Prepare five articles when you submit one

Article writing (for magazines, newspapers, or other publications) doesn’t pay much, the money comes slowly, and if you research and write each article separately, that will quickly earn you a ticket to the poor house.

So the best thing is to think spinoff articles while you zero in on the core piece, and do your research and interviewing, if possible, for all of the target pieces at the same time.

I presume you are querying for the core article, then doing the prep after the editor has given you a “go-ahead” (send it in, on speculation) or an assignment (rare for new writers). Usually, in the query response, the editor will indicate the length article they want, slants they like for their readers, some photo direction, and (if you didn’t promise it on a certain date, often three weeks after their query OK) a date certain they want the article received.

Study the articles in print about your topic to see if your key topic is unique and timely. Then list three other, closely-related topics that you can research about the same general area. A quick example: if your core article is about Bahia (Salvador), Brazil—a general travel piece about the city and huge bay—why not write another article about capoeira (a Brazilian dance/martial art brought by the slaves from Africa) and a third about candomblé (an Afro-Brazilian religion also of slave origin)?

You query about all three articles to get the go-aheads and guidance before leaving, and once in Bahia you visit each and interview appropriately when you are there. You also take lots of sharp digital photos.

The fourth and fifth sales? Or many more? These will come from selling second (or reprint) rights of the magazine articles after they see print. (No rewriting necessary; they will buy the original article, and probably a different photo or two.) Or from reslants of any of the three for newspaper travel sections in the U.S. (Here, you might particularly seek U.S. capoeira teachers and programs, using the related U.S. blogs and newsletters to pinpoint groups and publications.)

The advantages of bunching articles or topics from the outset are obvious: (1) you spread the travel costs and time over many future sales, (2) you can often get interviews about related topics from the same person, (3) photos often work in several publications, and (4) you have more time at the location to focus on the topics rather than having to scrounge for anything that looks interesting (to you!)

This is not only how you survive with freelance writing, it’s how you create topic-spoking themes (core ideas from which related articles can come) that can move you from several hundred dollars of income for one article to many thousands for many articles, all at about a third or less of your time and expenses.

See more about this at my Travel Writer’s Guide book.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Writers: dress appropriately to interview

That assumes you are interviewing in person (which I do about 20% of the time). If you interview by phone (and don’t use a see-phone, which I’ve heard about but never seen), you can interview stark nude, wrapped in a paper bag, or as you are right now—who knows or cares?

My rule of thumb was always to dress a step better than the interviewee expected, which I imagined was how reporters in the old movies appeared: sweaty, in baggy clothes, working stiffs. That was for street interviews asking if the person saw the shooting…

At least I was neat and clean, and tried to look professional, which is easy enough when I was going to an appointment with the person or was in a dress-up setting (like a convention or press conference). If others wore ties and coats, I did too. (Ladies, please gender match.)

What did I do with paraphernalia, if I brought it? I sometimes had a camera, always used a small note pad, and almost never brought or used my small digital tape recorder—except with politicians in the U.S., where everyone seemed to use one. I just kept them in my pocket(s) or jacket, until needed. I always brought lots of business cards too, and gave them out liberally when it fit.

The problem was writing while travelling. Since most of my travel was in South America, the neatness and good clothes (and good shoes) usually did the trick. They knew I was a gringo (I told them) writing for a magazine or newspaper (sometimes invented on the spot) so they didn’t expect me to be grungy, wear flip-flops or a t-shirt, or smell (bad). Mostly, I just introduced myself, explained in a sentence what I was doing, and started asking questions. I was courteous, friendly, smiled when I could, and kept my focus on them as I wrote down the gist of what they said. (I didn’t need it word-for-word because I had to translate it from Spanish or Portuguese later.)

An example. In Manaus they were completely rebuilding the famous old opera house, and I wanted to get photos and interview the construction chief (or a person in charge) at the site. I put on clean Dockers, shined shoes, and a pressed shirt. I was stopped at the gate until they could find the man in charge, a feisty Argentine who looked me over and said that nobody got inside the gate or talked to him unless they had a note from the Governor. So I trotted over to the capitol building and asked for an interview with the Governor, explaining the impasse.

