Saturday, February 4, 2012


Author: Liam O'Shiel
Genre: Speculative fiction
How long it's been on sale: 2 months
Current price: $1.99
Marketing: Banner ads on Facebook, Irish Times, Bookreads; Clarion Review; Giveaways on Bookreads and Librarythings; excerpt posted on Kindleboards; sent off numerous additional review copies (Kirkus, Booklist, etc.); complete book website at; author page on Amazon.
Total sold so far: 3 print, one Kindle
Link to book on Amazon: Eirelan (Saga of the Latter-Day Celts)

Product Description:

The great cities of the past have crumbled to Earth. Square-rigged warships sail the seas. Battles are fought swords and longbows and catapults. Yet culture and civilization abound: towns and villages, pubs and fairs, music and poetry, history and philosophy, are all about. It is the 999th year of the Province of the Twenty Clans, founded on the shores of Lough Ennell in Ireland in 2954 A.D. In this millennial year, the Province and its Gaelic-speaking allies are threatened with extinction by an ice age overspreading Europe and by determined, powerful enemies on land and sea. This is a story of a noble people fighting for the right to live and enjoy the beauty of the world as they see it. Book I of the Saga of the Latter-Day Celts. 

First 300 Words:

(Eirelan is a 270,000 word novel. The preface is a poem by a main character; each chapter begins with an epigraph. Below you see the poem, chapter 1 epigraph, and 270 words of the first chapter of fifty.)


Strike me, ye winds of a frightful black night,
Bend, all ye boughs till your limbs touch the Earth.
Rain in great torrents, blind my pale eyes,
I fear not the rage of the storm.
Thunder, ye waves of the sea on the shore,
Crack, ye hard stones and fall into the foam.
Bolts of fierce lightning, strike where ye will,
I stand on the edge of the cliff.
Howl on, ye wolves of the forest together,
Rend the night’s calm with your heart-chilling song.
Shriek, ye great owl, and hunt as you will,
I stride through the deep woods alone.
Touch me, sweet dawn with your rain-scented mist,
Call to me, larks and ye sea-hunting birds.
Zephyr of morning, caress my fair hair,
I rejoice to be part of it all.

Liadan Conmaicne Laigain
Province Year 962

Epigraph, Chapter 1:

On the shores of Lough Ennell, toward early evening on the winter solstice, in the old calendar year 2954 A.D., the Twenty Clans gathered, not all of the people to be sure, but the leaders and elders and scholars and the ordinary folk who farmed and fished and made things with their skilled hands. As the sun set over the lake, a solemn song was sung while twenty great stones were set in a circle, one for each clan. This circle of stones was ever after venerated as marking the time and place of our joining together, to live as we wished to live, speaking the ancient tongue of the Celts, and forsaking forever after the machines which had brought mankind low and torn the beautiful earth asunder. On that day near a thousand years ago at Lough Ennell, we became the Province of the Twenty Clans.

Seanlaoch Osraige, Historian of the Province

Chapter 1
October 8, Province Year 999

The Harvest Fair at Wicklow was by no means the largest in the Province, yet no other fair east or west surpassed the joy of its music, the riot of its colors, the variety of its foods and ales, and the artistry of its crafts. Today the fair had been blessed with a balmy early autumn day of gentle sun and cool breeze from the sea.

People came from as far as Ballycanew to the south and Athy to the west, in creaking, thick-axled farm wagons drawn by snorting teams, bearing fathers and mothers and infants on the buckboard and the older children crowded in amid tubs of grain, strings of cured sausages, wheels of aged cheese, crocks overtopped with fresh butter, kegs of strong ale, boxes of potatoes and tomatoes and carrots, cartons of herbs for curing and herbs for cooking, and every other item large and small that might be bartered or sold for Province coin.

In smaller wagons or on horseback came the vendors of fine metalwork, jewelry, pottery, glassware, clothing for every purpose, shoes, caps, hats, tools, cookware, wood carvings, paintings, wall coverings, carpets, weapons, and armor. Musicians, drama troupes, storytellers, mystics, bards and singers had been working the rolling fields since dawn, their cups and baskets filling fast with coin. The innocent laughter of children mingled with shouts of greeting, the banter of bartering, guffaws at a joke, the sweet lilt of a fine soprano lifted in song. Clans scattered over the land gathered to exchange the news of births and deaths and weddings and seamy tales of family intrigue, jealousy and secret grudges.

