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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 274

Updated on September 16, 2019

Stories Are Everywhere

As many of you know I took a short weekend road trip to Oregon a couple weeks ago. It was an eight hour drive one way, so I had tons of time to observe my fellow man and toss around writing ideas. That’s what I do, by the way, in most settings: I think about writing!

I pulled into a rest stop somewhere south of Portland and got out to stretch my legs. There was a bedraggled young woman, early twenties would be my guess, sitting against the rest room wall with a sign that said “Need money for gas or a ride to Salem.” She was a pretty girl, slender face, slender body, unwashed, her long auburn hair tussled and un-kept, wearing an old Army jacket, a “Peace Out” t-shirt, and jeans with more holes than material.

That was, at worst, a short story sitting there and, at best, a novel.

Writers are not only writers but observers. I will never understand the concept of writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t think it exists; I just can’t comprehend how it happens. My brain is flooded with ideas, like a daily storm surge after a hurricane makes landfall. I can’t shut it off.

I gave the girl a couple bucks and wished her a good day. No way was I giving her a ride. My paperboy, growing up, was Ted Bundy. My trust in my fellow man only goes so far.

Let’s do this!

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!

No Shame at All

From Eric: “Now not enough for a mailbag answer but a bit ago you suggested/nay demanded that if you use a numeric - 1 in numbering in the same work you should not use a "one" either or. I have decided this is wrong. Emphasis baby emphasis. Similarly I am deciding on contractions of not and words that get a red line like "ain't". I am also toying with not doing the capital on the first word of a sentence. Maybe you could drop me a line not so public if you think you might shame me too much in answer. I love Mondays. I do the calendar when Sunday is last and Monday is first.”

Eric, I never know if you are joking or you’re serious. I’m going with semi-joking today.

I don’t care what you do with the rules of grammar, and I don’t mean that as a snippy answer. Creative writers are allowed to be creative. Creativity is a free-flowing river. It is not a set of rules.

I will say this: if you are a freelance writer, writing for pay, you will most likely do better if you pay attention to the rules. If you are just a creative writer, I think you should experiment with the rules. Toss them away completely if you want, but just remember that your readers have to be able to understand what you are trying to say; if they can’t understand your written message then the message has been wasted and you might as well just keep a diary of your thoughts.

Best Way to Ask a Mailbag Question

From Louise: “What’s the best way to get a question to you for the Mailbag?”

You have two choices, Louise: drop me a question in the comment section below, or send me an email at holland1145@yahoo.com. Either way works and I have no preference.

Should I Write for No Pay?

From Lindsay: ”I’m just starting on a freelancing path, and I’m wondering if I should write an article or two for free just to get my name out there in the marketplace. What do you think of this practice?”

This is the tricky one, and I can see the pros and cons of this discussion. I really don’t think there is a “right” answer to this one.

I get it; it’s hard to break into freelancing, so many have the tendency to give away work and thus get a foot in the proverbial door. I’m in the other camp which says my writing is valuable, and I’m not giving away my talent. The only situation which would convince me to give it away for free is if a client wanted a specific piece written for a sample of my work i.e. 200 words about conservation, or 300 words about charter schools. In that case I might relent and give them what they are asking for.

You’ll have to make up your own mind about this one. I don’t think this is a question which someone else can answer for you.

Be wily like a fox regarding payment for your work
Be wily like a fox regarding payment for your work

Audio Books

From Anna: “Someone commented on one of your Mailbags about turning your novel into an audio book, but I can’t find the comment. Do you know what she said, or who it was? It was recently, but I don’t remember her name.”

The person you are asking about is named Heidi, and she is a marketing expert/guru . . . also a good online friend of mine. Her comment was in response to a question about writers marketing their work, and here is that comment:

Re: Marketing Yourself. Yep, writing and publishing your work is your best marketing tool. If people can't find and see your work online, you're finished these days.

Re: eBooks, Print Books, and??? Yes, print books are still strong, but that doesn't mean that the print and bookstore business is strong. eBooks have slowed down a bit. But where the surge in growth is occurring is audio books with double digit growth year over year. We need to be multi-format authors.

How to Begin a Novel

From Barbara: “How do you begin a novel? I have a lot of ideas to write about, but I’m not sure how to actually translate those ideas into an opening chapter.”

Barbara, first I’ll refer you to the introduction of this article. That young hitchhiker was a novel waiting to happen, and that is how I begin novels. I will see something or someone, and then I start randomly putting them in situations. My novel “Resurrecting Tobias” began as a writing exercise, a seedy old guy walking down a seedy street, in a rundown section of town. What did he see? Who did he see? Why was he there? Where was he going?

Once I had answered all of those questions, I not only had my opening chapter but I also knew where the book was going.