The Governor was a general in the Army (Brazil was temporarily ruled then by the military). I looked presentable, showed my business card, and to my surprise I was led directly to the General. Turned out that he wanted to polish up on his English (it needed polishing) so we just talked about life, Brazilian politics, and what I thought of Manaus, until he asked me about the opera house. I asked him if I could ask him some questions about why they were rebuilding and the completion plans, then go over and get some in-construction photos. And that’s what we did.

He filled me in with details, led me to an aide who added more specifics, and I was given a sealed note for the Argentine who kindly lent me a hard hat, assigned a humorous old gent to accompany me—and gave me an old wall lamp fixture as a take-home souvenir! (I later had to get another note from the aide explaining that it was a gift so I could get it through customs.)

I’m convinced that three things got me the go-ahead and lots of good article material (facts, photos, and quotes from those directly involved): the business card, the fact I knew what I wanted and got right to it, and my attire.

So just dress appropriately for the specific occasion, plus a bit, and shine your shoes.

I talk more about the process in the Travel Writer’s Guide.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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9 things to do (sort of) to get your ebook out fast and cheap

Quickly publishing your ebook through Kindle and the rest sounds easy enough. Just write a book, bang it out on your computer, get your spouse or a buddy to give a quick proofing, set up pages that look like other books in Word (File/Page Setup), and send it to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords to let them post it so you can go back, make it look better, and submit it again. If you tweak it often enough, it should look 90% right, right?

A cover? Buy a fotolia .jpg, shrink it, put the title above it, add your name as the author below, save it in a free .pdf, and find a free .pdf to .jpg convertor. Voilá! Submit both files and wait for the monthly royalties. Fat city!

In fact, you can do just that, though I’ve simplified it some. Use my book How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days to wend your way through the ancillary or open press publishers’ submission thicket. Once your book is written, proofed, and styled, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to see your words in print.

“STOP!” he blurts, tongue in cheek. That’s like seeing two training videos, buying a glove, and playing in the majors! Slow down. Here are the most important hurdles to clear so your book is first-class, looks spiffy, and readers will stop shaking their head and laughing long enough to want to buy your second venture!

1. Figure out what your book is about. You can define a book in a paragraph. If you can’t, stop until you can.

2. Find something—better, many things—to share on your pages that the readers can’t get in others’ books!

3. Create some kind of outline so the chapters (remember them?) make sense, are in the right order, and guide the reader effortlessly.

4. The most important step is the proofreading. Your final copy must be clean and clear, so forget your mama or your so-so literate cousin. Ask around for a no-nonsense proofreader, pay them to save your hide, and make the changes they suggest. (Pay them again to read the final draft before you subject the public to your mysterious prose…)

5. Find another book that you think looks super, copy the style, and follow it in form throughout your book. Only steal from the best, and as long as you’re doing it, do it from the first page to the last. I’m talking about a title page, the copyright page, the table of contents, the chapter headings, sub-heads, and all the rest of the text between the covers. Use serif type.

6. Spend time writing an honest, compelling book description and a persuasive (also honest) bio to submit with the book’s interior text and the cover.

7. If you can’t tell a mobi from an ePub, get somebody to convert your Word text into ebook tongue for you, so it comes out of the chute immaculate and shouting to be bought, 100% ready. That will cost $50-100.

8. The front cover (there is no ebook back cover) needn’t win prizes if your book is nonfiction; but it needs some artwork, a large title, a catchy subtitle, and your name. It should look better if it’s fiction, since others’ novels will also look better. Check Mark Coker’s suggestions at Smashwords, or ask around. Under $100.

9. Finally, get a day job—and/or another at night. Despite the claims of other ebookfolk that they are earning $5,000 a month on royalties (even more), you’ll be lucky to sell 100 copies of your first book, or earn $500 from it. The first book may be the hardest book you will ever write, and if you just dance through it, likely the only one. Don’t blow it. Turn out a quality tome. Just because anybody can see their book in print quickly and free through the ebook miracle, get a grip. Do it right, say something valuable, pay a few bucks for production, make the prose and style sing, and ebook printing can open up a new, profitable world for you. But if you just wing it and don’t have the goods, it ultimately takes too long to get to first base, much less the majors. And that’s a shame because the ebook path is there for the taking and can be a profitable, solid, quickly accessible launching pad.

