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Before I start, I want to point out that I've touched on reader-entitlement before. Everything I've said there is still true, but everything I said there was very relevant to the way I feel as a writer of a multi-volume story.

This post is more general: it's about things I've heard--frequently--in the bookstore from customers. Not from every customer, but often enough that it warrants some thought. I don't argue (much) with customers who evince these opinions or have these reactions, because that's not my job (I will, however, argue with them about why I should love or hate a book, because as a reader, I have my own opinions about this; I consider that part of my job as well. Ahem). My job is to find them books they'll enjoy reading. I'm not in the bookstore as an author; I'm in the bookstore as a bookseller.

So I have two distinct reactions to every single complaint: the bookseller reaction and the author reaction. Actually, I have a third reaction: the reader reaction. It's mostly, but not entirely, folded into the bookseller reaction for the purposes of this discussion.

The not entirely part is this: As I said in a previous post: Readers engage with their reading. It's not reasonable--not desirable, really--to expect readers to be distant, polite, and dispassionate in their response to books they either loved or hated.

It's perfectly reasonable, on the other hand, to expect them to be distant, polite or dispassionate when they're interacting with the authors of works they hated; most authors I know (myself included) are delighted when readers are not dispassionate or distant about books they loved - although polite is always good.

It's hard to maintain distance, however, when the author and the book are so closely entwined in a reader's mind. I know this because as a reader, I've sometimes failed to make this distinction: when I read a book that moves me, that speaks to parts of me that most books fail to even touch, there's some part of my reader mind that feels as if I'm not alone; that someone, somewhere, has gone through exactly what I've gone through, and they've captured it so perfectly it makes me almost feel I know something about them.

This is an emotional response; it's not a rational one. And I realize on an intellectual level that I, in fact, know nothing about them and they wrote this book knowing nothing about me -- but. Well.

Let me start with the most common thing I've been told.

I hate George Martin/Melanie Rawn/insert author name here for not finishing their series. Why the hell are they working on something else when they haven't finished their series yet?

I think, if you read on-line at all, you've run across this in many different venues. My writer self cringes. Why? Because I am working, notably, on two different series, and one of them is the multi-volume story. It's a question that could have been easily asked of me during the gap between Sun Sword and Hidden City, since I was demonstrably doing work on other books.

(Quick PSA insert: I'm not looking for reassurance in this post. I'm pointing out the internal author viewpoint to make clear where I'm coming from.)

It's a question that in theory could be asked now, because I'm still working on both. I'm sensitive to it for that reason, and sometimes I want to hide behind the nearest large object when I hear this come up.

I know what my reasons are. I know how much of an ulcer it causes me to miss deadlines or write books that are too damn long, or otherwise stumble in the writing. I know that staring at a computer screen while bound to a desk and working on a book that isn't working is its own special brand of hell, and I know that when my kids were sick, and young, so much working time would just fly out the window, never to reappear. I didn't write a single word when my youngest, at 3 (he's 12 now) was in the hospital for nine days.

But, vastly less expected (by me): I also didn't write a word for three months after he was released. I simply couldn't write at all. This had never happened to me before, in any of my other life crises; once any previous crisis had passed, and I could focus on something other than crisis again, I got right back down to words. This is, by the way, one of the reasons that Sea of Sorrows was so late.

I can therefore extend a similar certainty that the authors in question have reasons for not doing what readers would like them to do, because I have been in situations in which I couldn't.

Having said that, if writing is a vocation, it is also a job, and some companies will fire you if you cannot show up to work on time, or if you miss six months, regardless of your explanation. Some readers will also do the same: they will fire you, because they're disgusted with the lack of a book. That's the extreme; many readers, if they're aware of the difficulty, will wait patiently; some, however, will not.

I don't feel there's much cause to argue with them about this: readers are angry because the book has not been written. The book has not been written. Therefore, their anger and the facts are aligned.

