me think of it in a new way. Thanks!

    • http://[email protected] Susan @ 2KoP

      Hi, Tracy. First, congratulations on getting so close. I hope your publishing dreams come true. But I feel your frustration, and you’re not alone. Keep us posted on your progress and good luck.

  • Rebecca Leo

    Thanks, Susan, for the very encouraging interview with April. Thanks, April, for explaining current issues and opportunities in the rapidly changing world of self publishing. And thanks, Robin Stratton (author of “On Air,” “The Writing Process” and “Of Zen and Men”) for forwarding this interview to me. Also, thanks to all the commenters for sharing your thoughts and experiences. After working on my novel for over ten years (with breaks while I wrote another novel and a screenplay), I recently made the decision to pursue the self-publishing route. One thing that did straightaway was energize and inspire me to make major revisions as I renew the entire manuscript. Your article confirms that I am on the right track and that there will be a place for my book when it’s finished. I think your approach, April, of marketing to book clubs is marvelous. I know that my book, “The Flaws That Bind,” will be perfect for book club discussion. And just reading the article inspired me with other new ideas for marketing it. Like other commenters, I have been reticent to get involved with blogs, websites, etc., largely because doing so takes time away from my writing. But you have convinced me. Thanks to Robin’s good advice, I already own domain names. Plus I know a good web designer, so I will be activating all of that soon.

    • http://2kop.blogspot.com Susan @ 2KoP

      Wow, Rebecca, it sounds like you’re off and running. Good luck with your projects and let us know when your website is live.

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  • http://www.mtwhitneyoneday.com Sharon S.

    I self-published a hiking book in 1997 and would have been ecstatic if it sold 100 copies. To date it has sold almost 13,000! (www.mtwhitneyoneday.com) And the 5th paper printing of 3,150 more, was delivered to my house this week. This book has a tiny audience (climbing continental America’s highest mountain in one day) , yet sold that many copies.

    I now have a main-stream novel out with an editor (a brutal editor I might add! Which is what I searched for. “Nice” editors don’t tell you the truth!) who wants me to definitely submit it to a publishing house. I read April’s article in the May/June WD and she has convinced me to go self-published again. She reports that “traditionally” it’s at least a year looking for an agent and then at least another year looking for a publisher. That puts me on the cusp of 70. I may not have that much time left! I definitely agree with her that self-published works MUST be of a higher quality than traditional publishing house products! I see too, too many self-published books being put out by unremarkable people with unremarkable lives wanting to print an autobiography. They are the ones giving self-publishing a black eye. Unless you’ve had a raging affair with Princess Di, don’t print it!

    I’m putting my hiking book on e-books too, as the younger people are into e-books more than us old-time paper book people. This way they can take the book with them up the mountain.

    Thanks April for the WD article! I now know what path to take!

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