Vicki's Comments: When I look at this cover, I like the overall design, but I don't get any sense of genre from it. The ocean could mean this is a nautical book, but there's no boat or person to look at. I like the Celtic symbol, but it makes me think the book is historical. I think the cover isn't helping draw readers who like futuristic stories. I would try to get a different cover design, one that tells the reader at a glance that this book is set in the future. Is this book dystopian? Maybe look at other dystopian books and try to get that kind of a look. Most of them have futuristic type styles, which can tell the reader right away this is not a historical novel.

I don't usually pick at titles, but I'm not sure the title of this book is helping it any. The title makes me think of High Fantasy, set in the past. This is compounded by the cover, in my opinion. I don't think these things are drawing in the right audience. I hate suggesting a title change, but I think I'm going to at least suggest you look at this as an option.

There's a big problem with the description. There are no characters in the description. Who is this book about? What are their struggles? What obstacles do they overcome? I don't usually want to read a book unless I know what the main character's name is, and why they are someone I'm going to want to spend hours of my time with. The main obstacle is not getting people to part with their $1.99. It's convincing people they want to commit a large portion of time to read this book. In my opinion the description needs to start with the main character, what event starts the book in motion, and what conflict keeps me glued to the novel until the end.

I normally cut the beginning to be 300 words when an author sends me more, but this time I kept it all in. I felt it was important for people to be able to critique the entire beginning, because at 300 words we haven't even gotten to the prose yet. Now, you have to realize that I'm not a huge poetry lover. When I saw the poem at the beginning, and read that each chapter starts with one, I wasn't horribly enthusiastic about it. Some other people might really like it. If people like me were the target audience, though, I would suggest cutting the poetry. The poetry could be put at the end or on the website for extra material that fans would like.

I'm confused about each chapter starting with an epigraph. Isn't that just back story that would be better coming out as the story progresses? I would suggest cutting the epigraphs too, and giving the reader the information as they read.

The beginning of the novel started way to slow for me. And the beginning seemed like a bunch of lists. First we get a list of the things that Wicklow surpassed in other provinces. Then there's a list of the things that were crowded in the back of the wagons. Then there's a list of the things the vendors were selling. And then there's a list of the kinds of people who were found on the street. And then there's a list of the noises that mingled with the laughter of the children. And finally there's a list of the things the people were chattering about.

Now, I'm not saying everything about the book is bad. I did actually grab a sample so I could read more of the prose. In my opinion, the prose is well written. I just felt like taking a large pair of scissors and trimming out a bunch of the beginning. I want to get to know the main character first, and then learn about the setting in little bits as the scene progresses.

This novel is 270,000 words. Wow. I can't help but think that two thirds of this could be cut. (Granted, I haven't read the whole thing, but judging from the beginning, I'm guessing the whole book needs a nice trim.) I would recommend seeking a content editor or finding some really good beta readers who can help you slim down the novel. I would also get a more futuristic cover and work on the blurb.

What do you guys think?


  1. Something that jumps out at me:

    You may have made it a bit too far in the future, and that makes me wonder what their is in the book that people can relate to.

    That said, I think your premise and cover are great.

    Something else that strikes me though is your description. It lacks any information about a central character that we can identify with and want to learn more about.

    That, if anything, imho, is why you are not seeing sales.

    -Tommy J. Charles

    1. Tommy - comment well taken. I have reworked the Amazon blurb many times. The consensus seems to be to put characters in it. I will try - but Amazon's word limit is very strict. There are some 12 POV characters in the book, no one of which is "main." Not easy to introduce characters in such a tiny space and yet convey some sense of the story as well. I'll see what I can manage.


  2. First, I had to look up speculative fiction. I'm still not sure I know what that means. It might help to include a sub-genre.

    When I look at the cover, I think it's a story about emigration. Spec fiction, from what I read, can include fantasy and maybe the cover should convey more of that sub-genre.

    From the blurb, which is missing some words, this book could either be set in the future or in the past. There have been many periods in history where whole civilizations fell, so that needs to be made clear.

    Is the story about a specific character or is it more the story of a people and their struggle to form a new civilization?

