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Viewing Blog: AgentObvious, Most Recent at Top
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from the brain of Nadia Cornier
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1. Seriously?

My contracts professor (while trying to make a legal point) asked everyone in the class if anyone was a wanna-be-writer.
Half the class raised their hands.
I began to feel a little nervous, but thankfully she moved on quickly.
She asked, (because we are reading the case Locke v Warner) if any of the budding novelists would pay $100 to an industry professional to get our material considered by them - no promises, just a look.

Of course, this is law school, and a contract class -- so this is a contracts question: 
Is there an offer, acceptance, consideration in this type of deal? 
...and me ranting for five minutes about how it is bullshit to pay anyone to look at your work...

I hear this once in a while.
Sometimes from authors.
They would pay X amount of money to cut out agents and have editors look at their material directly.
But... Um... what does that mean? 
Then there has to be some sort of quantifiable measures of response.
Did they REALLY consider it? 
Did they give feedback? 
Did they give the writer her $10-100 worth? 
What if they buy it - is there a conflict of interest here? Wouldn't the publisher make more money charging writers rather than publishing them? How can the quantify their reactions to books? The readers (who would probably be hired readers and not editors) would have to read quickly (as quickly as possible) and yet give great responses? It's a numbers game at this point...

I ranted in class about this, and my prof is like, "But is it a contract."
Me: ((sigh)) "yes."
Her: Thank you.

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2. All I want is a hot chocolate.

10:35, walked into the office. Mostly wet - it's pouring outside.
I had scheduled a meeting with Chris at 10:30 to go over (1) our need for a marketing/publicity intern and (2) our rights catalog. We were going to review these things, even though it is Tuesday - which is Firebrand meeting day (2pm until someone falls over).

10:50-ish, sat down for an interview with a publicist/marketer.
We interviewed a really wonderful woman about the publicist/marketing position at Firebrand. We have a few more interviews to do, but we're eager to find someone for this position. I think, while we were sitting down, we came up with a really good idea of what we're looking to do. I feel like there is a disconnect between when we sell the book, when the book is published, when the next book is sold/published... and all the opportunities that come up (and are often missed) in between. We need another pair of eyes and hands so we can find and take advantage of the opportunities.

We also had an interesting chat about John Green's NerdFighters.com. I was in the Union Square B&N the other night with Ted and had picked up a copy of Paper Towns (which I haven't read yet, I know! I know, I will! I promise. I hear it is his best book yet) and on the title page there was a pink post it note with a message from nerdfighter, Jennifer, who said if I was reading that message I was about to buy one of the best books ever... and then it had a link to the website.

Holy Crap JG -- I'm so impressed.
La. We all need to do more marketing...

11:30-ish, Making really bad jokes.
Very rarely I will mass-mail my six or seven friends (who I know will forgive me for the mass mail) and today we did two top five lists (started in the office and then over email): 
Movies that sound like they could have a "severed penis" scene.
(Favorite response came from my friend Sam, who works in public relations: "Oh Brother, Where art thou?")
Children's Books that could also be Porn titles.
(My favorite responses, one from someone in the office -- HOLES -- and to take this conversation full circle, let's say An Abundance of Katherines) (Sam added, late, "James and the Giant Peach.")  One of my friends replied, simply, "I'm now going to poke out my eyes."  I thought this was a rather dramatic response, for no reason.

I also talk to one of my clients about putting together a quick pitch idea for a paramount agent. He gets it to me in record time. He rocks.

Wrote emails regarding a luncheon I'm hosting in January. Think of good guest list...

12:30 - 1:30 Lunch with Ted. We go to this diner that Ted loves. It's pouring. We are cold, wet, and Ted orders a chicken ceasar... which I scoff at. I eat. I get sick to my stomach and tell myself I need to go on a diet.

1:30 -- I spill an entire large hot chocolate all over my desk (and mac). Everyone helps clean me up. Chris mentions that I am lucky because I will smell like hot chocolate all day. I cry. I really wanted that hot chocolate. My computer shuts off for five minutes but finally starts working again.

