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Friday, December 23, 2011

Operation Christmas Gift by R. L. Copple

Jeremy stared blankly at the video screens stretching across the Titan station's wall as they scanned Earth's video feeds for crimes in progress. Glimpses of Christmas trees flashed across them as the world he called home, almost a billion miles away, prepared for Christmas the next morning.

"BJ, do you think we'll see Santa from here?" Bridget turned to watch Jeremy's eyes.

He barely cracked a smile. That would certainly get his mind off all the events of the past year. "No, Sis, I seriously doubt it." Jeremy met her eyes. Her short, brown hair brushed her shoulders. "Santa operates under the radar."

She huffed. "You make him sound like a bad guy."

"He does break into people's houses."

She slapped his arm. "To give stuff, not take it."

Jeremy felt his gut sink. "Christmas took my life from me. It took our parents from us." A year ago, he had parents, a normal life. All gone now. All because he had received that stupid helmet for Christmas, had put it on, had become involved with another world's battle, had saved them, then had become the hero who saved Earth from the revenge of the Similarians, but only after they killed his parents. A year later, his life turned upside down, the world moved on as if nothing had happened. He played virtual superheroes instead of living a normal life. Another Christmas came, but without the Mind Game this time. But he still had the hero game going.

She slumped in her seat. "I was trying not to think about that."

"Hey, Bucko."

Jeremy swung around to see Mickey stepping up behind him. "Hey, Mick. What took you?"

"Family returned late from a Christmas Eve service. Said I wanted to go to bed right away, like I couldn't wait until tomorrow." He smiled. "But I don't have to."

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, you don't have to wait?"

Mickey slapped Jeremy on the back. "Because I have Astro Man right here. Just use that xray beam of yours and I'll know what they are tonight!"

Jeremy shook his head. "Mick, you're crazy."

"Oh, come on. I'm hoping they snagged the latest game--"

Jeremy jumped out of his seat. "What? Another game? Are you crazy?"

Mickey grimaced. "Bucko, what's the deal. It's just a video game."

Jeremy rubbed his forehead. "That's what we thought last year. Just a game. A game that stole my life from me."

Mickey's eyes grew wide. "Ah, of course. Christmas would be triggery for you. I'm sorry."

Jeremy sucked in a deep breath. "Forget it, Mick. It's all I can think about right now."

"What you need is some action. Anything on the vids tonight?"

Jeremy shook his head. "Christmas Eve is pretty quite all over the world it seems."

"Santa," Bridget's voice rang out.

Jeremy spun around to Bridget. "What?"

She pointed at a video screen. "There's Santa. And he's breaking into a house."

Mickey slapped his hands together. "There's our action. Let's take down Santa."

Jeremy held up a hand. "Mick, this is suspicious. Think about it. How would a live camera crew know about a break-in to a home as it happens and be there to record it?"

Mickey shrugged. "Happened to be in the right place at the right time? They've probably called the cops, but are filming it for the drama."

"Maybe." Jeremy stared at it a bit longer. "Aren't there movie plots about Santa stealing things?" Micky stared at him. Jeremy called out, "Computer, find movies where Santa steals." A screen went blank and then a list of titles appeared. The highest rated link read, "The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus" in 1914. Related links followed it.

Mickey read the results. "Are you saying the Zorians are behind this? Else I'm not following you. Santa thieves have been around forever."

"Yes...I mean, no. I doubt it is a Zorian. But it still makes me suspicious."

"Okay, so maybe it's a trap. Maybe it's not. And if it's not, guess who loses?"

Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair. "Yes, you're right. But stay together. My gut is saying something is wrong here."

"Agreed," Mickey responded.

Bridget jumped from the chair. "Sure, but we'll be virtual. We can't get hurt."

Jeremy stood. "Then as you say, Mick, let's do this."

Mickey grinned. "This will be good for you. You'll see."

Jeremy entered the coordinates. "Suit, appear as Astro Man."

The room faded and a breeze blew across his chin sticking out from below his helmet. The half-moon cast a dim glow over the residential neighborhood. A street light flickered a few yards to the right. Activity buzzed to his left where a camera crew recorded the house, waiting for the thief to exit. A siren blared in the distance, indicating the police were indeed on their way. Mickey was probably right. They would save someone's Christmas from being stolen and make some kids happy, at least.

Mickey appeared beside him as Blue Nova. Jeremy could barely make out the blue-green suit, blue briefs, and dark blue cape in the moonlight.

Bridget materialized as Rainbow Girl to his left. Her sparkly mask flaring at the end reflected the meager light.

Jeremy caught her eye. "Rainbow Girl?"

She smiled. "You catch 'em. I'm make 'em cooperative."

Jeremy nodded. "Sounds like a plan. You stay out here. Blue Nova and I will grab this guy." He turned toward Mickey. "I'll use my blinding flash on my gun, and while the crew is blinded, race in there and grab him, bring him to Rainbow Girl, and she'll make him giddy with cooperation."

Mickey saluted. "Sir, yes, sir!"


"Lighten up, Bucko. Have a little fun with this. You're way too wound up."

Jeremy pulled his gun out and set it for the light blast. "You should never let your guard down. Assume nothing."

"It's just a lone Santa thief. What could go wrong?"

"I hope your right." Jeremy pointed the gun toward the camera crew. "Hide your eyes. On three. One, two, three!" Jeremy squeezed the trigger and a blast of light lit up the area. The camera crew rubbed their eyes and swore in the quiet neighborhood. Within a second, Mickey flashed back with a squirming man in his arms. Mickey dropped him on the ground.

"What the--" The man stayed on the ground.

Bridget extended her arms and flow of rainbow colors enveloped the man.

Santa's eyes blinked and a grin spread across his face. "So much for my Christmas. But that's okay. I'm happy anyway."

Jeremy pointed to the street. "Go sit on the curb and wait for the police. Give yourself up when they arrive."

"Oh gladly I will. I was so bad to try and"

Jeremy's eyes widened. "What did you say?"

The back of the news van flung open. A line of soldiers carrying automatic rifles streamed out the door. Jeremy raised his gun to set it for shields, but before he could, a rain of bullets spread over them. He could feel the bullets hitting him. He would have called out to exit the suit, but dying in the virtual body would accomplish the same thing. This did appear to be a trap, but what trap? They would wake up and come back again. Apparently they didn't know much about how virtual bodies worked. But why did the army set this trap?

As life ebbed from the virtual body, he saw Mickey drop out of nova speed and fall to the ground. He hadn't reacted fast enough, despite his super speed. He felt himself falling onto the grass as blackness swept over him.

Jeremy jerked his eyes open. He tried to focus, but the ceiling he saw was not the stucco of his uncle's house at the top of a Montana mountain. Instead, polished metal greeted his eyes. He pushed himself up.

Thick hands wrapped around his arms and another pulled the cowl off his face. "Commander, Operation Christmas Gift has been completed, sir."

Jeremy groaned inwardly. Their bodies had been captured while they were virtual. Two men on either side of him kept a firm grip on his arms, another two stood toward the foot of his bed, rifles aimed at the floor, ready to use. No doubt another two stood behind him.

A higher ranking solider beside his bed examined the cowl. "Very interesting. I'm sure our scientist will have a field day with this."

Jeremy noticed the American flag attached to their uniforms. US military. "Earth's best scientist couldn't figure out how the helmets operated. What makes you think this will be easier?"

A smug smile creased his lips. "We've actually made progress in figuring out some of the Mind Game helmets. But we're missing a point of reference."

Jeremy squinted at him. "What?"

"Point of reference. The helmets, as you know, don't work. And even when they did, the destination was in another galaxy. But with these in hand and the destination being in the same room, they'll be able to trace the energy field being created, and hopefully come up with the remaining pieces of the puzzle."

Jeremy let himself fall back to the cot. The soldier’s hands loosened but remained firm. "No one can use the mask but me. Same with the other mask Mickey and Bridget have. They are programmed to respond only to our voices."

The man shot a stare at Jeremy. "You'll forgive me if I don't trust you."

"Be my guest." Jeremy turned to meet his eyes. "But how did you find us?"

He waved his hand. "Simple deduction. When the superhero appearances began to be reported all over the world, and you're friend and sister's personas helped in defending Earth, it became obvious that the same virtual reality of the Mind Game was at work. From there you were the most logical culprits. We tracked down your locations and set the trap to grab you."

Jeremy stared at the wall. He should have foreseen this possibility. "Why, though? Why revert to kidnapping us?"

The soldier stuffed the cowl into his pocket. "Control, Jeremy Goodhue. The Army likes to have control over situations. And I didn't suspect you'd approve of us gaining that control. But if we can duplicate this technology, our forces would be invincible. We can fight wars on the ground without losing a life. With a legion of virtual Blue Novas to speed in and hit the enemy before they even blink, we could maintain control for decades. Centuries even. Can you imagine the progress? Can you see the peace we could uphold?"

Jeremy knew he didn't want to tell the man anything else. Let him think he could succeed. As soon as the Zorians caught wind of it, they'd shut off the virtual energy going through the wormhole and that would be that. No more superhero days for himself, Mickey, and Bridget. But then again, that didn't sound so bad. He wouldn't mind putting the whole thing behind him, and salvage what he could of his life.

"Peace?" Jeremy breathed deep. "By killing?"

He smiled. "Youthful idealism. I'm afraid the world is a dangerous place. Some people only understand one thing. Brut force."