    To be honest, the first thing that turned me off is the poem at the beginning. If it's only a couple of lines, I might force myself to read a poem, but poetry in general just puts me to sleep. That's a personal preference and does not reflect at all on value of the poem.

    There's a lot of telling rather than showing in the beginning. There should be lots of action at a fair with people calling out greetings to one another, setting up stalls, checking out what other vendors have brought, maybe even helping a widow and her son unload their wagon.

    The poem and the epigraph are the setup. The Chapter should get right into the people at the fair and the main characters should make an appearance as early as possible. Otherwise, readers will get bogged down in the prose before finding something or someone to care about.

    798 pages, nearly three pounds of paper. That's a lot of book. I'll read that many pages if it's a series I'm already invested in, but I won't even start that long a book unless it's an author I already know and love.

    Maybe the author should think of breaking it up into a trilogy at $1.99 each with an omnibus edition at $4.99.

  3. I like the cover...if there was a little more. I like the title...if there was a little more. Give me more of an idea what the book is about at first glance. A hint of this futuristic warship or the struggle on the cover could entice me with the sci-fi struggle. An extremely brief addition to title could clarify my interest in the story.

    The blurb also needs more to pull in me in. I need something to commit myself to. A character to empathize with, root for and want to understand more. Personally, I can't get pulled into a war. Too depressing, no matter what era it is in. But you give me a character I want to care about, I will read the story and follow their story, even through a war.

    Good luck. You're on the right track, just give me a little more. :-)
    C.K. Volnek

    1. Very helpful, Charlie - very specific. The book is about a great deal more than war but perhaps the description is too dark. It is a story entirely about people, their lives and hopes and dreams. They are poets and singers,enjoy sex and good ale, but yes, they also have to fight. I am working on a revised edition and will give your ideas much thought. If you choose to read the book, please email your thoughts to me at


  4. Annie's comment disappeared, but it came to my email, so I'm reposting it:

    "I think that the description needs work and agree that it needs a character or two. It gives the setting and sort of the stakes, but not why a reader should care. Maybe check the descriptions on the Dorothy Dunnet books for ideas?

    The book sounds interesting, but that is a lot of front matter to get through. I'd pick either poem or epigraph, not both.

    I really like the title, but the cover definitely needs work. I agree it needs some hint of character and/or genre. I think labeling this as fantasy is okay. It might be far future, but it seems like the world underwent a reset in terms of tech, so the actual date doesn't matter that much.

    For a fantasy saga, which is what it seems like this is, 270,000 words isn't that bad. It's a huge book, no question, but that's sort of expected. I do think that pricing at 1.99 is not helping the ebook. 1.99 is a pricing dead zone. For a massive book like this and for a genre novel, I'd price at least 4.99."

    1. I am very curious about the $1.99 Kindle "pricing dead zone." What does that mean? Amazon's KDP program makes the book available for free to Prime Members (authors get paid by Amazon). I am willing to go to $4.99 but I'd like to better understand the rationale.


    2. Hopefully my reply posts:

      Liam- I occasionally do informal studies of the top 100 lists for various genres, looking at pricing. I've found that for just about every genre top 100 list I've looked at, there is almost nothing priced at 1.99. I know it probably doesn't mean much, but it does tell me that not a lot of books priced at 1.99 make it high in the rankings, either because that price point looks odd to buyers or because there just aren't many books priced that way. I don't know.

      I, personally, think a price in the 4.99-6.99 range on a big fat book like this would tell me as a reader that here is a large book with quality writing. The 4.99 price can be good because it still is under 5 bucks and looks like a bargain without saying "too cheap to be a meaty read". From the description of your book and the length, this is definitely a meaty read kind of novel. I would try raising the price for at least three months and see how it goes.

  5. Absolutely, my first assumption was that this was a historical novel. I was immediately put off by the fact that it's not. I am also not at all fond of books that start off with a lot of backstory and no character. Look how Martin started the hugely epic SoFaI. In a huge and extraordinarily complet world he starts with specific characters doing something interesting. What they are doing tells a huge amount about the world they are in.

    After a rather huge slice of prose and poetry in that, I have not a single character to spark my interest. Not even one! Not even a hint of one. Nothing but some infodumping about the world building. Well in a fantasy, I assume you have a world built and it doesn't keep me reading past a sample. This is exactly the kind of sample that I would delete.

