Kindlepreneur Dave Chesson is interviewed by Ian Sutherland in a wide-ranging discussion covering how authors can make their presence felt, and what tool sets they can use to make their marketing and writing more effective.
For a full transcript of this presentation scroll to the bottom of this post.
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IAN: Hello, I’m Ian Sutherland and I'm here with Kindlepreneur Dave Chesson – I love that word by the way, Dave, even if I can’t spell it, but today we are going to be talking about your profitable niche as an Indie Author. So Dave, can you tell everyone a little about yourself? I believe you were an entrepreneur who became a writer second. But you’ve also had a pretty varied career.
DAVE: Yeah, well, I suppose the truth is when I was in high school I remember that specifically one day getting back this paper. I had poured my heart and soul into this thing. I thought it was going to be amazing. And I look at the paper and it was a D minus. And my teacher, she looks at me and she goes, “Ahh, you’re going into Physics, right?” And I go, “Yes, Ma’am.” And she said, “I think that’s probably a good idea.”
So, I went into Science, I was a nuclear engineer for the US Navy. I was on submarines, and then I became a military diplomat and worked in the negotiation side. I am a lover of numbers but a lover of sales, so when you are able to use the science and art together it’s a wonderful thing, and that’s something I’ve kinda brought to my books. Specifically when I started writing I was not a world class writer. Even after all those days from high school I hadn’t got there. But what I did learn was that when you have what people want to hear, you just have to be good enough. You have to be clear and concise and you can deliver. If there is a market out there that absolutely wants to read the next book, like say Ray Player One, an RPG, then you do that, you do well enough, you’re going to have a much better time than if you’re writing in an area where nobody cares.
So in non-fiction if you know how to cure sharp lower back pain and people are suffering from the and then you write a book on how to cure a sharp lower back pain well, Voila, you're the one they are going to choose.
So when I figured out what the market wants and being able to create that I had a much higher and better chance of success than if I just threw something out there and hope it sticks,
IAN: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. So I first discovered you through KDP Rocket like a lot of people know you through that. How did you come about creating that tool? Was it something you did for yourself and then it went from there?
DAVE: So, when I first started creating my books I would have this long and detailed process of trying to figure out what’s going on in the market. Now I used to do this before I even wrote the book, not after, right? A lot of people when they do that part where they have to find their seven Kindle keywords, they do that right before they publish. But if you do that kind of research before you write you can then validate your book idea and figure out whether or not there is a market for it on Amazon. So doing this effectively, what you need to know is what queries people type into Amazon, all right, whether they’re willing to pay money for that, and if the competition is too great or there is just not enough like you in there.
So let’s write that down before we move into the answer to your question.
First things first I needed to work out what kind of things people type into Amazon. That's huge. If there are a thousand people a month typing in this exact phrase, and there are no books that address that demand, we're talking supply and demand here, right? High demand, zero supply, if you are the person meeting this need then congratulations.
So first you need to know what they are typing in. I used to go into Amazon and typed hundreds of terms and I would have Amazon search bar give me a list of those suggestions that are the things that people have typed in the past, OK?
However though, this would take forever and sometimes I didn't fully know whether or not this term had more demand than this term, which ones were a fluke and that sort of thing. So I would do this for hours and I would create this giant Excel sheet full of terms that are around a particular subject in different ways of saying it.
Then I would go to Google and I would – because at that time there wasn't anything that told me how popular those terms were on Amazon — so I would google this term and see that this term has more searches on Google than that term. You could find out exactly how many people would type something into Google by using Google Webmaster tools, or Google keyword planner. They might change the name, they change it all the time.
But that keyword planner will tell you those sorts of things. So then I would do that for those hundreds of terms. Then after I found a couple I liked I would type them into Amazon and look at the books that show up in the results.
I would collect their Amazon bestseller rank. That is a number from 1 to 4.8 million, with 1 being the best-selling book in all of Amazon, and 4.8 million being the worst, or however many books there are now.
So I could get a relative idea. I had a calculation I created that used a lot of data from other authors to be able to figure out what the Amazon bestseller rank actually equals to. So we created a free calculator on Kindlepreneur. Just Google Kindle calculator and it will come up as number one. You can take anybody's ASIN, put that into the calculator, click, and then it will tell you how many books that day has been sold. Now that is huge, you are no longer just guessing, you are able to figure out just how much money books are making, and you can figure out how profitable your book idea can be.
