Self-Publishing & Merchandising : A Book’s Interior Design

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When we speak of books, we mostly speak of them as one of two things: an object, made up of surfaces and contours and textures, or as a vehicle for ideas.  We rarely pause to consider the interior design of a book, unless of course it is a book that draws attention with smart graphic design and accentuation.  What readers and producers of comic books, graphic novels, and illustrated fiction take for granted, the prose community has by and large neglected; that is, when we crack open the cover of a new book by Hugh Howey or Rachel Swaby or Sarah Taylor, we forget that every letter on those pages, every jot of ink and swathe of white space, has to be carefully arranged in order to make for a pleasant––and submersive––reading experience.

For the self-published author, a book’s interior aesthetic can spiral out of control quickly.  This is because a self-published author is not, generally speaking, a renaissance man with phenomenal powers of writing and artistry and graphic design.  A beautiful cover may seem like a more worthwhile use of a self-published author’s limited time.  Though there may be the rare exception, the average person who chooses (or is required by circumstances) to bypass traditional publishing also lacks the legion of highly specialized editorial staff who comb through manuscripts and ARCs looking for even the tiniest flaw––an orphan sentence, a snafu in line spacing, you name it.  And believe me, even though we don’t tend to think of readers as detail freaks, they have a sensitive nose for anything that feels “off.”  Your job as a self-published author is to keep your reader reading your book, not caught up in the intricacies of its design.  For that reason, a book’s interior should look as polished as possible.

Here are a few tips:

1. Choose your typeface carefully.

Whether you decide to opt for a serif or a sans-serif typeface, make sure you know what it will look like on whole blocks of text at once––pages and pages of text.  Also keep in mind that while sans-serif fonts have a sort of “cool” factor and are often evocative of popular science and science-fiction––and therefore add a dash of visual interest as well as genre resonance––serif fonts are actually easier to read at length.  That’s what the serif tags are there for, to help your eyes track seamlessly from one letter to the next.  Still, your choice will come down largely to preference (mine is for Monotype Bell and MVB Sirenne, both of which read well in multiple sizes, as well as in italicized passages and headings).

2. … And about those headings?

Not every book uses chapter headings on every page.  Take a look at the books in your genre, to get a feel for what’s normal there.  I’ve found in my collection that there’s a tendency toward headings in nonfiction and certain chapter-driven science fiction pieces, but that for the most part, fiction sticks with simple page numbers.  Also keep in mind that your inclusion (or exclusion) of headers and the positioning of your page number will affect your margins.  It’s absolutely essential that you leave extra white space on the edge of the page with a page number or heading––both of these things are considered extensions of your typewritten page, and they affect the eye as such.

3. Margins do deserve the attention, I promise.

Take a look at the nearest book.  (In my case, it’s Howey’s Wool.)  Compare the inside margins of the pages (the ones adjoining the binding) to the outside margins (the ones your thumbs touch as you flip pages).  In the standard book, the standard traditionally published book, those inside margins are significantly larger.  This is to allow the book’s binding to curve as you crack open the spine, letting the pages curl away and yet remain readable.  It is not uncommon for self-published authors to forget this tiny detail, and for the book to suffer for it.  If I have one piece of advice for authors looking to format their own books, it’s this: Don’t sacrifice your margins––for anything.  Yes, it’s cheaper to pack in more words per page, and so to save on printing fees.  But I promise, more people will want to buy your book if they pick it up and it feels gracious, spacious, and easy to read.  It’s wise to aim for about 12 words per line of text––this is the standard in traditional publishing, for good and time-honored reasons.

4. Justify your paragraphs.

Take a moment to modify your text alignment from “left” to “justified.”  This means that your text still begins at the left-hand margin of the page, but that it’s right-hand side also ends at its respective margin, creating a smooth visual block of text, all the way from the top to the bottom of any given page.  Leaving that text simply aligned “left” will create a jagged line along the right-hand side of the page, wherever the words leave off.  You want to check your kerning line to line before you release it to the printer, in order to ensure each page looks perfect, of course––that’s par for the course.

