Authors Sacha Black and Orna Ross, using personal examples from their own experience running their author businesses, outline nine self-publishing mindset principles that cultivate sustainable success in this month's #AskALLi Foundational Self-Publishing Advice Salon.
If you’re not yet satisfied with your books or your book sales, changing how you think is your first step in 2021. Authors are often carrying unconscious beliefs about publishing and profit, income and impact, creative and commercial possibilities that hold them back—especially as they start out.
Foundational characteristics of the indie author:
- Lifelong learner
These self-publishing mindset foundations make everything else work. The more you can move to these mind modes and make them your self-publishing mindset, the easier everything will be and the more success you’ll enjoy. Some of these characteristics you’ll have by nature, others you’ll have to develop.
Our Foundational Self-Publishing Podcast is brought to you by specialist sponsor Izzard Ink: helping you navigate the publishing world while you stay in control of your work. Izzard Ink Publishing—Self-Publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. We would like to thank Izzard for their support for the show.
And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Listen to the Podcast: Self-Publishing Mindset
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About the Hosts
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript: Self-Publishing Mindset
Orna Ross: Hello, everyone. Hello again, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors new name session. We are changing slightly this session, which last year was our fiction and nonfiction session.
First of all, let me say hi to Sacha. Hi Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hello.
Orna Ross: I'm here with Sacha Black, the wonderful ALLi blog editor, and a rebel author of many books.
So, we have had a slight change of our format for this year. So, we are going to go back to basics and we're calling this our foundational session now.
We will still keep our focus on fiction and nonfiction, drawing out the different ways in which publishing for these two big umbrella genre can make a difference because I think, it's really important, they're not always the same. Sometimes they're the same, sometimes they're not. But the focus in this session will be about back to basics and the foundations, the things that everybody needs to think about and sometimes, we can have been publishing for many years, and need to go back to basics on some stuff.
So, we're going to start right at the very beginning, looking in this session at mindset and the characteristics that an indie author does well to have.
So, we're going to go through, we started with seven, we ended up with nine, actually, and these are qualities that we aim for. Some of them will come naturally to you, or you wouldn't be in this field in the first place. Some of them will be things that you are maybe working towards, others may be actual weaknesses, and Sacha is going to share a bit of a work that she did on her own personal strengths last year, and we'll talk about that a little bit later on.
But first, Sacha, how is life going? What are you publishing at the moment?
Sacha Black: All of the things I'm working on. Another nonfiction writing craft book, which is all about side characters, and I think that will probably be out late spring. No, wait, what's spring? Wait. We're in winter, in spring, sometime.
Orna Ross: Okay.
Sacha Black: Time is a lie. So, yes, that's what I'm working on, and then I'm starting to plan other things later down the line. How about you?
Orna Ross: So that's what you're in the middle of? And you're going to do a session on side characters for our SelfPubCon, aren't you, in July?
Sacha Black: I am indeed, yeah. So, the book will definitely be out by then. So yeah, I will be doing a session there. I'm quite excited to do it on that actually.
Orna Ross: Fantastic, we're all looking forward to it.
Yes, I am still also finishing off the nonfiction, a little bit of a hangover from last year, it was supposed to finish December 31st and 1st January, I was supposed to hit the fiction ground running, not quite there yet, but almost there; working with designers and just getting it all finished and through and I'm looking forward to getting back to fiction.
Sacha Black: And that's the Creative Self-Publishing title?
Orna Ross: Creative Self-Publishing, exactly, which has been in preparation for a long time. I like to say, the last 10 years of being a self-publisher and running ALLi are, I think, necessary to create this book. So yeah, it's taken a lot of work, but I'm delighted with it and I'm looking forward to it being up and out.
9 Self-Publishing Mindset Basics for Indie Authors
Orna Ross: So folks, we're going to be talking about indie mindset now, and we'd love to hear your questions, your comments, do drop into the chat and let us know if you've got anything, if we're saying anything that particularly strikes a chord, or if you have a particular question around mindset, we'd love to take it in the session. That's one of the advantages being able to do the live session.
