BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 8: Reviews

PART 8 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Reviews

While the last blog I posted about marketing might have been the most informative and useful. This post is about something that is probably the most important for a first-time unknown author. Reviews. This post will be split between some thoughts bout reviews and a bit about the reviews that have so far been received about On Swift Wings.

I’ve talked about my naivete when it comes to launching my first book. I didn’t really take into account the importance of reviews until far into the process. I’ve said that I figured people would read the book, tell friends, and it would just take off on its own. Once I launched, I realized that people need to be encouraged to write reviews, even their friends. There are rules about close family posting reviews on sites like Amazon, so I didn’t want to risk their accounts and review abilities, but anybody else is free to post honest reviews. Also, though it is very tempting, I’m not going to risk everything to buy fake reviews. I’m not even sure where to go to get them, and I’m not looking.

On Swift Wings is still starving for reviews, any reviews. I have received a couple dozen in various places, several on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, a few here and there on Goodreads, and a number of professional/semi-professional reviews from several legitimate sources. (I really need reviews! If you’ve read the book, please help me by posting a review to Amazon and/or GoodReads. The more people who comment (especially with 5-stars) the more people are likely to give it a try. A friend once told me that she wouldn’t buy a book without 100 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4-stars. I have 10, with an average of 4.6. So… just 90 more of you and I’m there! – this is an exceptionally high bar to achieve on Amazon. First-time authors almost never legitimately achieve that kind of review number, so she can only read mainstream published books.

Friends/Family/Advanced Reader Group

The first place to go for reviews should be your advance reader group. The only ARCs (advance reader copies) that I sent out were to my immediate family, who are ineligible to post reviews on Amazon… oops. Relax, sacrifice a little control, and give out copies to friends that can provide feedback and early reviews. It would also help to get involved in shared-interest groups. Find people with similar interests and connect with them. These are also more likely to provide reviews. These early reviews are crucial to achieving early traction.

Giveaways

Another way I tried to drum up reviews was through giveaways. I gave away 100 copies of On Swift Wings through a goodreads giveaway. I was hoping to get at least 10 reviews that way, I got 1 review and 2 ratings. There is a side-benefit of the goodreads giveaway, everybody who applies automatically has the book added to their ‘to-read’, so there are 303 people out there who have the book in their ‘to-read’ folder on goodreads. My guess is that a lot of people enter these giveaways pretty blindly and amass large quantities of free books they’ll never read. I’ll talk a little about giveaways and contests in my final blog post of this series.

Paid Reviews *** NOT PAID FOR RATING ***

The next place that I went for reviews was a number of paid reviewers. Note: These are paid for the time, placement and quality of the review, not for a positive review. You can pay hundreds of dollars for a professional reviewer to read your book and say its horrible. Fortunately, all my reviews came back with 75% or better stars. I approached a few organizations to find me some reviewers, either professional, or just people looking for new books:

OnlineBookClub.org – Arite Seki – 4/4 Stars
OnlineBookClub.org – Snowflake – 3/4 Stars

Reader Views – Paige Lovitt – 5/5 Stars

Readers’ Favorite – Romuald Dzemo – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Liz Konkel – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – K.C. Finn – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Ruffina Oserio – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Lesley Jones – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Rabia Tanveer – 4/5 Stars

There are a number of other options that I haven’t explored deeply including Author to Author, where you review a book from a pool of curated works and authors from that pool review yours. It is all blind, so you aren’t reviewing the person who reviewed you, but it is a way to gather more reviews.

Something I hadn’t thought about, but will also do in the future, is to include a note at the end of the book asking for a review. It felt tacky the first time I heard about it, but now I recognize that many people don’t do things like review a book without being asked. Whether they don’t think about it, or they forget. You get a lot more of what you want in life by asking for it, so next time, I’ll ask for it. Also…

Please review On Swift Wings!