(An aside, I will discuss in detail the very important but little known difference between two distinct ebook paths, one far more profitable and just as fast as the other. See my [free] newsletter on February 6.)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Why free and fast “open” book publishing is a godsend

“Open” or ancillary publishing means that you can get your book published and sold for $25 or less (nothing if it’s an ebook) and on sale in hours or days through Kindle, iPad, Nook, CreateSpace, Smashwords, Lulu, Blurb, Kobo, and/or Scribd.

May I share two short, true stories about folks to whom ancillary publishing may indeed seem miraculous?

* The first is about a middle school teacher getting unstuck.

I met this tall, skinny, bearded lad, about 40, who reminded me of a young Ichabod Crane. He told me that he taught seventh grade so he had time to play. I was almost afraid to ask him what that meant. He laughed and said that, given his druthers, he’d spend all his time fly fishing.

Turns out that he’s locally famous because he has created some weird lures and a unique fishing technique that his colleagues all want to know about. He’s also spoken at fishing gatherings, which he loves.

Could he write a book that would be the core of a campaign to get him invited to speak at conventions nationwide and in Canada? he asked me. “I already have a couple of books sort of done,” he added, “but nobody seems interested in publishing them—and I sure don’t know how!”

* The second is a book for kids about warts.

A tiny woman waylaid me as I slipped away restroom-bound during a workshop break in northern California. She thrust out her hand and introduced herself. She said most people called her “somebody’s grandmother.”

“I’ve got 22 kids’ books, I illustrated all of them, but nobody wants to publish them. I’m making Kinko’s rich! What should I do?” (Buying Kinko’s stock came to mind.)

I asked if she had any of the books with her. She reached into a satchel and handed me Louie Has Warts! “This is the newest,” she said. “They all look pretty much alike.”

It was first-rate, funny; even the artwork looked professional.

I asked her if she was selling many copies, and she said she averaged about 50 a book—but she could sell hundreds just within 20 miles. She could create a new one every month, too, but she was exhausted with all the folding, stapling, and schlepping.

I suspect there are a million Americans with a book in them that will never be seen or read. And how many more thousands of wee books are “published” on a copier, or are still captive on somebody’s computer, that would change the lives of the writers and thousands of unaware potential readers if the author just knew how to get their book quickly and inexpensively in print?

Add to that the professionals who need validation books that show their expertise and articulation. Or …

* family history and private memoir books that will inform and inspire kin and grandkin almost forever;

* cookbooks with recipes that need trying, sharing, and preservation;

* humor books, joke books, funny family or company happenings;

* baby books, full of footprints, photos, announcements;

* fiction of all kinds and to all ages;

* nonfiction, from the full account of Uncle Al’s pin and needle shop to the history of soap (or soup);

* a photo-and-text account of the family’s trip to Ghana or the Grand Canyon;

* a memory book of the twins’ high school graduation, or

* an odd little book that would have been completely lost but instead monumentally changes the world’s thinking.

Then along came open publishing a couple of years back that opens and democratizes access to putting words in print. You write the book and one (or all) of the eight publishers I mentioned above make it possible for any fly fishermen or “somebody’s grandmother,” or you, to get the book out, looking professional and sold worldwide, almost free and almost instantly. It’s a sort of publishing miracle. There’s no reason any more for not becoming a published author.

In my blog here,a few days back, “8-step process to publish in Kindle, Nook, iPad, Lulu, CreateSpace…” I explained what those interested must do to avail themselves of this free, open, and much used means to put their dreams and advice in a book that will be around almost forever.

I’m so excited about the process that I want you and your friends to know about it. Which is why I recently published How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.