Anyway, that’s how I start most of my novels, but my way isn’t the only way. Ask for more advice, or try my method . . . go take a walk downtown and start playing the “what if” game with the first interesting person you see. I think you’ll enjoy the exercise.

What Words of Advice Do You Have?

From Pete: “I’m just starting out. I’m twenty years old and I’m set on being a writer. Do you have any words of advice you can give me?”

Well, Pete, first of all, good luck, and I’m not being facetious when I say that. I wish you well.

My facetious answer would be “don’t quit your day job,” because writing doesn’t pay well when you are starting out, but I’ll give you my serious advice instead.

Remember what your job is as a writer. If you are a creative writer, your job is to entertain. If you are a content writer or an investigative writer or any other type of non-fiction writer, your job is to inform. Do not lose sight of those goals, and in a perfect world, when you are really humming along on all cylinders, you will entertain and inform all at the same time, and when that happens you can give yourself a pat on the back.

The world needs you, so don’t give up!

Drink from the Fountain of Success and keep writing!
Drink from the Fountain of Success and keep writing!

Two Weeks Later

Two weeks have passed since I saw that girl in that rest stop, and I’m still thinking about her. For a writer that was a profound scene. As a caring human being it was a bit frightening. I wonder about her and hope she is safe. There are so many out there like her, and it’s such a big world, scary at times, harmful at times, dark at times.

Wishing you all a great week ahead.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Cynthia and yes, I was serious about Ted Bundy... my one claim to fame. lol I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      2 weeks ago from Georgia

      That little bit of information about Ted Bundy was a Wow! moment. Like Alyssa, I wondered if you are serous about that.

      Your answers to the writers' questions are always very informative. Fantastic how you have remained faithful to your mission of informing writers, seasoned and newbies, about writing.

      I agree with you about the writing prompts that are everywhere. As a writer, increasing our powers of observations maybe one of the best things we can do to make it easier to start writing. Simple questions can turn into serious writing.

      Thanks for remaining diligent to your mission. Take care.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I was serious, Alyssa....and his mother worked at the college I attended and handled much of my paperwork.

    • Alyssa Nichol profile image

      Alyssa 

      3 weeks ago from Ohio

      Oh my goodness... were you serious about the paperboy?!? yikes! Fantastic mailbag this week! I hope you have a wonderful day! :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, I would only have one question for you: Do you enjoy writing? If so,it will always be okay.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, I get start-up ideas like the hitchhiker's would-be story, but about halfway to the finish line, the story loses its appeal. Details tire me. Is it okay to write for a lifetime but never publish a lengthy work? Should I just label myself incapable?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Keep hoping, Zulma...lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Liz! Good decision on that editing. I actually believe consistency is more important than the particular rule of grammar. Just pick an approach and do it throughout.

      As for pay at HP, I'm afraid we are all sentenced to a life of poverty, my friend.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 weeks ago from United Kingdom

      Actually, I'm hoping it will help me blind myself with my own brilliance. :D

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      lol....have fun, Zulma! Shiny you say? Don't be blinded by its brilliance.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Welcome back, Linda! You were of course missed. Days like yesterday, with the constant rain, wear me out emotionally and mentally. I need a break!!!!

      That's all we need is Eric writing like cummings. lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari M! Your continued support is greatly appreciated, Sir!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      As always, Li-Jen, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thanks so much.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rochelle and I wish you the same blessings always.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 weeks ago from United Kingdom

      Be patient? Well, Bill, you're in luck. I found something shiny that should keep me distracted for a bit. You are spared my nagging. lol

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      Another fascinating read, Bill. I have heard of writing groups sitting in pubs and observing others as a creative exercise to inspire their writing.

      It sounds like you had an interesting paperboy.

      I have been mulling over some writing rules recently, as I've been editing books for relatives. Yesterday it was 'when is it appropriate to use a colon before speeech?' And should'Mum and Dad start with capital letters or small case in mid-sentence?' I'm going to let the authors decide!

      I laughed about your comments on writing for no pay, as that's exacgly what I seem to be doing on HubPages!

      Heidi writes interesting and useful articles.

      Your comments on the opening of a book are interesting. Readers put a lot of weight on those opening paragraphs. They can make the difference between a reader giving up or reading the whole book. So, no pressure for authors!

      Bearing in mind my absence of earnings on HubPages, your advice on not giving up the day job is very sound.

      Have a great week, Bill.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very nice to hear that you helped that poor woman and pointed here about the existence of so many others needing our help in some way or other. I am much moved by your narration of the plight of that young woman.

      This mailbag is also very interesting as always and something new to learn in each one.