5. Leave no blank right-hand pages.

The first page of your book is going to be a right-hand page, and the first page of content––not the title page, not the copyright information, not the dedication––will be “Page One” and should be marked such.  (Page numbers should only appear once the content of your book begins, and not before.)  Every succeeding chapter should begin on a right-hand page, even if the previous chapter ended on a right-hand page.  The solution is to leave a blank left-hand page, which you can utilize for illustrations, quotations, or other related material.  The point, however, is to play to a kind of “psychology of reading,” which asserts that readers find it easier to begin new thoughts if there’s that reliable visual cue there.  Blank pages should be left entirely blank, including of page numbers and page headers.

6. Go easy on illustrations, graphics, and other addendums.

It’s easy to get carried away inserting pictures into our books––after all, a picture is worth quite a few jots of ink, right?  But there are a couple of dangers to watch out for here, as with everything else related to design.  First of all, your images need to look every bit as polished as your text.  If you’re inserting inexpert photographs, clipart, or hasty sketches, they’re going to negatively impact the reader’s opinion of your book’s quality.  (We do judge ideas based on their presentation, for better or worse.)   Secondly, they need to be important.  If they’re not somehow integral to a reader’s understanding of your book, then they don’t need to be there, and they shouldn’t be there.  Illustrations, like your words, have to work to earn their keep.  And finally, your images need to be high enough in resolution that they hold up and read well at different scales, both large and small, and on multiple platforms, including tablets and e-readers.  If readers can see pixellation, they’re likely to dismiss a book as amateurish.

And last but not least:

7. Fresh eyes are vital.

The best advice I ever received from a writing instructor was to work until I thought a piece was done, and then to walk away for days, preferably a week, and then to return for a final (or quarter-final) evaluation.  Invariably, coming back with fresh eyes led to me spotting weaknesses and glitches and errors that I would never have seen otherwise.  It’s also important to remember, as a self-published author, that there’s a promotional benefit to showing early readers advance copies of your book, with a plea that they give you feedback on what’s working and not working, in terms of design as well as content.  Their advice will help you tweak your book to perfection, while also spreading the word that you have an upcoming publication on its way!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series.  For last week’s post, on book cover and jacket design, follow this link. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog athttp://kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Book Cover and Jacket Design

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So here’s the thing: you’ve written a book.  Now you have to sell it.  But you’re going to self-publish, and you’re just self-conscious enough to do a little field research, so you drop on by your local indie bookstore, and you start thumbing through covers to see what you like and what you don’t like … and you start noticing a pattern.  The self-published books on the shelf are, for one thing, pretty thin on the ground, and they’re also often less … attractive.  What’s going on here?  And how can you prevent your own book cover and jacket from fading into the background?  Here are five tips to designing a standout, quality book cover or jacket.

[ Right now, I’m just going to deal with the outside of your book––and I’ll save the design components of the inside for next week. ]

1. Design with an awareness of genre.

Some of your greatest assets––and, potentially, stumbling blocks––as a book designer are the legacies of bygone books and the expectations of current readers.  Designing a book specifically to fit in may not be the wisest move––it may remain undiscovered by blending in too well––but there are enormous benefits to paying attention to the visual brand of your book’s genre.  Just think about it!  We know in a flash––in less than a tenth of a second––and with great accuracy whether A, B, and C are all of a set in those popular web-based IQ tests.  We will absolutely know if a book “fits” with its shelf-mates in the bookstore, because we can pause and linger and physically pick up the books involved.

Bold and blocky typefaced titles that occupy almost the whole of a book cover scream crime fiction; slim and minimal sans-serif fonts speak of literary nonfiction; distressing alludes to zombies and post apocalyptic literature; and a hand-lettered style hints at popular romance or young adult novels.  (John Green, I’m looking at you.)  There are, of course, a great many exceptions across all genres, but the clues are there: aside from title fonts and their size and placement, every genre has a long legacy of embedded symbols, imagery, and dynamic organization.  Silhouettes, guns, and blood splashes are easy to place in the crime genre, but do you notice the color balance in a Nora Roberts book cover?  How about the placement of carefully curated quotes on a nonfiction book, above or below the title?  Or the fact that nature guides will often crowd out the author’s name altogether in favor of a full-page still shot of a bluejay, or a slice of Sydney Harbour?  Before you settle, browse the aisles––and the Kindle store.  If you’re going to depart from your genre’s expectations, then do so knowingly, with every keystroke.  You may be setting your book up to stand out, but you may also be removing it from the visual radar of every reader who’s looking for a book in your genre.

