Are You Critique Group Savvy? When Jen Garrett Speaks…PLUS Critique Giveaways

Today, dear friends, I’m bringing you a truly special post – thanks to author Jen Garrett. We were chatting the other day about how important it is to have good critique partners and how difficult it is to find them sometimes.

Jen graciously agreed to share some of what she knows about critique groups. And she knows alot. JEN Garrett writes for, about, and around children all day. But sometimes she finds time to do the dishes at her home in Northern California. She also finds time to be the SCBWI Critique Carousel Coordinator for her region, query agents, and read mountains of books. How? We don’t know. You can find more about her at http://www.lexicalcreations.weebly.com

Welcome, Jen! Thank you for stopping by Picture Books Help Kids Soar to chat with us. And before I turn the platform over to you, let’s tell everyone about the giveaway that accompanies this post. Jen has agreed to donate a picture book manuscript critique…and I will donate another. So TWO lucky winners will be chosen and announced on another special post next Monday, August 31st, when I interview Moose, the dog in Maria Gianferrari’s Hello Goodbye Dog. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment and tell us how you feel about critique groups.

And now, take it away, Jen!

Five Ways to Find Your Critique Group

Critique groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are online, while other groups meet in person. Still others have a combination of online and in person interaction. Finding the perfect one for you takes preparation, determination, and a little bit of luck.

Writing Events

#1 One of the best ways to find a critique group is to meet other writers in person and exchange info. Where can you meet local writers? At local writer events, of course!

Writer events are often advertised in local newspapers and community magazines. You can also ask at the public library, college campus, or look for neighborhood bulletin boards near where you live. An online resource for finding these events no matter where you live is Meetup.

If you can’t find any events in your area, consider hosting one yourself at your local library or a local restaurant. Bring business cards when you attend to make connections with. I found my picture book critique group through a writer’s event. Actually, they found me!

Join Organizations

#2 Organizations such SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), CBI (Children’s Book Insider) and other writing organizations often host events that are not widely advertised. Consider joining and/or attending sponsored writer’s conferences and events. If attending the conference provides you with amazing opportunities – such as finding a critique group – then joining the organization will likely benefit you even more.

Online writing organizations such as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and WriteOnCon (Writers Online Conference) provide forums for finding critique groups in your genre.

Hone Your Craft

#3 The more you hone your craft by taking classes and attending webinars, the more you’ll rub shoulders with like-minded writers. An added perk to such courses is meeting fellow classmates who are also serious about honing craft. Don’t be afraid to exchange emails to connect outside class!

Many agents, editors, and authors host online courses and webinars.  Here’s a handful of my favorites.

  • Children’s Book Academy
  • Institute of Children’s Literature
  • Writing Blue Prints
  • 12 X 12 Writing Challenge
  • Kid Lit Writing School

 

 Get Social

#4 Connecting through social media is another great way to find critique partners. Some Facebook groups are associated to specific challenges – such as Storystorm and ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). But others – Subitclub and KidLit411, for examples – also have “Manuscript Swap” and “Critique Match Up” groups you can join once you’ve been an active participant in their main group.

Make a Comment

#5 Scroll down on your favorite blog posts, and see who else has commented. I’ve seen people connect through blog comments, but with this idea comes a warning: be careful not to ask for a critique out of the blue. Connect first and make sure they are open to exchanging manuscripts.

Bonus suggestion: Once you find a critique group, don’t be afraid to keep it on a trial basis for a while. If it’s not working for you or if your writing focus changes, then be honest and exit graciously.

LINKS:

Meetup 

SCBWI 

CBI

NaNoWriMo

WriteOnCon

Children’s Book Academy 

Institute of Children’s Literature 

Writing Blue Prints 

12X12 Writing Challenge

KidLit Writing School

Storystorm 

ReFoReMo 

SubitClub

KidLit411

WOW…Jen, thank you so very much! I know this post will be helpful to all of our writer friends…I’ll bet plenty of them are bookmarking it right now.