2 pm --  We have our agency meeting. I go over two projects that I'm interested in working on, everyone else gives me notes on them. We review upcoming projects, pitch lists, issues we're having with editors/clients/books and how to best solve them.  We go over paperwork issues, the fact that nobody is really using the forums on the website, other craziness.

I realize that I spend most of my day writing emails and forwarding things. growl.

3:30 p - N. comes to look at a spare desk we have in the office that we had been renting to a really amazing designer (said designer broke his leg and is now working from home. We did not have anything to do with the leg breaking).  N. is cool, but there was no chemistry...and it's not a huge office.

3:50p -- Go to dunkin donuts and buy another hot chocolate.  I open it when I get back to the office -- it's white hot chocolate. I give it to Chris, and pout.

4p -  J. comes to look at the spare desk. He seems cool. He stays about an hour, I walk out with him and we chat a little bit about tribeca and the space and manhattan in general. We talk about the difference working from home (alone) or in an office (surrounded by people). he mentions that he likes his work spaces full of natural light and a little 'raw.'  No one says it, but the fact that our space is a little IKEA-fied hangs heavily in the air. We agree to write one another more about it soon.

5:30 - I'm sitting in the student center of New York Law School. eating yogurt and drinking vitamin water.
I don't really understand the whole "vitamin water" craze. It tastes like watered down gatorade.

6p -- Contracts class. Talking about "implied obligation of good faith." This is an interesting class.
8p -- Legal writing. -- am SO glad that I did all my homework over the weekend. Woo Ha.

9:30 p - head home, do some reading for tomorrow. Thursday we have Tinderbox meetings. I need to get notes to two of my clients that I'm WAY behind on, want to do that tomorrow.  Have three meetings tomorrow.

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3. Elana Q&A

I realize that I haven't blogged in 15 weeks -- and I suck, and will fix that shortly.
But, I'm writing to let you know that our new agent, Elana Roth, will be doing a Q&A today... with a live portion from 3-5pm (yes, I know it's last minute, sue me) at www.joelleanthony.com -- website of author Joelle Anthony, who is a cool chick if i do say so myself.

Check it out - and I promise to update soon!


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4. Why Metrics Are Marvelous

For the past two days I've been working on our strategic plan for 2008 --
This is something that I usually end up doing close to the end of the year, it allows me to get a really wide-scope picture of what happened during the current year, reflect on that (i.e. think to myself, 'That's it?") and then try to pinpoint the spots that could be adjusted for bigger impact. Make sense? Erm... no? Ok, let's put some thoughts down on paper... (screen...)

I'm a big fan of metrics. Metrics can either be the method by which you measure something or the measurement itself. Metrics are cool because almost everything is measurable if you spend the time and thought on figuring out how to measure it. And then when you measure it, you can figure out if there is a way of making the metric better.

For example - I realized that I spend approximately the same number of hours a week on paperwork no matter how many contracts come in that week, how many checks come in or how many clients we have....  because going to the bank with one check takes the same amount of time as going to the bank with three checks, same with the post office. There is a time save if you batch tasks like going through all contracts or writing all memos at once, so let's assume I do that instead of spreading it throughout the week.

I already know that if I set aside X hours each week to do all my paperwork at once (and related errands) that I'm going to save time. But I'm still using a lot more time than I'd like and I could be doing other things with that time --

So I came up with a metric-system:

I figured out approximately how much my time is worth:

(how much money I make each year) / ((how many hours a week I work) x 48 (weeks)) = My Hourly Rate

And then I go through and say: for X task -- how much do I make off this task on an hourly scale?  (let's call this Y rate)

If Y rate is less than my hourly rate I ask myself two questions:

1) Do I need to be the person doing this? And don't be that person who says "It will only get done right if I do it..."  or if you are that person ask yourself, does it really, really, really need to be done right? I mean, my kids kinda stink at setting the table, but so what if they don't fold the napkins correctly? It's still done. And I didn't have to do it!

Ok -- if the answer is no to this: -- OUTSOURCE IT. It cost me $60 to send out my laundry, which would take me 3 hours (or $300) to do myself. Um... Send that baby out!

2) If the answer is yes, you absolutely need to be doing the work yourself... the next question you ask is: Am I doing it as effectively and efficiently as possible?