(You might notice that the more stars you give, the prettier your review. πŸ˜‰ )

Coles North Hill – Sadly Closed
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Anyway, thank you for reading my blog. I hope that some of the things I have written will be of some value to you. If you feel inclined, I would be thrilled if you gave On Swift Wings a try. It is available all over the place, if you are a fan of your local bookstore, they are able to order it from IngramSpark, it is stocked at a few Coles/Chapters locations, although sadly my local outlet has closed permanently due to the pandemic. Of course the book can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and many other sources. A kindle and eBook version are also available.

As always, I’d love to hear back from you. Tell me what you think.

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 7: Marketing

PART 7 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – MArketing

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Marketing. If you’re a reader, a supporter, or you’re thinking of publishing something yourself, read this one thoroughly. To anybody reading this, I would really love feedback. Marketing is an area where I started with no knowledge, like, basically zero, and now feel I know a solid 0.1%, and that might be wrong, so I’m a solid 0.1% plus or minus a full 1%. I’ve learned a lot, and it still isn’t working. I’d love to know if you know what I haven’t learned yet.

Launch

I’ve already spoken about my launch experience in my previous blog posts, so I’m not going to dwell on it here. Suffice to say, a good launch, with a launch team of friends to help spread the word is a great first step into book marketing.

“Good” Idea

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When I launched the book, I included one “good” idea. I put that in quotes because I don’t know that my good idea actually contributed to sales, but it makes me feel good nevertheless. I pledged 20% of all the revenue that I earn would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I was inspired by the story of Peter Pan, the royalties from which are even today a major source of funding for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital. Whether a good marketing idea or not, I’m not sure, but it makes me feel better to give something back to the community and the ACH is a most worthy cause.

Facebook Page

Another smart idea was to set up and promote my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/BW.Literature/
This page helped me get the word out in a more formal way, and it is a landing page for posts like this one. I was able to get 100 likes on the page from my friends and family, which was certainly helpful, and set up the platform for my first paid advertisements.

Advertising

I did try to advertise pretty quickly on Facebook. Clever company suggested that many people would see my post about the donation if I paid a few bucks. They did, but I don’t think it amounted to any sales. It got a lot of likes and a few shares. Also, I donated a dollar for every share of that first post. I was braced for my maximum of $500. I figured, if all you had to do was share one post from a friend to donate a dollar to the Children’s Hospital, most of my 500+ Facebook friends, and however-many LinkedIn contacts, and twelve Twitter followers would easily push it past that mark, and as a result, spread the word.

What I discovered was that even with an incentive, I was unable to spur a significant social media churn. I only got 79 shares, even with a Facebook ad running and showing the post to 3600 people around the world interested in Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift. There was some good feedback on the post that with 407 likes. At the point, I didn’t have a good mechanism for tracking sales and success, but it didn’t likely generate many readers. I certainly didn’t have 400 sales during that period. I also got my first troll through that post, something I had braced for, and honestly didn’t bother me, but I certainly remember his posts. (Thanks to Mike Brown for knocking him down a peg with a Taylor Swift meme.)

Homepage

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As I mentioned above, I didn’t really have a way to track the success or failure of my advertising, and beyond Facebook who proactively sought me out, I didn’t know what other ways to advertise. I paid IngramSpark to include me in their flyer, but I can’t even say for sure that my ad was ever published, me not being a bookstore/library who receives that flyer. I decided to set up a webpage (which is where you’re most certainly reading this.) This lets me see how many people are coming to check it out and from where they are coming. My original ads had the goal of directing people to my Facebook page, and the only metric that they were engaged was if they liked or shared a post.

Facebook is also limiting in that I really can only reach my friends and family that like the page. It is not particularly searchable, and advertising it doesn’t do much beyond itself. Furthermore, you can’t track sales, you can’t see how many people are viewing things, and you have very limited control on layout. This led me to explore setting up my own page. It costs a bit for the webspace, but it is a far more flexible design platform (on WordPress.)

I try to post here when I have some time. Keep things active and provide some engagement.

