Don’t Stop Now: Tips for Getting Your Writing Momentum Back

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The turbulent post-election atmosphere gripping our nation is like nothing our country has experienced before. Many of us creative types are finding it hard to write at a time like this. The coming-of-age YA novel that you were planning to finish this year suddenly doesn’t seem so important anymore.

If you feel that your current project isn’t relevant or you can’t focus on your writing, know that now is not the time to stop. Here are some tips to find the stamina you might have lost.

Take Time Away from Social Media and the News

One news notification (e.g., AP’s “7 Earth-size worlds found orbiting a nearby star could hold life, NASA says”) can send you down an hour-long black hole of Internet research. At the pace the news cycle is running these days, we must set limits of consumption. Otherwise, we’ll do too much consuming and not enough doing.

Do you know how many hours you spend on your device per day? Seeing an actual number can really put your device usage into perspective. What? I spent 3 hours and 32 minutes on my phone yesterday? All the things I could have done with that time… Consider downloading Moment, an iOS app that allows you to track how much you use your phone or tablet each day, see which apps you use the most, and set daily limits for yourself. Freedom (different pricing plans available) works across multiple devices to block Internet distractions, helping you stay focused and be more productive. To deal with the panic attack you’ll experience when you pick up your smartphone after a long break, try downloading—just kidding, there’s no app for that.

But in all seriousness, if you’re feeling frustrated about not being able to write, track your device usage for a week and then try scheduling time for checking social media and catching up with the news—and commit to sticking with your schedule!

Go to Local Literary Events and Support Other Writers

Being surrounded by other likeminded folk can help you get back into the groove. Check your local bookstore or library for upcoming readings and events.

Recharge

Take your dog for a walk, go to an exercise class, spend time in nature, read a book, listen to a podcast, get together with friends. We must make time to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others, which leads me to my next point…

Be Engaged

At the end of January, I attended a talk between Michael Lewis (author of The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short, The Undoing Project, and more) and NPR’s Hanna Rosin. Lewis said that, right now, our society is being tested. Years from now, when his grandchildren ask him about this time in our history, they are going to want to know what he did. He then went on to list the actions he’s taken since the election.

The thing is, knowing that certain causes, organizations, or groups of people are in trouble but doing nothing about it will eat away at you. Pick two or three causes that are important to you, and find ways to get involved. If you’re not sure where to get started or need some inspiration, search the #smallacts hashtag on Twitter to see what others are doing.

Get Back to Writing

If you’ve been obsessing over the news as I have been, you might be feeling mentally exhausted. The desire to write may be gone because you think your plot or subject is trivial. Author and illustrator Riad Sattouf said, “It’s very difficult to invent shocking things, because everything is shocking now.” If you’ve taken the steps I have listed above, then you should be in place to begin working against the obstacles that are holding you back. Think about your purpose for writing. Is it a way to channel your emotions? A way to escape? A way to teach others something new? A way to make a political statement? Don’t worry if you suddenly feel the need to put aside a project and start a new one or refocus your current project. There’s no telling what people will say about the writing created during this time, but there won’t be anything to say if we don’t get back to work.

As writers, we peer under the masks of things for a living and that skill is more important now than ever. Art’s duty to criticize the bad and protect the good is infinitely more important in times of darkness. —Philip Elliot, Editor-in-Chief, Into the Void

Further Reading

{image via Aidan Meyer}

Proofreading: How I Do It

Most job requests I receive are for proofreading, but after talking to the client and learning more about the manuscript, I come to find out that the client is really looking for a copyeditor. So, I have put together this post to help clarify what proofreading is all about and when proofreading should be done, as it is a necessary step to publishing a quality book. (Click here to read how I developmentally edit a manuscript, and click here to read how I copyedit.)

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is often confused with copyediting. But these are very different types of editing, and they serve distinct purposes in the editorial process.

Proofreading is typically the last chance for errors to be caught in a book before publication. During a proofread, the proofreader works to catch errors that slipped through the copyediting stage and any errors that occurred during the typesetting or formatting stages.