So we answered the first part, we got a list of all these terms, and we did the second part which was we now know whether or not that keyword, that phrase, will be profitable. So the final step was trying to figure out if we can beat the competition. And when it comes to competition, you need to look at the authors like, for example, if you're in horror and your competition ends up being Stephen King, but you look at the pattern, you look at the authors, do they have a major blog, do they have a huge female following, have they written lots of books and have a market? Just anything out there that would tell you this person has a better advantage in the market then you do.
If you have a giant blog and they have a small blog then you're good, but if you have nothing then oh-oh. So you have to do the research and discover patterns.
Second thing you got to look at is the cover. Because, you know, everybody judges a book by its cover. And if your book cover can’t be better, then how can you expect shoppers to choose your book over someone else's?
The other thing too is the book cover represents a phrase that you're targeting. I've seen people who have been targeting sci-fi military and the book cover had a picture of some lady eating dinner. And I'm thinking, hey, another military sci-fi book? And then the title and subtitle, and then the other big part is the description.
I am a huge believer in the importance of a good description. I think it is one of the most undervalued aspects of your book’s sales page, because that is your final statement to convince somebody to buy your book. So when I'm looking at competitors and I see a book description and I think man these things suck, this looks like, like most of us do, this person wrote the description right before they hit submit.
And so I think, right, I've got an advantage here.
I call myself to account too. I say, ah man, don't do it! I say come on I just want to hit publish and let's get this puppy going and we can always come back to it.
The other things that plays into competition is the reviews. If a person has 400 reviews that's a big thing. More importantly, if 400 of those reviews are verified that's pretty big too. But even more importantly something that people overlook a lot is that it is not just the reviews, it's the recency of the reviews.
Four years ago a book got 400 reviews, but if it hasn't got any this year it doesn't have as much weight with Amazon, so therefore it's much more beatable. So we get the number of reviews, verified versus unverified, the grade, I forgot to mention that one, and of course the recency of those reviews, so the frequency at which they come in also plays to that.
So you have all of these things and the last big part of it is do they have a targeted keyword in the title or subtitle? And if there isn't you know that they aren't targeting it. All those things together allow you to come out with your own idea of whether or not this is more competitive than this one, and whatever.
So when I started teaching people to do that exact thing nobody ever finished it because it was taking hours to collect the data. I had a lot of people sobbing saying hey, I don't know how to use excel, and I don't mean that like a shaft, I mean like there are ways to do these crazy calculations inside of Excel. It's almost like a magic person of its own. So, I thought let's create something that does that for all people and can do it faster. So we created KDP Rocket which literally you type in your initial phrase and it pulls all of those things I suggested for you, so you don't have to do that, and it even pulls Google suggestions as well, so now it's all there in a row you can just scroll and see which ones you like. Then you can click analyse on any of those terms and it will tell you the number of competitors, that compete for that term on that exact phrase, the average amount of money that the top books make for that phrase, the estimated number of people that actually type that phrase in as well as in Google too, and, finally, a competition score from one 200.
So now you don't have to do all those things to try to figure it out, it's just laid right out there for you. And KDP Rocket does a lot more than that, but the main thing is that now authors before they write their book can quickly go and see the numbers, and not have to guess. They don't have to think, yeah I think that's a better term than this one, or trying to figure out the best words, the best angles to market her book.
And one last thing. One thing I tell people is that sometimes when they have a book idea and they put it into KDP rocket, where they do the things that we just talked about, they may not find the right information, they might not find that there are people searching for the type of book or that the competition isn't small enough that they can’t get in. And you know what? That's awesome to find out before you start writing the book, all right?
It doesn't mean you can't write the book, not at all, it just means that if you've done that research and find that the numbers aren't there, it means that Amazon will not sell your book for you. So if your idea is you are going to write the book and have it published and hope that things work out, and it doesn't show up, right now you know that's not going to happen.