So, I'm just going to quickly run through the characteristic that an indie author needs to have, and then we'll go back, and we'll revisit each one of them in a little bit more detail. So, we're going to be talking about independence, creativity, vision, entrepreneurial-ism, yes, it is a word, optimism, resilience, resourcefulness, generosity, and lifetime learning.
So, any comment straight up Sacha on those? Any things that particularly come easy to you?
- Independent Thinking
Sacha Black: Well, independent thinker, this is one that I absolutely love because, obviously, one of the reasons I branded as rebel author is because I genuinely think that all indie authors are rebels, because they buck the trend of what is expected traditionally in publishing. But that said, I still feel like there is some like mob mentality and cliques in indie publishing, you have a lot of group people who write fast, publish fast, and then you have a very large group of people who are militantly wide, and so there is still that group mentality, but broadly speaking, anybody who is an indie author has to be independent and rebellious in thought as a sort of basis because you are bucking the trend. And the important thing about that, for me, more than any other point in the independent thinking is that you hold onto the notion that, as an indie author, it is up to you to create your own path. So, we have to remember that if hearing advice doesn't sit right with us or everybody says that you need to do it this way, actually, we need to remember that that's a load of nonsense and being an indie author means you get to create the journey, the business shape, the ethos, the values that you want in your business.
Orna Ross: Exactly, and that means there's fabulous freedom in all of that but there's also a great deal of personal responsibility. So, sometimes that can be a little bit scary and it's easier to follow along. I loved what you said about India being abroad church and there being different ways to approach it, and that's something that we see a lot in ALLi. So, there are very vocal people in the indie author community, and sometimes we can think that's the only way to do things, but actually there's a great variety of ways to do things.
So, our challenge, or our question, which is how we're going to approach each of these characteristics, is can you ignore mob mentality and group thinking, and center your creative energy on your own particular genre, and income streams, and micro-niche, and readers, that will deliver for you the perfect shaped, kind of, you-shaped enterprise?
That's the question and that's the challenge that you need to take up if you're going to be an independent thinker, which is in our opinion, the number one quality that all indies share to some greater or lesser degree.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and I think there's one thing that's connected to that as well, which is bravery, because it takes a lot of bravery to be independent and to ignore like the cliques or the groups, because when you have such large groups like that, it does feel like that is the only way because the voice is loud.
So, I think it's not it's independent thinkers with bravery, because you have to have that self-belief that you are on the right path and the path that will make you happiest, and you have to have belief that you will then be able to create the career that you want.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. I think courage actually is number five. So, we'll come to that and develop that a little bit.
So, number two then is being a creative self-starter, which you've kind of touched on there as well. I think independence and creativity really do go hand in hand together, and that whole idea that you were saying of looking inside at what you most want to do, and then having the conviction, the self-belief to choose yourself, and to be a self-starter.
And that's not just at the beginning saying, Hey, I'm going to be an indie author, it's a choice you almost have to make again and again, every single day. Do you agree?
Sacha Black: Yeah, I do, and I think the whole concept of self-starting is really hard the very first time, and if you can get through it the first time, I think everything becomes a lot easier, because in being a self-starter and having to make all of these decisions, and suffering the decision fatigue in the start, you create a framework by which the self-starting next time is that little bit easier because you have a structure and a process, and you are telling yourself what you need to do. And on that first go round, you've got nobody telling you what steps are next and which buttons you need to press and what needs to be done in which order.
So, I think the hardest part of this is the very first time, and then it's actually not a difficult process. I mean, we've talked about this before on the podcast, the actual act of publishing is not hard, it's just that first time.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and I think all of these characteristics, as we do them more, we're building practices and we're building habits that then become second nature sometimes. Some will always be a struggle, but with a lot of these things, the more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the easier it gets and it kind of slips into part off what your daily routine looks like. Then you look back and you think, oh, I used to have completely different habits, I used to have completely different practices, I used to get up at different times of the day, I used to do all sorts of things differently, and it just becomes embedded and you don't have to think about it anymore.
Sacha Black: I was just going to say, it's a publishing muscle, that's what it is. You have to build your publishing muscle.