If you read Copyediting: How I Do It, you’ll see that a copyeditor is looking for lots of things in the book (plot inconsistencies, character details and descriptions, etc.), and it’s very likely that the copyeditor was not able to catch every error in the book. In comes the proofreader, whose sole job is to catch any remaining errors.

proofreading quoteA proofreader will correct misspellings, typos, subject-verb disagreement, usage errors, misnumbering, punctuation errors, and incorrect or outdated cross-references. In print books, a proofreader will also point out design or layout issues the typesetter needs to address. Usually, the most common types of errors a proofreader will find are misused homophones, missing words, and extra words.

As someone who has worked for publishers throughout all stages of the editorial production process, I know what kinds of errors can make their way to the final stages of publication. It’s important that the freelance proofreader you hire has publishing experience and exceptional knowledge of the style manual and dictionary your book was edited to follow (usually The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

When does proofreading take place?

In book publishing, proofreading takes place after copyediting. For print books, proofreading typically takes place after the typesetter (or compositor) has laid out the manuscript.

Your manuscript is not ready for proofreading if…

  • it has not been copyedited, and
  • there are still things about your story that you want to change.

It’s important for proofreading to take place after copyediting and after all major revisions and edits have been made so that proofreading can serve its true purpose. Editors will highly advise that major changes not be made after the manuscript has been proofed. Last-minute changes, no matter how big or how small, often result in embarrassing mistakes in the final publication, so it’s important that any changes after proofreading be discussed with your editor and handled carefully.

Can you tell me about your proofreading process?

My proofreading process depends on what format the manuscript is in (usually PDF, Word document, or e-book), but the tools required for proofreading are pretty standard: I will request a copy of the copyeditor’s style sheet and, if applicable, a copy of the copyedited manuscript or the version that was sent to the designer for layout. These documents will help ensure consistency and prevent me from changing something the author has specifically requested to stay as is (e.g., a spelling that differs from the style manual or dictionary).

Regardless of the type of file, I always double-check the corrections I have found before sending them back to the client. I do this to make sure the corrections are clearly noted, and I also double-check the surrounding sentences; sometimes a sentence that contains an error has another one lurking close by.

Proofreading a print layout (PDF or hard copy)

Most proofreading jobs I do are already typeset and are sent to me as PDFs, or galley proofs. The pages resemble what the actual book will look like when it is printed. Depending on the client’s instructions, I will record corrections in a separate Word document or directly on the PDF, using Adobe Acrobat Pro’s markup features or proofreading stamps.

Often the client requests that I check for layout and design issues in additional to standard proofreading corrections. For example, I may be required to check the consistency of the design, margins, running headers and footers, the order of page numbers, awkward word breaks, widows and orphans, rivers and stacks, loose or tight text, and so on. If the book has illustrations or tables, I proof them against the originals and ensure their consistency in the text.

Proofreading a Word document

Manuscripts are proofed in Microsoft Word when the book is going to be published as an e-book only (no print edition) or if the publisher has specifically requested the book be proofed before it is typeset. Proofreading the manuscript before it is formatted for e-book distribution is ideal, since it’s typically easier to make the corrections in Word before the file is formatted.

Proofreading an e-book

When proofreading an e-book, I ensure all content is present, verify internal and external links, and check for formatting problems that are common as a result of the file conversion process.

I default to the client’s requested method for proofreading the e-book file. Some clients want me to review the file on particular e-reading devices, others are fine with me using a desktop application, such as Kindle for Mac or Adobe Digital Editions, and some clients request every available format to be proofed to ensure the text displays correctly on each.

What happens after the manuscript is proofed?

After the proofread is complete, the proofreader’s corrections are sent to the project manager, typesetter, or author. Depending on the publisher’s process, the author may have the chance to review and approve the proofreading corrections—usually if there are any substantial changes that might require some rewriting. The project manager or typesetter will insert the corrections into the layout.

If the proofreader found a high volume of errors, additional rounds of proofreading (preferably by different proofreaders) are recommended. After the corrections are entered, they need to be verified, which means someone, usually the project manager or proofreader, needs to ensure the corrections were inserted correctly. Once the corrections have been entered and verified, the file is prepared for printing.

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Are you looking for an experienced freelance proofreader? I’d be happy to help you with your fiction or nonfiction manuscript. Contact me to talk about your project.

