Writing Awesome Book Descriptions

Book Descriptions – Definition and Importance

The book description’s the first impression most people are going to get of your writing. You want to do this part right! It needs to entice them to read the book without telling everything.

Common Pitfalls of Writing Blurbs:

Telling too much: You want to get the reader to buy the book, not tell them the whole story. There’s a time and a place for this, but in general, you want to keep some salient points secret.

Rambling: This might be a personal preference thing. I don’t like long book descriptions. They run the risk of rambling. Telling too much and rambling may sound like the same thing, but I define the first in terms of giving away plot points and the second as unnecessarily defining stuff that should be obvious.

Naming too many people: You have a very finite amount of space; don’t waste it by telling us everybody’s name.

My Method:

I’m sure there are whole books on the art of writing a catchy book description. Depending on the genre, this might not work. I mainly write science fiction, fantasy, and mystery/thriller. I’ve done a few romance ones for friends, but other than that, my experience is pretty limited to the three genres listed above.

Tagline: I’m partial to taglines. These are one-liners that sum up a key aspect or theme of the book. They should be short yet catchy.

Introduce the Main Character(s) (Character): Who is the reader going to meet? What do they do? Why do we care? You don’t need to answer all of these questions in the blurb, but you should be able to capture the essence of your MC in the first little bit.

A second paragraph about MC is usually necessary for romance as there are two main characters to introduce.

Throw the Monkey Wrench at the MC (Conflict): What’s wrong?  Something must not be going right for this person or there wouldn’t be a story to tell. I usually use this as a transition to an additional paragraph or as a lead in to the wrap-up question or statement.

Wrap-up question/statement (Stakes): What’s going on that the reader should pick up the book to find out if the MC is safe/ accomplishes his or her goal? If you want to get a little cute and it fits the tone of your story, tie the wrap-up line to the title somehow.

Example 1: Violence in Vegas (A Lei Crime Kindle World novella)
Violence in Vegas final
Tagline: Sin City holds some dark secrets …

Paragraph 1 (Heroine and her friend): But Marcella Scott’s in town to help Angela Melkin-Pierce with a small case of sabotage. Somebody’s been slashing guests’ tires and ransacking rooms at The Grand Game Hotel. With the guest list including the Reno Birdwatcher’s Society and the Paradise Quilting Club, the suspect list is very thin. The only intriguing option is Gatton Technologies, headed by eccentric billionaire, Jeffrey Gatton. When he decides to host a masquerade party at the hotel, Marcella goes undercover.

Monkey Wrench Thrown at Heroine (Conflict/Problem): The air of elegance quickly turns to terror when masked men kidnap Gatton and Angela.

Wrap-up and tie to title (Stakes): Marcella’s going to need all of her wits—and a borrowed handgun or two—if she wants to survive the violence in Vegas.

Slight Variations: If you have a main villain and your leading guy/gal, you might want to spend a paragraph on each of them.

Example 2: Ie. Money Makes it Deadlier (A Lei Crime Kindle World Novella)
SC 1 MMID
Tagline: Money can buy many things, but can it purchase a permanent solution to divorce?

Paragraph 1 (Villain): Martin Cantrell would like to know the answer to that question. He has money, respect, and power, but he also has a monthly alimony payment that’s making him miserable. When a friend offers to deal with the “ex” problem for a fee, he can hardly say no. Time is of the essence. The life insurance policy on his ex-wife expires in less than two months.

Paragraph 2 (Heroine): Unaware of the plans set in motion, Special Agent Marcella Scott goes about her business as usual, only now, she finally has an excuse to dress up on the job. She’s been asked to go undercover to check out some banks. One of the branches just happens to be managed by Martin Cantrell’s ex-wife.

Monkey Wrench thrown at Heroine/Wrap-up: What’s an agent to do when a perfectly peaceful morning turns into a hostage-taking standoff?

Example 3: The Dark Side of Science (Prequel to Devya’s Children Series; Science fiction)
Dark Side of Sci kindle cover
Tagline: The mind can hold powerful secrets.