    Sorry to be negative but no way would this keep me reading, and I do read this genre. I would re-work the opening (probably completely cutting the info-dump world building which should be worked into the story or at least putting it off until later in the novel) and change the cover so it doesn't look like a historical novel.

    1. J.R. - the excerpt above is in fact the book's beginning. But a main character appears 270 words, three paragraphs, into chapter one, immediately following the excerpt. It would take about 1 minute to read this "backstory." Is that truly excessive? If it is, can a book start with even a paragraph of setting?

      By the way ... it is not fantasy. That genre involves magic, strange creatures, spells, etc. My novel is hard-core reality beginning to end.

      On the cover, the book is set in the chronological future but the technological past. (Yes, that is a very distinct possibility.) What specific things could you put on the cover that would not mislead in one direction or the other? That's why I opted for an ocean view and the Celtic Cross, both of which figure heavily in the story.


    2. I didn't say it was fantasy, but it speculative fiction which is in the same general genre. If you think you can outsell Martin and his speculative fiction, I wish you luck. It is rather a mistake to refuse to learn from the masters.

      I'm going to be rather quick in my response. I don't want to read a novel about "a noble people". I want to read one about some particular person. You don't introduce one in your novel description. You don't introduce one in the first several pages of your novel although you seem to think that the introductory material doesn't count with which I disagree.

      As for what would work as a cover, I haven't read the novel, so I can hardly say. I would *hope* there are people in it, people doing something which might be of some interest. If not, well, in that case I honestly don't know what to tell you.

  6. I have to agree about the cover - in no way did I think this was set in the future, I thought it was historical fiction set in the ocean.

    I like the description, but it is clunky in parts, such as: "Battles are fought swords and longbows and catapults. Yet culture and civilization abound: towns and villages, pubs and fairs, music and poetry, history and philosophy, are all about."

    It should be "Battles are fought with swords and longbows and catapults. Yet culture and civilization are abound: towns and villages, pubs and fairs, music and poetry, history and philosophy all are part of their lives."

    The story starts with a lot of description, but where is it leading to? Also, why did these people in the future switch back to olden times? I'd rather read a backstory where it is explained how technology failed and this is why people went back to these times. Either way as the start stands now, I think it needs more action to capture the reader.

    1. The author seems to be under the impression that if there were swords, longbows and catapults, there was usually no civilization, towns or villages which would have rather surprised the dwellers of cities and towns through the ages. Apparently, there weren't philosophers or history either. Socrates, Plato, Polybius, Herodotus, Thucydides, Adelard of Bath, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Acquinas, John Fordun and Petrarch obviously didn't count. *sigh*

    2. That is a good point and I see how the short paragraph can give that impression. As a lifelong, dedicated student of Greek and Roman civilization, it would be the furthest thing from my mind. I have already rewritten the description above based on comments received. I don't mind advice at all, and I give every view full consideration. I do reserve the right to disagree and continue a dialogue. With that, I have said enough. My thanks to all who commented, positive or negative.


  7. COVER: I mostly agree with what others have said. The cover doesn’t say mythical future, but the modification of the Celtic cross does suggest a future time—but I guess it’s not suggestive enough.

    PD: There are some typos and oddities. To the former, “Earth” shouldn’t be capitalized if you mean the ground rather than the planet; you’re missing “with” between “fought” and “sword”; and it should be “spreading over,” not “overspreading,” a word you’d only use when expressing your preference regarding the thickness of peanut butter on bread. In other words, “overspreading” means “spreading too much” not “covering.”

    To the latter, “square-rigged” is the correct nomenclature, but it’s a technical term, and I think you’re better with “square-sailed.” “Abound” is an odd way to describe culture and civilization when there’s “thrive” and “prosper”; and you probably mean “high culture,” since “culture” is a generic word for that which human have and other animals don’t. And it’s likely redundant anyway, since “civilization” presupposes high culture unless otherwise qualified (e.g., “a civilization without high culture”). Also, it’s hard to reconcile Ireland being spared an ice age in Europe when they’re both warmed by the Gulf Stream and Ireland is farther north than the continent.

    Details aside, I have to agree with others that you need some characters in the PD. It’s hard to identify with “a noble people.”

    300: Let me say, first, that the prose is well-polished. A few exceptions: AD goes before the year, especially in epic. “To forsake” is to give up on forever, so “forever after” is redundant. Even if you leave it in for effect, it should be “forsaking ever after.”