Orna Ross: Excellent, I like that, and your business muscle, and your writing muscle. Yeah. So, lots of muscles have to be built simultaneously. So, it's like starting any, I'm going to absolutely thrash this metaphor now, it's like any workout routine, when you start, it's really, really hard. The muscles are stiff, they're not used to being used, they don't want to do it and you have to really push yourself. But as your writing fitness and your publishing fitness and your business fitness grow and become more embedded, it all gets easier.
Sacha Black: That was a beautifully extended metaphor. Almost like you're a writer.
Orna Ross: I think I might try some writing.
So, our question, our challenge for you guys is, can you put yourself out there without anyone else to blame if things go wrong? So, I think this is one of the things about being a self-starter and an independent thinker. Can you step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, not just once, but again and again? And can you actually embrace the opportunities and the abundance that self-publishing offers. It can be overwhelming, and it can be easier to just step away from it all and just do the obvious thing, but actually throwing yourself into all those opportunities and choosing the ones that are exactly right for you, that is the challenge.
Orna Ross: So, number three is clear-eyed visionary. Thinking about this, it's about the ability to project and to see the end point that you want to reach and understand why you want to reach that particular end point. Why that is your definition of success, if you like, and your ability to actually figure it out, how you're going to get to it, why you feel that way and how you're actually going to get there.
And this is a process, this isn't something that's just a one-off thing, you get it, and you go forever. This is constantly re-evaluated and re-done and refined as you go through writing your books, and it changes over time as well, but it's really about the ability to do it. It's the skill of actually being able to envision an end point. Is that part of your process consciously?
Sacha Black: Yeah, one of my strengths, and I'm sure we'll talk about this, is strategy, or strategic it's called. So, for me, it comes naturally to think down the line and to crystallize visions, but I have to say when I started, I had a very general idea of what it was that I wanted. I knew that I didn't want to be in a day job, I didn't want to work for the man, I wanted to work for myself and have no boss, even though now I realize that means working far longer than I ever worked in a day job.
So, I had this vague picture of what working for oneself might look like, and that was it. And then the more you learn, the more you write, the more you absorb about marketing and business, the easier that vision becomes to crystallize. So, for anybody who's listening, and it is less clear exactly what they want, other than the knowledge that they want to write books full-time, that's fine. You only know what you know, and the more you learn, the wider your vision and your periphery vision grows and so, therefore, the easier it becomes to see more, know more and therefore crystallize more.
Orna Ross: Very good. Maybe this is a good point to tell people about the exercise you did with your strengths and weaknesses last year, because that was a really interesting experience for you.
Sacha Black: Yeah. So I took the, I never know if it's called Gallup Strengths now or Clifton Strengths, but I took that test and it basically tells you your top 10 strengths, and the concept is to focus on improving what you're already good at because you can 10x those strengths, rather than trying to improve your weaknesses where you'll only get small improvements.
And I took coaching via Becca Syme, she's also an indie author, I'm not sure if she's traditionally published as well, but she's definitely an indie author anyway, and it just changed everything. It's changed my processes and it's changed my self-awareness.
So, my number one strength is competition, which I still struggle sometimes to admit, that basically I've extremely competitive, but the benefit of knowing that and recognizing it and continuing to learn, which is obviously one of the points later down, is that I have been able to change and iterate processes in my business and shift my mindset. More than anything else it's a mindset shift, and I know that if I really want to achieve something then I need to engage my competition and make something a competition. It doesn't need to be a competition against other people, it can be a competition with myself. Like, can I beat my word count? Can I get more pre-orders this time?
And it's all about framing, how I frame my business. And then there were other things like if I get blocked or I am stuck in a plot hole, I know, because of my strengths, that there's one of two things I need to do. Either I need to go and input something, I either need to read or binge-watch TV or research something, I just need to take in inspiration, or I need to learn about something because those two are the two things that generally unstick me from problems.
So, in learning about these strengths, I've been able to fix problems quicker in my business, fix potholes quicker, I've been able to produce work faster.
So yeah, this one's probably very much linked to our last point, our last strength, which is lifelong learner, well, I feel like it's closer to that.
Orna Ross: And we'll come back to it there, and we will include the link to that particular body in the show notes.