    • Li-Jen Hew profile image

      Li-Jen Hew 

      3 weeks ago

      Hello Bill, you are so open-minded to give your money to that girl at the rest stop. I know your trip to Oregon went well and you got so many ideas! I like that you still include questions which can only be answered by the person asking.Thank you for sharing!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, sorry I'm late jumping on board, but I just returned to rainy Washington. Like you, I wonder what happened to that poor girl; good golly mine were that age not all that long ago. What could possibly have happened in her life to place her in such a situation? And, as others have said here, so sad that today you can't risk reaching out "too much" to help. Any number of things could happen.

      I'm never sure how to handle Eric's questions, he's such a devilish sort. Eric, if you're reading this, just look at the writings of e. e. cummings (even his signature).

      I enjoyed every moment of my week away, but golly sakes I don't know if I'll ever get caught up. I have so many ideas and leads and research to do. And don't get me started on the list of Christmas gifts I need/want to start making, and on and on it goes.

      You had a great mailbag this week and it looks like the weather will be keeping both of us at the keyboard for the foreseeable future. Stay dry my friend.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

      3 weeks ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

      Wise words :) Stay blessed!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, you and my wife would get along nicely. She sees too much, probably. She is assaulted by all manner of writing ideas, but never makes it to the computer to write about them. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Kari. I appreciate you commenting...good advice.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you William, and I wish for you a great week as well. I'll have an answer for you on Monday.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm working on it, Zulma. Stay tuned and be patient! lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks a bunch, Heidi. I swear, one day, I'm going to make that Podcast. I think I'm getting closer to that reality.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm working on it, Ruby, and thank you for the kind words.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I appreciate you stopping by. Stay dry my friend. The rains are unrelenting.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Good advice for Peter, Lori, and I thank you for it. For sure, be true to who you are as a writer.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      HaHa, Bill! I've worried about that same thing. I'm afraid I don't speak clearly enough to be understood. Besides, a whole book with my voice....that might be annoying, you know?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pamela, and I hope you have a wonderful week as well. Life is good, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Flourish. Perhaps that would help. Perhaps not. I guess there is only one way to find out, eh?

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow, I learned so much from this mailbag not just about writing but about living my day. I walk every day and being downtown in a big city, I do see many things. Recently, we have the Toronto International Film Festival which is right where I am so my mind was bombarded but as usual putting this on paper is where I need to improve. I fall into all kinds of distractions.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      3 weeks ago from Ohio

      Another wonderful mailbag! I want to add a word to Pete. Pete-get every experience you can. Good and bad, you never know when you may need to write about it. Again, wonderful mailbag, Bill!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I am with you, Sha, regarding in the car and music...until this last trip to Oregon. I listened to NPR all the way for whatever reason...just a change of pace, I guess.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for your thoughts, Mary. I hope your husband is doing well. Sending positive thoughts your way.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      The story has begun, Melissa. I'll share it with you all soon. Thank you and Happy Tuesday to you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Nithya! I love that audio books reminds you of your childhood. Perhaps that explains,in part, their great popularity.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you MizB! It's a tough call, giving strangers money. I may make mistakes at times, but I would rather err on the side of compassion. :) Wishing for you cooler weather soon. We are drenched right now in our wettest September on record.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Shaloo! I feel kind of bad that I didn't give her a ride, but caution is always called for, I think.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      3 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I congratulate you on carrying such a heavy mailbag this week, Bill. I never thought about audiobooks before. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that. Is there a way around it? And how much difference do you think it would make in sales? Have a great week, my friend!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 weeks ago from United Kingdom

      So tells us, Bill. Who is she? Where is she going and why? What choices did she make along the way that lead to her current situation?

      What's the story, Bill? (heh-heh)

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Mailbag Monday... and it's still Monday!

      Re: Stories are Everywhere. Indeed they are. Even though I'm not a story writer, I find new stuff to write about at almost every turn. It's not writer's block. It's a lack of observation and curiosity.

      Re: Working for Free. This is a constant debate on both sides of the issue. Some experts will say that you should work for free to gain experience. I get that, sort of, if you absolutely have zero experience and expertise to bring to the equation. But I'm of the belief that "free" or "bartered" services become a habit for both sides. Service providers don't know when to quit giving it away, and clients don't know when to quit asking. Work for free ONLY if it gets you something that you absolutely could not have gained any other way. Otherwise, in my book, it's pay to play.

      Re: Audio Books. Thanks for the shout out! Indeed, audio books are gaining a lot of ground in the publishing business. And, yes, it's possible to do it DIY (do it yourself) if you're willing to learn. I did a course on Udemy about it.

      Well, that's all. Have a wonderful week ahead!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

      Bill, you have a heart, by that, I mean you didn't just pass the girl, you gave her some money. There are people in this world who wouldn't look her way, and possibly call her a tramp. I think you have a story since you are still worrying about her. I hope so.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This edition of the Mailbag contains some interesting questions and answers, as always. "Writers are not only writers but observers" is very true.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      4 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

      Great Mailbag as always. I would add my two sense of advice for Peter and that is to be true to who you are. Don't try to copy someone else's style. Trial and error are part of the process of learning to write. We probably learn more that way.