So I spent (way too much) time on developing a way of automating the paperwork systems. Basically, I designed a flow chart for a database that will eliminate more than 65% of the paperwork we now complete, shuffle around, copy, print, file, mail, etc. I also designed the database so that our clients had access to their records (and could access it freely, which will probably cut down on the number of related-questions that we get from our clients regarding updates), it also allows them to update their contact information and material directly (which saves time and effort on material going back and forth and potentially getting lost). THIS WILL SAVE SO MUCH TIME AND EFFORT!!

Obviously this took me some time to figure out... but, what is a few hours now in relation to all the time that I'll save over the course of my lifetime doing this paperwork? I get giggly just thinking about it. On Monday I'm going to pitch this project to various programmers and see who will offer the best price for developing it and then off it goes.

-- Maybe you're not as obsessive about your metrics as I am. But here are some reasons why I think you should be:

Metrics are only cool (useful) if you have a question you need answered... Here are some (fun) questions you might want to consider asking:

1.  Would it be more productive to clean my house or write?
2.  Does it make more sense to shower in the morning or at night?
3.  Should I send queries out in batches of 5, 10, or X?
4.  How fast can I drive, and stay as close to the speed limit as possible, in order to make it home by curfew? Which route should I take?
5.  Would I make more money as a laundress in a third world country than I would, in reality, when I calculate exactly how much my advance comes out in hourly rates? (don't do this one... it'll depress you)
6.  Would it really be a bad idea to have chocolate ice cream for breakfast?
7.  What's the one thing I could get rid of that would free up the most of my time? (Your spouse) (haha -- kidding) (sort of)

...Now this may sound like I use metrics to justify things, but that's absolutely not true. Justifying means you've already made your decision and are now trying to prove that you made the right one. Using metrics is a way of deciding which decision is the right one. It just so happens that it is more productive for me to read a new manuscript or talk to my clients than it is to clean my bathroom. I'm quite happyw ith that...

Please feel free to let go of guilt associated with not being perfect and being able to handle everything all on your own.  I think that as people of the modern technology age we should take FULL advantage of automatic bill pay, grocery deliveries, laundry services and housekeepers.

...and that way I don't have to hear you complain that you don't have enough time to write.

OH!!!! If you want some great reading for ...um... this week, go check out:

The 4-Hour Work Week (I LOVE THIS BOOK WITH A PASSION - I'm not sure I'd want to follow it, I like working, but... it's still a cool, cool book)


Am-Bitch-ous (which is a lot about how striving for the work-life balance is a game not worth playing and how to bypass that whole thing and being OK with the fact that you're making decision and priorities that you shouldn't have to apologize for).

More later.

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5. Fear & Loathing in Writing

I loved this... and thought it was applicable and relevant, hopefully you will too:


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6. What's the Litmus Test?

I was just reading a post on Verla Kay that was kind of depressing... Verla Kay's message boards are a place where writers (and frequently agents and editors) go to see what's what in the world of children's publishing. I'm a consistent lurker (especially as industry friends will call me and say, Did you see what so-and-so wrote on VK?...and then I feel the need to bring up a new window and see what all the hub-bub is about. And just so you know, it's never as exciting as it sounded in their breathless taunting voice. NEVER) but I've never posted there, but today I was reading an entry that was titled something like, "Another one of those quitting posts" and it asked a good, serious question:

How do you know if you're good? When do you stop?

One of my favorite questions to ask new agents (which I might not be able to ask after this) is:

How long are you giving yourself until you have to decide if you want another job?

And if they have an answer... well, let's put it this way. If they say, Ok, I'm giving myself three years... Within three years, that person will be G.O.N.E.. I spend a lot of time with the people who respond, "What do you mean? Why the hell would I want another job?" 

It may not be a practical way of looking at a business that is very, very difficult to break into (and then even more difficult to sustain a livelihood), but it's the only way.

Ok, so I'm going to tell you how to tell if you're good, or at the very least to tell when you should stop.

