Posted On September 26, 2011 by Print This Post

A Good Editor – Don’t Leave Home Without One – Donnell Bell

Editor schmeditor! In today’s world of self-publishing, do we really need an editor? Donnell Bell is here to tell us – yes, yes we do.

It’s an exciting time to be an author. The brass ring thought to be unreachable, in the last few years, is within our grasp. Authors have options these days they never thought possible. Self-publishing a.k.a. Indy publishing, small presses, digital presses, traditional publishing, even Amazon has gotten into the publishing business. So many options.

But here’s one option you don’t have, at least if you want to build a career and be taken seriously. Are you taking notes? Every author out there needs a good editor.

No matter who you are; no matter how many books you’ve published.

Here’s what happens when you don’t, and, sadly, this is a story about a New York Times, multi-published, bestselling author.

I’m often called to substitute at my mother’s bridge game. Her friends are aware that I’m a writer, and newly published. They’re proud of me and act as though I have insider knowledge to the publishing world. Ha! As such, one of my mother’s friends, a woman named Pat, approached me, book in hand.

I recognized the publisher instantly. It was one that accepts only agented submissions, and authors covet selling to such a powerhouse. I also recognized the author’s name upon first glance. I’ve read her work; I’m a fan. But in this case, Pat was upset and after she showed me why, I have to admit, I saw her point.

She’d taken this book by this acclaimed publisher and author, read it, then finally became so frustrated, she went back and circled the numerous typos on the pages. She even pointed out that the hero’s name was XX, when in the later pages it switches to YY. Pat had paid good money for this book, and now she was asking me what she should do about it.

Now, Solomon, I’m not. But when a woman in her eighties asks such a question, you don’t argue that mistakes happen in every published book, because in this case, there were simply too many to claim that defense. I suggested that Pat write the publisher, perhaps even ship the book back, mistake-ridden and all, and let them know of her displeasure.

I don’t know if she did, but it was worth a shot. Thinking about what must have happened I suspect the author was on deadline. Her editor and copy editor were probably swamped as well. And because the author has a tremendous fan base, and no doubt turned in quality products before, I suspect the publisher cut corners, e.g. rushed this project through without the attention the book or the author deserves. Will this publisher and author survive? Probably. Like the banking industry and AIG, they’re too big to fail. So far.

I think we must acknowledge that bad editing happens at any level in this industry. In my opinion, authors are way too close to the work and no matter how conscientious, or detail oriented, they often sail over their mistakes.

Recently, I asked three debut authors what they had learned from their editors. If you’re interested you can read about here: http://tinyurl.com/3mjeepa

And finally, I consulted three traditionally published authors to test my theory.

Joelle Charbonneau

Well, I’m delighted that I have a fabulous editor at Minotaur. She is great at paying attention to the tone my characters use. Sometimes when a person writes humor (which they say I do) it’s possible to skirt over the line from funny to offensive or from light-hearted to mean-spirited. My editor has more than once caught something that straddles that line. I distinctly remember a moment in SKATING OVER THE LINE that my editor flagged that made me first say “What’s wrong with that?” and then say “Oh…yeah, I need to change that.” The minute I did the scene became much funnier. It’s amazing how often that little change can alter the entire scene. An editor doesn’t have to suggest huge, sweeping changes to make all the difference in the world and a great editor is worth his or her weight in gold. (My editor is on the shorter side so she might be worth at least double her weight!)

Kylie Brant

One thing I really rely on my editors for is to help me keep my timeline and names straight. Because a full-time job prevents me from writing every day, and because I change things along the way, I sometimes have a story that skips from Tuesday to Saturday :) Or I decide to change a minor character’s name along the way and forget to change the others. More often I start spelling it differently toward the end. I appreciate the editors keeping these sorts of things straight for me!