Jeremy grumbled under his breath, "That's what all bullies think."

"What?" The Commander stared at him for a couple of seconds. Then turned and headed for the door. He paused as he opened it. "By the way. Merry Christmas, Jeremy." He left and shut the door behind him.

Jeremy groaned. "We may have killed Rillian, but his spirit lives on."


The Commander returned to the room after an hour had passed. His face grim, he faced Jeremy lying on the cot. "You were right. We have to use you to get the mask to operate. Come with me." He turned on his heels and headed to the door.

Arms pulled Jeremy off the cot. He stumbled along beside the soldiers as they exited the room and marched down the hall. The Commander stopped in front of a door and pointed at the window.

Jeremy moved to look in, keeping his eyes fixed on the Commander's stoic gaze. He peered in and saw Uncle George sitting on a cot, coveralls and hat as if they'd snatched him while he milked the cows.

"Just want to ensure your cooperation. If you resist or try anything foolish, it won't go well for your uncle, sister, or friend."

Jeremy met his gaze. "We're United States citizens. What about our constitutional rights to due process? You can't threaten us like this."

A smile cracked on his lips. "To the government, the Congress, and the Constitution, we don't exist. You'll have a hard time suing an organization that doesn't exist."

"How do I know you have my sister and friend?"

The Commander nodded down the hall. They stopped at the next two cell doors. Bridget sat on the cot rocking her feet under it. Mickey circled his cot as if deep in thought. "Satisfied?"

Jeremy nodded, and followed the soldiers down the hall, a right turn into another hall, a left, and a few doors on the right, they entered a room. Waist-high tables lined the walls. Chairs sat scattered in front of them, and soldiers worked on different projects. Centrifuges, Bunsen burners, test tubes, microscopes, and various other lab equipment littered the table-tops.

But in the center of the room stood a dentist-like chair fastened with heart monitors, IVs, and a foil ring that swiveled off the top of the chair's back, as if it would fit on someone's head. A moveable light hoovered over the chair. Jeremy guessed the light wasn't to get a better view of one's mouth.

The soldiers jumped to their feet as the Commander strolled to the center of the room. He patted the chair. "Lay down here."

Jeremy didn't see he had any other option. So he crawled into the chair and laid his head against the back. Jeremy watched as the Commander reached onto the table where one soldier stood at attention, and picked up his cowl. He saw Bridget's and Mickey's masks laying beside it.

The Commander held the mask in front of Jeremy. "You will put this on, then appear in this room as one of your characters. If you do not appear here, I will order the termination of one of those we are holding."

Jeremy's jaw dropped. "Murder?" He had to be bluffing.

"Oh, it would be an accident. Your Uncle falls off the mountain. Your sister drowns in a lake. Your friend shows up in an automobile accident while walking home. All after we terminate them and plant the evidence. We could even implicate you in their deaths if we wished. Now you don't want their blood on your hands, do you?"

"Investigators would know they didn't die that way." Jeremy gritted his teeth. "You couldn't get away with such things!"

The Commander stared into Jeremy's eyes. "We have, we are, and we will again. Now are we clear?"

Jeremy bore into the Commander's eyes. If the man was bluffing, he couldn't tell. Nor could he take the chance he wasn't. "You're clear. I'll cooperate."

"Good." He handed Jeremy the cowl.

Jeremy slipped it over his head and leaned back. The ring was snuggled down upon his head. He whispered in hopes they wouldn't pick up they words, but the mask would. "Suit, appear here as Astro Man."

The room dimmed, then reappeared, except he now stood to the side of the chair watching his body breathing in front of him. Feet scurried behind him. "Hand's up!"

Jeremy raised his hands. He saw fingers wrap around his gun and then yank it from its holster. The soldier held the ray gun in his hand. A slight smile spread over the man's lips.

Jeremy nodded at the gun. "Careful with that, dude. Whatever you do, don't pull the trigger."

The Commander jumped to the soldier and pulled it from his hands. He turned it over as he examined it. "Why? What would happen."

Jeremy forced a grin to stay hidden. "Trust me. The last thing you want to do is pull that trigger."

The Commander continued to scan the gun. "Sargent, start the energy trace from the body to the virtual body."

"Sir, yes, sir." Several of the men turned back to their work.

The Commander lifted the gun's barrel and rested it over his extended left arm. He pointed it at the far wall where stood a two-feet thick titanium three by three foot wall. A blackened area covered the center of the metal wall as if lasers had hit it countless times.

"Sir, do you think that is a good idea? We should interrogate the prisoner first to know what it does."

The Commander turned and stared at the officer for a long five seconds before responding. "You're out of line, soldier. This is a ray gun. This dial on top sets the strength. Anyone can see that."

The soldier shrank back to this table. Another officer called out, "Yes, sir. But I saw--"

The Commander ignored the officer and pulled the trigger. The last setting Jeremy had used being the light blast with the camera crew, the room filled with a blinding light. Rifles clattered to the floor as everyone hid from the light.

Jeremy, protected by his helmet's visor, dove to his ray gun falling from the Commander's hand, caught it in midair, spun around, and landed on his back. He flipped the gun to the stun ray before anyone could regain their sight or respond, and spun himself around on the floor, dropping everyone in the room with a series of thuds and clanks.

"Suit, appear here as Inviso Dude." The room darkened and returned with the bluish glow of the invisibility field. He leaped to his feet and grabbed Bridget and Mickey's mask from the table, then scooped up his own body lying in the chair and flopped it over his shoulder. "Man, I've got to lose some weight."

Jeremy stopped by the Commanders unconscious body. "I told you, you didn't want to pull that trigger." He wondered if the Commander had ever read the story of Briar Rabbit. And he thanked God that the Commander was numbered among the men who didn't think they needed to read the instructions.

With the invisibility field cloaking both his virtual and real body, he stepped through the door, down the hallway, and into Mickey's cell. He pulled Mickey's mask from his pocket and threw it onto the cot.

Mickey stopped his pacing and jumped. "What the..." His eyes widened. "Bucko?"

"Put it on, Mick, grab your body once you've gone virtual, and then hold onto me. I'll extend the invisibility shield around you so we can walk through the door."

Mickey flopped onto his cot and yanked the mask on. "Suit, appear here as Blue Nova." Blue Nova materialized beside the cot. He pulled his body onto his shoulder, grabbed hold of Jeremy's arm, and became invisible. Jeremy headed for the wall and they stepped into Bridget's cell.

"Sis, put this on." He threw her mask onto the cot. She smiled and jumped up clapping. She put on the mask and became Comet Girl. Jeremy knelt down and pulled Bridget's limp body onto his other shoulder. "Hold onto me everyone. We have one more person to get. They walked through the next wall and into Uncle George's cell. Uncle George latched onto the chain of people. Jeremy could feel the energy drain on him. "Quick, though this door. I can't hold the field much longer."

Jeremy kept his focus on the energizing the field as they entered the hallway. They released Jeremy, causing Bridget, Uncle George, and Mickey holding his body to become visible again. Jeremy breathed easier.

Mickey glanced down each hallway. "Now how do we get out of here? Wherever here is."

The sound of footsteps sounded down the hallway. Jeremy frowned though no one could see it. "I think they've discovered my breakout. Mickey, give me your body and do a quick recon. Knock out the soldiers coming, and find out where the way out is."

"You're wish is my command." He slipped his body to Jeremy, who piled it on top of his own. Jeremy thanked Holbreth for giving Inviso Dude super human strength.

Mickey sped away into a blur. Jeremy motioned to the rest. "Follow me this way. Comet Girl, scatter some knockout comet dust behind us. Mickey won't be affected by it because he's going too fast."

She nodded. "One dose of sleeping dust, coming up." As Jeremy led Uncle George down the hall away from the coming boots, Bridget extended her hand and scattered dust into the air as she walked backwards.

Sounds of grunts and guns clattering to the floor echoed down the hall. Jeremy doubted they ever saw Blue Nova hit them. Uncle George glanced back. "Is he all right?"

"He's fine. Don't worry about him." Jeremy rounded a corner to find four soldiers pointing rifles at them. Before Bridget could follow him, Jeremy yelled, "Back!" Bullets whizzed harmlessly through him. "Comet Girl, send dust this way."

Bridget stuck her hands around the corner and showered the men with dust. They collapsed onto the floor. Jeremy said, "It's clear." The pair followed him again.

A steel door loomed in front of them. A blue streak stopped in front of Jeremy and Blue Nova appeared. "It must be this way. I checked a few hundred bunk rooms, eating rooms, bathrooms, rec rooms, laboratories, cells, etc., and they were all dead ends."

"Very well." Jeremy stepped through the door and examined the area beyond it. A hanger greeted him dotted with jets. Multiple soldiers worked on the aircraft and guarded the area. A big door that Jeremy bet led outside stood on one side of the massive walls.

Jeremy stepped back into the hallway. "This is certainly the way out. But there are a lot of soldiers on the other side of this door. I'll step you through, Blue Nova, then you can take out as many as possible while I break a hole through this door and we can escape."

Mickey nodded. "Let's do this."

Jeremy held onto Mickey's shoulder until he was through the door, then released him. He watched a moment as Mickey zoomed from person to person, knocking them out with a hit to the head. Jeremy pulled back into the hallway.

"Suit, appear here as Astro Man." The hallway faded to black immediately returned, but seen through the visor of his helmet. "Now I'll use my gravity ray to blow a hole in this door. Stand back, you two." He reached for his gun.