The blog

Somebody once said that the more I promote the book, the more confident people are that it is good quality. The blog is a way that I can share my thoughts on things publicly in a way that hopefully shows my confidence in the book. I’m reading it to my son right now and each time I read it I find myself surprised at how good it is. (In the gaps between when I read it, I question whether I did too much of something, or too little of something else, but then I read it again and feel a good sense of accomplishment. Anyway, the blog is a way for me to share thoughts and ideas, and hopefully get some feedback.

Goodreads

This will reveal how little I knew going in, but I didn’t know anything about GoodReads when I got started. Another good way to reach a lot of people. I did a giveaway of 100 eBooks several months ago. Originally I was hoping that I’d get at least 100 people that wanted it, and by the end I got 369 requests, which was cool. The real aim here was to get a bunch of reviews, unfortunately I only got a few. It cost $119US to run the giveaway, and I was, perhaps naively, hoping to get a dozen or more quality reviews. I think that of the 100 people who received a free copy of the book, I got 1 five-star, 1 four-star, and 1 three-star (who was also the only one to write actual comments.)

Facebook Posts and social media

I continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to share the book, to post blog entries etc. If there is one thing I learned on here, it is how valuable it is to have a circle of friends and family who are active and who like, comment, and share regularly. You can be pretty sure that the people who are closest to you will see all of your posts and they will likely read some or most of them, but if they don’t like/comment/share, it ends with them.

I’ll go into this a little deeper, because it may help to understand how these things work. If I post a blog entry, photo, etc. then maybe a dozen people will see it in their feed. I can pretty much identify them based on how often we comment/like each other’s posts. I don’t know the relative values, but if they share the post, their top 12 will see it as well. If all 12 of them like it, it will probably get served out to a wider audience of my friends. If all 12 of them comment on it, it will certainly be served and prioritized to a larger proportion of my friends. If a large number of those people like/comment, and share, then it will be served out to ever-increasing circles of people (see viral.)

People who aren’t trying to market something like a book or song may not realize just how important their support really is. Likes and comments are more than just about ego, they are huge algorithmic supports. Whether you like/comment on my stuff, if you have other friends that are trying to promote their business, this is a key way to do it.

If you just want to support them, despite not really being interested in their products, like their posts. If you’re willing, even better to comment, because then some of your friends may see that you commented on something, but definitely friends-in-common will see it. For maximum support, share the post as well. Social media thrives when posts are seen and commented, so those that gain the most engagement get priority.

Amazon advertising

I fiddled with some Amazon ads early as well. I poked a few keywords (like 5) and did some automatic targeting but didn’t see any serious benefits. What changed on this front was when I stumbled across Bryan Cohen. Early this year (and again as I’m writing these) Bryan set up a course on Amazon Advertising. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to watch even a fraction of the content, but what I learned has changed the way I approach Amazon ads. This year my ads have been served out to almost 750,000 people. I really ought to watch the entire series of his course, because I haven’t generated many sales yet, but I believe that had to do with a cover that wasn’t fit for purpose and fairly amateur salesmanship on my part.

I also stumbled into a good bit of feedback from my friend Lin He from a toastmasters event. She fed me an opportunity to speak about my book and I went into a spiel about Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift and then a little about my book. Her feedback was that I sold her on reading Gulliver’s Travels, but not necessarily On Swift Wings. When I reevaluated my advertising, I realized just how true that feedback really was. I started every sales pitch with a description of an entirely different book, and spent 80% of my time describing what I liked about it and why I wrote my re-imagination thereof. I should have been focusing on my book and its contents, and perhaps casually tossing out a reference to the original source material. Now I describe my book and ultimately reference Mr. Swift’s work in more of a passing style.

Google Advertising

I didn’t try google advertising for a long time. Dumb. When it finally dawned on me to give it a shot, I directed readers to my webpage who were interested in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, Online Books, Fantasy/Adventure, etc. I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my webpage and a few sales came out of that which was good. I didn’t yet have any decent metrics on my page, but I assumed that I was seeing positive response even if costs were outweighing sales for now.