So instead you've gotta do the other marketing thing which is you've got to go find the market, grab it by the collar, and bring them to your book. They are out there. I'm not saying that there aren't some crazy werewolf dinosaur erotica fans out there somewhere, I'm sure they're out there, but there are not searching on Amazon. So you gotta go find them and bring them. And that's a wonderful thing for people to know because now if you start that book you will understand you've got to create your book marketing plan to do option B, which is to find them and grab and bring them. But if you can start off on the right foot and know that, hey, instead of writing that book on parenting if I wrote a book on parenting teenage boys I'll have a much better chance of gaining success and traction in the market that exists on Amazon. Then if I were just to go big and broad and do a book called parenting 101, that's the power of understanding your market before you start writing.
IAN: And so for those people who don't want to write in those genres really want to research and write the books they want to write, your advice there is to make sure they build up a marketing plan that will drive traction to them.
DAVE: That's right. It means that just using this program and what we just talked about you can now know that you cannot depend on Amazon to sell your books for you. And that means you shouldn't be wasting time trying all these other things inside of Amazon that you should be focusing more on finding people. I also think that should play into someone's decision as to whether or not they do Kindle select or they go wide. Because if you just do this research and you found out that a, people really aren't searching for, then making your sales solely on Amazon itself might not be the best idea.
That market research can give you a lot of good information on how you should plan out your sales, how you should publish it, and the things you should do upon your launch.
IAN: Okay let's talk about Kindlepreneur.com. I've been through it and I found in the resource you provide on the blogs, there are a lot of common themes that crop up and you see them over and over, things like withholding tax, create space versus Cady preprint, create space versus Ingram Spark of course. Do you find that these topics coming over and over again you just point people to the same resources that are already there.
DAVE: Well no, not always. You know it's funny, sort of the same practice I do with writing my books is the way that I will write with my blog. The truth is that sometimes my articles come from me having the pain point, like for instance KTP print versus create space came about because I was client trying to clear up why would Amazon create their own competition. They own create space, and they own KTP print, so what the heck? And which one should I change my books too. So we got to work we figured it out. I laid it all out in an article, good knee who is a phenomenal writer, she actually had conversations with Amazon on it. She got interviews and we got the real deal, so I was really jazzed about that, but a lot of our articles though come from finding out what people type into Google. So just like I do with Amazon I'm going onto Google and finding out, you know a lot of people have this question, they're trying to figure this out. And so I go through, I do full research or it might be something I have a lot of experience with, or I'll go find the extrovert and asked them, will put together the quintessential article that should cover any pain point out there on that subject. So it's made it really easy for people who write to an existing market and address their pain points, and I think that one thing right there is a lot of the reason why candle per gets hundred thousand readers a month.
IAN: Connected to this, do you think that some more advanced in these have some more advanced questions, particularly in the area of marketing.
DAVE: Well the thing about marketing is that it's changing every day. One thing we like to do is to go back to our old articles and update them because I hate to be giving old advice and it to be the wrong advice because things change, so marketing itself is a skill and you've just gotta continue to sharpen it. And will continue to update our information so that we are always on the cutting-edge as new stuff comes, as Amazon changes things, or just publishing just changes itself.
IAN: I'm curious, you run mentioned writers in their first books and am wondering how people should deal with the. Obviously a lot of people say just right the next book. I have a friend who is writing a series and she wished she had had the patience to finish three books before she publish them altogether. What is your advice on that?
DAVE: I think it really depends on a lot of things. Specifically for fiction, I think that, or were but a good question. So, if you're writing the first book, the thing about readers particularly in fiction we like to binge. Look at Netflix for instance. I'm marking off the calendar for when strangers two comes out so I can sit down and gobble it all up. I hate where I'm reading a book and then I'm like, Arles, I've gotta wait two years for the next one. Come on GRR Martin! Seriously, it's agonising, and those books have to be phenomenal for me to wait, and remember, and then to see it later. We talking like Martin here, the Boboverse series, I’m a great fan of sci-fi. Or Rock. That guy is taking forever to write so it's infuriating. But here's the thing, I love them to the point that I'm on the email list waiting for the next one. Sometimes you can't depend on being that could have a writer to make people get angry and emotional because your next book is out. So having them grouped together is great, because if I just finished book one I'm probably at the peak moment of buying book two. And as I finish book one and you see click here to get book two, if I'm not going to click that right now and get it then I'm probably never going to read book tqo, because I'm probably never a fan of book one. So yes, having them lined up together is a good tactic. A higher conversion rate of the current readers. But if you can’t then you seriously need to make sure you get the email address. Collect it so that when book two comes out you can at least can proactively get in front of them again and hopefully you've done a good job of staying in their good graces while the second book comes out and you can capitalise on it. And one thing, one tactic I really want to get across is that particularly for fiction authors is the tactic I call the Kobayashi Maru. Now all Star Trek fans will be crying out now. Well, it's not exactly what you're thinking but for those who don't know Trek War as we do, the Kobayashi was a test that was given to Captain Kirk and was the impossible test. It was the one that you were just… The point of the test was you had to fail and you have to take it right. But Kirk was the kind of character who would never give up no matter what, and he couldn't fathom doing that test. We found out in one of the recent movies that basically he cheated in order to win, because he doesn't believe in no-win situations.
