Everyone's talking about layoffs, downsizing and the credit crunch. As a writer, the economy is on my mind, too, since my first book—the one I've devoted years ushering into existence—is hitting bookshelves now, amid talk of the Great Depression 2.0. Lucky for me, I'm a Pollyanna. I don't deny certain realities, such as diminishing sales or the uncertainty in the marketplace. But after having spent hundreds of hours alone with my laptop—writing a book about embarrassment and the urge to conceal the things that make us human—I'd like for someone other than my mother to read my work. Since there's no room for pessimism as I plan to get my baby off the ground, I find myself doing things like banishing last month's Harper's, with its cover story “The Last Book Party: Publishing Drinks to a Life After Death,” to my kittens' litter box. Accidentally, of course.

Recently, my positive thinking was tested when I met with my agent, who broached the subject of tempering expectations for a book release in this economic climate as she told me what the first printing would be. Instead of listening to her caution that booksellers are being “hit hard,” I looked at my watch. “Aren't I late for yoga?”

Soon after, I was laying my mat down in the packed yoga studio, when I saw a friend whose first book came out in the fall. After class, we walked to a cafe. When I repeated what I'd heard about booksellers slashing orders, she groaned, “Oh, I heard Borders is going under.”

“Borders?” I cried, remembering buying Alain de Botton's On Love there. “Not Borders!” My friend looked at me sympathetically. “Just... keep up with your yoga.”

After she left, I stayed in the cafe, sending e-mails to my publicist. How are we doing on readings? What's going on with [this magazine]? I even asked the question I know I'm not supposed to ask: Did you get my letter to Oprah? What better way to avoid all talk of the faltering marketplace than by throwing myself into promotional work?

Just as I was typing out my latest idea—a contest!—I couldn't help listening as the young guy sitting across from me answered his cell: “Hey, man. Yeah, just sittin' here reading.” After a pause, he scoffed, “Working? Nobody works anymore. This is the Great Depression, dude.” How nifty that this presumably laid-off person now has the time to read in a cafe, I thought, trying to ignore one painfully obvious fact: my unflagging optimism was taking a real hit. Resuming work, I thought, I must be positive! But then I got an e-mail from an independent bookseller outside Boston: “We're sorry, but we've had to cut back on events. Maybe when your paperback comes out.”

I'd always thought of my book—which is about the cathartic element of revealing one's secrets—as an offering to the world. But now, facing rejection after rejection, I was beginning to feel like Oliver Twist, begging for porridge. Then my publicist called. She said that although there'd been interest from women's magazines, those initial opportunities passed. Normally, I'd have been chipper and thought, “They've passed—for now.” But today? Not so much. Before hanging up, she mentioned that she had called Borders to arrange a reading. “Borders?” I squeaked, remembering what my friend had said earlier. “I, uh, love Borders.”

Later that day, browsing a neighborhood shop, I heard two women chatting. “She got a job at Liz Claiborne,” one said. “No way. Didn't they close last week?” said the other. This was my breaking point. I must have sighed out loud, because one of them looked at me and said, “You're familiar with this scenario?”

When I explained I had my first book coming out and that today, especially, I kept hearing gloomy stories, the women chirped, “Your first book! How wonderful!” When I brought up the competitive, uncertain market, they shook their heads. One said, “Sure, times are tough—but then there are pearls like this. I hope you're celebrating.”

Her comment echoed words from an editor I'd recently seen. He reminded me, “Your first book only happens once—enjoy it!”

He was right. Standing there, I felt myself slipping back into optimism. What's better than this, anyway?

Author Information
Atria published Suzanne Guillette's Much to Your Chagrin: A Memoir of Embarrassment this month.