Unfortunately, when I did get the metrics up several weeks later, it became apparent that a number of people (or bots) were clicking on the links, but they were generally spending less than two seconds on the webpage and almost never (0.05%) were clicking on any other links on the page.

I tried redesigning the page and focusing the ads, but nothing has worked well there so I’ve shut down my Google ads for now. I’d love some feedback from people who have tried to view my page, if somebody knows why people are bouncing so quick, I’d love to hear it.

Preview

Another idea I had was to make the preview of the book more widely available during the pandemic. Amazon allows readers to read a sample, I figured I could put a few chapters out there so that potential readers could see what they are in for if they buy the book. I haven’t had a lot of uptake on this. I can see who has read what chapter, and only in the past couple weeks have I seen anybody click past the first chapter, but I am seeing several, and a few sales from those people, which is great to see.

I have said before that the goal is to get as many people to read the book as possible. Making money would be a nice side benefit, but if a million people read the book and I earned a total of $10, that would be incredible. If you haven’t yet, read the preview and see what you think. Write some comments, start a conversation. Hopefully it gets you interested in the book. I know the style is a bit of an antique and the vocabulary is challenging, but if you can push through it, you’ll learn something, probably lots of things.

Another thing that one of my reader’s said was that they appreciated the dictionary feature on the kindle. Give it a try, I really think that a broad audience would enjoy the various parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I have to charge something for the book. If I make it free, there is no way for me to offset any advertising or marketing costs. Furthermore, if I chose to charge basically nothing, people would assume it was worth basically nothing, and they still wouldn’t read it. Please read it, please review it, please talk to me, please like/comment/share it!

Contests and reviews

One of the more successful avenues that I’ve taken is contests and reviews. I’ve submitted my book to several professional and paid review services as well as a few different contests. Many of these reviews are not able to post the review directly to Amazon, but I’m able to quote the reviews there. I’ve been quite pleased with the number of four and five star reviews. I have yet to have a professional reviewer deduct more than one star, and the reasons for that deduction have been remedied. Most reviewers have been very favourable towards the book. In addition to the ego stroke that positive reviews provide, it also grants some level of authority to the book, and connects with the reviewer’s readers. I’ve had reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views, OnlineBookClub, and a verdict from IndieReader.

I’ve also put the book into a few contests. I won the Reader Views Canada West region, placed second in the Reader Views “Humor/Satire” category, was a finalist in the IndieReader 2020 Discovery Awards, and I am waiting to see the results of the Readers’ Favorite on September 1. Similar to reviews, these lend a note of legitimacy and authority to the book, helping it to stand out from the literally hundreds of thousands of new books published each year independently.

For a while my book was leading on the OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year (popular vote), but a suspicious entry has blown past me (and everybody else) with 699 votes in the past two weeks (versus 280 for me in second place I’ve been amassing for six months. Last year’s winner had 325 votes, which was my target.) To be fair though, the book, “Wisdom” has the benefit of a 2/4 star official review driving it forward with a summary that reads: “boring, unoriginal, and unprofessionally edited.”

I’d love to get a few more votes on there, even if it seems first place is out of reach, I can still win the best Fiction. To vote, click here:

Vote for On Swift Wings – OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year

I really hope that this post was of value. I wonder how many of you will read right to the bottom of this long meandering post and like it, comment on it, and/or share it, having now a greater understanding of the relative importance. I would love it if you would read my book or even just give the preview a chance.

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Stay well and may your world always grow! (You know, once the end of the world is over.)

BW

Book Launch Learnings 6: Launching

PART 6 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Launching

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This post is likely going to be more about what I should have done as opposed to what I did. I really dropped the ball on my launch. I did a lot of research, but didn’t really know to whom I should speak about doing a launch. While I recognize now the achievement that is writing an entire novel, at the time it didn’t feel so terribly grand. Furthermore, hosting a party in my honour didn’t seem very, well, me. It felt like a frivolous expense to play to my own vanity. I’m a bit of an introvert, though not fully, and putting together a launch party wasn’t my fortΓ©.