{image via Mathieu Nicolet}

Copyediting: How I Do It

As I sat down to write this post, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to describe everything a copyeditor does in just one blog post. I love copyediting, and I feel very lucky that I get to do this type of work almost every day. What I’ve tried to do in this post is cover the basics and answer some questions that indie authors might have about copyediting. (If you’re interested in reading about how I developmentally edit a manuscript, click here.)

What is copyediting?

Copyediting is the process of fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, accuracy, and consistency errors in order to help a writer deliver his or her message clearly to readers. The job requires focus, creative and critical thinking, organization, and language skills.

During copyediting, a specific style manual is used to ensure the manuscript conforms to US publishing standards. Copyeditors may be familiar with multiple style manuals. Popular style manuals include The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Associated Press Stylebook (AP style), and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Publishing companies sometimes have their own house style, which usually follows one of the previously mentioned style guides but with noted exceptions. In addition to the style manual, a specific dictionary, such as Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition), is also used.

When does copyediting take place?

In book publishing, copyediting takes place after a developmental or content edit (or after an acquisitions editor has vetted the manuscript and determined it can go straight to copyediting) and before proofreading. Your manuscript is not ready for copyediting if…

  • your manuscript has not been through a developmental or content edit,
  • you have not self-edited your manuscript,
  • no one else has read your manuscript,
  • this is the first draft of your manuscript, or
  • you are still working on your book.

It’s important for copyediting to take place only after the writing is complete, the manuscript is as final as possible, and no substantial revisions remain to be made. This is because no matter how big or small the change, anything added, rewritten, or revised after copyediting needs to be reviewed again by the copyeditor to ensure no new errors have been introduced. It’s often after a copyedit has been completed that an author decides to make last-minute changes that result in rather embarrassing mistakes in the final publication.

Can you tell me about your copyediting process?

Absolutely! The first thing I do is skim through the manuscript and take notes about inconsistencies, how certain elements in the manuscript are treated (e.g., are there letters, text messages, or other correspondence that will need to be set off from the main text?), and the general state of the manuscript. I will also do a sample edit on approximately 2,000 words of the manuscript. The preliminary review and sample edit help me determine how long the project will take, the level of copyediting required, and whether that level matches the one stated by the client.

When I’m ready to begin the copyedit, I set up my style sheet, which is a separate document that I keep open while I’m editing. A style sheet lists specific style decisions, spellings, and other conventions used throughout the manuscript and helps ensure consistency. I also always have a web browser open with several tabs: one for the dictionary and style manual I will be using, and one for a Google search page so that I can fact-check when necessary.

All copyeditors have their own methods for copyediting. I like to take care of minor, global corrections first, including formatting issues. I have a list of items that I search for using Word’s Find/Replace feature so that this process goes rather quickly. Experienced copyeditors are Microsoft Word mavens. They know how to use Word’s features to automate certain tasks; this ensures consistency and saves time so that the copyeditor can focus on bigger issues in the manuscript.

As I work through the manuscript, I keep track of all character and place names and descriptions on my style sheet. I also write a brief summary of the events in each chapter so that I can track the storyline and plot. Novels are usually written over long periods of time, and for many reasons, plot inconsistencies often crop up. If I notice an inconsistency or think something should be changed, I alert the author (by using Word’s comment feature) and provide a suggestion for revision. The author can take my suggestion or might come up with another way to resolve the problem. If any rewriting is necessary, I work to maintain the author’s voice, and if the rewriting was substantial, I will alert the author to the change via a query so that he or she can review the rewritten material and either approve it or change it differently. All of my edits are tracked using Word’s track changes feature so that the author can see what I’ve changed.