Cindy Gerard

I’ve been in this business over twenty years and have 46 books published. During that time I’ve worked with approximately 13 editors. I cannot think of one instance where I didn’t learn something from their input or benefit from their expertise. Every editor who has touched my work has made it better. A very few were a bit intrusive but even then, their comments and suggestions made me stop and rethink some of my decisions because in the end, their goal was my goal: to make the book as good as it could possibly be. On the rare occasions when I didn’t agree with editorial input, their suggestions still gave me new perspective and made me a better writer.
So the long and the short of it is, while an editor can’t take a bad book and make it a good book, in my humble opinion, a good editor can take a good book and make it sing, dance and wag its tail.

Darn it. Cindy took the words right off of my keyboard. Still she supports my theory. In my opinion, a good editor can take your work to a higher level. As for those overworked, deadline-filled, and inexperienced–as I talked about above, they just might hurt you more than they can help.

So how about you? Do you have faith in your ability to put out a quality product without an editor? Have a better system that works? Tell us what works for you.

And for those who comment, I’ll give away an ARC of The Past Came Hunting.

***

RU Crew – don’t forget to comment/question – Donnell’s giving away an ARC of her newest book!

Join us tomorrow for a special post from Karen Tabke

***

Excerpt: THE PAST CAME HUNTING

Shock made her numb.
It wasn’t possible. How had she missed the connection? She hadn’t thought of the man in years. The cop who’d arrested her, his name had been . . . Crandall.
Somehow Mel found the strength to look into his eyes. And when she did, she came face to face with what could only be a mutually shocked expression.
“You,” she whispered.
“You,” he replied.

Fifteen years ago a young Colorado Springs police officer arrested a teen runaway accused of aiding a convenience store robbery and attempted murder. She was innocent, but still served prison time briefly. Her testimony sent the real criminal to jail for much longer. Now she’s a young widow raising a son, and the man she put in prison is free and seeking revenge. She moves to a home in a new neighborhood—then learns that her next-door neighbor is the by-the-book officer who arrested her. Now he’s a Colorado Springs Police Lieutenant. Like it or not, he may be the only one who can protect her and her son from the past he helped create.

Bio: Donnell Ann Bell is the recipient of numerous awards for her fiction and a debut author for Bell Bridge Books. She co-owns Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group for mystery/suspense writers, with retired veteran police officer, Wally Lind. A longtime volunteer for RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter and the former Overall Coordinator for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, Donnell has been one of Romance University’s guests on the often-confusing topic of contests. She was raised in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment and today calls Colorado home. www.donnellannbell.com

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55 Responses to “A Good Editor – Don’t Leave Home Without One – Donnell Bell”

  1. Great advice, Donnell! I’m lucky to have friends who are great editors, though not professionally. Their advice makes a huge difference to my books.

    With my last book, I did pay a proofreader to catch the copy edit problems, like missing words, and even the name changing – which I’ve been guilty of in the past. Embarrassing!

    Posted by Edie Ramer | September 26, 2011, 6:29 am
    • Hi, Edie! I think one of the things, if anything, that this article shows, is that editors can come from all walks of life. It’s not neuroscience, it’s grammar, logic, and in a way puzzle-fitting and ditch digging. An editor helps us fill in those parts of the story that’s missing, and makes us go deeper.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:45 am
  2. Hi Donnell,

    I hear editors are swamped. Is hiring more people the answer? Just to check for typos and grammar and hero names? Writers always believe they put forth their best effort. Is a publishing team effort doable?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 26, 2011, 6:33 am
    • Mary Jo, interesting question. I honestly thing in this market now would be the time for editors, much like agents have done in the past, to form some type of association. That way writers could compare expertise and if they decide to do so, hire an editor. Who knows on this forum there might be an editing team. I just think you want to put your best work out there.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:48 am
  3. Hi Donnell,

    Thanks for the great post!

    Since I am one of those people who can never find the ketchup bottle in the cupboard, I have never considered publishing my material without a professional eye reading it first. I simply don’t have that kind of confidence.

    When I delivered my manuscript to my editor, I thought for sure I’d get nailed on some glaring plot hole. But, no. What my editor focused on was something I NEVER thought I’d have to worry about.

    It seems I had too little romance in my romance novel (and I’m not talking about sex scenes). The suspense side of my novel overwhelmed the romance side. Who knew?! I didn’t and I was rather skeptical of my editor’s advice until I spoke to a few people and then started revising.