Intro MC: When Dr. Jessica Paladon worked for her friend, Dr. Dean Devya, she helped create Nadia, one of the world’s few Minders. Tough circumstances drove her away from that life, and to protect the secrets, she willingly took a drug that induced amnesia.

But now she needs those memories.

Monkey Wrench (Conflict): Two children—her children—Nadia and Varick are competing in a winners-take-all, losers-might-die competition for the biggest secret government contract out there. They’re fighting for the right to exist.

Wrap-up (Stakes): If Jessie can’t remember, how will she help them survive?

Example Book Blurbs I Helped Write:

Please note that most of these are mystery/thrillers. I have very limited experience with romance ones as well, but the general points still apply.

A Snake in Paradise by Eden Baylee

Out of Her League by Shawn McGuire

Kapu by Dave Schoonover

Born to Love by Amy Shojai

Palm Trees and Snowflakes by Scott Bury

Conclusion:

Book descriptions are probably one of the most dreaded necessary parts of writing a book. But they can be fun. This is your chance to shine. Play with the words and make them work for you. If you hop on my mailing list and get to know some of my works, you should be able to implement this method just fine. At that point, if you want me to take a look at your book description and offer some suggestions, I’d be happy to do so. (Disclaimer: Time permitting. I have a day job that I need to keep up with too.)

Thanks for reading!

Julie Gilbert 2013 (5 of 25)

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People, Places, and Things to Fill Your Fictional World

How do you create a fictional world?

If you write speculative fiction of any sort, odds are good you’ll be creating a world. Science fiction and fantasy are especially prone to unique, author created worlds. If you have no idea where to start, try reading some of the masters. J.R.R. Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson immediately pop to mind as some of the greats. Once you’re ready to jump in, begin by thinking about what kind of world you want to make. This will largely be shaped by the plot you’re planning, the characters you’re creating, and the genre you stick the story in. Everything’s connected, so what comes first? In my experience, the answer is in the names. For simplicity, I’ll be discussing people, places, and things from Redeemer Chronicles 1: Awakening. (Cover change in the works for that series).

What’s in a name?

Your world will be more authentic if you have a system that makes sense. I have a personal preference for names that are simple and pronounceable. Some names pop right to mind and others take me hours. I’m not only talking about people, but also places and objects in your world. Awakening’s set in a fantasy world called Aeris, but I don’t actually name the world until the second book because it’s not really relevant to the first story. In the sequel, I talk about more Darkland creatures than just zombies and Denkari. It took me about two hours to come up with something that fit evil creatures with six legs.

Planet Names Tangent: Names have feelings and they evoke feelings. In a different series, I named the scifi planet Reshner. It got its name from one of the ancient languages featured in that universe because it means “restful place.” For that one, I wanted something isolated, strong, yet supple. For Aeris, I wanted something that is reminiscent of earth yet otherworldly, something soft, and something pretty.

People (and their titles):

Good guys and bad guys usually define themselves pretty clearly by their actions. Their names may come to have special meaning later, but at the start, they should tell the reader simple information such as race and gender. Here are some of the people from Awakening: Victoria Saveron, Katrina Polani, Tellen, Jackson Castaloni, Marcus Polani, Huntsman Daniel Saveron, Alec Castaloni, Markesh McArn, Sara Andari, Huntmaster Oren, Huntsman Shadow, The Lady, and Supreme Huntmaster Jordan Lekros. From that list, can you tell who’s related to whom? Can you tell approximate rank for some of the people? One of these is an immortal, can you tell which? Does a character have a nickname? Depending on who’s talking to the character, they may or may not. Katrina refers to Victoria Saveron as Vic. The Lady refers to her as Victoria. Here’s a picture of her courtesy of my friend. If you want to see the whole sketch, you’ve got to be on my mailing list.