If anyone has questions that haven’t been answered in the post, you are welcome to put them in the comments. Jen and I will try to answer them…or will try to find someone who can. And don’t forget leave a comment, telling us if you are in one or more critique groups and, if you are, how they have or have not helped you and why. There will be TWO lucky winners of a picture book critique…I’m donating one and Jen is donating the other. So please spread the word far and wide…this is a topic we all need to think about.

Have a great week!  Those of you who follow me on Facebook already know that I’m going in for some emergency eye surgery Wednesday morning. I need these peepers in top condition so I can keep writing and blogging. I’ll see you back here on Friday and Saturday when Susanna Leonard Hill will be back in the house with another book blog tour!

About viviankirkfield

Writer for children - Reader forever Mom of 3, educator, author of SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, 2018), picture book junkie, lover of travel, hiking, cooking, playing Monopoly with my 8-year old grandson and fly-fishing with my husband.

Posted on July 25, 2017, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 89 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the wise suggestions. I have been in one group, and it has shrunk over the past year, but the individuals who have stayed have grown in their craft and give insightful critiques. We have evolved over time. I spent a very short time with another group found through a conference. There were a number of concerns I had, but the deal breaker was the lack of actual criticism. Just a lot of cheerleading- important to be positive, but honesty is equally important- how else do we grow?
    Thanks for all the resources= great help!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great point about needing your critique group to be more than cheerleading. A good critique group is supportive, but also pushes each other toward their writing goals.

      Ooh, my critique group would tear apart that last sentence I wrote, but I hope you know what I mean anyway.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

    • I love that you recognize how important constructive critiques are! And hurray for a group that has stuck together and evolved!

      Like

  2. Thank you Jen and Vivian for a wonderful interview. Great ideas, links, and a reminder to be honest and gracious while in a group and if you need to leave. So – do you find it most helpful to be a critique group with others at your same stage (agented, published, etc) or is it beneficial to have others above and behind you? Does it matter at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great question!
      I’ve found genre is more important that whether you are at the same stage, in kidlit especially. For example, if you write picture books, look for others who also write picture books – and if you can find an illustrator or two also. No matter what stage each of the members are personally, everyone in your group should be actively progressing on their writing journey and honing their craft in the process.

      Another thing that is more important than the stage you’re at is the dynamic of your group. You want a group that provides you with a comfortable working environment. If there’s a personality clash, for example, it’s best to graciously withdraw.

      Like

    • Wonderful questions, Maria!!! And I’m so glad that Jen addressed them. I’d also add that I agree 100% with her thoughts about the dynamics of the group…there needs to be an enthusiasm and level of commitment, I think.

      Like

  3. Thank you, Jen and Vivian, great info for keeping in mind, it’s really difficult to find the right critique group, since life’s commitments are an obstacle for any group to keep going on. I agree that being connected with the groups Jen refers seems the best idea to find the ideal critique partners. I am still searching and trying to find the right group. I hope thru interaction this will happen, in the long run! I am a newbie in this, I just count a year in trying to do so, I have offered feedback to writers who got published, that’s very encouraging to me. Nevertheless, I wish to find a group that will be my group to share, exchange ideas and to receive good feedback!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Looks like you have the right attitude!
      I, too, have offered feedback to writers who got published, and you’re right it is encouraging. It took me a year to find my critique group, and now I wouldn’t live without it. I hope you find your critique group soon.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you Jen, yes, helping others is a good process and you learn a lot of things, that’s the most important of all! I know the right group will come out for me, too! I am happy that you have found the right group to offer feedback and I am sure my wish will come true! Greetings to you, my friend!

        Liked by 1 person

    • And don’t forget, Agatha…although a critique group is a partnership…there are no legalities binding you to the group. If for whatever reason, it turns out to be the wroing group for you, you can always leave and keep looking. Sending positive thoughts for you to find the right group!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I highly recommend being part of a critique group. I know I’d be lost without mine. Not only do they give great advice on how to improve my manuscripts but they also keep me informed of new books, conferences, writing contest, etc. Plus, they are always there to pick me up when I am frustrated and there to celebrate all the litle triumphs along the way.