    Not crazy about the double-epigraph. I don’t mind poetry, and it’s actually not bad. But your metre is inconsistent and there’s at least one instance of hiatus (i.e., “of a frightful”). Also “sea-hunting birds” means “birds that hunt the sea.” All the same, I doubt many people will notice.

    The bigger problem may be the verse’s prefatory function. Is this supposed to be a kind of creed the people themselves recite and live by? If so, it might be too abstract to convey that message to the reader. You might need to make it a little more creedal sounding (think: “We hold these truths to be self-evident...”, “I believe in the...”).

    The historical bit is redundant. It doesn’t set the scene and you could drop this in later on, especially since you open with a long description of stuff and anonymous people doing mundane things. Like others have suggested, you need some characters. At a minimum, someone should be surveying this scene and taking part.

    Finally, an impression began to form in my mind as I read, and it may be completely off base. But I get the distinct feeling that this is less a story than a New Age lecture about the evils of capitalism, technology, etc., couched in a story. Again, maybe I’m wrong. But I can tell you that this sinking feeling kills the mood for me on page one.

    1. WH - on your last comment, it is not. Part of the book's premise is a technological decline, and the people of the story have no great desire to return to a technology-dominated past. But this is not in any way central to the story. The book is 99% about the characters, their feelings for each other and for their culture and survival as a people. Since my academic degrees are in physics, mathematics, and the history of technology, it's unlikely I would be found preaching the evils of technology, or of capitalism.

      On the opening of Chapter 1 - the cutoff above is somewhat unfortunate because a main character appears in the very next line, the book's fourth paragraph, 269 words and perhaps one minute's reading. Yes, the opening could be handled differently but in the end I decided three paragraphs to set the scene of a fair was not too much to expect of a reader.


    2. Liam,

      Ah-ha! I knew I could smell something. It’s your background in the history of technology that’s pushing its way into your narrative. It’s what’s causing you to give too much detail and to emphasize only the sunny side of things: you talk about cheese, sausage and horses, but not the smoke, flies, dust, manure and stench that go along with these things. It was all that one-sidedness that had my Spidey senses tingling.

      As for the second part, I’m partially going with Tomlin. When you ask “Why is my book not selling?” one of your responses probably shouldn’t be, “I decided three paragraphs to set the scene of a fair was not too much to expect of a reader.” I can see quite obviously that that’s what you decided and that you don’t think the reader should be put off by it. But you’re here because of the very real possibility that you decided wrong and that the reader is put off by it.

      Everyone here has told you the same thing: the beginning is too long and unfocused. It doesn’t draw the reader in; instead, it demands that the reader read poetry whose purpose is unclear, a brief history of a tribe he’s never heard of and to read over grocery lists of the same merchandise that’s been selling at pseudo-medieval fairs since Ivanhoe.

  8. "The book is 99% about the characters, their feelings for each other and for their culture and survival as a people."

    by "characters" I assume you mean a handful of primary or main characters that drive the story? If so, and if 99% of the book is about these characters then how come they aren't mentioned in your blurb? You say a main character is mentioned in the next line of the sample? How about a blurb that tells us who that main character is and what they are doing and why we should care?

    As far as your cover goes, I knew it was some sort of non-magical fantasy type story (swords and bows and arrows) so I'm not sure there's too much concern there.

    The length of the story is unreal. I would definitely suggest that you break it up into at least 3 smaller bits at $2.99 each and then an omnibus version at $4.99 (that'll also give you more titles on your virtual shelf)

  9. Liam, you're getting some pretty consistent advice that your beginning, be it fifty words or five hundred, isn't working for readers. So, yes: it's too much to ask that readers read through it, however carefully you've crafted it and feel it evokes the scene you want to set.

    I am in your target audience, and I skipped the poetry, read the epigraph, and skimmed the intro. The intro was supremely standard "here we have a lovely little medieval-feeling market of boisterous good-natured jollity" fare. Not poorly written by any means, but no substance. Cookie cutter information. Regular readers of this genre will already get all of the information you go on to spell out from just your first paragraph.

    There's a saying (don't remember from whom it comes): one detail is better than three. Long lists of cheese and wines and wares and so forth actually don't help evoke the setting for readers -- a choice few details will do the job, and do it better.