The mistake

The biggest mistake that I made, and it is a pretty common one among first-time authors, was that I figured if a book is good enough, it’ll sell itself. My friends and family (most of whom have no literary connections – like me) would read the book, be amazed, feel compelled to share it with their friends who would be equally interested and it would catch fire and go viral, selling quickly and widely. I know that this sounds foolish… and it is. Unfortunately, this was my general mindset. To this end, why would I spend money and time promoting the book when I was confident that it would do it by itself?

Pre-launch Reviews and Pre-Orders

There is a bit of a golden period at launch. This is the time where a first-time author really can collect the stats to push the book. I did alright considering my own foolishness. At one point, three days after launch, I reached a high of #20 on the Satire charts on Amazon. Pretty cool, but I probably could have done better.

What I didn’t understand is how important a launch really is beforehand. I could have given out several ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to friends, family, and a few assorted websites, with the hope and suggestion that I could really use honest reviews in return, or perhaps their assistance in spreading the word upon release. The whole review thing didn’t occur to me until far too late.

Mistake #2

A second mistake I made was I protected my book too much. I had some content in the book that I felt was timely and ludicrously thought that if I let anybody see the book, somebody would steal it, publish it before me and I’d be left in the dark. This is dumb. I only realize it now, but somebody would have to take a pretty crazy shot to do this. Stealing my IP would open them up to litigation, and it is crazy difficult to get a book off the ground, especially if you don’t have the passion that comes from creating it. Be a little free with your book. Trust that your friends and trusted online outlets aren’t looking for a way to screw you. Besides, your first book isn’t very likely to take the world by storm anyway, as previously mentioned.

Related to this was that I had some material, as was the case with Jonathan Swift, that was contemporary. I’ve hestitated to reveal this, but when I wrote the book, a certain neighbouring country was in the process of electing a buffoon to their highest office. I weaved in a fair bit of satire about politics, and a little about that particular cartoon character. One thing that is holding me back from writing my current book is I don’t want it to be heavily influenced by contemporary political oafs (especially one who will be gone by the time the book is published… please?)

Launch Party

I’ve read a lot about launch parties and street teams. I did sell copies to many of my friends. I have great friends and family and I truly appreciate their support. I should have given them time before the launch to read the book, to comment on it, discuss it, and help me push pre-orders. I should have done this, and I should have thrown a party, not for me, but for them and the help that they would give me right away. I guess that is where I lost the plot, I didn’t realize that the launch party wasn’t for me, but for them. Sorry.

Reviews

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I keep alluding to this, and I’ll write an entire piece about reviews soon, but man are they ever important. At launch, you should have a bunch of reviews ready to fire. They may be your friends who are writing them (be aware of the terms of service that penalize close family from reviewing), but strangers aren’t very likely to respond well to a first-time novelist they’ve never heard of and a book nobody has read.

(Hey, please review my book.)

Advertising

Alright, this one is more about just not knowing anything about this stuff. I’ve since taken a bunch of courses in advertising on Amazon, Facebook (which I’m currently not doing), and Google. It would have been a good idea to advertise before launch to get pre-orders lined up and build excitement. I didn’t even know how to start with advertising. Since last year I’ve learned enough about advertising to know how little I actually know.

Summary

Put your launch a little later, collect your launch team, plan a party to reward them. Research advertising and marketing. Line up reviews before the book goes public. Be less guarded about your achievement. And shoot your shot, don’t let it fizzle. I let my launch be a day on the calendar with a Facebook/Twitter announcement and a bunch of author copies for sale at my office. You only really get one full launch of your first book. It is an amazing achievement to sling together 100,000+ words in a meaningful way. Understand the way the market works. Talk to somebody who has been through it and glean whatever you can from them.

I hope this helps prospective writers out there. If it does, let me know! (and hey, my book is available, give it a read – and please review it!)