    Jen has given lots of info and tips for people searching for a critique group. Great list of links, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for this post, Jen and Vivian. I too feel that crit groups are life lines to writing and publishing. Mine are online though I”ve met up with some of my peeps at conferences or retreats. (after the fact!) Lots of great places to go and study up on in this post…thanks again Jen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am fortunate to belong to a very active local critique group which meets monthly. I agree that critique groups are very important.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beth Gallagher

    Wonderfully informative post, Vivian and Jen! Thanks so much! Sending love and “peeper magic” to you for Wednesday, Vivian! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Becky Scharnhorst

    Last year my critique partner and I attended a conference at Highlights and were blessed to find three other like-minded writers who were interested in joining our group. What a profound and unexpected blessing! Their feedback and friendship are invaluable to me! I can’t imagine doing this writer’s life without them. If you haven’t found your tribe yet, don’t give up! When you do find them, you will wonder how you ever did this without them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, Jen, for these helpful hints. I still feel slightly uncomfortable giving feedback to others but I do try to be helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve received excellent feedback from someone who was “just a beginner”. My suggestion is to focus on questions you have as a reader when you don’t feel confident to give advice as a writer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Laurie…I still hesitate as my finger hovers over the SEND button…but I know that my critique buddies appreciate the feedback…no matter what stage of writing we are at, we can usually ‘hear’ when something sounds off or when something sounds brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I completely lucked out meeting my critique group at a Highlights workshop. I was afraid to ask anyone if they wanted to join a group, but someone asked me. Our group grew as we added more members from the workshop and I can’t imagine how I would be getting along with them. It’s a wonderful experience and I love my group so much! If you are at an event, don’t be afraid to ask. I almost missed my chance!

    Like

  11. Thanks Jen and Vivian! Theses are great suggestions. I met my critique partners in person at a local SCBWI group. Over the years we have grown and changed members. They are an amazing support to my writing.

    Like

  12. Thank you both so much for this great information. Finding the right critique group is so important to grow as a writer.

    Like

  13. Shanah Salter

    Great post Jen and good luck with your eye procedure Vivian. I am in 2 in-person monthly critique groups and several online critique groups. The frequency of submission for the online critique groups varies so life doesn’t get too hectic. I love that writers of all levels of experience, from beginning writers to established writers, always have helpful/constructive comments. Critique groups are such an important way to improve as a writer and so much fun, too!

    Like

  14. Great post. I love my critique group!

    Like

  15. Thanks, Vivian and Jen! I’ve been with my critique group for three years and I love it. No matter how much I wrote, read and honed my craft, my improvement as a writer only became palpable once I joined it.

    Like

    • Exactly! We talk about how writing is a lonely profession, but really one can only get so far on their own. (I’m sure there’s some exception who can write in their closet and sell a perfect draft to the first editor they query, but I haven’t met that person yet.)

      Like

  16. Excellent post, thank you! Feel better soon, Vivian!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks, Jen and Vivian. Lots of great suggestions on finding/starting a critique group. I am in two critique groups. This is my first year in an online group through the 12 x12 PB Writing Challenge. The second is in-person, and we have been meeting together for 8 years. Both are invaluable to my writing work. Besides all the great feedback that has helped me improve my writing, these groups have helped me stick with writing. I might have faded into the “I used to be a writer” group.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy Shanahan

      Thank you so much for this post! I am a member of a FB group that is fabulous, but have been struggling to find something local. So many great suggestions! I have considered staring my own meetup group and you just convinced me to give it a go! Vivian I am a huge fan of your site!

      Like

  18. I love my critique groups. The hive mind is an excellent source for honest feedback. I couldn’t do it without them!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. David McMullin

    I am a member of 4 steady critique groups, two on line, and two in person. Plus I have a few individuals I exchange with. Having so many forces me to be writing and revising constantly so I can actively participate. Not all of the groups look at the same material – I don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many ideas for the same manuscript. But it is also nice to have a new group of people take a look at something that seems to have gone as far as it can with the first group. Not only do my manuscripts improve tremendously from the advise I receive, my writing skills have improved greatly by doing critiques – finding the strengths and weaknesses in others’ work and applying those lessons to my own.