"Halt!" the Commander's voice rang out.

Jeremy jerked his head around. His gut twisted at the sight. The Commander stood, arms crossed, surrounded by ten soldiers pointing rifles at Bridget, himself, and Uncle George.

"Deactivate your virtual personas now, or I'll fire on your uncle." The Commander's eyes bore down upon Jeremy, daring him to disobey.

Jeremy glanced at Uncle George. Uncle George stared at the rifles with wide eyes and backed up against the wall. Jeremy checked on Bridget. She'd closed her eyes and bowed her head as if admitting defeat. He knew there was no way he could pull his gun fast enough to initiate the force field or take any action before they pulled the trigger. And Blue Nova, trapped on the other side of the door, couldn't help either.

"Now, Jeremy!" The Commander lifted his hand to give the order.

Jeremy held up a hand. "Okay, you win." He breathed deep. "Suit--"

A blast of light filled the small hallway. A force knocked Jeremy off his feet. His helmet's visor protected him from the light, but he flew through the air, slammed against the wall and crumbled to the floor. The helmet had protected his head from serious injury, but his body felt like it had been hit with a giant hammer. The force rebounding off the door smashed into Jeremy's body and shoved him ten feet across the hall. Every bone in his body ached, and he could barely move.

"BJ, I mean, Astro Man, are you all right?"

Jeremy felt a hand on his head. He cracked an eye open to see a blurry Comet Girl standing over him. "Was that you?"

"Uh hu. Sorry I couldn't protect you, but I felt keeping a protecting field over Uncle George and our bodies was more important."

Jeremy nodded. "I'll reset myself. Suit, appear here as Astro Man." The room faded and with it, the pain. It reappeared and now he could see clearly and felt strong. He hopped to his feet and examined the pile of unconscious bodies. "Comet Girl sure knows how to pack a punch."

Bridget giggled. Uncle George rubbed her head. "You can say that again."

Jeremy pulled the ray gun from its holster and dialed in the gravity ray. He pointed it at the door and pulled the trigger. It burrowed into the metal, and a red glow spread across the door as the beam dissolved the molecular cohesion, disintegrating a hole into the thick metal.

Blue Nova flashed to a stop in front of Jeremy. "About time. What took ya?"

Jeremy pointed at the pile of men. "Needed to clean up after ourselves."

Mickey smiled and slapped Jeremy on the shoulder. "Way to go, Bucko. That'll teach 'em."

"It wasn't me. Thank Comet Girl here. I was ready to surrender."

Mickey tussled her hair. "I should have known when I heard an explosion in here." He turned back to Jeremy. "But now what?"

"First, let's get out of here. No doubt they have cameras all over this place. We can't discuss plans here. You take yours and Bridget's bodies. I'll take Uncle George's and my body in my ship. Comet Girl can fly. We'll meet again once we are clear of this place and figure out where to go from there."

Mickey nodded. "Sounds good. Let's do this."

Bridget gave a thumbs up. "Yes. Let's."

Uncle George said, "Anything to get out of here."

Mickey picked up his and Bridget's bodies, and Jeremy grabbed his own while Uncle George and Bridget followed him through the doorway. "Watch your step. The edges of the door are still hot."

Once into the hanger, Jeremy called out, "Suit, call ship." A dark jet-like aircraft materialized in the center of the hanger. The wings slicked back and pointed upwards at the tips. The rear tale marked the shape of a V. The glass hatch raised open from the back where the ship's nose narrowed to a point and angled slightly downward. Uncle George crawled into the back seat.

Jeremy settled his body into Uncle George's lap. "Sorry for the tight quarters, Uncle."

"Just get us out of here."

Jeremy saluted. "Sir, yes, sir." Then he hopped into the pilot's seat and lowered the hatch. After firing up the space jet, it rose from the ground. Jeremy aimed the ship's gravity ray and blasted the hanger doors. A red glow spread from the center followed by the disappearing wall. Sunlight poured in as the hole grew. Jeremy shoved the throttle forward. The ship accelerated toward the door and into the air of freedom.

Jeremy engaged the radio in his suit. "Mickey, I'm going to send the government a Christmas present. Give me a minute."


Jeremy banked and came back around to the hanger door. He flipped the ship's camera on and filmed the smoke rising from the side of a mountain. As he dove back into the hanger, slowed to a stop, hoovered around, and then blasted back out, he added the following audio narrative:

"Dear Mr. President and members of Congress. What you are seeing here is the secret base of a hidden military unit, or so I've been told. They kidnapped Astro Man, Blue Nova, and Comet Girl in order to steal our power. I was told you do not know of this unit, that it doesn't exist in the books. And they threatened to ignore our constitutional rights upon capturing us. Even threatening to kill innocent civilians if we didn't cooperate. You can see the coordinates displayed on the video of the site's location. I'm sure you'll figure out how to proceed with this information. Thank you."

Jeremy saved the file, then addressed an email to the president, top cabinet members, and key members of congress, attached the video, and hit send. Jeremy couldn't help but grin. Even if some were in on the plot, now that it was exposed it would die a quick death. And if it was truly a hidden organization, investigations and prosecutions were sure to follow.

Jeremy opened up the radio. "Blue Nova and Comet Girl. Operation Christmas Gift has been completed."

"What was the gift?" Mickey responded.

"The gift of truth. When truth is born, its light forces changes. Usually big changes. Just like it did almost two thousand and fifty years ago." Jeremy smiled. "See that plateau I'm headed to?"


"We'll all met there. We can't return to our homes now. We'll have to take our bodies to Titan and figure out a plan of attack from there. We'll discuss the details on the plateau."

"Will do."

Jeremy focused as he angled the ship for a landing. Now he not only had lost his normal life and his parents because of these powers, he'd lost the last semblance of normalcy he had left: a home.

Jeremy felt Uncle George's hand on his shoulder. "Jeremy, you've done good. I'm right proud of ya."

Jeremy smiled. He hadn't lost everything. He still had family and friends. And that mattered more than being normal. Now that was a real Christmas gift.

"Merry Christmas, Uncle. I love you too."

The preceding story comes from the world of Mind Game, and Hero Game, the next novel in the series expected in the Spring of 2012. Click the link to learn more about the series and to discover where you can buy Mind Game for yourself or as a gift. Ebooks in all formats available.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Agency Pricing Illegal?

Currently, the agreement between Apple and the traditional publishers, known as "agency pricing," is under investigation in the European Union and in the United States for being an illegal and unfair business practice. In both of these investigations, they are examining whether the agreements these businesses made violate anti-trust laws.

Before we get into why that may be true, first my savvy readers need to be aware of what agency pricing is. In the traditional pricing model for books, a publisher sells a book to a retailer at wholesale cost. The retailer is then free to price the book to sell at whatever price they wish. The publisher will have a "suggested retail price," but the bookstore is under no obligation to sell it for that amount. They can sell them for a dollar, if they wanted to, and eat the cost. But the need to make enough money to keep the doors open usually prevent that in any widespread manner.

Agency pricing changes it from being a wholesale distribution model to a leasing model. An "agent" (and thus, "agency" pricing) leases the book to the retailer, and in so doing, retains control over that book, including what the price will be. Being that the "agent" is the publisher, it means the publisher sets the price on what the book will sell for, not the retailer.

In a way, it is similar to the consignment model. An author or publisher puts books on a bookstore shelf, but doesn't get paid for them right away. Therefore, the bookstore doesn't own them, and can't change the price without the author's permission. Once a book sells, then the bookstore keeps their share and passes the author or publisher's share to them.

Most ebooks are sold that way. I put up an ebook on Amazon, and Amazon doesn't pay me anything for doing that. They don't buy several copies of my ebook from me. Then, when it sells, they keep their share, and I get my share. But I own the file sitting on Amazon's servers, and can decide to pull it at any time, change the price, or update it without needing to get Amazon's permission first.

This actually makes some sense when you think about it. Ownership would be if Amazon bought the book from me. I couldn't then tell Amazon what price to charge or to take it down. In such a scenario, Amazon and I would enter into a contract, much like a publisher, where they would pay me an amount for the rights to sell X number of books. Let's just say, 10 books. Once ten sales had hit, they could buy the right to sell another 10 copies from me, and pay me cash. Ownership happens at the point of the cash transaction.

And like regular books, Amazon wouldn't have the right to the content, only the container.  That's what a copyright is for. The author owns the content of a book. You can't change it, copy it, or modify it. But when you buy a book, you own the paper and ink that the content is printed upon and with. In an ebook, the container is the file itself. In many retail transactions when you buy an ebook, you download it onto your computer or reader, and you have the file. Only you can delete it. You own the file, but lease the content.

That has changed some with Kindle, since the files reside on a cloud, and if Amazon decides to pull a title, it will get deleted off your Kindle as well. This is because the agency model of publishing has confused the leasing of digital content with the digital container it resides in.

In effect, the agency pricing model is nothing more than consignment selling model, but with one important difference as it is being practiced now. When you buy a book on consignment, the customer owns the container, but not the content. In agency pricing, the buyer owns neither the container or the content.

So, why is the agency pricing model potentially illegal if it is not much different from consignment? Here's why. The big difference is bookstores, as a whole, have rarely operated primarily, if at all, on the consignment model. They may agree to put a few books from a local author on consignment, but by and large, they purchase all the books that go on their shelves. And likewise, Amazon usually purchases one or more copies of physical books to put in their warehouse before selling them.