      Bill, I do that too. I am a people watcher and you found a good subject. I have based some of my characters loosely on someone I knew or knew of.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      4 weeks ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Interesting week for the mailbag. I especially enjoyed the 2 videos on audiobooks. Kind of scary to think I could use my own voice to create one. No one would understand a word I was saying. Have a great week.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      Bill, I give money once in a while if the person looks needy and high on

      drugs. I do always like to put my safety first however.

      You had many interesting questions today. I have done freelance writing, and they are quite particularly about following their rules. I like to write using proper English, but I like having a bit of freedom on Hubpages. I thought you had some great answers for the questions you received. Have a good week Bill!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 weeks ago from USA

      That girl is someone's daughter and I sure hope someone misses her. I find myself worrying about certain types of people (and always the animals in this world). Perhaps if the moment is right you can give the next person like her some sage advice as well as a little cash. Given that you had Ted Bundy as a paper boy, I'm sure you can conjure up enough advice in a nutshell to inspire her to call home, not jump into a car with just anyone offering a ride, etc. It would be neat to hear everyone give the best piece of advice they ever received (or the best piece of advice they have to share).

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Audio books may be popular, but I'm not interested. I want to hear the infections my mind creates from my interpretation of the story. That's half the intrigue of reading a book. At least that's the way I feel.

      Also, when I'm in my car, which is where most people listen to audio books, I listen to music. No talk shows, no chatter, just music.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      4 weeks ago from Brazil

      I enjoy audio books as well. Often if I am doing design work, I'll have my headphones in. One that I wouldn't have read, but prefer to listen to is, Heroes:Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures. Stephen Fry wrote it and reads it. I think if an author can read their own work, it's much better.

      I hope the girl at the rest stop is safe. I feel certain she'll make an appearance in your future writing, in one form or another.

      Have a wonderful week.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      4 weeks ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday Bill! I think that is so fascinating, that you observed the girl at the rest stop and still thinking about her 2 weeks later...and remembering all the details. Yup, she will definitely show up somewhere in your writing...

      Hope you have a great and productive week!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 weeks ago from Dubai

      I love audiobooks; it is great to listen to a story being readout. It reminds me of my childhood days. Stories are everywhere waiting to be found, the bedraggled young lady must have a sad story to tell. A great mailbag installment, interesting and informative.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

      Bill, that was kind of you go give the girl some money. Sometimes I contribute and sometimes I don't, depending on my gut feeling. The last woman I encountered was clean and was dressed in casual clothes, but I gave her $10 and wished I had more to give. She was stranded in town with her husband in the VA hospital, and broke while they were awaiting his reimbursement check. After I left her, I was sorry that I didn't take her and buy her dinner. Since Larry is a VA patient, I knew her story too well to think she was lying.

      Good questions today. The one about the first chapter is a common one. I can write the whole book, but I still agonize over the first chapter.

      Got to go stand out in 95 degree sun today at a flag line for a friend's husband's military funeral, but I'm glad to be able to do it. Be well, my friend.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      4 weeks ago from India

      It was kind of you to help that girl and if I was in your place, I too wouldn't have trusted her enough to give a ride. It's sad that we are unable to trust fellow humans but so much deception around...what to do? Another informative and interesting mailbag.. thanks!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Chitrangada Sharan, and Happy Monday to you as well. I hope this finds you happy, and I wish, for you, a brilliant week of productivity.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine. I've actually just started a short story based on that girl. Hopefully I'll have the time to finish it this week.

      Happy Monday my friend!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      That would be a mess, wouldn't it, Mike? No capitols at the beginning of sentences? I would be a crazy person reading it.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning John! My wife does the same thing. For whatever reason, they haven't caught on with me yet.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Hello Bill! Happy Monday!

      Your introductory paragraph can be an interesting beginning of a story. I agree with you that the writers are keen observers and their minds are flooded with so many ideas. You, as a writer, do full justice to this statement.

      Enjoyed going through the set of questions and answers in this installment.

      Thanks for sharing this.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      4 weeks ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I would still be pondering a bit about that young girl and like you, I wouldn't have been so trusting. But still, be curious when all was said and done. That said, always enjoy your Monday mailbag and thanks for sharing, as always! Happy Monday and week ahead now :)

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Bill - To eric, I say, use a capitol letter at the beginning of a sentence. 'For the reader.'

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      Bill, like you, I hope that girl got to Salem safely. A good subject for a writer’s imagination too. Audio books do seem to really be taking off. My wife listens to them all the time because she can listen while still doing other things. Many of the top authors are starting to also share their work in audio books.

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