I’ll blog a lot more about it here in the coming weeks, if you are interested.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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8-step process to publish in Kindle, Nook, iPad, Lulu, CreateSpace…

What you must do to prep and publish your book through the “ancillary” (or open) publishers (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords [iPad and Kobo], CreateSpace, Lulu, Blurb, and Scribd is fairly straightfoward, though each has a different submission system (and selling success).

It doesn’t matter much what kind of book it is (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, cookbook, photo, wedding, reunion, family history, and so on). Or if you want to submit your book to one or all of the publishers simultaneously. You can even have POD copies (or digital downloads) made of your book and compete against them!

I use the following eight steps to explain the details in How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days. All of the steps can be done by any author with even rudimentary grasp of a computer! Or their kid can help.

1. Write your book.

2. Put it in final, proofed, ready-to-roll Word (or Mac-equivalent) format.

3. Slightly transform the final Word bound book manuscript into a Word digital book format—and save both.

4. Also write two descriptions of the book (one 500-1000 words, the other about 150 characters), plus a biography of the author(s), 300-1000 words.

5. Either create a front and back cover for the bound (paperback) edition at the publisher‘s Web site (free) or have a cover of the book made by your own designer and saved in pdf and .jpg. Also create, or have created, a front cover for your ebook.

6. Convert each of the two final Word manuscripts (#3 above) into PDF format. You now have four master files.

7. Submit your Word digital contents and cover files to Lulu, CreateSpace, and/or Blurb to get your book produced and sold in bound form.

8. Submit your ebook digital contents and cover files to Lulu, Kindle, Smashwords, and/or Scribd to get your book produced and sold in digital form.

In other words, you will write your book, get it in five ready-to-go files (really one text file slightly modified and two cover files), and submit the files to as many as seven different book publishers who will have your digital book ready to sell in hours and the bound, printed copy in days. There’s no middle-person either, though you may want help with the cover(s) and proofing.

The cost to you, minus any outside help you may want (or need): nothing at all for the ebook, $25 or less for the bound books (for mailing you the final printed copy and cover for your approval.)

It’s all kind of a miracle to any author who has tried to publish through the big publishing houses or tried to learn the self-publishing system. Computers simplified, a new business plan appeared a few years back, new doors flew open, and anybody can now be a published author. Contrary to some predictions, that will not end civilization as we know it. It might be a godsend.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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How do you find subjects to write about to earn steady article income?

In the last blog at this site ( I explained the mechanical way to see what an editor probably needs on his/her pages and will likely buy if your query letter shows that you write well and have a good idea soberly posed.

But there are other ways to find salable article ideas too. I know they work because I’ve used all of them many times. Still, it’s always shocking when the editor you query doesn’t see the genius in your new idea, while other editors can scarcely wait to get it in print. Unfortunately, there are a lot more of the first than the second, but if you are dogged and a bit hungry you too, like me, can sell 1,700 articles. It also helps if you live a long time and learn how to sell article reprints!

Some of my best ideas just drop into my lap or brain out of nowhere when I’m not thinking about them at all. If that happens to you, grab that gift firmly, write the idea down, note anything related that immediately comes to mind, and also jot down a magazine or some publication lest it all will later appear too weird, or alien—or from aliens. If the idea comes when I’m running or cycling, I try to tie it to a memory hook so I’d remember it when I get back. (Think of those hundreds of lost ideas I left on the path, unhooked.) The issue here: when the mind is at rest or just rummaging around free, it seems to pop out good ideas, solve plots, or, for me, link up processes to make things happen.

I find myself asking “what if…?” a lot. From that I zero in on some topical research (thank God for Google) and from what I find following a couple of entries on the computer an article idea emerges, and a query takes form.

Once I told my publishing class to make a list of every activity they went through in the course of one day, and write three query letters, one each to a different editor about a different idea that had been listed—but let me grade those queries first. About a month later I was still so enamored with the idea I did it too, and I think over time I got about a dozen items in print from that source. (I don’t think I stole any ideas from the students. What amazed me more was how different their days were from mine. Bingo, there’s another article idea!)