But ebooks are the first type of book gaining widespread sales and delivery on this model. Why does that matter?

On the surface, what Apple and the publishers agreed to doesn't seem to involve price fixing. After all, they didn't get together and and decide all books they publish between 195 and 200 pages will sell for X. Price fixing was evident in earlier times, because retail establishments, in order to avoid a price war with a competitor and so lose money, they would both agree to charge a specific price, usually much higher than was justified. The important thing to understand about this is it kept prices artificially inflated by reducing competition and discounting, and thereby circumvented the ability of the free market to keep prices at a fair level.

So, on the surface, it doesn't appear that the publishers did this. But publishing is a different business than selling gas or other products. Both gas stations are selling the same basic product. No matter which station I go to in most all cases, my car will run just as well on one's station's gas as another's. And whether it is Exxon or BP, my car will work. Doesn't matter the company that produced it, or which station I go to get it. However, while I can get Stephen King's latest book at any retail outlet, there is only one publisher that publishes that book. And guess what happens if that one source sets the price? It is price fixing, because it in effect reduces competition and keeps the price artificially high. That one product will sell for the same price no matter where I go to buy it.

If that same book was published by more than one publisher, then competition would enter into the equation. But if that one publisher sets the price, and it is the only source to get that book, that means there is no competition. It in effect becomes a system to circumvent the competition of the marketplace and is price fixing.

The collusion aspect of this is it took all the publishers operating together to force Amazon and other bookstore outlets to go with this model. Amazon could have held out with one or two publishers agreeing not to sell to them their titles, but when they all threatened to hold back their books, Amazon had no choice but to cave if it wanted to keep from losing money. Without the agreement between the parties, they wouldn't have had the clout to force Amazon away from their prior consignment/wholesale hybrid model and into agency pricing.

But the key to this as to whether it violates anti-trust laws is did the move by these parties reduce or eliminate competition in the market place. Well, yeah. It was one of the primary reasons Apple sought out this agreement with the publishers, was to try to straightjacket Amazon into pricing their books the same as what customers would find in the iBookstore, and cause Apple hardware customers to be happy to buy from Apple instead of Amazon or some other discount store.

Because of that, I predict these lawsuits will break up this agreement and return pricing control to the retailers, and that either the hybrid model Amazon was using will become standard, or something along the lines of buying a certain number of copies from the publisher that can be sold before paying for more, equating to buying wholesale.

What may get lost in all this, however, is the right of the buyer to own the container that the content comes in just as they do with a paperback. There should be no difference.

What do you think? Is this price fixing and illegal?

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software

The book is available! My steps to creating your own ebook and putting them up for sales, in one volume you can reference on your ereader.

Want to create an ebook but don't know how? Don't have the cash to spend on programs to generate them? Author R. L. Copple shares his logical, step-by-step method of ebook creation. He begins with setting up the document to write your book, and ends with creating the cover art, the PDF, EPUB and MOBI ebooks, and then putting them up for sale at major online retail outlets. The appendices also describe how to make a PDB ebook and how to use the "nuclear" method to clean hidden formats in a document while retaining italics, bold, and heading formats. All using free software you can download!

The book breaks down the process into seven steps: Step 1 – Creating the Source File; Step 2 – Creating the Cover; Step 3 – Creating the PDF Ebook; Step 4 – Creating the Smashwords Edition; Step 5 – Creating the EPUB Ebook and Uploading to Barnes and Noble; Step 6 – Creating the MOBI Ebook and Uploading to Amazon; Step 7 – What to Do With the Ebooks.

Packed with a wealth of information and tips, the book will serve as a guide and reference to publishing your next book as an ebook.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Stop Online Piracy Act" and Indie-Publishing

If you haven't heard about it yet, most likely you will. Today Congress held a hearing on a full Senate/House version of the bill known as the "Stop Online Piracy Act."  It seeks to deal with a real threat, the piracy of copyrighted works often through Internet sites where users share their creative work, or not so creative as the case may be. The grandaddy of them being YouTube. The New York Times has an article up on it that lays out the vast overreaching of this bill and how it will end up hurting mostly innocent users of the Internet, businesses, lost jobs, and lost future jobs due to the high cost of compliance by putting the burden on website owners to not allow copyrighted work on their sites or face stiff penalties. Currently, if someone complains about a copyrighted work being on a site, they file a notice to the hosting site, and the hosting site has a set number of days to remove it without any further consequences.

The article and others have detailed the impact this law will have in a very negative way of bringing about censorship and the suppression of creative works in general. But I wanted to focus on what this will mean for indie authors and presses. After all, don't indie authors and presses want to stop the piracy of their works? Isn't making it more difficult for sites to host such things and get away with it a windfall for the authors? On the surface, one would think so, until one digs a little deeper.

The problem is that pirates will be able to get around this, and people will find ways to distribute them illegally. Only those who are trying to play by the rules will be hurt, and that includes authors who self-publish and small presses. How?

Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, probably the biggest host of indie-published works on the Internet, and other companies like Smashwords and Barnes and Noble's PubIt who provide indie-published authors and small presses a way to get their work out there without having to go through the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing houses, will, if this bill becomes law by the end of this year, be forced to evaluate all submitted works before allowing them to go on sale in order to avoid the liability of the government blocking their access to US book buyers and whatever fines that may incur.

Here's the practical results of what this law will do because of this necessity.

Indie-publishing sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords will now become enforcement arms of the government. They will out of necessity become censors. This presents a problem, in that any mistakes on their part could be costly. What that will mean is that some poor employee evaluating each submission before sending to the site to go on sale or out the reject door, with hundreds to look at, isn't going to take the time to evaluate your story properly. Like an editor, they will be looking for a reason to reject, and anything that doesn't pass the smell test will tend to get rejected without further research. Any doubt about whether your story violates copyright law will be cause for immediate rejection whether it actually does or not. Because they know if one mistake gets through and noticed by any watchdogs, their whole site could be shut down. With that hanging over their head, they aren't going to take any chances. They won't have time to research, to rub their chin and do a Google search. A lot of works which don't violate the copyright law will not be allowed to be published, punishing innocent authors for the transgressions of a small percentage of them.

Indie-publishing sites will be forced to hire new employees simply to comply with this law, simply to shift through everyone's submission to either give them the stamp of approval or not. "Isn't that a good thing, more jobs and working people?" I'm afraid the few that get hired to do that will not offset the many lost jobs. Why? Because hiring those employees and complying with the act is going to cost those companies some money. That will mean one or two things. Either those companies will charge more for their product/services and cut jobs in other areas to have the money to pay for review of all submissions and paperwork they will be required to file, and liability insurance in the event they miss something, and any resulting fines and cost if they are charged, or they will decide the cost simply isn't worth the potential benefits and cancel the programs.

Indie authors and presses are going to make less money. One way the sites may pay for the additional cost is to reduce greatly the percentage they pay authors and small presses. We'll likely say bye bye to the 70% cut Amazon gives us. We may even be lucky to keep the 35%. Or worse case, we'll have no place to put up our work, and we'll be back to looking only to the traditional publishers for our outlets, because these same dynamics will affect POD (Print On Demand) which small presses rely heavily on for publishing their works. The living some indie authors are making will evaporate and/or be greatly reduced.

Forget seeing your book get up for sale within two days. It will then go into a queue waiting for the few overworked employees they do hire to get to them. Expect it to take more than a month or more before you see that story go up. Depending on how many employees the particular company feels they can afford, don't be surprised if it takes half a year or more. That all represents time your book could be making money instead of sitting on a hard drive, waiting for approval.

You'll have less and less options of where to publish. Some companies will probably keep going, with reduced rates, increased processing time, and you cross your fingers and hope nothing in your book "looks" like a copyright violation, causing it to get rejected. But some companies will give up, and shut down, or remove that service from their mix. Companies like Apple will reevaluate their contracts with Smashwords if this bill passes, and access to those channels could easily disappear. Expect to have fewer outlets to sell your work.

Some of those predictions could be off the mark. I pray we don't have to find out whether I'm right or not, because based on the bill and these logical consequences of those actions, I fear I'll be much more right than wrong. And the only way to prevent it at this point is for enough people to contact their congressmen and women and tell them to vote against it.

I'm sure the traditional publishing companies are for this bill, because it will end up shifting power back in their direction that has been flowing to indie authors and small presses over the past several years. We need to let our representatives know that the people who put them in office are watching, and if they don't vote as we expect, they cannot count on our vote. If they get enough of those notes, they will take note. We might not have a lot of money, but votes count for more than money. Enough of them and they will have a change of heart.

Bottom line: this bill is bad for the economy, bad for anyone who wishes to start up a business whether that is a social site or a creative work like writing a book. The government can surely find ways to help prevent piracy without restricting the freedoms of its citizens and making it harder to make money in this recessive economy. Write your representatives and let them know what you think and how you intend to vote come when they are up for election again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Appx. A - Creating the PDB Ebook

Note: these articles will form the core of a new ebook by this title. Disclaimer: I do not work for, represent, or am associated with anyone who works or represents the sites or products I've listed below. I'm not getting any fees for listing them here. Any company names, trademarks, etc, are the property of the respective company.

I didn't include the creation of the PDB ebook in the steps above for several reasons. One, because it isn't as widely used of a format. Two, because it isn't as easy to create as the others, requiring a little more file juggling and editing. Three, because it wasn't needed to upload any files to retailers. Four, because the Smashword conversion creates one that you can download if this format was needed.