So, stepping out of the whole Star Trek thing, the fact is we Star Trek fans heard about the Kobayashi Maru and we kind of knew but were we not ripping up the teeth to find out what the heck is the Kobayashi Maru. It's the finest moment in a person's life and we've got to know them. Well, what I tell fiction authors is that when you write your first book that's going to be part of a series you've got to have a Kobayashi Maru in there. You've got to have a story where I'm dying to know what's going to happen to my favourite characters that makes them what they are today. You just never tell it. Because what you do is that at the end of the book you say, would you like to check out my short story on the Kobayashi Maru?
You will get an infinitely better conversion rate on people signing up for the short story. The problem those people have is that they have no short story when they come to the end of the fiction book, and I say oh it's great yeah, and would you like to read my random short story in such and such?
No, I don't want to read your random story on such and such. I am in love with you as an author. I love your first book. I'm in love with that story. We as fiction authors have to understand that people who read our first book and are not fans yet, they probably don't even remember a name yet. I say it takes about three great interactions before somebody actually becomes a fan of you. They don't know you, they don't like you yet, they like your story and that's the difference. So giving them a link to sign up to your email list to continue a story that they like is going to have a much higher chance, and with that list you can build your branding as an author, build that kind of love and fervour that will allow you to then launch your second book when you're ready at the right time and give it the most sales possible.
IAN: Excellent. And I actually have a Kobayashi Maru set up in my series, so I think I might just have to go and write that story now.
We were talking about people writing a series there, but some people have a problem gaining that initial traction in the first place, and we all know that success breeds success and that once you start to make a few sales then a few more will come in. What do you say to people who are concerned that they just don't seem to be getting that first start going?
DAVE: Well, the big thing is every beginning rate it a very famous one, they always fail. But they didn't quit, they just continue to sharpen their skills. Some of the people I worked with and consulted with, Ted Dekker was a New York Times bestselling author, a couple of his books have been turned into movies and I'm a huge fan of his Box series, he told me that the first time he wrote a fiction book… this is a potential agent looked at it and said Dude you want me to tell you the truth” and she said “it sucks.”
He was like, what?
Yeah, nobody is gonna sign on this.
He can literally just threw that this first story out, he wrote many many more before he finally found his craft, all right. And more importantly the first book that he published wasn't a success and he then had to craft his marketing skills. Because a lot of us know when you signed your first publishing deal publishers don't sit around and say whoa let's go we're gonna really sell this book. The first thing I can say is also great the ink is dry – how are you going to sell this book?
So don’t get discouraged by that, continue to grow your skills. Look at it as a business. Look at it as growing your own capability. When you see it that way you not thinking all why did this not work, I feel like a failure.
IAN: I read a post on your blog about Best email responders, but what actually like to ask your opinion on it is why an author need-to-know mail list at all?
DAVE: well you know every author I've ever spoken to who said that next level has said why, oh why did I start my email list sooner. The fact of the matter is that in the online world the greatest asset we can have is an email list. It's the one thing they can’t take away from us. Google can shut you down. Amazon could shut you down. Even Facebook. I think it was five months ago, Facebook shut me down. I wasn't even using it for business, it was my personal account. I had a Facebook account when it was called theFacebook.com. And then they come along and shut me down. What? And then two or three weeks later they came back and said yeah no that's okay.