Here’s a very brief list of items I’m on the lookout for when I copyedit:

  • Logic and continuity in plot and character thoughts, dialogue, and action. For example, the narrative might mention that a character sits down at the kitchen table to read a magazine, and a few sentences later, the character gets up from the couch. When did the character go from the kitchen table to the couch?
  • Repetition of specific words or details. Sometimes an author might repeatedly describe a character in the same way to the point that it’s redundant. Once readers know that Kelly is the protagonist’s six-year-old sister, the author doesn’t need to mention Kelly’s age a dozen more times. If an author has repeatedly used the same word or phrase, I’ll alert the author of the overuse.
  • Consistency. For example, are the chapter numbers spelled out or are they numerals? Are the characters’ names spelled correctly in all instances? Are numerals treated consistently per the style manual’s guidelines? Is the timeline consistent? Are character thoughts consistently italicized or not?
  • Dates and proper nouns. Good copyeditors know to question everything. If the author has mentioned dates of historic events, I verify them using reputable sources. The same goes for names of real-life people, places, businesses, etc.
  • Permissions. Has the author used lyrics, poems, or other content that will require permission to reprint?
  • Clarity and word choice. Has the author used the best word to get his or her point across? Are any passages unclear or confusing?
  • Incorrect or inconsistent punctuation. I’ll standardize the use of punctuation and fix punctuation errors.
  • Grammar, usage, and spelling errors. These errors will be corrected in accordance to the style manual, the dictionary, and traditional grammar rules.
  • General writing errors and things that should be avoided. For example, in past-tense narratives, it’s generally recommended that the words here, now, these,and this be avoided. Sentences that begin with “It was” or “There was” can often be revised to be stronger sentences. Dangling modifiers can cause confusion for readers and should be revised.

Throughout all of this, the most important thing to do is maintain the author’s style. Fiction writers are granted some leeway, and if the author has done something unconventional that won’t affect the reader’s experience in a negative way, it’s often okay to leave it.

I go through each manuscript at least twice, and before I send the manuscript back to the author, I review all of my queries and eliminate any unnecessary ones. I ensure my style sheet is complete. I run spell-check again on the manuscript and additional Find/Replace searches. I finish my editorial letter, and then I send the documents to the author.

What happens after the manuscript is copyedited?

Your copyeditor will return the manuscript to you. The manuscript will contain tracked changes and comments (these are valuable editing and review features in Microsoft Word). In addition to the manuscript, the copyeditor might also send a style sheet and perhaps an editorial letter.

Once you have the copyedited manuscript, it’s time to review the edits the copyeditor made, answer any queries the copyeditor left for you, and make revisions as necessary (using track changes so that the copyeditor can review your changes).

As you read through the edits and suggestions, you’ll see that your copyeditor is your biggest fan, fighting for the clearest, best possible word or phrase to get your point across. If you’ve hired a skilled freelance copyeditor, you will find that your manuscript has improved in ways you didn’t even think possible.

When you are done reviewing the copyedit, answering the copyeditor’s queries, and making changes, the manuscript should be returned to the copyeditor so that she can review and incorporate any changes you made to the manuscript. At this time, the copyeditor may do a light cleanup edit (sometimes at an extra cost, depending on the extent of the changes) to ensure no other errors were introduced during your review.

After all edits have been incorporated and all revisions finalized and copyedited, then the manuscript is ready to go to the typesetter for layout (for print books) or an e-book formatter (for e-books). Note that an editor may suggest that the manuscript be proofread after it has been typeset or before it is formatted for electronic publication.

I paid for a copyeditor. Why have readers found typos in my book?

Copyeditors are human after all, and it’s very likely that your copyeditor will not be able to catch every error. Experienced editors, however, will be able to find and correct most errors in your book. “The best a human can do—even a professional proofreader—is 95% error detection, Dr. Panko of the University of Hawaii found in a review of studies on human error rates. And those studies tested obvious errors such as transposed letters or word choice (such as trail for trial), not errors in style or even in grammar” (source). Proofreading, which I’ll talk about in another post, is typically conducted after copyediting to find any errors that the copyeditor missed or any that were introduced during typesetting or formatting. Even still, errors can still get through to publication.

If you find errors, try not to be alarmed. Record them in a Word document, notify your copyeditor, and have the errors fixed before the next printing. If the book has been published only as an e-book, the errors can be fixed and a new e-book file uploaded to the distributor.

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Are you looking for an experienced freelance copyeditor? I’d be happy to help you with your fiction book or nonfiction manuscript. Contact me today to talk about your project.