That said, if you are going to sell ebooks on your own ebook store, or want a PDB file that will look more professional than the one Smashwords creates, then this can be a worthwhile file to create. Primarily because while not as widely used, the program to read the file can be installed on most smart phones and tablets. And personally, at least on my Windows machine, the computer version of the software is the best way to read an ebook on your computer. Unlike most every other ebook reader software you can download, it looks like a book, flips like a book, and is easy to read than the standard black on white. I like it better than reading a PDF on the computer. And like PDFs, the software to read them is free. So why leave a segment of the market that likes this format without access to your ebook?

What is the PDB format? It is one of the first ebook formats created. Originally, it was used for Palm Organizers, and stood for Palm Digital Books. The format has changed hands a few times, once owned by Peanuts Press when Palm Digital media released it, and after them was acquired by, which is currently owned by Barnes and Noble. But has become the main source for PDB books, as well as the place to download the Ereader software and the software to make the books.

Unfortunately, the free software to create PDB books isn't easy to use. Mainly because it requires formatting your book with codes so that the conversion software can create the ebook. The code is known as PML, which stands for Palm Markup Language. It works a lot like HTML codes, except slightly different. For instance, everywhere in your document you want text to be italicized, you enclose it between two "\i" on either end. So if I wanted the ebook to show, "Now this is the way to do it!" I would have to have in the source file, "Now \ithis\i is the way to do it!"

Needless to say, that means learning a whole new "language" and doing several search and replace sessions to get all the code in the right places. And then frequently the first time or two you'll get errors because you didn't do something quite right and need to go back and fix it, then try again. I've done it that way, but it is a pain at times.

But have no fear! Thankfully for us, there is a macro in Open Office Writer that will make this process much easier. Still some work to do, but the coding part of it is taken care of. So, let's get to it.

What You Will Need

We will be using Open Office Writer, no matter whether your file was created in Word or another program. You'll also need to install the odt2pml extension for Writer. To do that, open Writer, click on "Tools" in the menu, then select "Extension Manager." When the window opens, click on the text link in the bottom-left corner that says, "Get more extensions on line." That will open a web page of Writer's extensions. In the search field on the left side of the page, enter without the quotes, "odt2pml". The search should bring up a selection labeled "odt2pml – EReader export extension." Click on that link, and then click on the Get extension button. Open the extension in Writer, or download and open from your hard drive. Once installed, close Writer.

You will also need two programs from Go to and download the Ereader software for your computer, and install it. Then go to and download, then install the version of Dropbook for your computer. Linux users will have to download the Windows version and run it in Wine or other emulator. Note, you want the Dropbook download, not the Makebook toward the bottom.

You'll also be using the graphics editing program we downloaded earlier, Faststone, if your book contains any graphic files like a cover or other graphics.

Now we're ready to roll!

Creating the PDB Ebook

Open your print file in Writer. You don't need to change your text, but make sure you have set your chapter heading style to insert page breaks. The extension will pick up on those to know where to insert them.

You will want to add your cover to the front of the file before we move on. Press Ctrl-Home to go to the top of the file. Press Ctrl-Enter to insert a page break before the first page. Press Ctrl-Home again to go to the top of that page. Set the paragraph style to default centered. Then click on "Insert" in the menu, and select "Picture" from the list, and "From file" in the sub-menu. Locate your cover for the book and insert it into the first page.

Assuming you have everything else set in the file they way you want it as regards content, font used, justified, etc., the next step is to save the file to create a PDB version of the source file. Click "File" in the menu, "Save as" from the list, and in the window, add a "-PDB" to the file, so in our previously used example, the file, "MyLastBreath-print.odt" would now be "MyLastBreath-PDB.odt". You should now have the original print file and a new PDB labeled file.

Now that we know you won't be messing up your print file, we can have the extension process any graphics you have in the file. Normally you would at least have the cover page, but you may have other graphics in the file as well.

In Writer, click "Tools" in the menu, then go to the bottom where it says "Add-ons." Selecting that option will bring up a sub-menu, and one of those selections should say "odt2pml." Selecting that will bring up a further sub-menu with four selections. Two of them you don't need if you've formatted everything according to previous instructions. But we do want to run the option labeled "Picture converter" next. Once you have selected that option, a window will appear with an choice and three buttons. Click on the "To Paragraph" option in the "Picture anchor" section. Then click the "Continue" button. At that point, the extension will do its thing. Once done, save the changes by clicking "File" and "Save."

Are we ready to convert yet? No. First we have to do some editing on the pictures. The extension will have created a sub-directory where your ebook is located using your file name and "_img" attached to the end. So our ebook file labeled "MyLastBreath-PDB.odt" will create a directory where that file resides called "MyLastBreath-PDB_img." Using your file manager, open that directory up. You'll see a graphics file for each type of graphic you had in your document.

First, we need to make sure the picture fits within a 320 wide by 420 high pixel size. If it doesn't, what you see in the ebook is a link that when clicked on, brings up a view of the picture. Best to avoid that.

Open the first graphic in Faststone image editor. You will see the size of the file in pixels at the top. If the width is greater than 320, or the height is more than 420, resize the picture to fit within those maximums. Move your cursor to the left side of the screen. A menu list will pop open. Select "Resize / Resample." This will bring up a resizing window. Make sure the "Preserve aspect ratio" is checked in the bottom-left corner of the window. With "Pixel" section selected, enter in the height box without the quotation marks, "420". Make sure the resulting width is not larger than 320 pixels. If it is, enter 320 in the width field, and the height field should be less than 420. Once done, click the "OK" button and it will resize the picture.

The second item we need to process is to make sure the file is saved in 8-bit, 256 color format. Anything else the program will reject. Since our graphic program exports in 24 True Color, we have to fix that for each file as we save it.

Once the size is right, move your cursor to the left edge of the screen and the menu will appear. Select "Save as" from the list, and a window will open allowing you to save the file. We don't need to change the file name or type, but you will see a button on the bottom-right of that window labeled "Options." Click on it. A window will open, and you will see a drop-down box that says "24-bit" in most cases. Click on that drop-down box and select "256" from the options. Then click the "OK" button and it will return you to the save screen. Click the "OK" button again and acknowledgment that you want to overwrite the file.

Press the "Page Down" button to move to the next graphic and repeat the above process. Do this for each graphic in the directory. When you finish with that task, there is one more step to do here before we are done. Find the graphic in the directory which is your cover file. Rename the file to "cover.png". This is the file that the conversion program looks for to make as the cover file for the book.

We are now ready to process the file once we change one more thing. We no longer need the cover file info at the top of the file as that will automatically get included. We only included it so that it would get processed with the rest of your graphics if you had any. Back to your document, press Ctrl-Home, select the outlined picture which is now linked, so all you'll see is the directory/file text where the picture resides. Delete that placeholder and delete the page so that your title page is now the first page of the document. Save the file.

Now we are ready to create the PML file. Click "Tools" in the menu, and select "Add ons" in the drop-down menu. Select "odt2pml" and then click on "Ereader export." A window will appear. One of the buttons on that window is labeled "Configuration." When you click on that button, you have the option to have the extension run Dropbook once the PML file is ready. You can check the box, then browse to find the program on your hard drive (usually in C:\Program Files\ directory on most Window machines). However, I recommend not doing it. I've had it run it before I was ready and it can be frustrating, and there is one other step that is good to do to make the PDB look professional that will get skipped if this is selected. But it is your call. If the file is ready (pictures are edited and ready to go), it can be a convenience not have to run the program yourself. Make your selection and click the "OK" button.

With the default "Extended 2" character set selected, click on the "Continue" button. The extension will now run, and once done, it will have created a PML file in the book's directory. If using our example file name, you should see "MyLastBreath-PDB.pml." Before we can use it to create the PDB ebook, we need to edit the PML file to make one minor change.

Open the resulting PML file in the text editor of your choice. In Windows, Wordpad or Notepad works fine. At the top of the file, you should see something similar to this, inserting the name of your book's file for my example: TITLE="MyLastBreath-PDB". The extension has the minor annoyance of using the file name for the title of the book. If you don't change this here, when the user opens up the book in their PDB reader, it will show that file name as the title in the book's page info. Not good. So change everything within the quotation marks to the title of your book. In our example's case, it would now read: TITLE="My Last Breath".

Close the file, saving it. If you've opened this up in a word processor, make sure it is saving it as plain text and not a word processor file, or the ebook creation will not work.

Now we can create the PDB file. Finally! Open the Dropbook program. You will see a window open with a Dropbook Pro logo and text saying to "Drop Files Here." It is called Dropbook in part because all you have to do is take that PML file and drag it into the box, and it does the rest. But, before you do that, make sure some setting are set, especially if this is the first time you've used the program.

If you want to have it automatically overwrite an existing file, click to check off the box labeled as such. You can also have it warn you by checking off that box, or just do it by leaving that box unchecked. Leave "Include page tables" checked.

The next section allows you to create an encrypted book, or a book locked with a password, or have no security on it at all. I would suggest to select "Build unencrypted book." It wasn't the default selection my first time running it. However, if you are of the mind that you want yours encrypted or locked for whatever reason, this is the time to make that selection. There is also a check box if you want it to create a dictionary. I've not used that function before, but you can give it a shot and see what it creates. It is easy enough to redo the conversion if it isn't good.