That's the thing it can just happen that way. But here's the thing that can’t happen. It's your email list, it's yours, it's your asset. You got an Excel spreadsheet of them you can download from any of your service providers and at any point you can turn around and email out to the people who trust you with their email address.
So let's think about that, all right? When we were talking about competition and evaluating competition, seeing whether you could write a book. When you have an email list, you have a competitive advantage over those that don't. When you launch your book you can send out the right things to convince people to buy it right now. More importantly you can grow that out by getting the people who bought it to leave a review. And if people are on your email list that decide to take action — well let's just talk about the five stars immediately, because why would they be on your email list if they're only going to leave a one star? So you'll not only have the ability to increase your sales, keep them going, get above the fold so that Amazon says Oh that books looking good, you also have the ability to get those five-star reviews so from the get-go your book looks like a value.
IAN: that's great, that's good. So if you had a checklist to offer a new writer who wants to self-publish what would be on it?
DAVE: Well… that's about a book long. Let me tell you this, one of the mistakes I see new authors make is they decide they want to write a book and then on publishing it they decide they want to learn how to market it. Or they start to think about marketing it. I believe that for any author out there, the day you decide you want to start writing a book is the day you want to start marketing it. I'm not saying you try to spam your book all over the place. But I'm saying you need to start researching your target market. You should be looking at the people who enjoy sci-fi military if that is what you write. You should be looking at where the people are in the Internet, where they talk. Andy Weir, the author of the Martian, did a phenomenal job with this. When he first wrote the Martian he had his own group on the Internet and it got a lot of followers. People like “sheesh Andy you should be publishing this! And Andy said he didn't want to do that!
So he was already out there, he'd built following by starting it as he wrote it, and that's how we got to see the Martian, or not. So when you start doing this you should understand you have to start looking for people, not just about your book but to make sure narrating the best book possible. If you're writing a book on, say Lower back pain, okay, talking to people with experienced acute lower back pain will a help you find people who are looking for these books but also what it is they want when looking for these books. Maybe a burning question to back pain person is “how the heck did this start?” What did I do to get this? You may find out you weren't even going to write on that. You are missing a big part to make a very good book for these people. I think if you talk to your target market as you are starting to write you not only helping to sell your book on its launch, you're also going to be able to write a much better book. So combine your writing with marketing at the point you decide to write that boo.
IAN: That’s very good advice, very good.
You must come across a lot of indie authors using the resources you provide – and by the way thank you for those they are both vast and extremely valuable. I'm interested if the idea that some in these can take on the ideas that you provide and fly with them and others struggle. Are there any common reasons there?
DAVE: Well I think a lot of it comes down to lifestyle. One of the big things that helped me to girl from the full-time military guy on the other side of the world to a legitimate author and Kindlepreneur was that I got out of bed at 4 AM every morning and I wrote from 4 to 7. That was it. No matter what. Monday through Sunday. And I chose that because at four in the morning nobody is gonna bother you. There’s nobody on Facebook, there ain't no kids hassling you Dad where's my breakfast, though they start about six, and at the same time as I was doing that I wasn't missing out on the other things of life, right? I would go from 4 to 7 then I going to work, get there at eight, work till five, and come home. From 5 to late was time with my children, that was my time with my family. It wasn't like I was always gone. I wasn't casuing problems with my wife because I was working on my hobby. They just knew that I was working hard but I was still there for them. And then from 8 o'clock on it was always my wife's decision whether or not I got to work on my side the business, or if it was time for her. So she would say “No, no, date night. Let's go buddy.” Like super. All right.
But where you start going into problems is where people are trying to fit writing and learning all this stuff into their super busy life. Where they can't do it at work, all right, but they start giving up time with their kids, with their significant other, and that causes problems. They have a legitimate reason why they can't do these things, because they're hurting their family.
Another thing for me though is for me to do four in the morning I need to go to bed early, okay, I usually go to bed about 9 o'clock. That at least affords me a good seven good hours of sleep, and in order to do that I stopped watching movies. And if you can see all my sci-fi movie collection over here you know there was a major sacrifice. I had to watch only a couple of movies here, they had to be the best.
IAN: Yes, I gave up television, so I'm going through the same sacrifice.
