Friday, May 28, 2010

Fabulous & Charitable Opportunity

BookEnds will be closed today through Monday in observance of the Memorial Day weekend.

Our plan is to spend time soaking up the sun while drinking margaritas and reading books that thrill us. In between cocktails, however, we’ll be keeping an eye on Brenda Novak’s Auction for Diabetes Research and strongly suggest you do too.

For those of you not familiar with Brenda’s work, each year Brenda holds an auction and brings in thousands of dollars for a great cause. Kim and I have each donated a proposal critique (mine includes either a meeting or phone consultation). There are also signed books, vacations, computers, and hundreds of other fun items. The auction ends May 31, so get out there and bid.

Have a great and safe holiday and enjoy the unofficial start of summer, and we'll be back Tuesday.

Jessica

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Query Recap

Back by popular demand, another look into my query inbox . . .

In one day I received 61 emails that were either labeled “query” or “submission,” which automatically relegates them to my query inbox. Note, by labeling your query this way (as per our website) you almost eliminate any possibility of it getting lost in spam. I have set all guidelines on my server and my email program to push those through.

2 of those emails were thank-you emails for previous rejections.

1 email included a partial I had previously requested.

18 emails were for nonfiction, the rest were fiction queries.

Of the 55 queries, I rejected 54. Which means I requested the partial for one book. It was fiction.

1 query was rejected without being read because it was sent in an attachment rather than in the body of the email. Later in the day, the author re-sent the material in the body of the email (I had sent an email response explaining our guidelines). As per our website, I will not open unrequested attachments (query letters). I do, however, insist that all requested material come as an attachment. This allows me to transfer it to my Kindle for reading.

1 email did not contain a query letter, only a synopsis. It was rejected.

1 pitch stated facts about our agency incorrectly. The author said that she was querying because she knew we focused primarily on YA. Not true. This happens frequently and I don’t really care, just find it interesting. If you’re going to make a statement about an agency please make sure you have your facts straight. I imagine that during the query process it’s easy to get agents confused.

3 queries sounded very, very familiar. I suspect the author was either resending in the hopes I would reconsider or had not kept very good records and forgot she had sent before.

And last, it took me two days to get through all of these queries. I sat to review them in three different sittings. Each sitting lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour.


Jessica

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LOL

Life is too short not to laugh, and luckily for us we’re able to find something to laugh about almost daily. Here are a few to share with you . . .

After 6 years at BookEnds, Kim still forgets where she works. In an auto-reply on queries (that went out to about 100+ people before it was caught) she stated, “Thanks so much for contacting Berkley with your query . . .” Keep in mind I was the one who caught it when I got the auto-reply. Laughed so hard I cried.

"Contemporary non-fiction novel"—nothing is right about this phrase.

In reply to a recent rejection I was told that “mere words can’t do justice to the story.” Seems to me that if words can’t do it justice it might not be right for a book.

Like many agents I have a fairly standard rejection reply to queries. That being said, if I do see that there’s something the author can improve on I will attempt to alter my wording to let her know. In a recent rejection I suggested the author’s query was not as strong as it could be and that she might consider looking at a few places (I suggested which ones) to learn how to write a stronger query. I was told, “That's one of the most creatively worthless query replies I've seen.” So much for giving actual advice.

Queries have been pouring in at a rate of 50+ a day, and since Kim isn’t accepting any at this time I have no doubt that some people are submitting to me instead (even if it’s something Kim represents, but I don’t). Recently I got a query that was submitted to me only, “since Kim isn’t accepting queries at this time.” Really not the way to warm my little agent heart.


Jessica

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time for a New Agent

I’m a bestselling author with a very successful track record. I’ve enjoyed working with my current agent, and obviously we’ve been successful together, but find that we’re growing in different directions. When looking for a new agent, do I need to query traditionally by sending equeries and following agents’ guidelines, or can I simply call the agents I’m interested in and see if they’re interested in me?

While you probably could make phone calls, I do think your best course of action is to start the query process again. Of course, you’ll need to dissolve the relationship with your current agent first. I know that I feel strongly that before considering a new client I need to make sure I’m not poaching on someone else’s territory. I want to make sure all of you obligations (i.e., agent agreements) are wrapped up.

Agents have made it quite clear they do not like phone calls for queries, and I think that’s no different for published or unpublished authors. There are a lot of people out there seeking representation, some with experience and others without. If we spent all of our time fielding those kinds of calls we’d have no time for anything else. On top of that, agents work odd hours, and trying to catch one can be tricky. Just ask our clients.