Could their anger be mitigated? Yes, absolutely: Authors can explain exactly why they've been absent, why they've been unproductive. Silence is not a very good mitigation in these days of internet instant-communication. It does require that said authors open up some aspects of their personal or private lives to do this, however. And I don't actually think an author owes an explanation that they simply do not feel comfortable giving. When I lost months post-hospital, did I rush to my blog to post about it and apologize? No, I didn't. At the time, I could not talk about it publicly; I just couldn't. I can now because it's almost ten years in the past.

In the absence of communication, however, readers will make their own assumptions.

Explanation or excuse aside, a reader doesn't have to keep reading, period. If they choose to take their money elsewhere as a consequence of the long, long gaps between books, that's fine. I wish that those readers didn't attribute causes to the lack of book (the writer is lazy; the writer is having too much fun doing other stuff; the writer has no clue where he or she is going, etc.), and that they didn't take it personally, but books are personal for readers.

And also? It's almost impossible for some people not to attempt to come up with explanations for the behaviours of other people. In an attempt to explain--to ourselves--why a situation that frustrates us so much exists, it's almost compelling to create a narrative. Narrative however is frequently a fictional device.

When a reader says the above comment re: unfinished series to me, I don't actually know the reasons why the book has failed to make an appearance, beyond "it's not written yet". I don't claim to speak on behalf of any author that isn't me. I don't try to publicly pinpoint why the authors in question haven't finished their books. If I knew them well enough, and if the circumstances were right, I might ask--but if I did receive an answer, and that answer wasn't one that the author in question had chosen to make public, I wouldn't either.

However. When it comes down to brass tacks? A reader is not actually required to care about the reasons. They're simply not. They aren't buying the author's life or friendship; they're buying a book. At base, they are trying to find books they love, and if they are so annoyed by the absence of future books that they're unwilling to buy anything else from that author, that's their prerogative, in its entirety. They are not required to continue to support an author who's disappointed them for any reason.

So in the main, this reader response isn't one that really pushes my entitlement buttons.

The next one (which I'm working on now and will probably have ready to go tomorrow), however, does.

Edited because -ing and -ed are not the same

Comments

( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
damedini
Oct. 12th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Hmm. I would *never* expect an author to share any personal information. It's not my business, ever. These days, a short blurb along the lines of "sorry it's late - a family situation has required all of my attention" is plenty.
I do wish all my fave authors would write more and faster, but as TH told me: that's tough and I can either read more slowly or suck it up.
You, as a writer, produce a commodity - stories - which I, as a reader, may or may not purchase. I may choose not to purchase, you may choose not to write. Both are equally legit options.
That said *smile* I do hope the next CAST is out soon...
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
That sounds very much like something andpuff would say.


Edited at 2010-10-12 06:55 pm (UTC)
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(Anonymous)
Oct. 12th, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
Entitlement thoughts
On the subject of authors who leaves series unfinished, or who takes years to finish the next book in a series of dangling storylines and cliffhanger endings, or whose books disappoint readers...

I've seen a fair bit of bilious virtriol slung around online, claiming that this or that author is screwing over readers, or phoning it in, or "doesn't care about anything but money," or "doesn't respect readers," and so on and so forth.

I've also seen, in direct contrast to that sort of hysterically enraged pajamas-people dung-flinging, quite a few reasonable-adult comments online along the lines of, "This author lost me as a reader by not finishing that series," or "by taking too long between books," or "by writing a couple of books in a row that I found disappointing." Which reaction I think is fair enough.

I also think the latter sort of person is much, MUCH less likely to be a prominent presence at various online public blogs and chatboards gossiping about authors. Almost all of my friends are readers, and most are prolific readers... and I can't think of even ONE who participates in blogs or chatboards gossiping about books and writers. My friends are busy people, they'd rather be reading a book than bitching online about a writer, and if they lose interest in a writer for the above reasons, they may mention it to me over dinner when we're talking about books, but they don't go on venomous public rants about it. And they're gobsmacked when I tell them that people do indeed go nuclear--and in public forums--about this sort of thing. They always wonder (as do I), why not just wash your hands of that writer in disappointment (or, alternately, quietly check the web once every six months to see if the book is written/scheduled/published yet) and otherwise... er, you know, go LIVE YOUR LIFE. Which one would certainly hope includes reading lots of other authors.