 If you CAN stop... stop. Seriously. Just stop. Why go through all the bullshit? Writing isn't that much fun (unless you're weird, and some of you are... and think writing is fun...). Writing isn't fun!!! It's hard!!! It involves all kinds of skills that most human beings don't possess or even really want to develop! THIS STUFF IS HARD. If you can -- RUN AWAY!!!!!!! If you'd be happier sewing clothes, go do that. If you'd be happier farting, go do that. Do anything you can, if there is anything else that makes you happy.

...Ok, well you're still reading.
(shaking head) Masochist.

Well, now that we've both figured out that you're not a logical human being...

Why are you trying to be logical about this?
Publishing is entirely subjective (and often illogical) in that ... a book isn't worth a dime until someone is willing to put a value on it.
Why give that privilege solely to editors? or even agents?

Sit down, decide that your book is worth something.
Done. Your writing is now "good."
That wasn't even that hard, eh?

Now, realize that your writing is complete crap and that you have to constantly get better and better and better and better.
And you do this by READING and WRITING.

This weird juxtaposition should be really easy for you, since you're not really... y'know, rational.
You are a writer after all.

Here that, I just called you a writer.

I kinda just want you to give yourself permission to be a writer.
Don't be ashamed of it.
When people ask you... You can tell them, "I'm a writer." It's ok, i give you permission.
And if they ask what you've written, tell them. Happily.
And when they ask if they can go buy it in the bookstore, you have two options: you can blush and hide your face in shame, or you can say, "Not yet, but soon."

And then go home and read and write and read and write and read and write (and if you get bored, do some reading or some writing) -- and then, guess what?

You're a writer.
You'll also smell, because I didn't give you any time to shower ... and it's hard to read and write in the shower... although they do have those waterproof books (you might want to buy those) for kids and people who have sex in showers... not a lot of variety, but do what you must.

SPEND LESS TIME WORRYING ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE GOOD or even if you are going to be published and more time reading and writing.

Now for an easier question:
How do you know when OTHER people think you're good?
Oh... well... that's another post entirely.

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7. The Post Where I Ramble and Make Fun of my Mother

I've got about seven minutes to blog something of world-wide and lifelong importance.

....I'm drawing a blank.

I just joined a writing group - our first meeting is in January and I'm already worried about it.  I think writing groups are amazingly wonderful things and suggest that writers join them. I actually prescribe to the same rules that Orson Scott Card set out for us: Stay in your writers group for a year, then find new people... people will get used to your writing and will stop being those fresh eyes that you need to make your work better.

Of course, he said it in a much more polished manner -- but hell, he's been a writer forever and I can still barely wrap my head around the fact that a book has to be entirely in one tense.

Erm, for those of you who don't know... I wrote a book. I sent it to my editor (Stephen Barbara at the Donald Maass sold it for me), and the first thing she said was: do you know that some of this is written in past tense and some in present? Do you know which you'd like the book in?  Which is amusing, because about seven years ago I was in an online writers group and that's the same comment they'd always make. I think I might be tense-disabled because no matter how much I understand it when it is explained to me, I can't seem to pick out the difference in a manuscript.  I will be sending flowers to my copyeditor.

I've never heard of MY clients having this sort of problem, so obviously it's a "slow" thing and not a "common" thing (boo hiss on me)... and it's really embarrassing. I'm used to people saying things like, "Nadia, YOU are a literary agent?"  When I get really nervous I start speaking really, really fast and jumble up all my words. I like to think this is a pathological thing rather than a developmental thing... but if there is a way (or a dysfunction) that would allow me to blame this on my mother... please let me know.  And usually I can tell when a person is like, "Really -- you work in books?"  Yes, but I can edit emails. As long as you don't expect them all in the same tense, that is.

Anyway, I joined my first writers group since...forever... and it's all publishing people, which will either be amazingly awesome or scary. Right now it's two agents and two editors. Which feels a little bit high stress to me, but I'll let you know how that goes.

The reason for a writers group is because... well, because most agents/editors are unable to do the same job they were able to do thirty years ago (if they ever did it), which is to develop their author, work really closely with them and... well, be their first and best reader. So, now we suggest writers groups (hope you find a good one!) that will suffice instead. That kind of sucks.