I also think sending out queries will get you a faster response time. I would strongly suggest you note in your subject line that you are a bestselling author seeking new representation. This will make you stand out. If your name is recognizable, put that in the subject as well. The one advantage here is that you’ll probably have to worry less about how perfect your query is.

Are you seeking representation for a new project, or do you have a project in mind? I find that it’s a lot easier for me to seriously consider a new client if we’re going into a new project together. I also think it’s a better situation for you. Unless you’re looking for someone to simply take up on the same types of projects you’ve been working on, or the same series you’ve been writing, it’s going to be hard to know if this new agent is right for you unless you know if she’s enthusiastic about your next project. Therefore, pitch the new project. I like that better than someone who simply tells me that I’ll want her because of her previous successes. That’s not fair to you or me. Sure I will, but will I be the right agent for your future successes?

I also believe that a more traditional query process can help you. What if the agent from your first phone call offers? It’s going to make it harder for you to connect with other agents since you haven’t contacted them. Sending out five to ten queries to agents you are interested in puts you in the driver’s seat, allowing you to interview and really talk to all potential agents and choose the one that’s really right for you, hopefully the one you’ll be able to stick with for quite some time. I would also suggest that, for example, if three agents respond (and make offers), but you still haven’t heard from the one or two you’re really hoping for, follow up with those and let them know you have an offer (phone is okay for this). They simply might not have gotten to your query as quickly.

I suspect you’ll have no trouble getting the interest and attention of agents. The key is getting the interest and attention of the agents who really envision your future in the same way you do.

Jessica

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Using Your Galleys

This is going to be one of those posts in which I strongly suggest you read the comments section simply because while I have ideas, I have a feeling my readers will have even more helpful ideas.

One of the questions I frequently get from debut authors is what should they do with their galleys (ARCs, advance review copies, etc.). If you get ten (for example), where can you send them that the publisher isn’t? Not only do I think this is a valuable question, but I think it’s important. We all know that authors need to get out there and do publicity, but what can you do to get the most bang for your mailing buck?

  • Send an autographed galley with a small marketing item like bookmarks to independent bookstores you know support your genre or have supported you, as the author, in the past.
  • Send a galley to your alumni newsletter or magazine. They might do a review or use it as a reminder to write a feature about you.
  • Hand-deliver a galley with marketing material to local bookstores. Introducing yourself and making friends with booksellers is key to getting your name out there.
  • Send a few to reviewers, bloggers, or readers who have always been big supporters and are great at word of mouth. Think of them as thank-you galleys.
  • Deliver a galley to your local newspaper (no matter how small).
  • Send a galley to bloggers that don’t specialize in books, but instead specialize in a subject that relates to your book (knitters for a book about knitting, Adirondack tourism for a book set in the Adirondacks, or cupcake fans for a book set in a cupcake bakery).
Your publisher will likely send galleys to any reviewers or bloggers (especially book-related) that you ask them to, which is why I suggest you use the galleys to make a personal connection. Hand-deliver them and make sure they’re always autographed.

Jessica

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Writer Beware

I had a very interesting week, or should I say a very interesting experience.


Earlier this week an author got in touch to ask if I'd ever heard of an agent named, we'll say Agent Tangerine, cousin to Agent Orange. He was emailing because Agent Tangerine had gotten in touch with him and claimed to be with BookEnds. Well clever Author knew enough to do his research and since he'd never seen Agent Tangerine's name on our website, or anywhere else in our listings, he was checking to see if this was something he missed or if, possibly, this was a scam using the BookEnds name.

Having never heard of Agent Tangerine I was of course alarmed and asked Author to forward any information he had since she was claiming to work at BookEnds.

Author went one step further and got in touch with Agent Tangerine again to hear her side of the story. According to Agent Tangerine, she had opened an “agency business” she was calling “Book Ends.” She stressed that her agency was not to be confused with BookEnds. She did however, go on to say that she had worked with BookEnds for several years. She also claimed to have worked with the Bent Agency.

Wow. Not only was this upsetting, it was just plain creepy. None of what Agent Tangerine was saying was true. I had never heard of Agent Tangerine, she has never worked for BookEnds in any capacity, and we were definitely not in any legal battle over a website as she had claimed.

So I immediately forwarded our full email trail to both Jenny Bent and Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware to let them know about this. Certainly I was concerned about the reputation of BookEnds, but I was even more concerned that other authors were being taken advantage of.

About an hour later Author emailed again. It was a hoax. A big, fat hoax. Apparently someone Author knew was playing a "joke" on him, not realizing the lengths wise Author would go to to avoid being scammed.

So I thought about it. Should I feel like a fool? Who should I trust? Have I made a fool of myself by alarming another agent as well as Writers Beware?