First, let me tell you a bit about the three main people types. There’s the Arkonai, the Saroth, and the Bereft. The Arkonai and Saroth both have access to magic, but the Bereft do not. Arkonai are ruled by the Arkonai Hunting Guild, which is overseen by the High Council and the Supreme Huntmaster. Those with access to the Gift (magic) tend to become Guardians, Healers, and Seekers. The Saroth are ruled by the Tariku League and tend to become Destroyers, Minders, Shapeshifters, and Conjurers. The Bereft cannot access magical Gifts through conventional means, though they can still use certain scrolls prepared by Minders or Conjurers.

The Arkonai sometimes have last names and sometimes do not. They mostly speak with a vaguely British accent. The Saroth tend to have Italian names. The Bereft often speak with an Irish accent.

The Magic System Tangent: As I described the people types, you probably picked up on the seven magic schools: Healers, Seekers, Guardians, Minders, Destroyers, Shapeshifters, Conjurers. Although the titles have stereotypical meanings, not everything is what it seems. As with all Gifts, it’s the application of such that determines where the person falls on the good/evil scale.

Golden rule for magic systems: it has to make sense. One of the most freeing things about scifi and fantasy as genres is that you can do just about anything, but it has to make sense. This holds true for everything. For example, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series has an awesome magic system that is based on metals. (Okay, so maybe I just think it’s wonderful because I’m a chemistry geek.)

Places:

Cities, regions, and villages are probably going to have different names. These names are going to be responsible for defining the character of the place. Don’t forget to fill your world with mountains, rivers, forests, and lakes as well. The Northlands are run by the Arkonai, they have city names like Bastion, Cardeth, Urdik, Resilience, and Aridel. Caramore is run by the Saroth. Some of their cities are called Dominance, Jorash, and Outreach. The Bereft mostly live in villages such as Coldhaven, Bright Hope, Coolwater Creek, and Serene Hills. There are other general places such as the Ashlands and the Badlands.

Nature should also be represented in your world if applicable. If you’re doing a futuristic science fiction about how we destroyed all the natural forests, well, then maybe you have something like preserves or domes. Awakening takes place is a middle ages of sorts. The forests are slowly being developed but only by individuals not corporations with machines. Victoria Saveron and her friends start out in the Karnok Mountains and travel to Coldhaven.

Balance the Things in Your World:

Choose objects that fit the world and avoid things that would be out of place. That sounds simplistic, but it’s actually very important. You want to mix familiar with the unfamiliar so people can follow what it is. For example, I mention blueberries and baydonberries. Blueberries exist in our world, baydonberries do not, but they’re described as being mostly the same except that they have little white flecks in the fleshy part and have wonderful “cleansing” abilities (ie. they make you puke, etc). My characters carry around waterbags instead of canteens. They fight with daggers and bows and arrows, but also lightning.

Many objects will be small details to flesh out the world, but a few will be absolutely critical to what you do. Here, a familiar object: bracers take on special meaning. Vic wears magical bracers because she would turn into a zombie if she didn’t.

Creatures: Once again, you want a balance of familiar and unfamiliar. This story started on a dare, so it has zombies in it. I’m typically not a zombie fan, but here, they fit the world. It’s a beautiful, wholesome place struggling with corruption from the Darklands. There are rabbits and deer and squirrels in the forests, but there are also Denkari, rogue spirit warriors with the power to kill in a dozen different ways. Travel by horse is common. Shapeshifters can take on the form of dogs, birds, wolves, snakes, bears, panthers, and dragons, so naturally, these creatures too have a place in this world.

Conclusion:

When creating a world, strive to make it relatable yet unique. Fill it with people your readers will want to get to know. I’m sure to take a lot of care with the main character’s name. Do the same for the people, places, and things that make up the world this person inhabits.

Thanks for reading!

Love Science Fiction or Mystery?

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Get Ashlynn’s Dreams or The Kiverson Case absolutely free.