2. Design with an awareness of spatial dimensions.

No, I don’t mean the astral plane, or the multiverse.  I mean you should examine the balance between text and image, busy and clean, light and dark.  Often a book cover will look radically different at different dimensions––say, as a physical book and as a thumbnail on the Kindle store––and seemingly small design choices can make your book look either extraordinary or extraordinarily terrible when the size of the image changes.  Keeping your book cover design free of unnecessary clutter––shapes and colors and forms that you don’t need to convey important information––is essential.  I can guarantee you that the titles leaping out at you as you’re scrolling through Amazon are the ones keeping their design simple enough––and uncluttered enough––that they appear beautiful, even as a tiny, 60 x 90 pixel thumbnail.  Again, browsing what’s out there is your best guide to designing a great book cover yourself.

3. Design with an awareness of industry requirements.

By this I mean, particularly, to watch your back cover.  You need to display your book’s EAN barcode somewhere on the cover, preferably without squashing or crowding the design.  You’ll need to include an author photo and biographical snippet (“John Doe works as a marine biologist at Eckard College.  He lives in Tampa with thirty mollusks and one delightful parakeet”).  You should also include the book’s genre or category, a readable price, and contact information.  The category may prove problematic, if your book is indeed cross-genre, but keep in mind this isn’t about smashing your book into a preconceived category, but about making your book findable for your readers.  If you’ve ever heard of a keyword search, your book’s category performs many of the same functions.

4. Keep it legal.

“Don’t steal other people’s artwork” sounds a bit strong, but this is essentially what you’re doing if you utilize an image on your book cover or jacket that you don’t have permissions for.  As you design your book, you absolutely must ensure you use only your own images, images you obtain by payment or permission, or images under the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons can become complicated to work out after the fact, if you just pluck something off of a Google image search, but there are many fine websites out there that are dedicated to providing nothing but Creative Commons photographs.  Take a look at Stock.xchang (now FreeImages.com), Wikimedia Commons, Free Pixels, Fotolia, Image Base, Abstract Influence, and Flickr’s Creative Commons page (easy to find by clicking “Learn More” on their website).  Basically, there’s no excuse for taking someone else’s image if it’s not on a Creative Commons license … there are so many legitimate options to choose from!  (And if you really want, well, that image, then you should go to the necessary lengths to ensure you have the artist’s permission anyway, right?)

5. Make it yours.

One of the most commonly-heard questions in the self-published community is: “Should I pay someone else to design my cover, if it’s really so much work?”  Ultimately, the answer is up to you.  Will it significantly improve your quality of life by reducing the stress of learning new technologies and softwares and managing a writer’s life on top of all of that?  Possibly.  Never underestimate the power of a professionally-designed cover, especially in a world saturated with marginally acceptable self-published covers. 

On the other hand, will releasing the design process into someone else’s hands also take creative control out of your own hands?  Often, yes, it will.  Always remember where you draw your line in the sand––at which point you’re comfortable surrendering the artistic direction of your book.  If you want or need a designer, that’s great!  Just make sure to do a little research, and to make sure you choose someone who chooses you back––and chooses to get on board with your vision for your book.  That way, no matter who is out there shaping your visual brand, you can be confident that it will reflect … you!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog athttp://kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing Week in Review: 03/31/15

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Tuesday to find out the hottest news.

Self-Published Graphic Novel Earns Praise of Industry Elite

This article tells how Christine Mari Inzer got acclaimed comics artists Jeff Smith, Lucy Knisley, and Hope Larson to blurb her self-published book. It is an interesting read for self-publishing graphic novel authors.