But of course there are lots of these available to us online. So, if you're not sure of the point of going into that a little bit was, if you're not sure what your strengths and weaknesses are, if you're listening to what we're talking about in terms of characteristics and you're saying, eek, I don't have any of that, sometimes we're not the best judge of our own strengths and weaknesses, and it can be really good to get an outside perspective on that if we're unsure.
Sacha Black: Yeah, because I swore blind, I wasn't competitive.
Orna Ross: Well, there you go.
So number four is being an entrepreneurial activist, I'm not sure if it's quite the right word, but I wanted to get a sense of, can you be proactive and plan for the outcomes that you want, which is connected to the vision thing, but making a plan, invest in yourself, invest in your business, and take mindful risks where necessary in order to achieve your intentions. And also to underline the fact that an indie author, unlike authors in other situations, and unlike freelance writers, we are actually business people. We're not freelancers providing content, we actually run a business and, therefore, we need to have an enterprising approach to how we do what we do.
And the more we have that enterprising approach, the more likely it is that we're going to do well. So, the challenge question here is, can you follow your passion and your mission all the way into successful selling? Writers can very often follow it all the way into finishing the book, which in itself is a huge challenge, but can you actually follow it all the way into building a business?
Sacha Black: Yeah, it's usually the hardest bullet to swallow, I think, the old selling and being the entrepreneurial and business side, a lot of writers are more than happy to produce the books but selling is hard because we have to be vulnerable, I suppose. If you're saying, buy my whatever, then you're putting yourself out there and that is making yourself vulnerable and that's hard. But suck it up, get on with it. Sell some books.
Orna Ross: Big girl or boy pants now.
Okay. So, what helps you here is number five, being courageous, which is something you mentioned earlier and optimistic, I think they kind of go hand in hand. So, you take your courage, and you look forward because you believe in yourself.
We're surrounded by pessimism. I've been in publishing for decades now, and it's always bad news and pessimism is just endemic to the industry. And I think psychological research shows that we all suffer from a negativity bias and certainly at the moment, with all that's going on, there's a lot of bad news coming in the door.
So, can you take the courage to be optimistic and to believe in your own creative potential and get over those inevitable moments of self-doubt and creative discomfort, and just do the next necessary thing?
I think the brave act of courage is, despite all of that, I've got my task to do, I know what I need to do next and I'm going to do it.
Sacha Black: Yeah, actually I think what I was going to say is going to come into the next one. So, I'm just going to agree with you.
Orna Ross: Yes, I think you've already touched on the courage.
The next one is completely related because it's about resilience and carrying on directing things. So, being flexible and bouncing back from the inevitable disappointments, facing into it, and having the ability to turn things around when they go wrong, to see the opportunities and failure. These are all linked to earlier traits that we're talking about, the entrepreneurial-ism, the creativity, they're all connected these characteristics, the independent thinking, they're all connected, these characteristics that we're talking about, but if I had to pick one thing, aside from independent thinking, which is obviously indie author by nature has to be independent, but the most useful characteristic that you can have after independence, I believe, as a writer, as a publisher, as a business person, is resilience. That ability to face in and bounce back.
Sacha Black: Yeah, I could not agree with you more. I sometimes think of this as grit, because I hear Joanna Penn saying this a lot, but in her time, she's seen so many people fall away and she has just stayed and continued, and published another book, and published another book, and done another marketing activity, and done another promotional activity, and so on and so forth.
And even in my time and I don't know how many years I've been doing it now, a few anyway, I've seen people fall away as well, and I genuinely think that half of the part of success is just carrying on with sheer determinedness, and even when a book flops or a series flops, or whatever, you just publish another one and eventually, either it's the compound effect or something clicks and works. But I genuinely think that half of success is just not stopping, being like a juggernaut towards your vision.
Orna Ross: Just stay there, yeah, just perseverance and resilience is the characteristic to cultivate to enable you to persevere, I think, and there are ways in which you can build more resilience, usually it's around things that I talk a lot about, which is the creative play and the creative rest that nurtures you and gives you what you need to build yourself back up again so you can go back out again.