There are a lot of fabulous agents in this world, there are also the few who will use any opportunity to scam unwilling authors. I cannot feel like a fool for alerting others (I also immediately let them know it was a false alarm). If this was really happening it needed to be stopped quickly.

As for the Author who originally emailed, I believe him. I believe that he was scammed and I feel bad for him. Authors work hard to learn the business and act professionally and this "joke" was just plain mean.

I refuse to feel like a fool about this and I hope Author does too. I commend Author for not jumping at a chance to have an agent, any agent, but for doing due diligence first. If this had been a scam agent he would have saved himself a lot of time and money by doing the research all authors should be doing.


Jessica

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Isn't Short Fiction Worth Its Weight in Gold

I just completed my book which is 33,000 words in length. An enticing romance suspense which leaves the reader with a thrilling ending. Typically, I'd agree that longer novels have punch, I think this story is worth its weight in gold. Would your agency review something like this?

No, we wouldn’t, and I suspect you’ll have a really difficult time finding any agency who would. 33,000 words is a novella, it’s not a novel, and from a financial perspective it’s typically not worth a publisher’s time to spend the money to publish a book that’s only 33,000 words. It’s a book they would only be able to price at about $3 or $4 (in paper), and I don’t think it would be a cost-effective move for anyone.

More important, though, I’d be curious what romantic suspense readers think. Do you think 33,000 words might pack the punch you’re looking for, or would you be instantly suspicious that this book is about one-third the length of what you normally read?

Jessica

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Know Your Competition

How do you/other agents feel about having a book you represent listed in an author's book proposal competition section? It makes sense that an author might reference a book you represent -- and that if the book is similar, it would make sense to list it as competition. But then...

*** Please note that this is going to appeal primarily to nonfiction writers of self-help nonfiction. Rarely do I think fiction or narrative nonfiction needs a competition section.

Ultimately the goal of competition is to show what’s out there. I think deleting something simply because it’s represented by the agent (or publisher) you’re pitching could do more harm than good. It gives the impression you don’t really know the market. The point of the competition section isn’t necessarily to show that there isn’t any competition, but to show that you know what the competition is and how your book is different and stands out from other titles. For this very reason you don’t want to bad-mouth the titles, but instead use them as a standard to make yours stand out even more.

And last, in case you’ve missed it, to better understand this question and what goes into a nonfiction book proposal, see my previous post on the subject.

Jessica

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Does This Backfire?

I recently received a query for an author’s debut novel. The author was incredibly confident, envisioning the novel as a future bestseller and hit movie, but that’s not what bothered me. What I found unsettling was when she wrote, “I am sending this proposal to several literary agents and have set a deadline for your reply as at July 31, 2010. If you believe you’re the right agent, please contact me. I require a list of your published titles and the publishers you’ve worked with, as well as your expected fee (commission). I look forward to hearing from you and hope to create a great working partnership.”

Ultimately I rejected the query, partly because I didn’t feel I was right for it, but also in part because I was put off by the author’s demands. Information on my sales, including publishers, is really easy to find with just a little bit of research. Heck, if you found my name it’s likely you also found that information. Certainly she’s right to want to know that information, but am I the one that needs to supply it and, maybe, it was the way her request was phrased that didn’t sit right?

When I submit to publishers I don’t need to ask what pay range they are in, what kind of royalties they offer, or who else they publish. I’ve done my research and I know that already. When negotiations start I will definitely have more questions specific to the book I’m selling. At that point I will most definitely want to know their vision for the book, including advance, royalties, marketing, etc. But does it sit wrong to demand that before someone has even read the book?

I give the author credit for being so confident. Her query was well written (although could have been a lot stronger), but I worry that with many agents this approach might backfire, that she appears to demand a lot without bothering to understand the business first. Of course, I might be reading too much into it.

Jessica

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Who Are You?


I should quickly add that to view results you can go to Quibblo.
Quizzes by Quibblo.com

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Unputdownable

I’m sleepy this morning. Have you ever noticed, though, that insomnia can make for a really grumpy kind of tired the next day, but the exhaustion from staying up all night to finish a great book is rather dreamlike?

Last night I started and finished Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. The book totally hooked me from page one and I just had to read it in one sitting. It’s exhilarating to become so engrossed in a fictional world that you just can’t bring yourself to leave it until the last page is turned.

What’s the last book you read in one sitting? Are you sleep deprived because you’re doing this kind of thing five nights a week or can you count the number of times it’s happened in your lifetime on one hand?

Okay…I’m off to get some coffee now.