I'm not sure if it's because... No, I know why it is: ok, here's my theory: there are more and more agents out there. There are more and more books being published that seem to sustain a certain amount of agent-industry growth... but agents aren't being trained/educated outside their own companies (it's still largely an apprentice industry, I actually just wrote NYU about this very thing... Hm... ), but the book market is polarizing between big books and small books. New agents fight over these books and these clients... and, in theory, make 15% of the already (probably) pitiful earnings their non-bestseller clients make. So, to compensate, we sign more and more clients. because 15% of one pitiful advance is really pitiful but one hundred times pitiful is less pitiful... it's... moreiful. (Just kidding, I wouldn't actually make up a word like that... Plus, I'd just tense it wrong).

So here, again, are our options: EGO & MONEY control everything... Are we good enough to pick less projects and work harder on those few projects than we could possible work on 50 clients or so? Yeah, I know a ton of agents who are this good. Ok, a dozen.

Can we afford it? Can our companies afford to pay us to make one HUGE deal a year (which can be fraught with "Oops, that fell through!")?  Do we have the money and the ego to sustain us through the, "Oh shit...what if this doesn't work out?"

See what I mean? Yikes.

I think I need to think on this some more. I'm sorry I called your advance pitiful. I wasn't really talking about YOUR advance. I was talking about advances in general (charming smile).

Last night I went out for drinks with my favorite agent (well my favorite agent that doesn't work at Firebrand, wink wink, nudge nudge) and the coolest editor I know and another really cool magazine editor. But it was supposed to be a social thing.

Which didn't happen. We, of course, spent 85% of our time talking about work. and 15% of our time (haha pitiful time) talking about things that are too inappropriate to write here.  But we got into a fun heated discussion about Option Clauses. And the amount of risk that agents/authors are taking vs the amount of risk that editors/publishing houses are taking.... and how limited an option clause can/should be.

We eventually got tired and slipped into the inappropriate conversation which was easier to handle and less charged. But I feel like my opinion of option clauses has changed slightly... but that's another post entirely as it'll be a long rant.

Ok, It's late, I need to work and respond to emails that seem to be breeding in my inbox like bunnies (really, where do they all come from?)

Look Mom, I posted twice in one week!
(My Mom doesn't actually read this blog. If she did, she'd be emailing me every day saying things like, "Did you use the word 'Shit'? Is that the kind of daughter you want people to know I raised?" or "Why do you make Mom jokes all the time? I don't get it?"... and that would ruin some of the humor, don't you think?)

(Just a side note... My mom got all serious over thanksgiving and asked if I had written her into my story...she asked if the mother in my book was really horrible or really nice, and she looked really, really nervous about it. I told her not to worry. My character's mother was dead...She was not pleased.)


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8. End of The Year Crunch

Ok, at least until the end of the year -- I'm committed to posting once a week. Hopefully more so after that.
Can I just say that I can't really believe that the end of the year is ...erm... a month away? When did the year start flying? (Oh right, January)

Less grump, more stuff...
Wait, two more whines:

1) Everyone I know is sick, so when I started feeling crummy yesterday I took to bed (with laptop) right away. Which means I actually went to bed before one am last night, but I also woke up at six am... and now I feel like I was somehow jipped. Who wakes up that early if they don't have to? (Oh right, morning people) 

2) I've been angsting over what I should write about. It seems a little different nowadays, before I always just imagined I was typing to myself or to my one client that I knew was reading my blog and now I seem (even though my audience is way smaller than it was on AgentObscura) to have a frightful case of stage fright. How amusing. So, I'm going to try and think a little less (erm....) and type a little more and hopefully you'll excuse anything that doesn't quite work as well as I had hoped.

Since this is the last week of the month before the last month of the year -- I think that it's time to start setting goals for the upcoming season. I already ran my numbers for this year (argh!) and am prepped for doing tax-related things in January (can I just say that this is one of the lamest parts of agenting? Sending 1099s? Last year my assistant figured out that if we just mail everything to the accountant that they do the 1099s for us. It's absolutely brilliant!).