    Like

  20. Thank you for the insights on the benefits of critique groups. Our local SCBWI has an open critique group that meets an hour before our regular monthly meetings for anyone who wants to participate, first come, first served. It is a great way for me as a new writer to get comfortable with critique groups. I have since also become involved with small online group, the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, and one that I organized. My craft has improved with each set of eyes on my writing. I am especially grateful for the friendships I have made.

    Like

    • I might be a bit biased as the Critique Carousel Coordinator of my own SCBWI region, but I can’t say enough good about having that type of program in your area. We, too, have monthly meetings for critiquing each other’s work.

      Like

  21. Sue Heavenrich

    Thanks Jen and Vivian! I love my crit group. We are a mix of kidlit, each of us exploring various outlets for our creativity (articles, educational presses, PBs, MG and YA). A couple people are also illustrators, and getting their feedback on Picture Book manuscripts is helpful – especially whether it leaves room for the illustrator, and how “image-ful” it is.

    Like

  22. Thank you for this post Vivian and Jen. I admit to being afraid of critique groups for a long time but now that I am in one (online), participate in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12, and have another individual I exchange with I realize how important it is. The biggest surprise was how much I learn-not just from getting critiques-but also from giving them. Hoping all goes well with your surgery tomorrow, Vivian!

    Like

  23. Yes, great advice and resources, thank you! Critique groups are so important! But I’m also glad you mention not being afraid to exit a critique group if it’s not working for you or at some point stops working for you because it’s important to recognize the moment when you’ve “outgrown” a group. Or if you’ve decided to change direction. We, as writers, should always seek growth and if you reach the potential of what a group can offer, it’s time for a change. It happens often, but I don’t think people talk about it because it might sound wrong or offensive. It’s a reality. Different people help you reach different levels and that’s normal. Don’t get stuck in one place just because you’re afraid people might get their feelings hurt. Find a group that works. Be in a group that works :).

    Like

    • That is so true! There are so many reasons a certain group might not work out, and that’s OK. You need to find a group that matches your personality, critique style, schedule, and push you to grow as a writer.

      Like

    • So true! There are so many reasons a certain group might not work out, and that’s OK. You need to find a group that matches your personality, critique style, schedule, and push you to grow as a writer.

      Like

  24. Arlene Schenker

    Thanks, Jen, for this advice, especially the last tip about exiting a critique group graciously if it is not working for you. I was afraid to offend the others by doing that, but your permission to do so has given me the courage to find a better fit.

    Like

    • I’m so happy to hear that! In my own experience, members of my critique group have left, and new members joined. I myself have left groups because I felt it no longer fit my goals as a writer – one of the groups I had started! I’ve found it is better to exit graciously than pretend something is working when it’s not.

      Like

  25. Thanks for the tops and links Jen. What a wonderful opportunity to get a critique from one of you! You are the gift that keeps on giving Vivian. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I think every writer should be in a critique group. I belong to one that meets every week. I look forward to each and every meeting.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Wow! Talk about an information packed post! I’ve come & gone from several groups that didn’t feel like a fit. I’ve now found a few trusted friends that give great feedback. I also learn so much about my own writing by giving feedback to others and helping them tighten their stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you shared this experience! Sometimes a formal critique group that meets regularly isn’t the answer. Having trusted critique partners can be just as invaluable.