    Turns out she was right. And while I’m writing Bk 2 in the series, I’m keeping her advice in the forefront of my mind.

    Thanks,
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 26, 2011, 6:42 am
    • Tracey, you nailed it ;) Editors are not your proofreaders. They’re there to make your manuscript stronger. My revision letter was two pages, but like you, the revisions my editor wanted were to remove a coincidence and she wanted me to follow through where I’d dropped a plot line. Never occurred to me — and not ONE critique partner ever mentioned it.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:50 am
      • It might be helpful for the purpose of this discussion to understand the different kinds of editors who help you in the writing process. There are copyeditors who look for errors of punctuation, spelling, grammar and egregious factual errors. The developmental editors look at the overall narrative arc, character development, etc. There are freelance copyeditors, many of whom belong to the Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-efa.org) and/or American Copy Editors Society(www.copydesk.org) and are committed to professional development and ethical behavior. Both these organizations have job boards and member lists. Most of the editors I know have areas they like to work in. I enjoy working with fiction writers, myself, but I know editors who will go out of their way to avoid this. It’s good to know where your editor (whether copyeditor or developmental editor) falls on this continuum. I agree with the comments about published books that have supposedly passed through the hands of both types of editors and still have some very distracting errors. I think the economy and shortened production timelines have been factors in the decreasing quality of the finished product.

        Posted by Kilian Metcalf | September 26, 2011, 12:52 pm
        • Hi, Kilian, right on so many counts. For my book I had my editor, a copy editor, a proofreader and I was allowed to go over it twice. Do I think it’s perfect, there’s no such thing in my opinion. But it’s not because a lot of eyes and professional backing went over that book.

          You are so correct that in this economy publishing houses are cutting corners. I think my article speaks to this fact.

          As for authors using so much expertise, that’s quite a luxury. If I was writing nonfiction or historical fiction that needed a lot of research to back up my facts, I might enlist all the professionals you describe.

          In my opinion, editors are going to have to wear a lot of hats in future days. Thanks for explaining those editing associations. What kind of credentials do they want in joining and would editors do themselves a service in checking them out? Thanks for your comments today.

          Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 2:36 pm
          • Here’s a further comment from Kilian…

            They don’t have a requirement for joining, but the dues are high. If I weren’t serious about my profession, I wouldn’t belong. The membership list is public, so anyone can check out a member’s credentials and choose the editor who seems a good match. I saw one job listed where the writer required an editor with a PhD in a particular field. That’s way beyond my scope, but I’m sure there is an editor with those credentials to take the job.

            I think it is up to the individual editor to decide about the value in belonging to a professional organization. I’m a joiner, so I signed up. Just as belonging to Romance Writers Association has more than paid off in opportunities for networking and education, membership in professional organizations is worth it to me. On the other hand, if a person is a well-established editor with a large client base, belonging to a professional association may not be something that fits into a busy schedule.

            There is another source for an author looking to hire a freelance editor: Preditors & editors has requirements for being listed on their roster. Here’s a link: http://www.pred-ed.com Just because someone isn’t listed, though, doesn’t mean that person would not be good for you. I’m not listed yet, but hope to be one day. In the meantime, I’m building my business by working with local writers and developing word of mouth to grow my client list.

            This is a good resource for writers who are looking for publishers, too. Not everyone is legit, and pred-ed functions as a clearing house to help weed out the bad apples.

            I don’t see freelance editors wearing more hats but becoming more specialized. I guess it all depends on the writers and how much time they want to take away from writing to climb the steep learning curve to acquire other skills. I could have learned HTML and web design to create my own web page, but decided that the time could be better spent in writing, editing, and critiquing, so I hired it done. Not everyone has that luxury.

            Sorry for the long post, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

            Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 29, 2011, 5:24 pm
  4. Hey Donnell!
    An editor is a must for so many reasons, but if nothing else because they bring a fresh, non-biased set of eyes to your work. They’re there to make your book better, not stroke your ego – although a great editor does a bit of that too. :)

    Posted by Avery Flynn | September 26, 2011, 7:12 am
  5. I haven’t gotten to the “editor” stage yet, but really enjoyed reading your post.