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Introducing Audiobook Authors’ Edge

Here’s the deal … You’ll Get:

·         A feature in my targeted email list for thriller, mystery, and spec fic audiobook fans. (I’m going to limit the slots to b/t 3 and 10 per week, so you should get high visibility.) I will occasionally branch out to other clean works that aren’t in those categories, but the genres listed are the focus. Will also post ebook links, but focus is audiobooks.
·         A chance to use some of those audible book codes burning a hole in your pocket.
·         A chance to connect with other authors who write similar works to you.
·         A chance to get your book some visibility and gain some new fans.
·         Eventually, we can band together and run a FB party or something to better connect with the readers.

What’s the “catch”?
You will need to either gift me your book or give me an audible code to hear your book. (Don’t send it quite yet, please.) You will also need to share this page with your readers because collective bargaining power is sort of the idea behind this. One last thing, since the vetting team is me, myself, I, and a handful of trusted friends), please be patient with that process. I will try to keep you updated but I can only listen so fast. I can guarantee that if I personally enjoy your work, you will get reviews at both Amazon and audible.

You’ll have a better shot of making the list and getting fans if you offer up a few free codes. I will be strongly encouraging the readers to review things they like, but I can’t guarantee you’re a) going to get results or b) going to get results that you like.

If you’re ready to join me on this adventure, please sign up (newsletter is so I can keep you appraised of opportunities) and fill in the survey (will help me write the weekly newsletters once you’re in).

Questions can be directed to: devyaschildren @ gmail.com (take out the spaces)

Thoughts on Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism for Fiction Works

Giving Constructive Criticism

 

Perspective: The Big Picture

Writing a book isn’t hard. Writing a book well is very hard. Even if you have issues with pretty much everything in the story, there is still a respectable accomplishment in getting the book to where you see it. Seeking constructive criticism takes a lot of guts and trust.

Don’t Be Gentle …

The entire point of constructive criticism is to point out the flaws in a work so the author can fix them. Lying to somebody about how “perfect” a work is if you see there are fixable mistakes all over the place benefits nobody.

But Do Be Kind.

Hearing, “Your book sucks” is akin to hearing, “Your baby’s ugly.” The book might suck and the baby might be ugly, but in the first situation, there’s definitely a better way to say so. (And in the second situation, flat-out lie if you value your life.)

“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” That old adage holds a lot of truth.

I usually preface my statements with something to this effect:

These are just the opinions of one person. This is ultimately your story, so you can take or leave the suggestions. Thank you for allowing me to read your story. I hope you find the suggestions useful.

End on a Positive Note

Most things have a redeeming quality. I’d suggest ending your constructive criticism with a positive note, if possible. Admittedly, this is a step that I often forget if I’m hurriedly dashing off an email to the author. It is an important one those. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but it’s good policy from a people perspective to end on a high note.

Receiving Constructive Criticism

Perspective: Somebody Took the Time to Give you their Thoughts

Whether you’ve paid this person, asked them for a review, or just asked them for a favor, if s/he takes the time to give you their honest thoughts, thank them for the effort.

Perspective: It’s about the Work, not You

Comments about your characters, plot structure, dialogue, pacing/flow, formatting, and other aspects of a novel are not personal attacks on you.

Random thoughts to Consider: (Common Criticisms Distilled)

  • Stock characters – there is a time and place for them, but if everybody’s stock, is there something else that balances them?
  • Wooden dialogue – Do all the humans sound like robots? Is the dialogue soulless? That might sound harsh, but you’re trying to bring people to life. The best way to do so is to make their words come alive.
  • Poor formatting – One would think formatting a small issue, but it makes a huge difference. For example, I read a book recently where the author chose to use a space between every paragraph and two spaces to indicate scene changes. I have my own issues with the space between every paragraph, but the double spaces between scene changes is simply not enough. If the scene ends at the bottom of the page, there’s nothing to indicate that we’re in a new scene. This is a relatively simple fix, such as using a few asterisks to denote the change.
  • Too many adverbs – I was told ages ago that adverbs should be kept to a minimum where dialogue tags are concerned. In moderation, they add nice flavor, but like spices, they can quickly wear out their welcome if overused.

