Caroline Calloway is writing a memoir. Well, actually, she’s Instagramming it.
While she isn’t a published author yet, she already has 339,000 captivated readers following along with the story she’s telling on Instagram, including a top literary agent who thinks Calloway may have a hit book on her hands. (There’s no book deal yet, her agent confirms.)
23-year-old Calloway ‘grams tales about her life, publishing directly to the screens of her followers on the photo-sharing social network.
The photos are her illustrations while her paragraphs-long captions are the text.
Here’s an example: this is a passage she wrote about calling her boyfriend from a library in Cambridge.
Just as I was about to hang up, Oscar answered. “Miss Calloway.” He said coolly. “You rang?” “Yes,” I whispered, weaving through bookshelves towards the door. “Are you free? Like right now? I have an idea.” “Why are you whispering?” Near the circulation desk, a moon-faced librarian had stopped watering the potted ferns to frown in my direction. “I’m in the library,” I whispered. “Leaving now.” “Rather naughty of you to be placing calls from the library,” he remarked cheerfully. “Yes… Well…” I mumbled struggling with the brass doorknob and a clever retort.
Calloway says she was “wildly unpopular in middle school,” and her love of reading was largely driven by her lack of friends. She calls herself “chronically lonely,” so much so that when she was young she could only fall asleep to Harry Potter audio books because she found the “illusion of company comforting.”
When she moved to New York City in 2010, she was determined to make it as a writer.
She began blogging about her life, but hardly anyone was reading what she wrote.
She had her sights set on being officially represented by Byrd Leavell — a powerhouse literary agent whose portfolio includes Tucker Max (the frat-star turned author) and Justin Halpern (the creator of Sh*t My Dad Says) — and she was absolutely positive that she had an interesting story to tell (though she couldn’t get anyone on the internet to read it.)
Feeling ambitious, Calloway called Leavell’s office in 2014 and begged his receptionist for an interview. Leavell agreed to meet with her in September of that year, but did not express any interest in representing her.
Calloway knew that in order to be able to do that, she’d have to think outside the box. Practically everyone has a blog, she had reasoned, but no one was using a photo-sharing app to write a memoir about their life.
She began experimenting with writing very long captions on Instagram, and almost immediately, readers started pouring in, eager to read and look at Calloway’s updates (which appeared once every few weeks.)
It wasn’t just regular folks who started following Calloway’s adventures. Calloway told Business Insider she had offers to be represented by several literary agents (she declined to name them.)
Although she was flattered by the attention, Calloway still had her heart set on Leavell. By April 2015, Calloway’s Instagram memoir had caught his attention, and he realised what he had missed at their last meeting.
“I blew that first meeting,” Leavell tells Business Insider.
Ending what Calloway calls a “writer/agent love story for the books,” the two are now working together to put together a proposal to turn her memoir into the real, live, book of Calloway’s dreams.
“There’s a great deal of interest from publishers on both sides of the Atlantic,” Leavell says, but says there’s no offer yet (other sites reported otherwise earlier this week, and Calloway’s website says a book is “coming January 2016,” an odd statement to make for someone who hasn’t landed an official deal.)
One thing’s for sure: Calloway’s readers are here to stay. Hundreds of thousands of people tune in each time Calloway posts to learn about the most intimate details of her life.
It’s almost more engaging than reading a book — on each of her posts, followers offer advice and ask about her life. A lot of them call themselves her friends. When asked if it ever feel invasive, Calloway is quick to answer that it doesn’t.
“I find it profoundly comforting to have all of these strangers who care,” Calloway said.
Her parents are fans too — while her Dad doesn’t own an iPhone or computer, he regularly visits the local library to scroll through his daughter’s Instagram and read about her life.
Sometimes the ability to get reader feedback is a negative. Calloway often documents the love story between her and her boyfriend Oscar. When they broke up, Calloway’s followers were devastated.
“People had very detailed and specific opinions about how I should handle the break up,” she told Business Insider.
Followers of her story would likely be interested to know that the two are now back together — but due to the delay in Calloway’s writing, they will need to wait a while before reading about the reunion in Calloway’s words.
Calloway’s Instagram is often described as a depiction of life inside a fairy tale. In some respects, she understands this comparison, but she tries to be honest about the less than beautiful moments in her life — she cites the time she posted a selfie of herself sobbing that she had sent to an ex-boyfriend.
These days, Calloway is fresh off of exams and is exploding with excitement about beginning the process of writing a book about her life.
As she shops a book deal and meets with editors this month, she may truly be living in a fairy tale. After all, it’s her lifelong “dream is to publish this book. And then just keep publishing books that make me feel less lonely writing for my readers and hopefully make my readers feel less lonely reading it.”