Caroline Calloway has been revealing herself to her followers for nearly a decade, to varying degrees of both true admiration and, especially in corners of the internet like designated Reddit snark boards, overwhelming hate. But after courting controversy—and cancellation—online, her self-published debut book Scammer brings her side of the story to the printed page for the first time.
Filled with 67 autobiographical vignettes, the “day book” as she calls it (as in it’s meant to be devoured in a day) is a psychedelic memoir told in moments and flashes of memory. The delay in publication of the memoir is itself part of the Calloway lore, much of which is also covered in the pages of Scammer, including notably a rebuttal to the viral I Was Caroline Calloway essay published by her former friend, the writer Natalie Beach. It also deals with Calloway’s Adderall addiction, the suicide of her father, and coming to terms with being queer.
Each $65 hardcover, Tiffany-blue book (Calloway says she’s sold 7,000 copies so far) comes signed by the author with a matching light blue ribbon tied meticulously around it. It’s the first of what Calloway calls her trilogy, the latter two books of which she plans to release by the end of the year. (Publishing the long-delayed Scammer became a race against the clock of competition when she heard Beach had landed her own book deal). Since it was released in July of 2023, the book has, against all odds, received good reviews, with many critics praising Calloway’s addictive writing style that harkens back to the daily life-chronicling Instagram captions that originally made her famous.
Below, Calloway discusses her ambitions, the female memoirists who inspire her and her surprisingly zen relationship with social media:
What have been some of the benefits of publishing Scammer yourself?
I think that the people who really control the book deals don’t really know how to sell books anymore. It used to be that a New York Times review would move copies, but that just doesn’t translate in the same way. I know what books and what art will sell. Now publishers want to buy Scammer because they see that it’s moving. Imagine how many copies I could move if there were a $15.99 trade paperback? I love how I get to control the physical aesthetic aspects of the book and its contents in a way that is just totally not tethered to what white men in their sixties think young queer girls will buy.
What authors would you say have influenced you the most?
I really love Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Wurtzel. Hopefully by the time I die and have many books out, the three of us could be this trio of sad, sad Cambridge girls. Eve Babitz looms large in my imagination. Especially how she was looked down upon and sneered at by the literary establishment, just because she liked to party and had a Valley girl accent and these huge double Ds. She did drugs, fucked around, and absolutely refused to be the masculine, straight-laced Joan Didion type that was the paradigm of what was being taken seriously by literary critics during the second half of the 20th century. I take a lot of inspiration from that.
I collect YouTuber memoirs. I am absolutely fascinated by the strange, tacit agreement in all of them to never write about the experience of having an audience and being famous. With surgical precision, they just scalpel that aspect of their life straight out. But Cazzie David and Emily Ratajkowski have both published essays on the furthest frontier of social media. I also love Carmen Maria Machado for the avant-garde, experimental, bisexual memoir of it all. In the Dream House was truly my guiding light and inspiration, because I’d never seen a memoir organized the way that she did it.
You came to fame on social media. How has your relationship with it changed?
During the first era of my time online, around 2014, it was pure positive feedback. Do you remember when everyone said “goals”? Relationship goals, hair goals, outfit goals, friend goals, squad goals, everything was goals. Everything was positive. No one disliked me, but I disliked myself so profoundly to the point of addiction and suicide. I hated that I’d become a person who cared so much about being liked, that I was just leaving so much about my life out. Then during my scandal era, I felt really misrepresented. People thought I was really stupid, that I couldn’t write. But at the same time, I liked myself more on the inside. I had to learn how to be messy online and how to not give a fuck. In a strange way, it was a very instructive, healing journey for me. But I don’t want to shit-post 15 times a day on Instagram for the rest of my life. Now, it’s almost non-existent. I really think of my Instagram as my publisher’s site for the book.
I noticed you don’t follow anyone.
I feel like there’s this conception from how much I posted during the scandal years, or perhaps it’s due to a larger sexist, patriarchal stereotype that girls with large followings on Instagram are shallow. They’re attention seeking, they’re addicted to the likes. But Instagram has always been an art form and a job. I don’t feel addicted to it. Part of turning 30 for me, I just had to take a look at what was not working. It takes time to make so much content. I want to put out two more books before the year’s over. I literally just look at my Instagram For You page, and it’s mainly Eras Tour content, Taylor Swift conspiracy videos, or crafts.
Like many women with large online followings, you also have Reddit snark pages dedicated to you. Do you pay attention to them?
It used to weigh so heavy on my heart, because I would spiral thinking about, well, I guess this means I can never get married or have kids because they would insult the baby, or what partner could live with this kind of scrutiny? Even having friends who have real grownup jobs now that we’re in our early thirties—it mattered less when we were all doing internships and people were trying to dox them. It really used to keep me up at night, and make me feel like a burden to everyone I have ever loved or ever could love.
This past fall, I had this idea to put a burner phone number on the Reddit page and call these people up. Out of maybe 300 people, something like 290 just wanted to talk about themselves—their life, struggles with writing, their problems with addiction, parents who were mentally ill, suicide. At first, I felt a petty pleasure at just how lonely and emotionally stunted they were. I mean, I would never tell a stranger I just met, who I professed to hate on a Reddit board, all these personal details.
Then, it started to hit me in a deep, genuine way that I should have empathy for that loneliness. I wish that they found community through something else besides talking about what a bad writer and person I am. I wish they found community through other hobbies, but life is hard. They’ve made me feel so lonely. That was really the worst part of it, is how isolated they made me feel, and how they made me feel like all the people I currently know and all the people I could ever meet would be better off without me. That is such a lonely feeling, and it’s really heartbreaking to feel that way. So it gave me empathy for just how badly they need community. I can relate to that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.