Tough but Good

The comments received are about a work you’ve likely put a lot of time, effort, and thought into getting to where it’s at now. There may have even been some blood, sweat, and tears too. I know it’s difficult to imagine the work not being perfect, but if you’re realistic, you’ll probably understand that this is the good sort of pain. If you take some of the suggestions, likely you’ll have a stronger work overall. As that’s the ultimate goal for both you and your critic, this is a good thing.

Glean what you Can, Discard the Rest

You may not even like or agree with what the critic is saying. But at least consider the advice given. Does the person have good reasons for what s/he is saying? Some things can go down as a difference in style, and that’s fine. But if the person’s marking grammar mistakes left and right, you might want to look up some of the rules they’re citing.

Conclusion:

It’s very easy to get defensive when it comes to our books, but they’re only going to get better if we’re willing to improve them. I learn new things with every book. Constructive criticism doesn’t have to be about tearing a work down. It’s aimed at making a bad work good, a good work better, and a great work excellent. No matter where your book is on that spectrum, there’s likely room for something to be improved.

7 Suggestions for Writing Awesome Book Blurbs

The Problem:

Many writers struggle with writing the description for the stories they’ve just poured their soul into over the last few weeks/months/years.

Who am I to try and answer this question?

A few months ago I joined the launch of the Lei Crime Kindle World. (If you don’t know about kindle worlds, you should go look them up, after you finish this post, of course.) During that process, we exchanged our descriptions and offered them up for critique. I found that I enjoyed tinkering with those descriptions and trying to make them stronger.

  1. Open with a question or a short, catchy description.

You don’t absolutely have to use a tagline, but thinking up some taglines will help you later with Twitter posts. Besides that, it will prime your mind to write an awesome book blurb. If you can pare your story down to a tagline, then you’ll have an easier time of expanding that into a decent description.

  1. Focus on your main character(s).

A lot of authors throw in the names of extraneous characters. Having more than one or two names on the back cover copy can get confusing.

  1. Avoid giving a full synopsis of your story.

Oh, I think I’ve broken this one from time to time, but people don’t want anything that could be a spoiler to ruin their reading experience. If you plan to pitch to an agent or traditional publisher, you’ll probably need to do a 1 page synopsis at some point, but the back cover copy is not the same thing. Keep some things secret in the description.

  1. Stay focused on the major story arc.

It’s easy to go off into some of the side challenges the characters will face, but keep your description zeroed in on what really matters. There are a ton of additional details to be discovered in your actual story, but you have very little time to get your point across during the description.

  1. Be cautious about putting the title in the description.

It can be done but it often doesn’t look natural. Likely people will be staring at your book cover, so your title will be fresh in their minds. I wouldn’t worry about trying to work the title into the description.

  1. Keep the description relatively short.

The blurb, back cover copy, book description, whatever you want to call it is your baited hook to get the reader to check out your work. If we’re going with a fishing analogy, writing too much would be like trying to shove 6 worms on one hook. It’s wasteful and messy and might even do more harm than good for you.

  1. Keep your writing crisp, clear, and simple.

This doesn’t necessary translate to short sentences, but you’ll want to seek a certain flow within the paragraphs of your description. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but the reality is that if your description falters or comes across as stilted, fewer readers will risk giving it a chance.

  1. Don’t be afraid to vary paragraph size.

I know in English class we’re taught to write 3-5 sentences to make a complete paragraph, but in your description, think suspense. Regardless of which genre you’re writing in, you’re a suspense writer when you put the description together. Keep the reader hooked. Short sentences that make up their own paragraph can be very powerful if used well, but don’t overdo them. It’s only riveting if it’s rare.

 

  1. Close with a question or with a statement about the stakes the characters face.

The job of your description is to get the reader to think, I’ve got to know what happens.

  1. Have somebody look over your description and give you suggestions.

This might seem obvious, but if you gave your description to a few trusted people, you’d probably get some great suggestions about what works and doesn’t work for them. As with anything writing related, you want somebody who can look at your work objectively.

TWO EXAMPLES:

Seal of a Monk by Eden Baylee – First Draft of Description
Kauai is ancient jungle full of travelers seeking unconventional experiences.