Now in your file manager, click on and drag the PML file into the box at the top of the Dropbook window. The program will process the file and notify you of any warnings or errors it encounters. If all goes well, it will say nothing, but you'll see a new file ending with "PDB" in your book's directory. In my example's case, it would say "MyLastBreath-PDB.pdb".

Now you should be able to double-click on that file, and the book will open up in the Ereader program. Check the table of contents and scan through the file to see if it looks as expected. If you spot any problems, fix it in the source file and then recreate the book. If you don't need to change the graphics, you can use the -PDB version of the odt file, otherwise, you'll need to start with the print file and go back to the beginning of the process after correcting the problem there.

If all looks good, you have yourself a PDB ebook to sell or use for yourself. Congratulations!

Order the whole updated book with complete instructions for all formats!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to Make an Ebook:Step 7 – What To Do With the Ebooks?

Note: these articles will form the core of a new ebook by this title. Disclaimer: I do not work for, represent, or am associated with anyone who works or represents the sites or products I've listed below. I'm not getting any fees for listing them here. Any company names, trademarks, etc, are the property of the respective company.

What you should have now are the following items, if you've done all the steps in this book: the original book document file, a print version document file, a PDF version document file, a PDF ebook, an EPUB ebook, a MOBI ebook, and your book on sale at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Smashwords, once the book has passed the Professional Status and been assigned an ISBN, will distribute the book to other important retailers, most notably Apple and Kobo. You should also have a good 600 by around 1000 pixel-sized front cover graphic you can use for many promotional purposes.

So now that you have these various ebook versions of your book, what do you do with them? The obvious answer is to sell them. But there are other options. Let's look at a few here.

Setting up Your E-store

The most obvious use is to sell your books on your own internet store. Ebooks are made for internet sales, and for immediate gratification. It only makes sense if you have them, to put them up for sale. However, there are two daunting tasks for most authors to do this. One, setting up an online store is intimidating. Two, most authors, unless they become popular enough, know they will sell little from their own store. It isn't easy to generate the traffic or the effort to do so is more work than the author is willing to invest to make the returns worthwhile.

But let's look at the options before we automatically ditch the idea. We'll look at the easiest routes to the more technical. As you might expect, the easier it is for you to do, the more likely you'll be "paying" someone either in up front money or a portion of the sales to do the job. But let's take a look and you can decide whether any of the options are worth your time to set up.

Payment Options. One of the first items on the agenda is to create a method for people to pay for your books. For most author sites, which will get little sales, at least in the beginning, having a full merchant account is out of the question. Those usually require a minimum expenditure of thirty dollars a month or more. Most authors will be doing very good to even think about breaking even with that cost on their site's sales.

One of the most common payment options people use is PayPal. Most any site or website application can use PayPal to work as your payment method, and PayPal can take any credit card, without requiring that the person sign up for PayPal. The percentage they charge for each transaction is on the high side compared to most credit card merchant accounts, but considering you are not paying monthly fees for the account, access to the Internet, gateway, and all the other typical fees a merchant account comes with, you are actually saving a ton of money. Especially when you consider if you sell nothing that month, your fees are also zero. So it is never more than you will make on your site. Plus, you can even use it to create your own hand-made web store if you are html inclined.

Another option that is free is Google Checkout. This one isn't as widely supported by all software, but is required if you are going to use Google Checkout Store (explained below). And like PayPal, will enable you to take credit card payments on your site for a fee for each transaction instead of a monthly fee. The advantage to it is if you already have a Google account, then you don't have to set up a new account with someone else like PayPal, and using it may give you better results on searches, driving more traffic your way.

There are some others that could be used. Do a search on it if you wish, but either one of the above will enable you to take credit cards on your site and sell your books.

Online Commerce Sites. There are a host of online commerce sites, that allow you to set up an online store, frequently for a fee, and they make it easy for you to put your product up for sale. If you do an online search along the lines of "online store," you'll see many options. I'm going to mention a few I found. Disclaimer: I have not used any of these except one, and I have no clue how effective, easy, or well they work. Most of them that require a payment have a trial, so it is easy to try one out if you wish. And I'm mentioning a few, but this is in no means an inclusive list, nor does my listing them here infer an endorsement of their site. Use at your own risk and buyer beware.

I did find a free one, assuming their site isn't hiding anything. Miiduu proclaims itself a "Free Online Store Solution." Not having used them, I don't know how they make money, but I'm guessing advertising. So expect your site to show some ads on it. But they claim to be a full-featured online store that is easy to set up and get product selling. Check it out, give it a test drive and see how it works before throwing your whole line up of books onto it.

If you want a more well known name, there are a few for a fee. Yahoo Merchant can set up a site for a monthly fee of $40.00 (as of this writing, they have a three month special of 35% off). Amazon has their own "web store" you can set up, but not sure how happy they would be if you sold your ebooks there along site the Kindle versions. They may not care, but it should say somewhere in the fine print if that is okay or not. But at least their price is a little more reasonable, at $25.00 plus 2% of each payment made through it, and there is a one month free trial period, so trying it out for a spin won't hurt the pocket book. But on both of these paid versions, you'd have to know you would need to be making enough sales to justify the expense. Most authors would lose money each month even with above average sales. The benefit of Amazon is they may do some marketing that pushes traffic your way from their main site.

There are others I saw, but this gives you a sample of what you can find as of this writing. They can help automate a lot of the technical set up of a site and handle the processing, but it will usually cost you something.

Embedded Stores. I'm only going to mention one, though there are likely others if you did some searching. An "embedded" store is a store whose database and servers are separate from your website's domain, but you display the store on your site, usually using some code you copy from the site that imports your store from them into a web page on your site.

The big free one that does this is Google Checkout Store. Follow the steps, which requires you to sign up for Google Checkout for payment purposes, and Google Docs so you can use their spreadsheet to list your product. When linked with Google Checkout Store, it will give you code which takes the information on the spreadsheet and imports it into a web page to create a store on your site, with shopping cart and all. Which also, like all the next few methods, requires you have an author site on the internet you can use to create your web page.

The downsides to this method are when I set up a test run for it, I had to check their help docs and use their widget, but had trouble getting it set up correctly. It took several tries until I got the information in the spreadsheet to sync with the store function and have it come out correctly. I recall to get the store to do downloaded ebooks, you had to modify their standard template to include that option, using the info from their help files. So expect a little work to figure it out.

The other downside to this method for downloaded ebooks, is the download function isn't secure. It isn't too difficult for someone to figure out how to bypass the standard steps and get your ebook for free. That said, most people are going to follow the dots and download after paying, but you do run the risk of less honest people getting your ebook for free.

The main upside to this is of course this one is free. Also, unlike the next option, you can use this on a blog or hosted site like Wordpress or Blogger by using a static page. But it requires more up front work to get it set up, and you have to know enough about editing web pages to insert the code onto a web page.

eCommerce Web App. Another popular method of setting up your own webstore on your own domain site is to install a web store application. There are several of these out there. You can do a search to find them and look them over. If you know how to install database applications on your website, you can usually download many of them for free, ftp the files to your site in a directory, and follow their steps to set up the store, usually requiring database set up, usually in MySql. To use these, your hosting company needs to be PHP and MySql (or another compatible database) enabled. Some programs may have other requirements. Check their sites.

One bit of good news on that front is many hosting companies have in their control panels a place where you can install a whole host of web applications with "one click." So many times if you go scroll through the list of programs they offer to install for you, they will often include an ecommerce shopping cart. Using that feature allows you to bypass the hassle of downloading the software, uploading it to your site and going through its install process. But whichever way you do it, there is still the following.

Once up and running, you'll want to change the "skin" of the website by searching for and trying out different templates, and install the one you want. Then you'll want to replace the default text with your own, and learn how to set up sales tax information, default settings, and a whole host of other bits of information in order to get your product showing as on sale. In other words, with most of these there will be a learning curve. They go by the general rule: the more flexible a program is, the more complex it gets both to set up and use for the webmaster. More options means more complexity, and most of these programs attempt to allow for setting up a webstore to sell almost anything.

There are several of these you could use. I'm only going to give you one example simply because I use it and know it, and know it can work for the purpose of this book: to sell downloadable ebooks on your site. Zencart is a popular offering, relatively simple webstore application. I use this for my own webstore: It can take PayPal as a payment method, and has a secure download method that allows the person access to the ebook to download for a specified amount of time you set, and the number of downloads of the book you set. And it uses an indirect download method, so the end user doesn't get a download directory where he can find all your other books to download for free. While you should plan to spend some time figuring it out and setting it up, it is, according to all reports I've read, easier than most. But like most of these, it isn't intuitive. You will need to learn how to use it.

Do a search on other shopping carts. There are several open source versions to chose from. Check what your hosting company will install for you through their control panel and select the best one from that list after looking them over. Would I recommend Zencart? Yes. I'm not saying it is the best one out there, but after my own research I went with it, took the time to learn it, and I don't intend to learn a different one. But it has more than met my needs and presents a professional looking webstore complete with customer reviews, customer tracking, and order tracking. But there may be easier ones to use out there now, as it was 2006 when I looked at the different options and set up my webstore. So do some research if you want to go this route, before you settling on one and take the time to learn how to use it.

Manual Webstore. The least costly and medium technical route for your own site's webstore, but requiring you to know how to set up a webpage on your domain or set up a static page on your author blog, is to only use PayPal and build your store site by hand. This works best if you only have a handful of books to sell, know how to create a webpage using html and get it active on your site. If you know that, this is the least learning curve method to use.

