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When I decided to self-publish Cheer, I analyzed what I wanted to get out of having my hard-fought creation out in the world.  Although earning money from the book would be nice (very nice), my primary goal was that readers would like it.  Although I’m a journalist by day, fiction writing is still new to me.  And at this point, anyway, I view my novel-writing as more art than business — and every artist wants their work to be appreciated.  That’s why I allowed my novel to be freely loaned among Kindle owners and available for free to Amazon prime members.

So, in addition to the feedback so far on Amazon, I’ve been thrilled to receive e-mails and Facebook messages like these:

Finished the book this am!   Wonderful, wonderful.  Leslie — I enjoyed it so much.

Congrats on your novel…I started it last week during my trip to Turks and Caicos and can’t put it down.

I’ve just finished reading your novel and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.  It is a quick and pleasurable read, a real page turner.

You write very well and kept me interested/involved to the very end. (And the ending was quite well done.)  In all, an excellent novel and you should be very proud and pleased. I enjoyed reading it and will recommend it to others. The characters had real depth and I found Ethan particularly likable!

Just finished Kindle version.  Was racing to the end as I really got caught up in the story.  The writing was excellent — very good mix between formal language structure and colloquialisms.  I could totally relate to the place references.  The characters were very good (I liked Ethan the best because he was so much less intense than the other two.) Except Nina of course.  Perfect best friend.  The dialogue was laugh out loud funny in parts.

I very much liked Cheer.  The grief, the inability to comfort Ella, the cutting
were all hard for me to absorb but the “aha” moment at the end was “delicious” and
I really couldn’t put it down this a.m. and read the second half straight through.
You did such a terrific job.  I keep thinking about the book even through I finished around a week ago and that’s not just because I know you.

The book is a real find; I loved it!!!!  I loved the story and how you didn’t say what happened to Riley until well into it.  I cared for the characters and what happened to them, except for Rick, and I loved how you went from Ella to Jenny to Ethan. I hope there are more novels to come.  

So if you’ve ever read a book that you loved, LET THE AUTHOR KNOW.  I promise, you will make someone’s day.  After putting blood, sweat and tears into a book, it is sooooooo gratifying to learn that the most important people — readers — liked it.

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I’m thrilled by the response so far to Cheer: A Novel.  Thank you all!  I thought I’d give a little background on some of the characters in the book.

Early in the story, one of the main characters, Ella, talks about how she loves her daily early morning walks with her best friend and neighbor Hope.  She says they walk more for the gossip than the exercise.  That’s a direct quote from one of my favorite women’s fiction authors, Jodi Picoult, who has said the same thing (at book readings I’ve attended and in interviews) when asked about her daily routines.

jodi picoult, my sister's keeper, novel, novelist, writer, cheer: a novel, leslie a. gordon

My favorite of Picoult’s books, by the way, is My Sister’s Keeper. She always inspires me with her topical, readable and realistic family dramas.

Another main character in Cheer is named Jenny.  I named her after one of my all-time favorite writers: the brilliant Jennifer Egan.

jennifer egan, novel, novelist, writer, cheer: a novel, leslie a. gordon, short stories

A Visit from the Goon Squad is my favorite of her novels — it’s truly innovative, as evidenced by her Pulitzer Prize . Yet Emerald City, a collection of short stories, is actually my favorite of her books.

The dad in Cheer is Ethan, named for Ethan Canin.

ethan canin, novel, novelist, writer, cheer: a novel, leslie a. gordon

Canin’s novellas in The Palace Thief moved me profoundly.  I’ve also enjoyed his novels, particularly America, America.  He has especially inspired me because before he was a novelist, he was a practicing physician — as I’ve mentioned, I, too, had another career before becoming a full-time writer.  Interestingly, both Egan and Canin grew up in my beloved city of San Francisco.

If you are enjoying Cheer, I’d be honored and grateful if you shared it with friends and/or wrote a review on Amazon, which is an essential way for any debut author to get noticed.

As I mentioned, I have always wanted to publish a novel.

I was an only child until I was almost six years old and then my parents were busy with a newborn.  As a result, I had a lot of time to myself as a kid — and so I read.  I read a lot.  I also became enamored with the job of novelist and I fantasized about making that my career.

Fast forward to the late 1980’s when I had to determine what I’d do to earn a living.  While I loved to write, I was too risk-averse to try journalism, which would require that I cut my teeth at small-town newspapers all over tarnation.  Plus, I wasn’t sure I was really ready for the workforce anyway.  So I did what many uninspired political science majors who like to write do: I went to law school.

I’ll spare you the often painful details of my six years (three in school, three in practice) in the legal profession.  Suffice it to say, it was not my finest hour.  I was wholly ill-suited to big firm litigation, which I did upon graduation simply because that’s what everyone else was doing.  (To quote Taylor Swift, Stupid girl.)  I’d get in trouble with firm partners for kindly granting extensions to opposing counsel, which I’d done because being nice was my nature but, it turned out, was also strategically stupid.  I might have done better in law if I’d tried a more conciliatory practice area, like adoption law.  In addition to hating litigation and the hierarchical structure of big firms, where I had to kowtow to partners whom I absolutely didn’t respect, I also discovered that the little writing I got to do didn’t satisfy my creative urges.  So at night and on the weekends, I took writing classes.   I soon found that while I was earning poor performance reviews as a lawyer, every single piece of writing I sent out (usually personal essays; this was in the 1990’s, long before blogs or really even before the Internet ) was getting published.  The universe was telling me something.