    Better, because instead of setting scene, you can use the remaining words to have something happen to actual characters. The suggestion to read Martin's opening to _A Game of Thrones_ is an excellent one, as it sounds like your epic may share some territory with his, in both setting and feeling.

    Your writing is very good; it's just not being used in the service of an interesting story in the excerpt.

    The length of the story is perfect for epic fantasy, and a shorter book would leave seasoned readers of that genre dissatisfied. (I know you say your book isn't fantasy, but it certainly sets itself up that way; and there needn't be lots of -- or any -- magic and wizards in a fantasy book. Martin's series has dragons and some folk 'magic' -- and zombies! -- but its core is gritty politics in a medieval-ish setting. And it's that milieu that makes his series fantasy.)

    There are many opinions about pricing; mine is that you take yourself seriously -- especially on a book of this length, and with writing of your caliber -- and price this book at 5.99 or 6.99 or 7.99.

    Good luck!

  10. I may be bucking the trend here, but from what I have read, I love the premise of this book as well as the writing style. I agree with the previous comments on technical aspects. The book could probably stand a further edit. But I really feel there's a lot of potential here and for that I'm willing to overlook minor flaws. I think the cover is great; the dark brooding sea with the celtic symbol grabbed my interest. I also liked the poem at the beginning. For me, it sets the mood.

    Long story short, I bought it and I'm looking forward to seeing how the story develops.\

    Thanks for submitting your book, Liam. When can we expect a follow up?

    Mark W.

    P.S. PLEASE don't follow Martin and put zombies in it!

    1. Mark - my thanks for your comments. There will be no zombies in this book or in the sequels. Surely it is true that a book like "Eirelan" is not to every taste. I knew that in writing it. I wrote the story I wanted to tell and hoped that others would enjoy it - but not everyone. Yes, it doesn't start with someone screaming at someone else -- though a serious sibling argument begins just after the first three naughty paragraphs of placing the reader into a country fair. I hope the story and the characters affect you in some way, and I would love to hear from you again. Best email is but I also have Facebook and Linkedin pages.

      Again, thanks for the comments and for taking the plunge on a long journey with some interesting people.


    2. Mark - I did not answer your last question. The sequel "In the Bleak Midwinter" is about 1/2 written and should be complete in manuscript form by the end of 2012. At the end of "Eirelan" you will be able to read the first chapter of the sequel. If you go to the book's website,, you will find a lot of information about how I came to write the book, list of characters, historical setting, etc. "Eirelan" is one of five planned novels, three in a series starting with "Eirelan" and two books taking place at earlier times.


    3. In other words, you only wanted to hear praise, not opinions about why your novel is not selling. Does it occur to you that it was rather rude to waste our time and efforts in trying to help you.

  11. I like the cover of this book. It's attractive. It suggests Celtic historical, but not anything happening in the future.

    The book may not be selling because it's hard to tell what this book is really about. A culture? A people? Certainly not individuals. Then I have to ask: Why are these folks worthy of spending hours and hours with? How is the story any different than a true Celtic historical? (Or is it termed speculative fiction merely because it gives the author an excuse to skip research of the ancient Celts?) How is this society any different than primitives of long ago?

    In any case, the author should never respond to suggestions with excuses or rationalizations. Especially when and if real reviews, rather than reviews by friends and family start to roll in.

  12. @Liam - regarding the $1.99 "dead zone".

    In general, many of us have found there are two types of ebook shoppers: bargain hunters and mainstream readers.

    Bargain hunters gobble up books that are free or cost $0.99. And they will say to you, why should I buy your book when there are so many other great cheap or free books? They use price as a key decision point and are generally unwilling to pay more, unless they really love the author.

    Mainstream readers are the folks who buy ebooks for $4.99 to $9.99 (traditionally published novels, etc.). These folks are clearly willing to pay more for a quality product, and they often think a low price indicates a low quality product, so they avoid cheap books on principle.

    Your price of $1.99 falls right between these two camps. Too expensive for bargain hunters and too cheap for mainstream readers. You need to pick one group to cater to, and price accordingly.

    My vote: Raise your price. A lot.

  13. I was initially excited and willing to purchase, but I was put off by the Irish eating potatoes in 999 when the tuber was unknown outside the Americas.


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