First, create a "landing" webpage for each ebook you are selling if you want to enable your customers to download directly after buying, or one landing page thanking them for their purchase and the ebook will be sent to them soon. If using the later, you'll be getting an email from PayPal when someone purchases an ebook--you'll need to email them a copy of the ebook. PayPal calls these "return pages." If individual return pages are used for downloading the ebooks, make sure you place a download link on the page to where the ebook sits on your site. I would recommend setting up a separate directory for these books and place each book in its own directory that is cryptic.

For example, let's say you have your bookstore at, then I would create a directory for your downloads, something like: http://www.yoursite/bookstore/purchased/. Then lets say you have two books to sell: Your Dog, and Your Cat. Then create two directories inside that main one, something like and place the various ebook versions in that folder for that book. Your return page for that ebook would be placed in that directory. On that web page, put a download link to each version of the ebook in that directory. You'll also want to place a file in the directory to tell search engines not to index that directory or sub-directories. Do a search to see how to create that file. While these precautions won't stop a determined book thief, they will help make it harder and so not tempt people so easily. Not knowing the cryptic download webpages or the directories for each book, they should only have access to the books they bought.

PayPal has a link for ecommerce to create codes that enable a "buy" button to be placed on your website. For each book you want to sell, you'll want to create a button for it. Each button for each book will request a return page, which is where PayPal sends them after successful completion of the transaction. There will also be a cancel page if the transaction is canceled or they can't pay. If you are doing direct downloads, insert the individual download webpages for that particular book in the return page. Otherwise, use the generic return page you created, promising to email them the ebook soon. Save those codes in a document, labeled with the book they go with.

Then create a bookstore webpage. I would recommend, if your hosting company allows it, to create a subdomain to put the bookstore in ( But you can put it in its own directory ( or if small enough, just one web page ( List each book on the webpage along with blurbs and enough information they can make an informed decision. Link to a detail page and reviews if you have any. Avoid linking to the Amazon reviews, as if they are at your site to consider buying there is no reason to send them to Amazon where you'll get a smaller cut. Then copy the PayPal code for that book onto the web page next to each book. When you've finished it, upload it, see what it looks like, take it for a test drive to see if the buttons do what you expect. Set your price to zero to go through the whole process to make sure it brings you back to the page you expect. Adjust as necessary until you have it the way you want it.

If you have any hard copy books, you can set them up to sell this way as well, but use a different button than their ebook verisons, and the PayPal notification will be your clue to ship or drop-ship them a copy of the book. But you may want to use PayPal's shopping cart code for those, if you have more than one hard copy to sell. But be sure to include a "View shopping cart" button that PayPal provides on the page if you use that code. There is, however, no reason to use a shopping cart code for ebooks. One, since they are downloaded, it doesn't make any shipping difference whether they are combined into one sell or not. Two, if you have it set up for direct download, there is no easy way to send them to a page with only the ebooks they selected to buy when PayPal returns. You can only use the email approach if you use that.

This method requires a bit of set up, doesn't look as professional unless you have experience in producing professional website designs, and is harder to maintain if you need to add or change book information. And once the site began to look cluttered, you'd need to go to a multi-page set up, with links to detail pages for each book. You also might need a search engine at some point. But it has the advantage of low learning curve if you already know how to create an html web page and is free. If you only have a small number of books, setting it up isn't too much work, and it can slowly grow as time goes by.

Other Uses for Your Ebooks

But what if you don't want to go to the trouble to create and maintain an author webstore? What good is the PDF, EPUB, and MOBI ebooks you created? There are several uses for them, actually. Here are some ideas.

Review Copies. Some review sites still only want a physical book. However, as ebooks grow in popularity, this is slowly turning. Many reviewers (me included) prefer ebooks because we don't have shelves of physical books to figure out what to do with, they can carry all their review books with them and read when they can, and once the book is finished, they don't have to figure out how to get rid of them. Most have avoided reviewing ebooks because in the past ebook tended to mean "self-published" and that tended to be a lower-quality book in many cases. But with an ebook available for all new traditionally published books, and more reviewers with an ereader they like to use, it is becoming more widespread.

And the benefit for the author and publisher is obvious. No need to eat the cost of the book and pay for shipping to the reviewer. For self-published authors, this is big as they usually don't tend to have a lot of money to send out several review copies, especially since a lot of sites don't show any bump in sales when their review comes out, the investment of the author usually doesn't pay for itself. Not to mention if the review is less than glowing, it could actually depress sales instead of boasting them. But each reviewer is a risk the author is taking. So at least sending an ebook takes the financial investment out of the equation.

Publicity copies. Frequently, when I am interviewed at a blog, I'll be asked if I want to offer any of my books as giveaways for publicity. An ebook is a good route to go for more than one reason. One, the obvious one, is it doesn't cost you anything to send them a copy. You're not out a book that you could have sold to someone else and lost that money. Two, another obvious one, you don't have to pay shipping. Simply email the person the book in the version of their choice. This is especially helpful when someone wins from another country. A recent winner of one of my books went to another country, and though the shipping wasn't outrageous, it was almost three times as much as what it might ship for in the USA. So my $9.99 retail book shipped for more than $5.00, which put the total price of the book over $15.00. My cost was in the vicinity of $8.00 when considering the wholesale price of the book, which meant I practically bought a book at close to new book price for that person. I didn't mind since I had offered a physical copy, but it would have been nicer if I could have sent an ebook as the cost to me would have been zero instead of eight dollars.

Freebies. Some authors have done well by giving away copies of their books as ebooks. The idea is that as someone read an ebook they have received for free, one or more of several events will tend to happen, which can drive the sale of physical books. One, they really like the story and want a hard copy for their library, so they go buy one. Two, they like the book so well that they tell their friends about it, and their friends go buy a hard copy. Three, the person liked it enough that they want to give it as a gift to people they think would enjoy it, usually for birthdays or Christmas, so they go buy multiple copies of the hard book. And some authors have had sales of their physical books jump by putting out free copies of their ebooks for people to share freely. So it has worked.

The only problem I see with this model is that the method works only as long as the buying public still sees ebooks as inferior to physical books, and would rather have the later. The more popular ebooks become, the less likely it is the person will want a physical copy taking up space on their shelves. The more people who own ereaders, the less likely they will prefer a physical copy as a gift instead of an ebook. And the more popular ebooks become, the more their friends will want an ebook when they go to get a copy for themselves, which may very well be easily provided for free by the friend who told them about it.

As long as physical copies of books dominate the retail market, that method works. But as soon as ebooks become the primary revenue generator for publishing companies and authors, that method will fall flat on its face. And guess what, this year the trend is ebooks are outselling all formats save trade paperbacks. And the continued slide in trade paperback sales and the explosive growth of ebooks this year, I would not be surprised to hear next year that ebooks outsold trade paperbacks for 2011. If it doesn't happen this year, it for sure will next year.

Which means if you are not making money off your ebooks, you are not going to be making much money on your physical books to offset that. So I would warn against giving away the ebook except in limited circumstances. What circumstances are those?

There are two instances I would consider giving away an ebook, and each time I would limit the time period. One is when a new author no one knows is working to get noticed. The first book or two might be provided for free. But subsequent books, as the author gains a following, would be sold and eventually that first book or two would be taken off the free list.

Two, when following books are coming out in a series, it has worked well to offer the first book for free as a way to hook new readers into the series with the hope they will buy the subsequent volumes. It aids the readers because they get to "test drive" a new author and series before sinking any money into the experience. Then they can determine if the following books are worth paying for. But I would only run that sale for a limited time, one to three months after each new book in the series comes out.

But, if you want to offer a free book, there is no easier and better way to do that than with an ebook. While producing additional copies of a physical book means additional cost to the author/publisher, with an ebook, the cost is negligible--only costing the time to email it, anywhere from five to ten seconds or more of labor depending on how big the message is. So the financial loss is much less than a physical book.

Sample Books. It can be helpful to have sample files readily available and put on your website. You can go back to the PDF document source file and the print source file, cut out all but what you want to show as a sample, being sure to keep any promotional material at the end of the book, save that as a sample file, like: MyLastBreath-PDF-Sample.odt, then create the ebook as we showed before. Do that with the print file too to create the EPUB and MOBI versions. Then put them up on your website as downloads and encourage people to freely share them. They can provide an easy, cost free other than your time, way of giving people a taste of your book.

Gifts. If you like to give your books as gifts, and you know a particular person has an ereader, or will get one for Christmas, an ebook is an easy way to give them a gift at relatively little cost to you but high value for them. Especially useful for people who have helped you in editing your book to show appreciation if they weren't paid. And if you are giving them an ereader or ereader-capable device, it makes sense you'd want it to come preloaded with your ebooks on it for added value.

There may be other uses you'll find for them, even if you don't intend to sell them other than through the channels we've set up in the previous steps.

Final Thoughts

I hope you have found the preceding information valuable and worth way more than the price of this book. My goal was to equip the reader of this book with the know-how to create ebooks of their own and sell them without needing to invest a bunch of money in software. To that end, I pray I was successful.

This book was written using Open Office Writer, and the ebooks created using the methods I've detailed here, and the cover created using the information in Step 2. You can judge the final quality based on what you've been reading as to whether the method works well.