      Like

  28. danielle hammelef

    I started out in a critique group, but it gradually fell apart as we moved in different directions. Now I’m trying to enter picture books and it’s so difficult to write one! S this giveaway is such a help to writers like me. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Sherri Jones Rivers

    I was in a face to face group for over 15 years, but people started moving in different directions and some quit writing, so I am now in one online group mainly;and a second one that I swap manuscripts with from time to time. It is a MUST as far as I am concerned. Otherwise, I would be just treading water and not getting anywhere. Two critiques as a prize. Awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I have been in several different critique groups over the years. The current group consists of 7 ladies who meet once a month. It is so important to get feedback on my stories as I am too close to them and the suggestions, input, and knowledge of other writers is so valuable.
    I also have a critique partner that lives in another state so we share our works in progress via email.
    I have grown in my writing because of what I have learned from my critique partners. Not only do we provide feedback on our stories, but we share what we have learned from writing classes, webinars, and conferences we attend. We support each other and cheer each other on toward our writing goals!

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Midge Ballou Smith

    Great job with this, Jen! So much help here–

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I found my critique group through my local chapter of SCBWI. At just about the time I was thinking to myself, “I know I need to join a critique group, but I don’t know how to go about finding one in my area,” our chapter posted a blog with a link to the established critique groups. Someone had recently moved near me and wanted to start a group, so I inquired and attended the first meeting. That was about 3 years ago and 3 “original” members are still with the group plus a few more we’ve gathered along the way. I have learned so much through the experience of critiquing others’ work and receiving critiques. I know my writing has improved, and so has the writing of my critique partners. Each of us provides a different perspective to our work. We use meetings to share and discuss our manuscripts, goals, things we’ve learned at conferences or on-line, and our ups and downs in the business. We support each other and have become great friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to look at twice at your name, because you basically described how my critique group got started. I’m one of the “few additions” but sometimes the originals forget that fact because it feels like I’ve been there from the start. 😉

      Like

  33. I met my critique group at our state SCBWI meeting. We have since added 2 new members and 5 feels just right. I feel that we are all improving our ability to critique as we continue to write and attend workshops. Our group is entirely online. We meet at the twice yearly conferences. I wish we could see each other more frequently.

    Like

    • I love that even though your group is entirely online, you make a point to meet at the conferences. I know sometimes distance makes a regular in-person group impossible, but isn’t it wonderful that we have technology to create critique groups anyway?

      Like

  34. I have been a part of several critique groups over many years and many original members have moved, stopped writing, or passed away. All of us became great friends and we learn from each other. In one instance some members seemed more interested in talking than critiquing. It’s a difficult decision to make if you feel it’s time for you to move on and try to find others who will encourage you, support you, and most importantly be honest about your writing. My online group is incredible and I’m so grateful for their insight, feedback, and encouragement! Thank you, Vivian and Jen for a wonderful post and your suggestions. Valuable information, to be sure!

    Like

    • If you feel it’s time to move on, then certainly you should take action on those feelings. It’s hard when a critique group becomes more about socialization and cheerleading than critiquing and improving your craft. Recently, a member of my critique group expressed that we need to push harder on becoming better writers and less on brainstorming. I was probably the biggest offender in the brainstorming department, and I’m so glad this member didn’t just sit quiet and let us stray from out group goals.

      Like

  35. What a wonderful giveaway opportunity!

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Finding a critique group can be a lot like dating. I have been in several. My first was at a bookstore but it contained adult and children’s writer’s so it was difficult for us to offer helpful suggestions. Another group was formed from our local SCBWI. It folded when several moved away. I’ve met some lovely people in online groups, but as the “dates” went by, we discovered we weren’t a fit. I’m now forming a group from people I’ve met at conferences. Face-to-face seems to be the best way to match personalities, genres, work ethic, experience, etc. Hope your surgery is a huge success Vivian!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I found the same thing about multi-genre critique groups. It’s hard to critique a manuscript targeting adults when you are writing for kids, and vis versa. The publishing environment alone is so different!

      Like

  37. Christina Barr

    Thank you for sharing this post. I am very fortunate to be part of a critique group that I met through the Spring Spirit Conference. This might sound silly, but one challenge for me is when you’re critiquing a piece that you genuinely love. Personally, when I submit a story for a critique, I am hoping for suggestions on how to improve. It can be hard when you feel that the piece is polished and ready to go when the writer is hoping for insights.