I don't think MOST readers feel entitled to anything but the chance of a very engaging read for their $7.99 or $27.95. I think MOST readers are puzzled and disappointed when a storyline is never resolved (and perhaps annoyed enough not to read that author again)... but they move on. I think MOST readers are busy living their lives (or playing fantasy baseball league, or watching MAD MEN, or whatever) rather than making publicly attacking and sneering at various writers on the internet.

I think a lot of the entitlement discussions I see online from time to time aren't really about reader-entitlement, they're about the atrocious manners and demented absence of adult perspective engaged in by a noisy minority of readers who could best be described as dung-flinging enraged pajama-people.

And in the words of a wise friend of mine, DO NOT ENGAGE WITH THE PAJAMA PEOPLE. JUST =DON'T=.
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
Re: Entitlement thoughts
I think a lot of the entitlement discussions I see online from time to time aren't really about reader-entitlement, they're about the atrocious manners and demented absence of adult perspective engaged in by a noisy minority of readers who could best be described as dung-flinging enraged pajama-people.

Yes, it involves atrocious manners, or manner-failure. But sometimes people who are raving will express an opinion that quieter people hold and are too polite to put into words.

At the store, the people who do make these comments are not raving lunatics, however; they're annoyed. I think one thing that totally fails to come across on-line is the tone of speech; we read it from our own contexts, and sometimes what can sound mild when spoken sounds enraged when typed although word-for-word they comment might otherwise be the same.
Re: Entitlement thoughts - book_wench - Oct. 16th, 2010 04:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Entitlement thoughts - msagara - Oct. 16th, 2010 06:05 am (UTC) - Expand
allbery
Oct. 12th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
(I'm new here, following a link from Yoon Ha Lee's journal to your previous post, and then went back and read some earlier entries and wanted to read more. Thank you for sharing your perspective!)

What you say about mitigation is certainly true, but also makes me rather uncomfortable for similar reasons to the ones you mention. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to the new world of instant communication, and I think one of them is the belief in one's knowledge of someone who is still a stranger.

You make a very good point that people assume way too much personal knowledge about authors from their books. I would extend that another step: people also assume way too much personal knowledge about authors from their blog posts, particularly when the authors share personal information, perhaps to mitigate this sort of reaction. There are obviously upsides (I've often gone out of my way to buy books new instead of used by authors who I want to support as much because of their blog as because of their books), but one of the downsides is that this sense of anger at not getting the rest of the story can get deeply personal in unhealthy ways.

I think the vast majority of people will take that additional information in the spirit in which it's intended and move on, but some people will take additional personal information along those lines as an invitation to diagnose or advise on the author's problems or make even more assumptions about what they think the author is like personally. And that can get really uncomfortable, really quickly.

If authors want to make parts of their lives public because they enjoy that writing process and those interactions, that's fine and it can provide opportunities for good interactions, but if they were at all uncomfortable with it, I'd personally advise them not to. Like most privacy issues, it's a genie that's hard to put back in the bottle.
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
(I'm new here, following a link from Yoon Ha Lee's journal to your previous post, and then went back and read some earlier entries and wanted to read more. Thank you for sharing your perspective!)

Welcome :)

As for everything else you've said -- I agree. I don't mind talking about what I think or experience, because I feel like I own that experience. I do have more trouble talking about the areas that overlap other people's lives.

And I will say this: I've never got the hate-filled, furious or demanding email/letters that other authors have. I think it's a function of sales and popularity; the broader your audience, the more likely you are to encounter people who are less sensitive to personal boundaries.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:03 am (UTC)
Entitlement thoughts
Oh, P.S.

But I also certainly think years of delays between books in a series where there's a continuing storyline and/of a cliffhanger ending could be better handled by some authors than it is being handled, in terms of public relations.