Developmental Editing: How I Do It

I have been freelancing for almost a year, and one thing I have come to realize is that most indie authors, no matter how much they have educated themselves on the self-publishing process, do not understand the different levels of editing, nor do they know which kind of editing their manuscript needs. I also find that although they requested a certain type of editing from an editor, they do not know how to tell if they did, in fact, receive that type of editing (e.g., instead of a copyedit—what they wanted or needed—they received more of a content edit).

This realization inspired me to do a series of blog posts on the different types of editing services I offer—developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading—and how I go about doing each one. I am starting the series with a post on developmental editing because it is the first type of editing a manuscript should receive. Developmental editing is very subjective, and methods will vary by editor. What it really comes down to is the skills of the editor. My hope is that by the end of this post, indie authors will understand what developmental editing is and will be able to tell if they received a developmental edit from an editor.

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing (sometimes called content, structural, or substantive editing) focuses on the plot, characterization, dialogue, description, voice, pacing, and themes—the elements of storytelling—and provides detailed suggestions for revision to eliminate the manuscript’s weaknesses and enhance its strengths. Basically, it looks at the big-picture items.

What it is not…

Hiring a developmental editor doesn’t mean your editor will rewrite your book. Sometimes this is what authors are afraid of, and sometimes it’s what authors want. As a developmental editor, I will not write your book. Instead, I will tell you what you need to do to make your book better.

Developmental editing also is not copyediting, which I’ll discuss in a later post. As hard as it is for some editors to block out punctuation and grammar mistakes, it’s something we really have to do in order to focus mainly on the story itself during a developmental edit. However, if an author has consistently punctuated dialogue wrong or if the story has a ton of dangling modifiers, for example, I’ll note this in my editorial letter so that the author can either try to correct the problem or mention it to the copyeditor.

Is my manuscript ready for a developmental edit?

I typically recommend developmental edits to first-time authors or those who have just gotten into writing, but this doesn’t mean that experienced writers won’t benefit from a developmental edit. A set of expert editorial eyes can help every manuscript in some way.

If you are only on your first draft and if you haven’t received any outside feedback on your manuscript, I don’t recommend a developmental edit yet (instead, you might want to consider a manuscript evaluation). A writer will get the most out of a developmental edit if he or she has written several drafts of the story; gotten feedback from friends, family, or other writers; and has tried self-revision. The writer should have done everything possible to make the story great before calling in an expert.

So now that you have my manuscript, what are you going to do with it?

First, we’ll talk. I want to know things like who’s your audience, what made you write this book, what genre do you see it fitting into, and so on.

Then I’ll begin my first read of the manuscript. As I read through the manuscript, I will get a feel for your voice and writing style, and I will take detailed notes. I always have at least two Word documents open while I’m doing a developmental edit: one, obviously, is the manuscript, and the other document contains my notes. Every thought that pops into my head as I’m reading through the manuscript goes into that second document. I’ll record big issues, small issues, and general thoughts, like “This scene was so intense!” or “I love how you’ve described the setting of the farmhouse.” I will also take notes about each character, and I’ll keep a timeline so that I can keep track of the story’s action and events. This will help me see if events line up and if the story seems to lag anywhere.

In addition to the notes I take in my separate note document, I will also make comments in the manuscript using Word’s comment feature. When I’m done with my first read-through, depending on the issues I found in the manuscript, I might read through the manuscript again. Then, I use my note document to write a detailed editorial letter to the author. The manuscript and the editorial letter are sent to the author, and we’ll talk about my notes. The author will make revisions (I’ll ask the author to use track changes) and then send the manuscript back to me so that I can read through it again and see how the story has improved. Most often, the manuscript is significantly better.

This whole process is usually repeated at least twice but can go into three or four rounds of back-and-forth review and revision until it seems every last detail has been addressed. Which takes me to my next point…

How long does it take?

A developmental edit can take three to six months, sometimes longer, depending on several factors (scheduling, the condition of the manuscript, etc.).

As you can see, a developmental edit is the most extensive type of editing your manuscript can get. An experienced editor will be able to provide a deep analysis of your story, and with the editor’s feedback, you’ll be able to significantly improve the structure, characters, and readability of your book. If you need a solid plan for improving your story, look no further than a developmental edit.