    Great stuff.

    BTW, the doggie is adorable.

    Posted by Mercy | September 26, 2011, 7:34 am
    • Mercy, I hope you reach the editing stage, no matter what avenue you decide to take in this exciting time.

      I think I wrote this post mainly because I’m seeing people put their work out there that so clearly needed editing. Readers are savvy people and if they like my mom’s friend Pat see typo after typo, they are yanked out of the story. They will put the book down. Thanks for commenting, and happy writing.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:55 am
  6. Hi, Romance University. It’s great to be here. I think the thing I learned from going to unpublished to published is seeing that new level of expertise. Frankly, I was doubtful that an editor would find much wrong with Walk Away Joe, in it’s grownup form THE PAST CAME HUNTING.

    Let’s just say, I’m a more humble human being

    Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:34 am
  7. See there I needed an editor for my last (coffee-less)post *its* grownup form. :)

    Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 7:35 am
  8. Morning Donnell!

    I think an editors group would be fab! In today’s day and age, with self-pub and tradition pub and so on and so forth, editors are in desperate demand.

    Which begs the question…=) If you are going the self pub route, what would you look for in an editor? How would you know you’ve picked a good one, or just some charlatan off the street trying to make a buck?

    thanks so much for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 26, 2011, 8:33 am
    • Carrie, I’ve often wondered why editors haven’t done this. It’s so warranted and necessary. People are clamoring for GOOD editors.

      Perhaps they see each other as competition, but just like agents — who indeed are competitors — if they come together and unite under ethical canons, I think they would provide them and writers a great service.

      This is another post, however.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 8:51 am
  9. Like you, my edits were short and sweet. Now, my copy editor’s input was a whole other story. I had no idea they did so much!! But even with all the people reading my story, I just heard from a reviewer that I have a slip of paper that changes from yellow on one page to pink on the next. Not a huge mistake, but one, nonetheless. Argggg! This woman has now agreed to be a beta reader for me.LOL

    As for editing indie books, you nailed it. Hire a great editor or barter with your fellow authors. Do whatever it takes to get more eyes looking at your pages–and even after all this, print it out and go over it again..and again!!

    Posted by Liz Lipperman | September 26, 2011, 8:41 am
    • Liz, I’m reading your book right now and it’s so clean. You make my point, however. No matter how many times you read your work, you miss something. Your eyes and brain seem to latch on what you meant to say. Good for you for making that reader into a BETA reader. She sounds awesome!

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 8:52 am
  10. Hi Donnell, great post!

    I just wanted to comment that having good critique partners (before you reach that publishing phase) is a great way to prepare for the time you’ll be working with editors.

    At least if you have honest critiquers that will point out flaws and holes. It’ll help you take suggestions and critisms better and step back to look at the big picture. I know that there are times I’m writing a scene and I think I’ve nailed it, it’s perfect. But then one of my awesome critique partners points out something, even if it’s minor, and when I really think about it and let the comments sink it, I usually find their suggestion just tightened up my story and made it better.

    I can’t imagine not ever using a critique partner, valuing an editors advice or listening to a beta reader. The more eyes the better!

    Posted by Christine Warner | September 26, 2011, 9:06 am
  11. Donnell – Great post. For me an editor is like an American Express Card – never leave home without them!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | September 26, 2011, 9:30 am
  12. Christine, absolutely critique partners are invaluable. I have GREAT critique partners. And if they’re honest and not afraid of hurting your feelings, or they don’t love you (like a second mom), then, yes, they can help you develop a thick skin and prepare you *somewhat*.

    An editor is (should be) as invested in that book as the author. That’s a huge difference in my opinion.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 9:34 am
  13. Writers are like lawyers, a writer who edits herself has a fool for an editor. Nobody, and that includes top-notch editors themselves, can be objective enough about their own work to see errors.

