Shannon Leyko

Author Shannon Leyko is a Ketchikan resident and author of the self help and lifestyle book "You're Completely Normal: Trading Where You Think You Should Be For Where You Want To Go," which is available for purchase on Amazon or locally at Parnassus Books. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Shannon Leyko has worn many hats — including those of a theme park performer, Times Square dancing banana, Miss New York 2013, reality television scout, executive assistant, motivational speaker and waitress.

But the Ketchikan resident wears only one hat — knit by local Vanessa Booth — on the cover of her debut book, "You're Completely Normal."

The 376-page book — which was deemed a bestselling new release by Amazon upon its publication in late November — was inspired by Leyko's persistent quest to stop focusing on achieving certain life milestones at a particular time.

"You're Completely Normal" is divided into nine chapters, each covering an area of life that Leyko said people (particularly women) are prone to feeling anxious about.

Among those areas are careers, relationships, parenthood and homeownership.

"When it comes to finding a spouse or their career or in parenthood or home ownership," Leyko said, "All these things that we feel like (we have) to have these milestones checked off as we get older, and realistically, there is no such thing as a normal timeline."

These concepts echo some of the themes of the posts on Leyko's longtime blog, "The Expert Beginner."

Leyko started the blog in 2011 as she was moving to New York City.

"The blog definitely relates to my book because it's designed to help women feel less alone and have a good laugh," Leyko wrote in a follow-up email to the Daily News.

The idea of writing a book was always in the back of Leyko's mind as she spent her young adulthood moving through both new jobs and new locations.

"I've lived all over the place and had some pretty crazy life experiences," Leyko remembered during a Wednesday phone interview with the Daily News.

"It was just the classic early 20s," she explained. "Just trying to figure out who you are, and dating and all that, and what your career is going to look like. And I was miserable working a nine-to-five for the federal sector."

And so, Leyko returned to her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was there that she met her husband, Aaron.

They married soon after meeting, and continued residing in Virginia Beach, where Aaron was stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard.

It was there that the discussion of moving to Alaska began.

"Before there was even this job available for Aaron ... he had asked me two years ago, 'If you had your dream, where would we move?' And I said Alaska. Like, I just wanted to move. I just wanted to go on an adventure."

Months later, in April 2019, the opportunity came for the Leyko family when Aaron was offered a position with the USCG in Ketchikan. The family arrived in Ketchikan in August of that year.

 "We've just been so excited to be here," Leyko said. "We've loved every second of it."

As Leyko continued to feel her way through many career paths and a growing family life, she got an idea stuck in her head.

"I kind of realized the more I moved around and met so many different people from so many backgrounds that women in particular often feel so behind in life," she said.

Her realization led her back to the belief that there is no firm schedule that someone has to follow in life to achieve particular milestones.

That concept is the core of "You're Completely Normal."

"And once I nailed down that idea, I just started researching and writing," Leyko said.

Leyko wrote the book during a year-long process.

Being pregnant at the time and with one toddler in tow, Leyko knew she had to set small goals for herself if she wanted to finish her project.

She described her strategy as "consistent without having overwhelming goals."

During her children's nap hours, she would sit down to write a goal of 500 words per day, every Monday through Friday.

"I don't know how to say it, I just powered through," she said, noting that aside from a five-week break after the birth of her second child, she did not miss a week of writing. "I mean, truly, I just sit in silence, I look out our beautiful window at this gorgeous view here in Ketchikan ... and I would look out at the window and say, 'Shannon, this is your dream and you're going to do it.'"

Leyko then allocated four months to edit her first draft.

"I knew that so much of what I wrote would be trash," she joked.

After having a panel of five editors look at her first draft, her 80,000 words were trimmed down to roughly 67,000.

During the design process, Leyko enlisted the help of local photographer Melina Glover for the cover art. She then sent the book off to the United Kingdom-based designer she had chosen.

Leyko finally published the book after a year of work, on Nov. 22.

"You're Completely Normal" topped Amazon's list of bestselling new release books during its first week on the market.

It also debuted at No. 5 in the self-help cateogry, No. 4 in new age/spirituality books, and No. 33 in the self-help book category.  

Leyko's book is available locally at Parnassus Books and Simply Bella.