We're taking risks all the time, and so you need to have a safety net from which you can bounce out and take your risks and then come back and restore and renew and so on, and it's really important. I think one of the reasons that people fall off. Is that they don't cultivate resilience. They don't know what actually does nurture and renew them, and so they stretch it until they are burnt out or exhausted or just frazzled and feeling exposed, and just unhappy. So yeah, I think building resilience every day, again, what you were talking about at the beginning, it's hard. The first time you get an awful review or a setback, and I think that comes very often with the first book for a lot of indie authors, because you've got high hopes, you put so much work in to write it and then to produce it and put it out there, and when nobody cares, I think that's the first really big shock that most indie authors have to face into.
So, given that we're talking about foundational stuff, I think it's really recognizing that as a very big milestone in every indie author's life, getting on writing the second book, how important that is.
Sacha Black: Yeah, I completely agree. The first book, even though almost we love it the most, is always the one that's the least well rated, the least well loved, but is that not a sign of our progress though, that the later books and subsequent, it hurts, obviously, it's usually the book that took the longest, but ultimately, yeah, it shows growth when those subsequent books are well loved, but it does take grit to pick yourself up and carry on after that.
Orna Ross: That's it, the second, third, and subsequent books can't be loved if we get knocked off by those disappointments.
Which is, again, linked to the next one, which is about being resourceful and a leader of yourself and knowing also when to let things go. So, can you process your problems and overcome your challenges, but let go of a method or a mindset or a person who isn't actually serving your creative intentions?
And I think this is something that you're going to come across as you go through the process of publishing.
Sacha Black: So, I always feel like this is the one I wish I could go back and tell Sacha before she quit her job, which one would be the hardest. This is the hardest one, I don't know if this is just for me personally, but the thing that I find most difficult is when there's like a tech issue or when there's a file issue or I've uploaded the wrong file to a pre-order that's locked down. There is nobody to hold your hand and fix that problem for you like you would have in an office where you have a whole team of people to support you, and if I could go back and tell baby Sacha what would be the hardest, it would be to prepare for those moments when something goes wrong and you are utterly on your own.
Except that you're not really when you're an indie author, and this is the thing that I know now, and also, I still find difficult, but the community is so giving and so wonderful that you only have to post in a group and usually you'll get 20, 30, 50 responses of how to fix it or things that you might be able to do.
But asking for help is really hard, well it is for me anyway, but this is the thing I wish I could tell past me, that it's okay to ask for help but also, you are going to have to fix some very complicated things by yourself, and you just have to do it, essentially.
Orna Ross: Yes, and this is, I think, this quality of being resourceful, and of realizing that it's learning by doing. It's actually, as you're doing it, if you can realize and be conscious of the fact, I'm not just fixing a problem and getting frustrated because it's not going my way, I'm actually learning a skill that's going to stand me the next time this happens, or in other situations. That, I think, is again, that sense of resourcefulness and it is a really important characteristic.
And then you touched off again, you're just seeing this beautifully Sacha, generosity, you mentioned there a moment a go, and that's number eight.
I think it definitely helps in this business to be a generous contributor. You will benefit from the generosity of other ALLi members on other indie authors but being a generous contributor yourself is actually a hugely important characteristic in order to understand the full give and take that goes on within the community.
So, the challenge here is, can you be a giving participant in literary and publishing culture, leave a legacy, make a positive difference, share your success? Can you treat other authors and influencers with respect, and help others to grow and spend time and energy in the networks that you're part of, giving as much, at least, if not more than you aim to take, and acting without an expectation of getting stuff back?
So, in other words, catching that wave of generosity that is so characteristic of the community and becoming a net giver, or aiming to do that. I think the indie authors who do best actually come with that attitude built-in, I think, and sometimes we have to cultivate that. Sometimes when we see other people doing better than us, or doing well and we don't understand why, we can feel less than generous. So, cultivating that spirit of generosity, I think, automatically brings other things like the courage and the strength and the resilience and the creativity; all are wrapped up in that.
- Lifelong Learning
And then our final one is lifelong learning and we've touched on this, I think, all the way through.