DAVE: I gave up my Netflix subscription. But the thing is I had to cut this out. When I cut it out I could go to bed at nine and allow me to get up early in the morning. I wasn't sacrificing family to do that. It comes down to whether you can spend enough time to make this a part of life without sacrificing the most important part of life.
IAN: Good advice. That's very good. So one more question, Dave, in this indie author fringe online conference this session is part of we are running the back cover blurb contest. I know you've got some good advice on writing the most important 250 words in this whole process. Can you tell us a little bit about that please.
DAVE: Yeah well let me talk a little bit about non-fiction, and non-fiction should be about gain points, addressing gain points. If you know the words your target market uses when they're describing whatever it is they want to either gain, learn, improve, or whatever, then you're going to win on the back book cover blurb. Because if I look at back pain on Google I call it acute sharp back pain and they are like “do you have acute sharp back pain?” Then they know this is the book, they know exactly this is what they need. At the same time too if you are able to think of the things that they want to type in, like for example bullet points, this book will deliver on X Y Z, you've done it. Let me quickly moved fiction then we're gonna bring in the encompassing thing that you can do for all of them. In fiction it's not telling me the story. You're not going to give me a book report. I don't want to know the book. What I want is to be intrigued. I want to feel the importance of this story. And its significance, and the things that make you scratch your chin and say what the heck. JK Rowling on Harry Potter said something on the lines of Harry was the boy who lived under the stairs, and all that changed when he discovered he was magical. He was just this typical boy and she dropped this bomb, I think it was the owl that brought a letter off that showed he was magical. So make sure that you are bringing in intrigue, but don't tell me the whole story. Allude to things. Drive my curiosity. Curiosity drives people to click and buy. So keep those things in mind.
But the most important thing you can do for all book blurbs is your first sentence. I wanted to spend 80% of your time writing that first sentence, and 20% on the rest of it. Because the truth of it is that 80% is going to be the most crucial of all. We look at an Amazon sales page what do you see? You see that first sentence. You don't see the rest. You've got to be intrigued by that first sentence and then click on read more see the rest of it. now that's only for certain Amazon markets, I think there are two foreign markets which actually show it exactly. But still, even if it did show, you've gotta hook me in that first sentence, and if you don't do it I'm not reading it. Most likely I'm not going to buy. So really, really, really think about that bad boy. Make it like a bomb, make it like I'm still reading, I'm still reading, you know what that’s awesome.
Last thing, too, don't forget to put a call to action in there. Make it a point to let people know, oh, by the way buy! We've done some experiments with book description and we found that just by the simple fact reminding people to make sure you get it now, to say something along the lines of the price will be changing, these sort of things will drive a higher conversion rate than if you just end it. So just reminding people to get it does wonders as well.
When I was working with, just giving you an example to, I don't know if you ever heard of L Ron Hubbard, so Battlefield Earth was a book I read a long time ago when I was a kid, and I just actually finished working on his back book cover. His company, Galaxy press, his publishing company, his marketing company, contacted me the first thing I did was I went to the book description. I even looked at their Amazon data, a lot of people are looking at their books but nobody was buying. what it was was a book report. He talked about characters that only people who have read it would actually know what it means. I don't really have any invested interest in Torr books, so what we did was we sat down and reinvented it. So what we did was sit down and recreated. If you guys go to Amazon and type in Battlefield Earth you can read the book description I put in there. You will see exactly what I just talked about, and the best thing of all, the thing that totally jazzes my nerd points here, is that the last statement was that… I might butcher this, I wrote it myself, but: “For the fate of the Galaxy lies on Battlefield Earth.”
That was my last sentence because I wanted to impress upon the reader that it's not just about what on earth but what happens here is going to affect every alien race out there because of the importance of this one story right here. Now they love that so much they've made it a part of all of their marketing. So if you see anything about battlefield Earth you will see my sentence up there: the fate of the galaxy lies on… and then the title. Battlefield Earth.
So just kind of think about those things that's a great example, especially for the fiction writers out there, how I personally believe you should construct a book blurb. And one really cool fact is that when they changed the blurb the conversion rate doubled. So like I said from the beginning I'm a big believer that book descriptions have a much more important role than people think.
IAN: Well Dave, thank you for this, we covered an awful lot of topics, thank you for showing your wisdom and experience. Really do appreciate it.