DIY: Twitter Ads for Indie Authors

Twitter’s easy-to-use advertising platform can be a useful resource for self-published authors who want to spread the word about their books.This article discusses how to create an ad, how to narrow your audience and more. It is a must read for self-publishing authors interested in using Twitter to market their books.

“Self-Publishing is No Longer a Dirty Word”: Sarah Taylor’s Indie Book Fair Keynote Address

Sarah Taylor, marketing manager of Matador Books, the self-publishing imprint of Troubadour Publishing in the UK, delivered the keynote address at the Indie Book Fair entitled: “Broadening horizons: The expanding opportunities and freedom of self-publishing”.Taylor explained how the self-publishing industry has been revolutionised in recent years, starting from a fledgling attempt at badly edited ebooks to becoming a booming, vibrant business. “Self-publishing is no longer a dirty word,” she said. Be sure to check out the full article to learn more.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

How to End Small Press Month

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In honor of National Small Press Month, which celebrates small publishers and showcases the unique voices of the authors who choose them, I’ve shared promotional tips and advice each week this month. (Be sure to check out the previous posts: Why March is the Best Time to Promote Your Self-Published Book, 10 Ways to Promote Your Self-Published Book in March, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Self-Publishing, and Connect with Others to Promote Your Book.)

After all that self promotion, it’s time to relax and recharge. Every hardworking writer needs to take a break to prevent burnout and take time to celebrate accomplishments. Here is how you should end Small Press Month.

1. Celebrate.

Reflect on everything you’ve accomplished this month and celebrate your success, no matter how big or small. Buy yourself a fun notebook or go out to dinner with people who support your work. You should be proud of your hard work.

2. Get inspired.

Taking a break from promoting your work doesn’t mean putting your writing work on hold; it simply means shifting tasks. Use this downtime to get inspired. You might just find an idea for your next book or a unique promotional idea. Read. Watch movies.  Listen to music. Travel. Try something new. Socialize.

3. Set new goals.

Don’t stop just because Small Press Month is over. Set new writing and marketing goals. You are the maker of your own success.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Connect with Others to Promote Your Book

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March is National Small Press Month, which celebrates small publishers and showcases the unique voices of the authors who choose them. This makes March the perfect time to promote your self-published book! To help you take advantage of this, I am offering promotion advice and ideas on the blog every Monday this month. Be sure to check out the previous posts: Why March is the Best Time to Promote Your Self-Published Book, 10 Ways to Promote Your Self-Published Book in March, and Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Self-Publishing.

This week I’ll share an easy way to connect with others and promote yourself and your work — blog comments.

1. Find blogs.

Find blogs by fellow small press author, other people in the publishing industry, and people interested in the topic of your book.

2. Read the blog.

Read several posts to get a feel for the author and his or her readers. Never comment on a post without reading the entire post! You can’t contribute to the conversation if you don’t fully understand what the conversation is about.

3. Position yourself as an expert.

This gives people a reason to take interest in your comment. Just be careful not to act like a know-it-all. No one likes that person.

4. Be professional at all times.

Disagreeing is okay, but always be respectful about it. It’s okay for other people to have a different opinion.

5. Add value.

Make sure your comment adds value to the conversation. Simply commenting things like “Thank you” or “Nice post” don’t add value.

6. Be brief.

Now is not the time to write a novel. Keep your comments short and to the point.

7. Include a link.

This is key! Always include a link to your website or blog. If you don’t, you are wasting your time. The link is how you will promote yourself and your work and allows people who were interested in your comment to contact you.

8. Fill in all fields appropriately.

Each blog will most likely have an area where you can enter your name, email (most likely not published), URL, text of your comment, etc. Don’t change up the order on this. For instance, you shouldn’t add your website address to the comment box; it should only be placed in the URL field.

9. Share the love.

Mention someone else’s book/blog/website where appropriate. All of your comments should not be “pushing” your book. Vary your comments. Others will have more respect for you and know that when you mention your book or website, you are making an appropriate reference.