    I currently have one novel with an editor and I’m considering doing the same with a novel I wrote a while ago, and think is good, but I’ve taken it as far as I can go. I don’t self-publish yet, but I still want to submit a manuscript as near perfect as I can. It pays off. My newly acquired agent said the ms I submitted to her was the cleanest one she’s seen, it hardly needed any editing, but the few things she suggested did indeed make the story better.

    But any author who is going to self-publish has to get an editor and it’s not a bad thing to do if you’re submitting your work to an agent or editor. Given what these people often see, a polished, edited script is like a nugget of gold in a pile of coal.

    Posted by Pat Brown | September 26, 2011, 9:37 am
  14. Donnell –

    You know we always love having you here at RU!

    For those readers who might have missed it, we featured a panel of four freelance editors last Wednesday, and here’s the link to that post: http://romanceuniversity.org/?p=9740.

    With all the focus on self-pubbing, it seems like the stigma has been lifted on writers hiring editors rather than waiting to get an offer from a publishing house and the editor that comes along with that offer. What are your thoughts on that?

    Thanks for hanging out with the RU crew today!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | September 26, 2011, 9:46 am
    • Kelsey! Hi ya! I stopped by and was so impressed with that thread.

      Oh, absolutely, the stigma has lifted. The stigma comes to self-published authors when it’s so clear they didn’t hire an editor in my opinion.

      A poorly presented self-published project hurts the entire self-publishing, INDY profession. Why, because it’s just getting started, and readers are having to pick out books like a needle in a haystack.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 10:01 am
  15. Yay! Donnell is here. Congratulations on your debut book! I’m ready to dive into it.

    Having spent the better part of the last six months being introduced to the editing process on three books, I’m firmly in the “it’s important to have an editor” camp.

    It’s no secret around the RU camp that I’m crazy about my editor (Big shout out to the fabulous Gina Bernal). Aside from the nitty-gritty grammar, over used words, etc. issues that come up, an editor can give an author the confidence to go somewhere they may not want to go. I had this happen with one of my books when Gina suggested I needed to do something that would push the heroine over the edge. Rewriting the scene was hard and, frankly, it made me a little sick, but in the end, it was a huge emotional moment for my heroine. And I would have never done it without my editor telling me to.

    Great post, Donnell!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | September 26, 2011, 9:50 am
  16. One question I’m sure a lot of writers consider is your choice of editor. Should the one you pick be really familiar with your genre or is good editing, good editing?

    This does apply to me. I’ve recently begun writing historicals and I find fewer people have done any editing in that genre.

    I’m inclined to think it doesn’t matter. As long as the editor is good and respects the author, then everything should be cool. What do others think?

    Posted by Pat Brown | September 26, 2011, 9:55 am
  17. okay…here’s my confession…I cannot edit my own work with any certainty. First, I fail to see my own mistakes, which are usually missing words, missing “s” or “d” off the end of words, etc. Second, I might have timeline problems as Kylie mentioned above. My editor did a great job (while making me pull my hair out) finding all those. I only pulled my hair out because I was so mad at myself.

    A good editor makes your book better.

    A bad editor changes the book to what she/he wants so that it is the editor’s vision and no longer the author’s vision.

    Lucky for me, my editor is the good kind of editor. :)

    Posted by Cynthia D'Alba (AKA ArkansasCyndi) | September 26, 2011, 10:35 am
  18. Donnell, I totally agree. A good editor helps you acheive the best possible version of your vision for your work. And, she catches things that, no matter how many times you and your critique partners have read your manuscript, you’ll miss. Because your eyes see what they expect to see–what you meant to write.

    Congratulations on your debut novel, The Past Came Hunting!

    Posted by Susan M. Boyer | September 26, 2011, 11:39 am
    • Ah, Susan. Gold star no. 3.

      Critique partners are your first line of reaction to how the story is going to be perceived by the editor and then the reader. Critique partners’ feedback is going to tell you if your story, as written, resonates or leaves them unmoved or shaking their head.

      Vision. It’s so important for an author and editor to share the same vision. I’ve heard nightmare stories when an editor wants to take an author’s story in a completely different direction. It does happen.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 2:44 pm
  19. Hello Donnell!