I am very much NOT a believer in sharing Too Much Information. While maintaining one's privacy, though, there's plenty of leeway to do an annual (or semi-annual) update on one's website saying, in effect, "Have set the book aside for personal reasons. Hope to return to it eventually. I apologize to readers who are disappointed, and thank you for your understanding." Or: "Still working on the book, but it's VERY long, so I don't have an ETA for it yet. I'll update you again next year. Meanwhile, my thanks for your interest in this series!" Etc.

A modest bit of information, courteously and clearly presented, updated every so often wouldn't necessarily stop screechy monkeys from flinging more dung (some people will do that no matter WHAT), but I think it works better than, for example, saying nothing, or saying nothing CLEAR, or reacting negatively to readers who'd simply like to know if a long-awaited book is being written or ever will be written.
trektone
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I'm not buying your friendship? Oh ...
trektone
Oct. 12th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
And I like that you ended this in a cliff-hanger. You're not going to post the next installment until after HOUSE WAR, Book IV is published, right?
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karenmiller
Oct. 12th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
My problem with using the term 'entitlement issues' , because there is a negative connotation there, is that I absolutely believe that readers are entitled to certain things. When I start reading bk 1 of a new series, I believe I am entering into a contract with the writer of that series. I believe I'm being made an implicit promise that the story will be finished. And if I'm handing over my hard earned cash for the book, I think I'm entitled to believe that my money will not be wasted. (for the record, I don't believe it's been wasted if I end up not liking the book. That's the chance you take when you're purchasing entertainment). And if I end up being strung along, I believe I'm entitled to get pissed off.

I do take the point that some folk don't always express themselves in a socially acceptable or helpful manner. But that, for me, in no way negates their underlying and, imo, legitimate frustration.

As a pro writer, I believe I have an obligation to finish what I've started, in a timely fashion. Leaving aside catastrophic Real Life events, I don't believe there are too many excuses for making people wait years and years for the next book in a series. While I am mindful of the fact that as writers we're not simply making sausages -- the emotional component/toll of this game can be significantly underestimated -- nevertheless ... I'm a bit hard core. When you release bk 1 and say it's a trilogy, or a quintet, or whatever the end number is meant to be, you're making a promise. And for me, you need to keep that promise. Because once you've lost the trust of your readership it is hard to get back. And further more, as a writer I am not entitled to it ad infinitum.

But that's just me!
amber_fool
Oct. 13th, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
I'm the reader side of that coin. If something comes up, say that (you don't even need to say what, really), but then, show me that you understand that you have fans who WANT TO KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY. I'm very touchy about books that leave cliffhangers now, unless I know the author and know that I can trust them to come out with the next book in some kind of reasonable time frame (it may be two years or more, depending on the author, their other works in progress, their writing speed, etc). But I want to know you're not just going to wander off after a cliffhanger and never come back.

I'm ok with something that's a trilogy, but each book is somewhat a stand-alone, like Michelle's Cast books (although Michelle always has something cooking :). Those don't end with cliffhangers, although I'm always sad that the next one isn't sitting there on my bookshelf, waiting for me. So if she had to stop writing them for some reason, I wouldn't pull my hair out wanting to know more. But if she stopped mid-way through the Sun Sword, it would have been much more frustrating.

I guess what I'm trying to say mostly sums up to that readers will often be very patient if the author lets them know that they haven't been forgotten. Even if it's just a small note on a website of "Real life has struck, but I know you're waiting with bated breath to know what happened to Sir Reginald and his trusty Chinchilla steed, and I'll return to the story when I can." No privacy violation of the author (although some crazy people will make stuff up), and the fans know they haven't been forgotten.
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mtlawson
Oct. 12th, 2010 08:53 am (UTC)
I know people who won't start reading a series until they know for certain it's going to be finished --the series is completed, the series has only one more book to go and it's at the editors, etc.-- and while I appreciate their approach, I'd have a hard time doing it myself. In fact, the only series that I've never started is A Song of Fire and Ice, because I don't want to be left hanging for years like everyone else has.