Kim

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Subtexts, "Hoops," and Industry Standards

I was reading through some disgruntled comments surrounding the formatting of queries (everything from font to phrasings, tag-lines to typos), called “Hoops” by many – even those that approve of them. It got me thinking (which rarely ends well)……..Are these “Hoops” actually a subtext?

If an agent comes across a submission which does not match the guidelines published on their websites, and although they make a decision solely on the story/voice, do the “Hoops” in themselves inform the agent about the author rather than the Novel. “Great book – but they rushed into submitting, so could be a headache to work with.”

In other words, if every query was exactly in-line with an agents specific guidelines would the agent be losing a valuable source of information?? Does the HandForeheadSlap queries make managing the slush that much easier? Obviously, you can’t create an Industry Standard because each agent has their preferences. But what if the Industry Standard was somehow personalised? Is this even a desirable scenario?

The reason I ask is because I’ve thought of a way in which an author is able to always obey guidelines, streamlining their submission process to agents, also finding the RIGHT agents, and tracking results to see what they are doing right, or wrong, with query letter revisions. However, if this simply removes a valuable tool for agents, why bother?


I have two thoughts on your question because it’s a very interesting one.

I think (one of the reasons) guidelines about queries evolved because authors asked for them. When agents attend writers’ conferences or blog, we get tons of questions from authors, and I think the most frequent questions are about how to get published. Back in the day of the typewriter, when authors had to snail-mail submissions, I remember attending a conference at which authors spent almost five minutes asking me the details of what type of envelope should be used to mail in submissions. And no, I’m not kidding. Now queries are the thing. It’s the rare agent who accepts unsolicited material, so your query is your first introduction and, naturally, it’s what authors stress most about.

Another thought. I think guidelines evolved because agents got tired of junk. In other words, we see hundreds of queries every single week. Heck, every single day, and believe it or not we get sick of hitting the rejection button. It really is true that we want writers to succeed, and giving formatting guidelines hopefully takes some of the mystery out of the query process and helps the author. It also streamlines the system for us. Let’s face it, I skim queries. I look for that blurb to hook me in and I go from there. If an author spends three paragraphs telling me her life story, all about her career, her three children, and her travels in Europe, only to finally get to the book and tell me nothing, she’s going to get rejected. I don’t have time to ask her for more information and start a back-and-forth. The one who has lost is the author, so by establishing guidelines I’m hopefully helping the author get her foot in the door and hopefully I’m not wasting my time by reading more queries that tell me nothing.

Unfortunately it’s not the formatting or the nit-picky stuff that’s usually the problem (which is why a form probably won’t help), it’s the blurb, it’s finding a way to excite an agent about your book. That’s what is going to make the query stand out for an agent and that’s what is going to grab the agent’s attention.

Jessica

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tired Storylines

Girl finds out she’s pregnant. She’s excited and a little scared. Either way she can’t wait to tell boy. He’s the love of her life and it’s a new step for them. It doesn’t matter if he’s a husband, boyfriend, or fiancĂ©, they are together for good. Just as she’s about to tell him he makes some dumb comment about how he’s not ready for kids, or they can’t afford kids, or it’s not the right time for kids. Girl is sad. Can’t tell boy now. Eventually she tells him and it all works out beautifully.

It’s also done over and over a million times. In fact, in the past two months, I’ve seen this same storyline on two different television programs. It’s an easy conflict and obviously it works, but is it really the best conflict to be using?

Jessica

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Need to Fall in Love

Writers struggling to find an agent for their work often get frustrated by the response of many agents that they “just didn’t fall in love with it.”

Why do you need to fall in love? they ask. Just sell my book.

Why? Because in your perfect world wouldn’t you want a job you love? Doing only things you love?

Me too.

Jessica

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Making Comparisons, Part II

I've also read in a few places that comparing your novel to other published works is iffy at best, and comparing it to best sellers/classic novels is suicide. Are there two schools of thought on this?

I think I’ve blogged on this before, but after three years of blogging it’s sometimes starting to feel like I’ve blogged on everything and, I suppose, it never hurts to repeat things. Believe it or not, sometimes my thinking changes on things.

This question came in response on my previous post on Making Comparisons. And yes, the reader is correct, I think comparing your novel to other works is “iffy at best,” and I don’t recommend doing it unless you are absolutely certain your comparison will grab an agent’s attention. The reason agents can make the comparison is because we have a personal relationship with editors and know what types of books editors are looking for or, even better, what authors editors and houses wish they had on their lists.

Jessica

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Dream Client

We're kicking back today and putting you in our shoes.

If you were an agent, what kinds of books would you want to represent? What author would be your “dream client”?