Cypress Editing offers developmental editing services for fiction manuscripts of various genres. I’d be happy to help you with your book. Contact me today, and we’ll talk!

Formatting Your Manuscript for Your Editor

Microsoft Word is pretty awesome. I use it almost every day, and I know that it is easy to get caught up choosing fun fonts, colors, and design elements for your manuscript. However, throughout my experience as a freelance editor, I have found that the authors who spent time “designing” their manuscripts would have been better off using that time to refine their content instead. So much is involved in designing a book that it’s best for writers, especially first-time writers, to leave the design up to the book designer or typesetter—that is, someone who is knowledgeable of and has studied typesetting, typography, and all things that make books pretty.

When it comes to preparing your manuscript for your editor, think simple. Think minimalist. Editing is an early stage of book production. The look and “design” of your manuscript isn’t important at this stage. In fact, whatever your manuscript looks like at this point will be very different from what it will end up looking like later. For now, you want to prepare a clean, stripped down file for your editor. Doing so isn’t just a matter of making your editor happy. Your content is at risk when a compositor or editor has to spend time cleaning up the arbitrary formatting you applied to your manuscript. Carol Saller, senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, wrote,

There are two basic methods for restoring simplicity to a tarted-up text: (1) like generations of wallpaper, your fancy accretions can be scraped away a layer at a time, or (2) like a condemned hovel, they can be bulldozed and rebuilt from scratch. Neither method is foolproof; both risk minor violence to the content.

Nonfiction manuscripts are usually more complex (they might have various heading levels, figure captions, tables, etc.) and require more formatting than fiction manuscripts. However, the guidelines that I have listed below apply to both fiction and nonfiction and will help you prepare a clean and simple file that won’t drive your editor crazy. Note that this is not an exhaustive list. There are many other things you can do to clean up your manuscript, but these are standard formatting requests made by most editors and publishers.

  • Use Times New Roman, 12-point font.
  • Do not use two spaces at the end of each sentence. Use a single space instead.
  • Other than the use of italics and bold, don’t worry about getting fancy with your manuscript. Remember, your main focus right now is the content, not the design.
  • Don’t press the tab key to start a new paragraph. Instead, set your paragraph preferences in Word so that the first line of each paragraph is automatically indented.
  • While you’re in the paragraph preferences dialog box, you’ll also want to set the spacing of your manuscript to double spacing.

formatting your manuscript for your editor

  • Main text should be flush left, not justified.

formatting your manuscript for your editor

  • When you want to start a new chapter or page, use a page break instead of pressing Enter or Return a bunch of times to get to a new page.

formatting your manuscript for your editor

  • If your manuscript includes graphics or illustrations, don’t place them directly in the manuscript file. Instead, insert callouts where the images should appear (e.g., “Figure 1 goes here”). Send the images to your editor as separate files (e.g., jpeg, png, or tiff). There are editorial and design reasons for doing this. I won’t get into them here, but trust me on this one, guys.
  • In nonfiction manuscripts, make sure heading levels are easily distinguished. My suggestion is to use specific font sizes for each heading level. For example:

formatting your manuscript for your editor

  • Ask your editor if he or she prefers to edit the manuscript as one document or if he or she prefers each chapter as a separate document. I personally prefer to edit all chapters in one document, but everyone has their own methods for editing.
  • If you’re submitting your manuscript to a publisher, be sure to read the publisher’s submission guidelines. Publishers typically have specific formatting instructions, many of which may be similar to the ones I’ve listed in this post. These instructions can often be found on the publisher’s website, or the publisher may send them to you directly.

Now that you’ve read these formatting guidelines, can you figure out what is wrong with the formatting in the example below?

formatting your book for editing

You’ll notice that

  • a fancy font is used at the top of the document instead of Times New Roman;
  • the author made a poor attempt to add some design to the chapter heading;
  • manual tabs are used at the start of each paragraph;
  • small caps are used for the first three words (another attempt to “design” the text); and
  • double spaces are used after punctuation rather than single spaces.

Proper formatting would look something like this:

formatting your book for editing

Fellow editors, if you think I forgot an important formatting tip, please feel free to list it in the comments below. Authors, if you have any questions, send me an e-mail or leave a comment below, and I will get back to you.