On first read, you may feel overwhelmed with all the information. I've tried to break this down enough that you can use it as a reference in digest it in bite-sized chunks. Take step 1, learn the concepts there, and practice using them if need be. Once you master that, go onto step 2, taking each section one at a time. As you go, you'll take one bite, chew for a while, and swallow. When you've swallowed, you're ready to take the next step. Before you know it, it will be second nature. But if you forget something, it should be easy to zero in on the info and re-read. Also, most ereaders come equipped with a search function, something you can't get in a physical book.

Remember, enjoy the writing journey, but be serious with your craft. Put out the best book you can, as typo-free as possible, and that looks as professional as you can make it. It's your name that's going on that cover. Be proud enough to want that book edited and effective to create a positive brand. But above all, have fun doing it. May the information here help you accomplish that and more.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 6 – Creating the MOBI Ebook and Uploading to Amazon

If it wasn't for Amazon adopting this format for the Kindle, we wouldn't bother creating this file format. It is used on some other minor ereaders that have been used in the past, but when a modified version of it was adopted to use on the Kindle back in 2007, it suddenly became an important ebook format to have in one's list. Not necessarily because the "Kindle Direct Publishing" requires this format to upload a book into their service, but because if you sell directly, people can "side-load" this file onto their Kindle and read it. Between the EPUB and the MOBI formats, you are covering the main two ereaders people use most, and the bulk of non-dedicated ereader devices.

As of this writing, Amazon has recently announced their new line of Kindles, including the Kindle Fire, which is planned to be updated to use HTML5 instead of the MOBI format. It will be able to handle graphics for children's books and the like better than the MOBI format. As that develops and gets implemented, I plan on updating this book to include creating ebooks in that format. However, according to Amazon, the updated ereaders will be backwards compatible. Which means the files you create now will still be readable on the newer devices, and they will still be able to read files loaded on them in the MOBI format. For text-only books, there will be little loss to worry about updating then into the HTML5 format when it comes out.

The format that Amazon likes best is an HTML file, which can easily be exported from either Writer or Word. So the following is not necessary to do if you want to just upload to Amazon. Amazon can also take a Word file, and most report decent results from that, but it is not the preferred format and at times may create unexpected results. They list several formats they accept, which we will not go through here.

So why am I suggesting to create and use the MOBI format to upload to Amazon? Simple. You are killing two birds with one stone. One, it is very easy to create, as you will see. Two, if you are selling books from your own site, you'll want to have this one in the list a reader can download. Three, this is the native Kindle format, so there is minimal conversion for the Digital Service to do, and more assurance that how it looks as a Kindle book on your computer is how it will look on someone's Kindle when downloaded from the Kindle store. It allows you to test the file before you upload. Four, even if you don't plan on selling this ebook from your own store, it is handy to have on hand for reviewers who prefer reading books on their Kindle.

So if you do not want to create the MOBI format, and use one of the others, use "File" in the menu and "Save as" to save the file in the HTML or DOC format, and skip to the "Uploading to Amazon" section.

What You Will Need

We will be using the Calibre software to create the MOBI format. I am using the most recent version as of the date I'm writing this, which is ver. 0.8.23. If you haven't downloaded it yet, go to then download and install the version for your operating system.

To test your file, the best route is to download the Kindle app for your computer at Amazon's download page. When installed, it should associate any file ending with "mobi" or "prc" to open in the Kindle application when double-clicked.

If you haven't done so yet, you'll need to open an account with the Kindle Direct Publishing at and click the second button which says, "Sign up." Follow their instructions, and set up your bio and any other data they need.

Once that is done, you are ready to create the MOBI file.

Creating the MOBI Ebook

Open the Calibre program. Once it is up, in the top-left corner is a book icon with a plus in it labeled as "Add books." Click on that icon. It will open up a window allowing you to browse and select the file to add. Navigate to where the EPUB file was created in the last step, and select that file. When you click on "Open," Calibre will add the EPUB file to the list of books.

If you click on the second icon from the top-left, a blue circle with an "i" in the middle, it will show the metadata for the book. It should be the same information as you added when you created the EPUB file from Writer. But Calibe does have one glitch. If the description is too long, it tends to cut it off. You may need to replace the description with the full version. Click OK to save once it all looks as expected.

You are ready to create the MOBI format. With the book selected in the list, click on the third icon from the top-left, a brown book with curved up and down arrows labeled "Convert books." A window will open displaying the metadata that you saw moments before, but you will notice several tabs on the left side.

First, in the top-left corner of the window, you will see a drop-down box labeled "Input format." Make sure that says "EPUB." If it doesn't, click it and select the EPUB format. On the opposite side of the window, in the top-right, you'll see another drop down box labeled "Output format." Click that drop-down box and select "MOBI."

The default screen upon opening is the metadata and cover screen. You can also change the metadata from here as well, or check to make sure all the entries look as expected. If not, edit. If you need to change the cover, click the little computer icon on the long field labeled "Change cover" right under the cover preview area. It will open a window that allows you to find the cover file you want, and select it. But it should show up the from the added EPUB file automatically.

Click on the "Page Setup" link in the left icon bar. In the first box labeled "Output profile," change it to the "Default Output Profile." Feel free to experiment with the other profiles, but this one will create the most usable copy on any device, whether on a computer or a Kindle. And it will still be e-ink on the Kindle. The rest of the settings on this page can be left at their default settings.

The rest of the settings can stay at their defaults. One note, however. The MOBI file it creates may appear to have some missing blank lines when viewed with the PC Kindle application. However, when viewed with the Kindle device, they will appear normal, just as they do in the EPUB format. I have no idea why, or if all versions of the Kindle PC application do this (I'm using the Windows version). But I put the MOBI files on my Kindle and they appeared as expected there, even though some blank lines were missing on the PC version. But when you see that in the PC version you are using, don't worry about it or try different settings.

When you are ready to start the conversion, click the OK button at the bottom right. The window will disappear, and you'll see the circle of lines with the rotating dark area in the bottom-right corner of the window indicating it is processing the conversion. When that stops, it is done.

Now right-click on the book in the list and select "Open containing folder" from the drop down list. It should open up the directory where your book is located in your file manager. Double-click on the book, and Kindle should open up and display the book in a window. Click on the first icon on the left column that shows a pop-up label when you hover your cursor over it that says, "Table of contents." If all worked as expected, you should see a full list of the chapters in your book. Examine that to make sure it looks as expected.

Then start scrolling through your book, checking to make sure what you expect to be centered is centered, and the font and text look as you want them to, keeping in mind some blank lines may show missing here, but that is okay. It shows up correctly on the Kindle reader. Make sure page breaks happen with each chapter heading, italics is italicized where it should and not where it shouldn't, and so on.

If you have a Kindle, it is a good idea to load the file into its documents directory using the cable that came with it and take a look at the book there. You'll be able to experience how one of your readers will see and experience it on the device.

If you find you need to recreate the book, delete the book from the Kindle library first. If you don't, when you double-click the modified title, it will use the old one and you'll think you are not making any progress. Click on the "Library" button in the top-left corner. It will show a window with all your books listed. The first one should be the new book you just clicked on. Right-click on the book you wish to delete and select "Delete this book." Note: it only deletes the book from the Kindle Library. It does not delete the file created by Calibre.

If you need to make changes beyond what can be done in Calibre, like you realized you didn't italicize something you intended to do, that will mean deleting all the books formats out of Calibre, returning to the source file, making the corrections, and recreating the EPUB file, reloading into Calibre and creating the MOBI from it again. Also, unless they are massive changes, you'll want to change your "-SW" Smashwords version of the file and re-upload to Smashwords.

Once you've verified that the file is in good shape, you are ready to upload to Amazon.

Uploading to Amazon

Go to in your browser, and click the top button labeled "Sign in." Then enter your email address you used to sign up with the Kindle Direct Publishing, and your password in the second choice labeled "I am a returning customer, and my password is:" Once you click the "Sign in using our secure server" button, you'll be taken to a screen showing all your book titles with them, if any.

Under the "Kindle Direct Publishing" logo is a button labeled "Add a new title." Click that and it will take you to the screen to enter in your book. The fields here are very similar to Barnes and Noble's screens, but organized differently, except there is no place to put reviews or a bio. The main difference is you'll be uploading the MOBI formatted ebook to Kindle, or if you went another route, the DOC, HTML, or other acceptable format.

The other consideration, which we've discussed before, is if the price of your story is below their minimum, you'll have to opt for the 35% discount instead of 70%. If your book is priced at $0.99, the lowest you can go, then you'll get $0.35 for each book sold, not $0.70.

Also, Amazon has their screens divided into two pages. You'll click "Save and Continue" after uploading your book, and it will take you to the final page where you'll select the rights, price, and final related information. When you click the box stating you have the rights to publish this file (you own the copyright or have been given it by contract), then click "Publish"

It will take you back to the book list once finished. You'll see your book listed with a "processing" status. It usually, like B&N, takes around 24 to 48 hours before you'll see it on Amazon's on-sale pages. Once it is up, it is a good idea if you have friends or professional reviewers to ask them if they would put their reviews on the page.

Congratulations! Your book is now on sale at all the big online stores. At a minimum, promote your book on your website, blog, Facebook, Google+, or any other networking sites you use regularly. Then get to working on that next book.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any way, shape, or form with any of the products or companies I've mentioned here, other than I've used their products and I know it works for the purposes I've used them for.  Beyond what I've said here, I am not inferring any quality or lack of quality about the  company itself or any of their other products. I am also not responsible for any loss of data or messed up files due to the reader's use of these products or attempts to follow my advice. Use at your own risk.

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