Sad Sacked: A Memoir

In 2013, I received a phone call that temporarily derailed my life. It was days before Thanksgiving, and prior to this my biggest concerns were things like: "Is brining my bird really worth it?" and "Do I have enough matching wine glasses?" 

So when my husband called to tell me he’d been laid off, I was in shock. He’d been with that company for 18 years. What made matters worse was that my job was also in jeopardy. Six weeks later, I was let go too.

In a short span of time, we went from a two-income household to a no-income household with three kids and a mortgage. As weeks bled into months, we sent out resumes but heard nothing. I felt embarrassed whenever I saw friends and family who knew we were both out of work. I was certain people must’ve thought we were either incredibly lazy or there was something seriously wrong with us.

How could I cope? 

I started this blog. To be honest, I didn’t really expect anyone to read it, but I felt like it was important to document that strange and surreal period. And rather than make it as sad and depressing as it often felt when we checked our emails only to read: "We’re moving forward with a more qualified candidate…” I tried to use humor to boost my spirits. 

If nothing else, I figured this blog could serve as a sort of online diary that chronicled my descent into madness—a souvenir for the kids when I disappeared to go live among a feral cat community.

As I was job hunting, I came across a career advice website, The Muse, and I used some ideas from this blog to pitch the editor. Since I was in the trenches, she allowed me to begin writing for the site, and I was able to link to my blog in my byline. Every so often I received a lovely email or a direct message from someone who was unemployed and struggling as well. It made me feel better and less alone.

While looking for a full-time job, I picked up some freelance work and one assignment was to interview a woman who’d founded a local school for writers at all levels and stages. I asked which was her most popular course and she said memoir writing. I thought, "Huh. Maybe I could turn this blog into a memoir?" So I signed up for a workshop, thinking I was crazy, but also desperately in need of a creative outlet. 

So in September 2015, I took my first memoir class and it kept me accountable. I’d paid my money, I needed to write those pages, and getting feedback in real time motivated me to keep going.

Two years later, I finished writing the memoir and began working on my query letter. I took a Writer’s Digest course that included a critique from the agent who taught the course. After I received her notes on my letter, I edited it a bit more until I felt like it was in the best shape possible. Then, I researched agents who’d sold memoirs and began emailing them. Soon the rejections started coming in faster than my chin hair. 

Although most agents were pretty kind, they liked to point out that I wasn’t a celebrity, and I was like, “Duh, this is a memoir about unemployment. I’m on the verge of shoplifting toothpaste. I didn’t think I was a Kardashian.” 

Others said the market for memoir was tough and they couldn’t sell it because I didn’t have “a large platform” — which is code for: “Don’t contact us again until you’ve delivered a viral TED talk!”  

So December 2017 rolled around and I was determined to not give up, so I decided to participate in Pitmad. If you don’t know about Pitmad it’s a Twitter pitch event where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. There are hashtags that let you identify your genre and you add #pitmad to the tweet and if an agent “likes” your tweet you can send them your work as per their guidelines. (Just an FYI: The next one is Dec. 2) 

An agent liked my Tweet and I sent her my first few chapters. She wrote back days later asking to read the rest of the manuscript. After so much rejection, my first thought was: Is this one of my kids pranking me because they’re sick of hearing about my literary dreams imploding? 

But, no, it was a real agent! Long story short—she offered to represent me and I gladly accepted. Now you’d think that would lead to my happily ever after, right? I had visions of sitting across from Oprah, chatting with Terry Gross, maybe taking a call from Reese Witherspoon…but….

What happened next was pure deja vu. More rejections. Only this time it was editors saying, “We don’t know how to break this out! You’re not famous!” and me screaming at the ceiling, “I know I’m not famous, I’m wearing the same underpants I’ve owned since the first Bush administration!”

Ultimately, my agent and I went our separate ways…but every few months, I’d pull out the memoir kind of like the way other people read love letters from old boyfriends, and I’d bemoan the fact that it hadn’t worked out. 

Fast forward to 2020, a friend of mine had written a novel and had gotten an agent. She said, “My agent is sending it into Audible Original’s pitch portal but you don't have to have an agent to submit. Maybe you might want to think about that.”

So I got out my memoir, reread it, polished it up for the 4,000th time, and I sent it through the pitch portal...and they bought it. 

On Thursday, six years and countless rejections later, my memoir Sad Sacked  (based on this blog, thank you again for reading!) will be released—just shy of eight years after I got that phone call that initially sent us into a downward spiral

If you've ever wondered, "How close did Liz come to losing her mind and her marriage?" then this audiobook is for you!

I'd be lying if I didn't admit I'm terrified and feeling like I might as well be standing on Main Street in Borat's bathing suit.
But I also feel like it's a story I wanted to tell because unemployment takes a tremendous mental, emotional, and sometimes physical toll, and I don't think that's talked about enough.

I'm grateful to the wonderful women in my writing groups who encouraged me to not give up, to my friend who suggested I try Audible, and, most of all, to my husband for generously allowing me to share a tale in which neither of us is at our best. 

Do you have an unemployment related story to tell? If you'd like to write a guest post, I'd welcome the chance to share your tale as well. 

Thanks for reading!


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