My best source comes from research being done in a field in which I’m interested. The trick here is to make a list of everything you find that’s being researched or discussed, keep track of it as papers and articles appear, and try to blend the results into cutting-edge articles that editors love. Even better, you have willing, excited interviewees in the researchers and those they refer. Plus a subject to write about that editors will buy. Another good thing is that as you see other discoveries or innovations appear in print from related fields (sometimes even from afar), you are ideally positioned to make the new links or queries to create new articles that, again, editors gladly buy—with requests to keep them abreast of more new articles as they appear.

History is a hotbed of fun articles. I like “100 years later…” or “1000 years later…” (those are much harder!) where you return to the social climate of the past, tie in the life style, everyday things being used, and what kids did then. Lots of interesting books in the library reference section to help you. My favorite, in 1976, was a look back at 1876, and another that year to 1776. Another, at 2000, a paper trip back at the year 1000 where India was the most advanced area on earth and Eric the Red’s boy was about to stumble, by sea, on Vinland.

There’s another way to get more selling yardage from your query letter. Do the best sale job you can in the opening paragraphs, then, before closing comments, ask, “Is there any other slant or related topic that your readers might care more about?” I only did that when the topics were broad, and then only now and then. But many times the editor would tighten the focus (or, rarely, suggest another) as they gave a “go-ahead.” Incidentally, I only did this with editors to whom I had sold before.

The easiest way to find a specific idea for a magazine is to read the table of contents of a current issue. Find three or four pieces you feel comfortable with, then imagine that the editor just told you to write the follow-up or a related article of some facet of the subject expanded. Jot down a couple of ideas that come to mind about each topic (you may have to read the article first), then let that sit for a day or two. Then go back to the two best ideas you thought of and do some quick research to see how often that theme is in print and if that particular editor used it in the last three years. If it hasn’t been overdone or in the target magazine recently, do enough research to see if there is sufficient substance plus there are enough experts to interview. If so, write a query letter to the editor. If you have two exciting topics, write the editor again after you have a reply to the first query–or query a similar magazine simultaneously.

Some ideas about how to find topics that will enlighten mankind and fill your pockets with well-earned loot.

Again, I have a lot more about the writing and selling process in the Travel Writer’s Guide. It’s not only for travel writers. 90% of it works in almost any field.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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What do you write about to earn steady article income?

Almost anything that a magazine’s readers will pay to read.

But how do you know what that is? And who will pay you for your article(s)?

First, to find out what the readers want, see what has been on that magazine’s pages for the last three years. Make a chart by categorizing the subjects in each, and list the articles (or themes) from the most recent to the oldest. Then fill in the missing gaps, update the evergreen subjects, and add information that readers don’t know (but should)…

Where do you find what has been on those pages? Almost all magazines have an index accessible on the website. Go to Google, write the magazine title+index and see what pops up. If nothing, change the title to the topic+magazine, and try again. There are also publications at your library, like the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, a topic index (more likely at an academic library), or a digital compilation that the library subscribes to—ask the reference librarian), where you must trace backwards by subject, then see which magazines write about it.

Once you have some categories, look for three things: (1) what hasn’t been written about that the readers want to read, (2) what has been done but there are still areas untapped or recent changes that need to be addressed, and (3) what new subjects should be covered in that magazine. Look particularly at recent case studies, research, innovations or inventions, and new means to do old things differently or better.

The person who (indirectly) pays for your words is the same one who will pass judgment on your ideas: the editor. (If it’s a major magazine, approach the managing or articles editor.) You find the editor and mailing address in the current Writer’s Market, online or in the library reference section. (It’s usually hard to get the editor’s email address, so query in the beginning by snail mail, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope enclosed). While there, also list all of the other, similar magazines in that field, then list them in order by whether they pay on acceptance or publication (sell reprints to the latter), how much they pay, how often they publish, the percent of freelance material they use, and anything else that affects their order on the list. Query the editors in order, one at a time, until one says yes or all say no.