10. Never SPAM!

Write your own comments, keep them relevant, and stay away from any questionable “blog commenting” services. A good rule of thumb is — if you would be ashamed to call the blog owner and let them know what you’ve done, you shouldn’t do it.

Check back next week for more promotion ideas.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Self-Publishing

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March is National Small Press Month, which celebrates small publishers and showcases the unique voices of the authors who choose them. This makes March the perfect time to promote your self-published book or start a self-publishing project! If you’re looking for project ideas, consider using self-publishing as an opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day:

1. Write a cookbook.

Food and drinks are one of the highlights of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. If you are Irish, consider creating a cookbook of cultural recipes, or have a little fun, and write a cookbook filled with “green” recipes.

2. Celebrate the history.

Many people don’t know the history of St. Patrick’s Day. If you enjoy history, consider writing a non-fiction or historical fiction book inspired by the holiday.

3. Create an Irish character.

Regardless of what genre you write, do a writing exercise where you create an Irish character. Consider how they will look, talk, and act. Do a little research by talking to some Irish friends, reading books with Irish characters, or watching movies with Irish characters. Avoid creating a flat, stereotypical Irish character.

4. Learn a new skill.

To write great stories, writers need to experience life. These adventures inspire stories and help create believable settings, characters, and plots. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, try something new such as learning Irish dancing or cooking an Irish dish.

5. Travel.

Travelling is another great way to bring new life to your writing. Book a trip to Ireland, or just visit an Irish pub you’ve never been to. Going somewhere different can spark your creativity, and help you create great stories.

Check back next week for more Small Press Month ideas, and be sure to check out the previous weeks’ post Why March is the Best Time to Promote Your Self-Published Book and 10 Ways to Promote Your Self-Published Book in March.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

10 Ways to Promote Your Self-Published Book in March

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March is National Small Press Month, which celebrates small publishers and showcases the unique voices of the authors who choose them. This makes March the perfect time to promote your self-published book! To help you take advantage of this, I am offering promotion advice and ideas on the blog every Monday this month. Be sure to check out last week’s post Why March is the Best Time to Promote Your Self-Published Book.

This week I’ll share ten ways to promote your book during National Small Press Month.

1. Contact other independent published authors in your area.

Connect with other authors and combine your resources to fully exploit the opportunities during this month. There’s a lot to do, and four hands are better than two.

2. Send out a press release.

Send a press release to the local media (newspapers, radio, television) mentioning Small Press Month and your independently published book. If you secured some events, mention them in the release.

3. Follow up on your press release.

Be sure to follow up on your press release via telephone. Reiterate Small Press Month, your planned events in the community, and your Small Press book. Offer to send them a review of your book that they can use as a foundation.

4. Contact your local libraries.

Suggest they feature Small Press titles, including yours. Offer to leave a free copy with them, along with a sales sheet.

5. Contact local schools.

Tell them about Small Press Month. Mention that you are a local published author and offer to speak to their assembly about how to accomplish their dreams of being published. This is particularly effective if you have a children’s book you can then sell after the assembly.

6. Contact local universities and colleges.

This is the same concept as number 5— promote yourself and your book by sharing your knowledge of how to write a book and get it published. Sell copies of your book afterward.

7. Schedule a seminar or tele-seminar.

Schedule a seminar or tele-seminar on “How to Write and Publish a Book.” Offer a “Small Press Month” discount on the registration fee. Send out a local news release about your class.

8. Contact other sales channels.

Brainstorm and contact sales channels outside of the bookstore that may be likely to sell your book. This may include websites related to your book’s topic, gift stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, boutiques, etc. Look at your book and ask yourself where your readers may be shopping.

9. Use social media.

Create social networking accounts on Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. Use the accounts to connect with readers and promote yourself and your book.

10. Contact the Learning Annex (or similarly themed Adult Education Program) in your area.

Offer to teach a class on the subject of your book. As a published author, you are qualified to teach on your subject since you are an expert. Your book may even be required reading for each student!

Check back next week for more promotion ideas.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

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