    I’m doing a chicken dance pirouette! I’d be too scared to publish my ms without an editor’s input. An editor is a must, especially if an author takes the self-pub route.

    I’ve seen errors in books published with the big houses and wondered how that could’ve happened. I’ve read author blogs where the author apologizes to their readers because there were numerous errors in the book. Yikes.

    It’s annoying when I have to re-read a sentence three times because of its awkward phrasing or when a mistake in the timeline ruins the continuity of the story.

    Thanks so much for starting off our week!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 26, 2011, 12:11 pm
    • Thanks, Jennifer. I’m with you on all counts! Yikes! Exactly how does one do chicken dance pirouette? :)

      I think (hope) I made my point it’s not just self-published making those mistakes. It’s at all levels, and ultimately, it’s the author’s name on that book.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 2:46 pm
  20. Great post. Right on, Donnell! And I’d like to add that every good author needs a good critique partner with a sharp eye.
    I’ve been fortunate to have both a wonderful CP and a very sharp editor. I think our author eyes, after writing and rewriting, tend to read sentences and scenes while losing focus on words. We need the fresh POV to reign us back in.

    I hope your elderly friend sent the book back to the head of the publishing house with a demand for a refund!

    Rochelle

    Posted by Rochelle Staab | September 26, 2011, 1:26 pm
  21. Wow – what a line-up! Hi Donnell, Joelle, Kylie and Cindy!

    Great blog – I sympathize with the woman who had circled all those typos. I’ve come across a few books like that. It is very frustrating, and I always feel bad for the author.

    Sure, these could be mistakes the author missed, but I try to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he or she corrected the mistakes on the galleys and the corrections were overlooked.

    I worry that copy editors are a thing of the past. I’d hate to think that computers are making the final edits.

    I would never want to be published without an editor going through the MS first. Critique partners, editors, copy editors – call me chicken, but I’d want the whole shebang.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | September 26, 2011, 9:14 pm
    • Becke, so nice to see you here. I agree with you completely. I’m the one who wrote peas peas in my manuscript when it should have been please, please…. that’s why I believe every writer needs a GOOD editor :)

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 9:42 pm
  22. I have learned a lot from an editor, but I’ve also worked with a terrible editor (he kept rewriting sentences to be longer and more convoluted). Mostly I’ve received little editing. Several of my books with big publishing houses went right to copy editing. I’d like to think this means my work was fabulous, but I expect it had more to do with my editor’s experience level or free time.

    Posted by Kris Bock | September 26, 2011, 9:30 pm
    • Kris, I just went to your web page and maybe from your background an editor really liked what he/she saw. Wow, very impressive. I’m a huge fan of New Mexico. Hope to meet you some time! All best and thanks for your comments. Duly noted and appreciated.

      Posted by Donnell | September 26, 2011, 9:47 pm
  23. Thanks so much for posting with us Donnell, and already looking forward to the next time. =)

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 27, 2011, 7:28 am
  24. Carrie, and Romance University. It’s always my pleasure. We’re all in this together, and I hope my little old opinions and observations help.

    I drew Mercy’s name as the winner of the Advanced Reader Copy of The Past Came Hunting! I hope you enjoy it, Mercy, and will let me know your thoughts. All best, Romance University!!!

    Posted by Donnell | September 27, 2011, 8:45 am
  25. Hi, Donnell. I’ve had the privilege of working with two editors that made a good ms even better. My critiquing partners had helped me make my ms as clean as we thought it could be, yet, the editor still provide valuable input.

    In one scene my protagonist is in a choke hold. My editor’s husband is a wrestler and he pointed out that nobody nowhere would ever just stand there and let someone choke them.

    All I could reply was “duh”.

    Posted by joylene | September 27, 2011, 9:41 am
  26. I was wondering if someone could help me find a good editor this is my first book and i dont know what to do and how to find one. my aunts friend writes books and shes had hers published but she doesnt know where i can find an editor plz help.

    Posted by Adrianna Lindley | April 11, 2012, 12:06 pm

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