A query letter one page long is usually space enough to make a compelling or exciting idea come alive (the first three paragraphs are usually the best real estate for that). You should also tell where you’ve been in print before (briefly, and if you haven’t been in print before, not at all), if it’s a travel piece when you will be back from the site (add three weeks for the expected date to submit the item; you can query as much as six months before you travel), if you will supply photos (.jpgs are best since they are in color and b/w), and who (by name or position) you will interview for the article. When you write the article, study what the editor just bought. Include facts, quotes, and, usually, an anecdote or two.

In other words, find a topic the editor wants and needs, sell it soberly in a one-page query, do a first-rate job if you get a “go-ahead,” and try another editor if the previous one isn’t interested—or, heavens, if the article you sent after the “go-ahead” is rejected. It’s a matching game, the editor’s needs and your skills. Persistence and attention to detail usually decide the victor.

Lots of process details are in my Travel Writer’s Guide.

Let me expand on where you might find even more ideas to write about in my next blog, here in a couple of days.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Can you simultaneously submit one article to many newspapers?

You bet. A few don’t buy copy that others have used, but most newspaper editors simply want your article to appear exclusively in their greater distribution area, like 100 miles out.

The sports section may buy freelance, but travel, op ed, and food sections are the best targets.

Travel, for example. You write about Inhambupe, Brazil, “on the edge of the end of the world” as a Brazilian friend (from there) once described it. You write a broad piece full of detail and fun that describes a visit there, what to see, how to get there, where to stay and eat, and what makes it unique. You tell the editor that you also have 25 jpegs (digital photos) and you either offer to send them or you post them on a (free) website and provide the link for the editor’s selection (and payment–I’ve never been stiffed, yet!)

That’s the usual procedure. You send it to 12 newspapers, say, all far more than 100 miles from each other. You leave out the nationals–NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor (now digital), and U.S.A.Today. If you use snail mail (still advisable for new clients), include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a reply. But also put your e-mail address with your snail address in the cover letter that you send with the full article. Then wait. A couple or three might buy, most also buying a photo or two. Where they reject your gem, send it to another major newspaper in the same geographic area.

Sometimes, though, your article provokes the editor to suggest a rewrite for their specific readers. Say you want to use a timely baseball example. And if it’s 2012 and major league baseball has been around since 1876, you may want to write an article about “The National League Since 1876,” taking advantage of the 136th anniversary to write a funny, fact-filled article about the heroics and foibles of that organization. You sell it as a simultaneous submission to the sports editors anywhere that there is interest (mostly in cities with a National League team). No problems there. If everybody buys the same manuscript, bingo!

But there may be a wrench in the works. One or two buy it; alas, the Cincinnati sports editor lauds the article but says that it needs a stronger local orientation. Read: modified reprint. More material about the Reds of now and yesteryear must be woven into the basic article that other editors bought unchanged. You have 70% of the research completed and copy written, with 30% to add, sometimes from sources you’ve already used. Is it worth the extra time and effort to custom-wrap a general piece for a particular editor?

That’s your decision, but if the pay is worth the additional hassle, modified reprints can be a lucrative, efficient path to salvaging otherwise lost sales.

A quick check of my two blogs that appeared here a few days ago, about reprints (second rights) and rewrites, will help decipher the next paragraphs, if you are interested in getting in print more and using used copy again and again. (There’s a lot more about the writing, selling, and simultaneous submission processes in my Travel Writer’s Guide.)

Think of offering modifications when you pursue resales. If you write an article that you suspect is close to an editor’s interests but not quite usable as is, suggest in your cover letter with the copy of the original printed article that you would gladly provide the material “as is or with modifications you suggest.” The ideal is to sell reprints as they are, to try to get as much mileage out of a sold manuscript as possible. Better than no sales, though, is selling reprints altered to fit a different readership’s needs.

A modified reprint, if sufficiently altered to create a distinct piece, has all the virtues of a rewrite. There’s no reason it can’t be sold to the publication on a first-rights or lesser basis, then resold later as a reprint once it has appeared in print. It’s a reprint of a rewrite, really. Remember, a rewrite is a new manuscript with its own rights. Even it can have reprints!

It all starts with a first-rate original piece sent to the simultaneous markets, though.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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