I dropped out of law and went back to school to earn a master’s in journalism, which was a wonderful experience not only for what I learned writing-wise, but also for the time it granted me to regain my badly bruised self-esteem.  I’d been emotionally beaten up by failing as a lawyer, but I received a scholarship to the journalism program and even won a prestigious award while I was there.  After graduation, I became a staff writer at a legal newspaper, the perfect marriage of my legal and journalism degrees.  I’ve been happily and successfully freelancing for more than 10 years.

Hyper diligent, I treated the writing, revising and editing of Cheer the way I would one of my other writing assignments.  For the past 18+ months, I gave myself goals and deadlines and I hope the end result reflects my love of the story.

 

With Cheer set to be published very soon, I thought I’d provide some background on how I came to write the story.

When I was in college, a friend offhandedly told me something that made my ears prick up. Now that, I thought, would make a great novel.  And the idea never left me.  It just brewed and steeped for (I’m dating myself here) decades.  In the meantime, I wrote two other novels.  One was a romance novel that was downright terrible. Really, it sucked.  The second was a mystery novel, which was…decent.  I even had an agent show some interest, provided I made some revisions.  I put those revisions aside to have a couple of babies.  When I finally had time to pick the mystery novel back up, the technology used to solve the story’s central mystery had become completely outdated. I decided to ditch it.

Throughout all of this, that idea I’d had since college remained in my brain.  I wrote a few chapters and put it aside.  Then I read a book that was all the rage.  Hey, if there’s a book bandwagon, I’ll jump on it.  So I decided to read this obscenely popular book too.  I won’t name names but it’s part of a series, has a black cover, was the inspiration for some movies…and it was seriously the biggest piece of dreck I’d read in a long time.  I couldn’t believe the book, which I could barely finish, had gotten so much traction.  It inspired me to pull out those initial chapters of what would become Cheer and see how I stacked up.  I read them and thought, “Huh, this doesn’t suck.”  Trust me, this is actually quite high self-praise for a writer!  I decided to write a few more chapters.

Around that same time, I chatted with a friend, who told me about a conversation she’d had with her husband, whose relative had recently died at a young age.  She and her husband had discussed what they’d regret not having done if they were similarly to die so young.  My friend told her husband that she’d regret not having a family dog for their children to grow up with.  In that moment, her husband agreed to a dog.  (We actually had this conversation while her new puppy was playing with my dog in the backyard…)

That exchange with my friend got me thinking: what would I regret not having done?  My instant response was, “Publishing a novel.”  Writing a book is something that I have always wanted to do (more on that in a future post) and after considering that long-held goal in sweeping life/regret terms, I got busy writing Cheer in earnest.  Many (!) months later, I’m about to publish it.

I’m eager to see if the story of Cheer sticks with readers the way it has stuck with me for many, many years.

In June, I sent the manuscript of my novel Cheer to dozens of agents and I was thrilled when I got some nibbles. None of those nibbles panned out, though. As I was debating whether to send submission materials to dozens more agents or to just lock the manuscript in a bottom drawer in defeat and try not to think of the hundreds of hours I’d devoted to it, I came across Jessica Park’s “How Amazon Saved My Life.”  It was as if by stumbling upon that essay, the universe was telling me something.

Overnight, I went from frantically researching agents to obsessively researching the world of Kindle Direct Publishing.  It seemed like the perfect option for Cheer.  Here’s why:

— Trying to get the attention of agents, who seem solely interested in uncovering the next Fifty Shades of Grey, was proving elusive. Rather than beg an agent to take me on, I’d prefer to prove my novel-writing mettle directly with readers of women’s fiction.  Case in point: one of the issues agents had with Cheer is that it’s short — a bit over 60,000 words.  That is technically novel length, but most novels out there run 75,000-100,000 words.  However, I am a journalist by trade, paid for my economy of words, and I knew the story was complete — just written tight.  I didn’t want to manufacture inessential scenes just to hit a word count.  And I suspect readers out there (especially lovers of beach reads) will appreciate that.  With Kindle Direct Publishing, I get to find out!

— Even if an author is lucky enough to land an agent, between incorporating agent edits, the months it takes for agents to pitch to publishers, and the lengthy publication process, it typically takes years for a book to finally get to print.  Once I decided to self-publish, I determined I could pull everything together — final, final edits, professional author photo, cover design — in about eight weeks and at a nominal cost.

— Being an indie author no longer has the stigma it once did.

— Whether 10 readers buy Cheer or 10,000 do, I can earn more by selling directly to readers than I can by relying on a traditional publisher to distribute my book.

Of course, I’m taking a risk.  Without the benefit of an editorial and marketing team at a traditional publisher, Cheer may go absolutely nowhere.  But given the low cost of self-publishing, I’d be foolish not to find out whether readers will love the story of Cheer as much as I do.  Stay tuned…

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