However. When it comes down to brass tacks? A reader is not actually required to care about the reasons. They're simply not. They aren't buying the author's life or friendship; they're buying a book. At base, they are trying to find books they love, and if they are so annoyed by the absence of future books that they're unwilling to buy anything else from that author, that's their prerogative, in its entirety. They are not required to continue to support an author who's disappointed them for any reason.

Yes, but they could act like mature adults instead of children.

One thing I wish everyone would do at some time in their work career is spend a year or so working retail. It would give people plenty of perspective dealing with poor behavior, and maybe people would stop behaving so badly. Sure, it's a pie in the sky point of view, but I believe that if people behaved themselves we wouldn't even be having these sort of conversations.
phillip2637
Oct. 12th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
When it comes to starting to read a series it matters very much to me whether it's a single story in multiple volumes or a set of stories in the same world, featuring the same (or connected) characters. For the first of those options, I don't buy book one until the last book is available. For the more loosely related books, I'm fine with reading them when (and if) they're released.

Either way, no stress, no feelings of entitlement, no histrionics.
la_marquise_de_
Oct. 12th, 2010 09:51 am (UTC)
The whole entitlement thing leaves me stunned a lot of the time. I don't know whether this is a cultural thing (British reticence) or a generational thing (over 40) or something else. But it has never occurred to me that I have any kind of entitlement to anything from a writer whose books I like. It makes me happy when they have a new book out -- I feel grateful and pleased and excited, and I want to thank you. If a book doesn't appear or is later than advertised, I'm slightly sad, but I'm not angry. Writers have lives, they get ill, they have family commitments, they change their minds about things. I don't own them or their words. And, with my writer hat on, I want to make my books as good as possible, because I don't want to let down anyone who chooses to read me, and I'm grateful to them for reading my books. And I'll put book updates on my lj.
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
But it has never occurred to me that I have any kind of entitlement to anything from a writer whose books I like.

And this is one of the many, many reasons to love you :)
stakebait
Oct. 12th, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)
To get around this problem, I have a friend who will simply not start any series until it is finished. Her pet peeve, in consequence, is stealth series -- books that look like stand-alones that turn out to spawn.
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
To get around this problem, I have a friend who will simply not start any series until it is finished. Her pet peeve, in consequence, is stealth series -- books that look like stand-alones that turn out to spawn.

That's a good point - but that one is frequently out of the author's control =/.
(no subject) - stakebait - Oct. 12th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - phantom_wolfboy - Oct. 12th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
estara
Oct. 12th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Without having read any of the previous comments - so I might be replicating something
I totally agree on the reader not being entitled to an explanation about a long wait, and also that it may mitigate a sense of disappointment in the author when a reader gets an explanation.

For me there's a trade-off between author and reader anyway: I am not entitled to get any explanations - it basically is my own risk if I invest in a long term series in the hope that it will be finished (jpsorrow who runs the dawbooks LJ community often says that he will only buy series after they are finished). On the other hand I may decide that I don't like the book I get eventually, or that something in the story I wanted has let me down and stop buying the books even if the author is 100% regular on time like clockwork.

That's just what both of us have to risk. That doesn't mean I can't sigh for the eagerly awaited next book, but it does mean to me that I don't purposely go to the author's website to write flamemails of hate. I might write a polite query if there isn't an FAQ (like Robin McKinley has - leading to the answer to her question of why there isn't another Sunshine book out there), because I expect that author to have expected some questions when they posted their e-mail online.

I don't know if that already crosses borders into too much entitlement, but it definitely my own feelings on the matter.
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Without having read any of the previous comments - so I might be replicating something
I don't know if that already crosses borders into too much entitlement, but it definitely my own feelings on the matter.

It doesn't cross borders, imho. But it's very much the way I feel, although I will read books in series before they're finished.
rowyn
Oct. 12th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I have a lot of sympathy for the "will not start a series until it is finished". I own _Feast for Crows_ and haven't started it, and I probably won't until the series is finished, at this point. I probably won't buy the next book until the series is complete, for that matter.