What else happens at the end of the year? Well, I think everyone does that thing where they the season slows down, we stop submitting (some people won't submit after the first week of December, some won't submit in December at all... I have meetings up through the 20th and am now wondering why) and we start trying to "clear our desks."  I think agents freak out because they think editors just clear their desks without giving their projects the right amount of consideration and I know authors feel this way about agents, but I think it's the same amount of consideration there is just less pause.

Here's what I mean by pause.

Sometimes I'll send a project to an editor and the editor will call me and say, There is something I really like here but I'm not sure I love it. I automatically want to pull it. Why? Because I want the editor to LOVE it. If it's too flawed, perhaps I can take it back and help the author, but if the first thing the editor feels is doubt... ehhhhh. I think a time crunch or "the end of the year" crunch simply makes everyone say, "Do I love this?" "NO?" "Moving on!"

Which... in all honesty... is healthy and good. I'm always trying to figure out how to tell people that it's OK if it's not TL right away for a manuscript, but I don't know if I want to sell them a book that they can't wrap their head around either. And if I feel that way, eesh.

All my manuscripts for the year are out, I need to get on the phone and see where editors are in their reading and if they need any more information about the author/projects to make their decision and then ... WAIT. (Which, admittedly, is much easier when you have six to twenty projects out, than the pain of having only one out... as the author... so, I won't make my "wait" period sound as bad as an author's, but it still has its moments).

Ok - 8:21, I have work to do. I'll talk to you all soon.

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9. Tis the Season

Everyone always talks about how publishing dies down during two major "seasons" -- August and the Holiday Season. Basically, it's because all the decision makers go on vacations or use their time off and it's harder to get everyone who needs to sign off on a deal to actually do the signing... hence the industry crawls to a stop and agents take their time off around the same time because it makes sense to take time off when the season is slow.

There are fast-for-publishing seasons too: Generally the month or two directly following the slow season. 

This is definitely changing... this year, in particular, it felt like there was no real break at all -- and suddenly it's Thanksgiving which means the holiday season is about to hit and I'm not sure if there is even going to be a pause. I wonder if this is because people are taking fewer vacations then they used to (more to get done? break down in family values?) or if the ditial age is making all of us so much more accessible that we can do our jobs and "sign off" on things virtually. Deals can be done on the street in Midtown (egh) or from the beach in Miami. With email and a cell phone no one has to know that you haven't done your hair or makeup yet.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing -- My friend Stephen (who works at the Donald Maass agency and is a kick ass agent, actually is my kick ass agent) and I were having a "discussion" (we walk that fine edge between arguing and discussing sometimes) about business philosophies. We discuss the speed (or lack there of) in publishing, what is proper protocol, when things go too fast for editors to react, when things go too fast for agents to react... etc. 

I love hearing about how other agents do business and WHY they do it the way they do... I think we all have our "techniques" that may change based on the project and circumstances... but we all seem to have a particular style. I'm not sure if this is an appropriate question to ask an agent when you're trying to decide if you want to sign with them... heck, why not? Go ask your agent what she thinks her selling style is... If she has one. 

Anyway... I'm not doing anymore work until after Thanksgiving, I'm behind on my reading - but will be caught up by the end of the week (Yipee!) -- but Die Hard 4 came out on DVD today... and all things must stop for Bruce Willis. I consider this vital to my mental health. Seriously.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! (and thanks for the warm welcome back into the blogosphere)
More soon.



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10. To My Fellow Agents...

I feel like this is the difference between a good agent and a bad agent:


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11. First Post

I haven't blogged in a really long time.
Part of why I stopped blogging was because everyone else started... and call me attention-crazy, but there was so much good information out there that I didn't feel like I *needed* to blog. I was busy working and it didn't seem like the best use of my time.

So, why now?

Well, I'm preparing for some MAJOR transitions in the new year ('08) and I think that blogging will not only allow people (you readerly types) to follow along with what is happening, but also diminish the impact of all the changes that are going to occur. Or, rather, that I hope are going to occur.

Plus, I've always been really excited about the work that we do and I want to share it with you. Not only our excitement and passion for what we do, but some of the process that goes along with it.

Not to mention that it's a really great marketing tool. Right?

Ok, it's the weekend and I shouldn't be thinking so much about work when I've got little kids that need to be entertained. I'll check in later.


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