So, can you show up every day with an attitude of, I'm going to learn from this?
Talk a little bit about your own lifelong learning, Sacha. You're somebody who has done extremely well very quickly, but you don't rest on your laurels, it's always the next thing.
Sacha Black: Yeah. I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and I want to do this for the long haul and therefore, in my head, that means I need to continue to learn and adapt and grow and do better and iterate. So, learning for me comes at every single level of my business, from my own personal mindset and personal growth and development, through to understanding business and how to be a better business person, understanding how to market and do promotion better or differently, or different types of marketing or whatever, learning how to write and do. She says, with terrible English. Basically learning better writing craft and improving it, you know, you can't sell your next book unless you are writing good stories.
So, you know, every aspect of my business, and I won't try to learn everything in all of those different facets all of the time, but I make a point to pick off something that I want to learn about all of the time. Always have a thing that I'm learning. At the moment I'm learning about description, and on the marketing side I'm trying desperately hard to be better with mailing lists. So, it's researching about mailing lists and trying to be better there. So, you don’t have to, and this is one of the difficulties with indie; it's such a big thing, you have to do everything, and so the tendency is to look at it all and go, oh my God, I need to learn this, this, this, and this, and then get very overwhelmed by feeling like you have to learn all of the things, but you don't at all. You can take it tiny bit by tiny bit, one article here, a podcast there, a book there, and eventually, over time, it is the compound effect and you do suddenly look back and all of a sudden, you're a business with double figured numbers of books and you left your job two years ago.
But yeah, I think it's just the sense of not resting on your laurels, like you said earlier, and assuming that what you have learned thus far is enough, because this industry changes too much for that to ever be the case.
Orna Ross: And I've certainly seen that since I started. People who were very successful at the beginning, who never adapted. So, as the industry changed and more people came in and so on, they just kept on doing what they did before and now don't sell or don't produce as many books or whatever. So, that adaptation.
Lifelong learning is done day by day, you can only ever learn a little bit at a time, and it is very possible to keep on growing and keep on changing.
So, these are the characteristics. We'd love you to let us know what your strengths and weaknesses are, as you see it, and if there are any ways in which we can help you to develop the right mindset and what might be useful around that as we go through the coming sessions.
We're going to build back up. Today is mindset and in the next session we will be looking at another basic aspect of being an indie author.
So again, we'd like to hear from you and to know what basic you'd like us to cover, or what foundations do you feel you didn't get when you were starting out that you like to go back in and put under the business that you have created or the books that you have created?
So, thank you for being with us for the Self-Publishing Advice podcast, and we will have this session again next month.
Next week is the Self-Publishing Poetry podcast. So, if any of you are poets, don't forget to tune in for that.
Sacha Black: Should we just mention our sponsor as well before we go?
Orna Ross: Yes, indeed, please, and thank you.
So, it is Izzard Ink. Izzard Ink is a service which supports you in self-publishing from start to finish. So, their motto is, self-publishing doesn't have to mean publishing by yourself. So, if you feel like you need that extra bit of support, then they are an approved ALLi partner member, and sponsor, so you will be in safe hands with Izzard Ink.
Thanks for the reminder, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Somebody has just asked in the comments the name of the test. So, I went through Becca Symes, Better Faster Academy, but if you're not interested in the coaching, then the test itself has it has changed its name.
So, you can Google either Gallup, as in a horse galloping, Gallup Strengths or Clifton strengths, I can't remember which one it's called now, but both will result in the same answer, and you'll be able to find the test in there. It's about $50, I think
Orna Ross: And if you want to check in with the podcast, which will be on the blog next Friday, selfpublishingadvice.org. The podcast releases every Friday with this session as audio, edited and with the full transcript and show notes. So, all the links and everything that we've referred to will be available for you to listen to again, or to read on Friday next week.
Sacha Black: Are we going to recommend some books in the links, in the show notes as well?
Orna Ross: I think we'll get to that next time. Oh yeah, in the show notes, we can do it as part of the podcast, yeah. We're all at a time now for our video.
So, thanks folks again for joining us, we will see you next time, happy writing and publishing and planning between now and then. Take care.