    Like

    • I know exactly what you mean! When I’m in that situation, I usually ask what the goals are for the manuscript. If the author is looking for an agent, for example, then I might find some agents to suggest. Or I might find a few comp titles to recommend. In any case, I let the author know that I think it’s ready and tell them I’d buy the book if it were published.

      Another related challenge is when there’s a piece that seems polished, but I don’t love it. That’s harder because I don’t have any suggestions, but I don’t connect with it either.

      Like

  38. Excellent suggestions! I’ve found a group through 12×12 (and now a partner through there, too) and a group through SCBWI. Good luck with everything Vivian! It’s the day after and I hope all is going well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so sweet, Erik! Yes, the surgery went really well…and I saw the doc in her office today for the post op…she says all leaks are repaired and the blurry vision should clear as the pressure builds back up.
      I love that you have a 12×12 critique group..my very first critique group was also through 12×12…in 2012…and we are still going strong.

      Liked by 1 person

  39. I say THANK YOU, like everyone else. We do NEED critique groups and I am in 2 small ones. One meets once a month and the other meets every Friday. Since retirement I have been traveling a lot so I don’t always make the meetings and I really miss them. They are very humbling and most helpful. I feel my writing has improved tremendously because these people are honest and smart. SCBWI also has been a great help.
    I hope you eye continues to improve and all will be well. Thanks for this post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  40. This post is filled with many thought provoking ideas. Thank you for sharing, Vivian and Jen.

    As a writer under construction, I feel it is important for critique partners to meet the needs of each other by supporting one another along the path to publication. Critique partners must be a good match. Expectations must be established. Encouraging each other to submit polished manuscripts ultimately leading to a goal of publication is a serious commitment.

    Giving and receiving constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement help each writer to grow and learn together. Receiving vague comments and accolades of *What a great story! or You did a good job,” are not helpful to the improvement of the manuscript. Speaking the truth with deep kindness and a sense of hope are best. Critiques should leave a writer feeling energized and filled with excitement to revise, edit, and polish. Additionally, I feel all writers, no matter the genre one writes, can learn from one another, however, it is best to exchange manuscripts with writers who read and write in the same genre.

    A good critique group encourages each other to be a SCBWI member and to attend writing conferences, webinars, and other writing opportunities. Outstanding critique partners read mentor texts and suggest titles. Supportive writers celebrate writers’ success together.

    An excellent read: THE WRITING GROUP BOOK Creating and sustaining a successful writing group Edited by Lisa Rosenthal.

    Thank you for the opportunity to earn a critique from you ladies. You both are admired.
    ~Suzy Leopold

    Liked by 1 person

  41. I have been in a critiuqe group for about 7 years. But once a person is published they leave the group and someone new comes in. I haven’t been published outside of Malta, where I live. The group are always newbies and to make matters worse, Malta has no english writing children’s writers. So I am alone basically and require a very good critique group which I am trying very hard to find.
    Critique groups are so important for friendship, critiquing and just having a good cry or laugh, whatever thw case may be.

    Liked by 4 people

  42. Thank you for the informative article! I’m a member of the Facegroup pages for KidLit411 and SubItClub, plus a few others, but those are my favorites. Both are great for different reasons. It is helpful to read through comments and learn from other’s experiences. I’ve found some wonderful resources through these groups.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. This is a great post! I used to lament about how hard it was to find quality critique partners so I decided to do something about it. I created thewritersmatch.com which is a website dedicated to helping writers find critique partners. It’s open to writers of all genres and experience and it’s completely free. I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from writers connecting through the site. I believe having good critique partners is essential to a writer’s success. Thanks for the post and I hope you check out my site too!

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Thanks Jen and Vivian! I lucked out with my first (and only in-person) critique group, which I found through SCBWI. My group has great insight and ideas–we’re diverse and that each of us brings something different to the table (literal and figurative). I tell other fellow newbies that one of the best things you can do starting out is find a critique group and join writing societies. Plus, it usually a fun time for me when I go to our group’s meeting (a nice break from my day job). Happy writing everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

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