In SEAL of a Monk, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a remote location, separated from men and civilization. Lainey expects only inner peace on this trip, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace—her best friend’s daughter.

Did she leave of her own free will, or is she the victim of a plot to lure her away? Bound by duty and friendship, Lainey is desperate until an unexpected ally comes to her aid. Maxamillian Scott is a retired Navy SEAL with unique skills.

Together, they must find a missing girl, but in the process, can they also unravel the mystery of each other?

Comments: I like the beginning sentence. Title is superfluous here. I almost feel the retired SEAL part is too, but she seems attached to it, so I should keep it. We know it’s her friend’s daughter so the duty and friendship part isn’t needed. I like the idea of the end question. First part is strong, but the end seems too romancey.

My Suggested Rewrite for Eden Baylee:

The ancient jungles of Kauai offer the perfect place to seek peace.

Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast of Kauai. The plan is to spend ten days in a gorgeous yet remote location teaching twenty-five women how to find inner peace.

Four days into the trip that plan changes when one of the meditators disappears without a trace.

Did the girl wander off or was she lured or forced away? Where is she? Is she in danger? Lainey’s frantic to answer those questions. As she reaches her wits’ end, she finds unexpected help in the form of a retired navy SEAL, Maxamillian Scott.

Now Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to (enter girl’s name) and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?

Eden’s Final Description:

The ancient jungles of Kauai provide the perfect setting for self-discovery.

Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a beautiful and remote location. Lainey expects to find inner peace, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace.

Did the girl leave of her own free will, or was she lured away by a strange cult? Lainey is frantic to answer these questions. As her desperation grows, she finds help from an unexpected source—a retired Navy SEAL named Maxamillian Scott.

Now, Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to the missing girl and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?

Torn Roots by Scott Bury – First Draft of Description

Hawaii is volcanoes, jungle and rocky shores. An irresistible magnet for people and money.

Detective Pono Kaihale has just accepted a six-month term as Acting Lieutenant in the fabled town of Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. He’s anticipating a quiet period in his career, dealing with nothing more challenging than lost hikers and maybe the occasional domestic dispute. In his second week on the job, a brilliant geologist claims to have evidence about who started a forest fire on the slopes of Mount Haaleaka, Maui’s volcano.

That begins a series of baffling events. A beautiful environmentalist stages an illegal protest against a luxury development on the fragile shore. That night, an arsonist sets the same development site ablaze and a violent woman disappears. A Homeland Security helicopter chases the environmentalist across the island and a new FBI agent shows up at his office early in the morning.

When Pono’s hunting buddy gets into the middle of this storm, Pono knows this case will be worthy even of his former partner, Lei Texeira.

Comments: I like the opening but it seems choppy. Why does it matter that it’s a six-month term? Why do we care what his title is here? Setting is great info. The transition to the geologist and forest fire evidence is jarring. When the FBI agent shows up isn’t necessary. We know this will be part of the Lei Crime Kindle World, but the mention of Lei here is distracting.

My Suggested Rewrite:

Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.

Ready for a quiet period in his career, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. After (insert something about prev crazy assignments…ie dealing with murders on ___) he’s looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spatz. But by his second week on the job, he gets the feeling the trouble here might run deeper and come in unexpected forms.

Truth hunters, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and FBI agents cross his path, making him feel like the eye of a brewing storm. When an old hunting buddy gets sucked into the storm, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than the island’s natural beauty.

Lives could be lost—and likely will be lost—if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.

Scott Bury’s Final Description:
Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.

After breaking a case of murdered poachers in Maui’s national park, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on the island’s rain forest coast. He is looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spats and enjoying the natural beauty of the southeast coast. But by his second week on the job, Pono finds trouble here comes in unexpected forms.

Environmentalists, property developers, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and a rogue Homeland Security agent converge on his new post, Pono feels like the eye of a brewing storm. And when a new FBI agent gets involved, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than a quiet period in his career.

Lives will be lost if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.