Kim

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Morality Clause

Do authors of MG [middle grade] and YA [young adult] have morality clauses in their contracts with either the agent or the publisher? Just curious with all the scandals going on lately.

I’m assuming by “the scandals” you mean Hollywood scandals like Tiger Woods and Jesse James. I don’t think I’ve been so out of the loop that I’ve missed something else.

To the best of my knowledge the only authors who might be asked to sign morality clauses are authors writing for the Christian market and Christian publishers. In fact, I think morality clauses are only in some Christian publisher contracts. I don’t think the larger houses require them for any writer. However, this is not my area of expertise (Christian publishers). Although she doesn’t represent middle grade or YA, if you have questions about the Christian market, you should ask Rachelle Gardner, another agent blogger.

Jessica

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Resubmitting Queries

Sometimes I feel like I write myself in circles, answering the same questions. I’m sure this is why Miss Snark quit blogging. After a while she had to feel like she’d answered everything at least twice. That being said, I know there are always new readers and I know that sometimes it’s the second or third time you answer when someone gets it.

So, here’s the question:

If I've reworked my query letter to the point where it is now an entirely different letter with much better substance, can I resend it?

I don't want to fall into the camp of those people who just don't get it, but I really like you as an agent and would love it if I could give it another swing.

I promise I'll take a second rejection at face value (should that be the case). If it makes it any more appealing, version two of my letter has already gotten a few responses from real live agents asking for pages.


Go ahead and send it in, especially if you’re getting better feedback than you were before. From an agent’s point of view, I dislike the idea that the same 50 people are sending me queries for the same 50 books, but from an author’s perspective, you never know if you don’t try. If you know, and have proven evidence, that your query is stronger, go ahead and hit those dream agents again.

Jessica

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Wasting an Agent's Time

It’s really irritating when an author decides that the best way to get an agent’s attention is to lie. Ask enough questions and you will learn that the “interest from a publisher” that you need to jump on is not an offer or much interest at all. The truth, though, if you’re looking for a reputable agent, “interest from a publisher” isn’t going to get you an agent or a sale. We’re still going to want to read the book and see if it’s something we can sell.

Jessica

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Monday, May 03, 2010

The Fate of Self-Published Works

I just found out something very disparaging that I would love to have elaborated on by an actual agent. It seems that despite strong sales and critical accolades, agents do not wish to take on books that have previously been self-published. Is that really true? I understand that for ebooks, people who have already purchased will have the initial rights with Amazon, for instance, to re-download, but the book can be pulled by the author at any time. So, why then is self-publishing so taboo instead of being a good test-market of material?

As much as I do not like the notion that this could be true, it does shed some light on why I have received so many agent rejections for a book that has been labelled an inevitable bestseller over and over again. I shudder to think that I have lost all that potential just for taking the bull by the horns and putting it out there on my own, as my only cheerleader in the beginning.

Is there any silver lining or way around it? If I pulled the book and retitled it, would that make a difference?


Well, there is always a silver lining, but with many things in this business these are the exceptions and not the rule. I have two clients, for example, who had previously self-published. Debbie Allen had self-published Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters. While shopping around her new title Skyrocketing Sales, I received interest from McGraw-Hill in purchasing the rights to Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters, which we subsequently sold to them. The catch: Confessions of Shameless Self-Promoters had previously sold 25,000 copies as a self-published title. We did also sell Skyrocketing Sales to another publisher.

Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor and had also self-published his book and sold roughly 7,500 copies. I liked Bob’s self-published title a lot, but felt there were some things that could be done to make it stronger. So Bob and I agreed that rather than seek a publisher to take over the publishing of that book, we would use it as a starting-off point for a fresh new title that was even stronger. It worked and Wiley is publishing The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business this month.

While 7,500 copies sounds impressive, in truth we ran into pushback from publishers because of those numbers. They weren’t big enough. Bob had self-published his book and got it into some bookstores, but sales were low and, as we’ve discussed before, bookstores will place their orders based on the publishing history of the author. And that’s exactly why self-publishing can make it more difficult for an author to break into a bigger publisher.

When a publisher looks at a previously published author, whether the author was published with a big house or self-published, the first thing they will look at is the author’s sales. If your numbers are low it doesn’t bode well for orders on your next books.

In your case you said that the book has “strong sales” and “critical accolades,” but what does that really mean? Does it mean that Amazon reviewers gave great reviews or that the New York Times raved about it, because it does make a difference. What about strong sales? Are you selling upwards of 10,000 copies or about 250 to people other than family and friends, because, again, it does make a difference. It also makes a difference how fast those sales are made. 10,000 copies is an amazing number, but not if it took you 10 years to sell them.

Jessica

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