I do not fault GRRM for the delays, and I'm glad he's worked on other stuff in the meantime! I find it hard to believe that the writing would go that much faster if he wasn't, anyway. It's not like walking a thousand miles, where all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you just can't find the solution you need for a long time. No point in getting angry about it.

But I don't remember what happened in the first three books any more, and I don't really want to re-read them ever four or five years for the next couple of decades until the series is done, either. So. Yeah. I'm not upset, bujt I'm not paying him now, either.
slweippert
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
One valid reason the next book may not be out yet that I didn't see above, if I missed it-sorry, is that the *publisher* may have chosen the other series and wants to publish that first. Now, the author may be out there right now finding another publisher and/or siccing The Agent on them to get your fav series in bookstores, but it's Not Always The Author's Fault a reader has to wait for the next book.


edited for typo correction

Edited at 2010-10-12 10:01 pm (UTC)
msagara
Oct. 12th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
it's Not Always The Author's Fault a reader has to wait for the next book.

Absolutely, and I should have been more clear about that - but in general, if the series is dropped by the publisher, it's not selling well enough to generate the level of heat or resentment, so anger at that comes up vastly less often.

Readers are good about accepting the fact that an author might want to finish a series and a publisher won't publish it, though.
(no subject) - silvergryphyn - Oct. 13th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - silvergryphyn - Oct. 13th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
I asbolutely LOVE reading, I do indeed get invested in books and series... but there's a point after I close a novel where I--oh, you know--return to reality, read other authors, live my life, forget the plot details of the cliffhanger ending to which I used to eagerly anticipate a conclusion, etc. And there's really NO point at which I feel a book which is years in the waiting, or a series which never gets finished, is any cause WHATSOEVER for me to verbally attack the author, for goodness sake. At most, that calls for me to decide not to read that author again/anymore--and to say, in a REasonable Adult Voice, using Company Manners, that I stopped reading that author because the wait between books was too long for me, or because I was disappointed by a series not being finished and didn't want to get invested in another one, etc.

So I really wonder about the maturity and mental balance of readers who do get into excessive rages about this sort of thing. We see them on the internet, and I'm not surprised to hear you encounter them as a bookseller.

However, I also think that author behavior is a factor, at least with readers who participate on the internet. The wait between each of Diana Gabaldon's big books is about 4 years apiece. But I think once reason she seems to get much less flack about the wait than, for example, George Martin, is that she chooses to be transparent about her process. She often mentions her WIP (work in progress) on her blog, how it's coming along, and every so often posts a scene from it on her website. By contrast, George RR Martin draws a veil over his WIP and his process. I'm not criticizing GRRM or saying he "should" handle it differently. I'm just saying that their different styles perhaps contribute to the different reactions they get. Readers can see, from her blog and website, that Gabaldon is plugging away at her next 400,000 word tome. GRRM is plugging away, too, but since he prefers not to discuss it, many agitated readers mistakenly accuse him of NOT working on his next big book.

The lesson here may be that when readers communicate with an author, what they most want to know is precisely what an author's editor also always most wants to know: How's the book coming?

Meanwhile, certainly the most unfortunate example of how to handle the PR or public perception of a book for which there's been a long wait is Melanie Rawn. My impression, just as a casual observer of this sort of phenomenon, is that this author deliberately TRYING to alienate and anger her readers. Her fans have so far waited more than a decade for the third/final book of her EXILES trilogy. Yet what very little information there is about this book on The Official Melanie Rawn Website is nearly a decade out of date, and the only OTHER sources of "information" about it (is the author working on it? has the author set it aside indefinitely? will it be written? etc.) is confused rumor and speculation among readers, with occasional vague, oblique, and sometimes quite bad-tempered comments from the author here and there now and then. I don't think that particular situation is about entitlement; I think it's about the author's stunning absence of common sense--or, indeed, of professional sense.
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