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Click Here for Preview

1st Anniversary – new look Relaunch

In a few weeks (July 1) On Swift Wings will have its first anniversary and to celebrate I’ve commissioned a new cover and a new look for the novel!

I’d like to do this for a few reasons.

  • The novel has been out for a full year, and I have learned so much about book publishing in this time, I want to celebrate by treating myself to a fresh design.
  • It makes the existing cover unique, and a sort of first-edition for the book. After the new cover is completed it will not be available anymore, so you’ll have something of a collector’s item when Brett M. Wiens becomes a household name… even more of a household name.
  • I believe that the current cover doesn’t tell the reader very much about the story. It doesn’t tell me that it is an fantasy/adventure/satire at a glance.
  • My click conversion rate on Amazon is obscenely low. I have the reviews now, and readers have been enthusiastic about the book, but everybody does judge a book by its cover, and I want the cover to encourage people to give the book a try.

I have a few options (plus unlimited revisions) for the new cover and I’d love to get your thoughts, votes, and feedback. A fun little distraction from the strange world in which we find ourselves these days.

Option 1 – Yellow Font, Green Water, Drowning Cygnus
Option 2 – White font, Dark Blue Water, Plane Crash Cygnus
Option 3 – Castle on cliffs, Calm water, Sun shining on Cygnus

You can also comment on this post directly, or reach me at my Facebook page.

You can also preview the book by clicking below, or preview the first five chapters by clicking here. If you haven’t had a chance yet, give the preview a try, I’m confident that you’ll enjoy the story.

Click Here for Preview

Also, please, please, please review the book! Somebody I know once said that they wouldn’t read a book that didn’t have a 4-star average with over a hundred reviews… I’m only 91 reviews away!

Thank you, and may your world always grow!

BW

Review Success

https://storage.googleapis.com/readersfavorite-public/images/5star-shiny-hr.png
Certified Five Stars

The reviews are starting to come in at a greater pace, and my biggest push won’t even start for another three weeks when the Giveaway on Goodreads comes to an end and a hundred new readers will get a copy of On Swift Wings all at once. I’m extremely excited by the reviews I’ve been getting so far, all of which are four or five stars. It is a phenomenal feeling to read that somebody enjoyed or loved the book that I worked on for so long and into which I invested so much. Whether a friend or a stranger, it is wonderful to hear these words (and to get 4-5 stars on every review so far is just icing on the cake!) Thank you to everybody who has or intends to post a review! You can check out all of my reviews (of which I’m currently aware) here. I intend to post review highlights like these with each blog post from now on!

A unique and wonderfully detailed literary fantasy novel.

IndieReader Discovery Awards Verdict

If you love satire, you’ll love this book.

RinnyC – Amazon Review

The conclusion to his adventures is as exciting as it is revealing of the mysteries of life. Rollicking and fun!

Romuald Dzemo – Readers’ Favorite

Incredibly smartly written.

RinnyC – Amazon Review

Readers will feel like they are waking from a dream with a “Wow” after reading this book.

Romuald Dzemo – Readers’ Favorite

His journey makes for a compelling read.

Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

The author is a great storyteller.

Romuald Dzemo – Readers’ Favorite

Enraptures readers.

IndieReader Discovery Awards Verdict

This is a must-read.

Romuald Dzemo – Readers’ Favorite

The author does a fantastic job of using descriptive detail to bring the characters and places to life.

Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

A deftly written story… designed to offer pure entertainment.

Romuald Dzemo – Readers’ Favorite

An exceptional job of rewriting the political satire.

Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

Readers will see that this is a multilayered tale. They can just sit back and enjoy this adventurous journey, or they can delve deeper and observe the issues presented that relate to politics, economics, sociology and philosophy.

Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

Please do keep the reviews coming, whether you post on Amazon, Goodreads, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, or anywhere else, it is all extremely valuable to me. I love all quality feedback. Thank you for taking the time to let me know your thoughts!