- Caroline Calloway/Instagram
- Caroline Calloway, an Instagram influencer, said she would cancel her tour of $165 seminars on creativity after a Twitter thread calling it a “scam” went viral.
- Calloway originally described the seminars as four-hour lessons with salad lunches personally created by her – along with an orchid crown workshop.
- But her program soon morphed to a bring-your-own hummus meet-and-greet with shorter lessons.
- Calloway said “greed” got the better of her and refunded everyone who paid for the events.
Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway said she’s canceling her tour of $165 seminars and refunding the roughly 1,000 people who signed up for the sessions, after a viral Twitter thread accused her of running a scam.
Calloway, 26, boasts an Instagram following of nearly 1 million people. In posts on Twitter and Instagram, Calloway said that criticism of her seminars – which promised lessons about creativity, as well personalized care packages, an “orchid crown” making workshop, and salads personally made by Calloway for attendees – were valid and that the price tag was too high.
“I was overconfident in believing that I had something to offer people that was worth $165 dollars and this experience has been incredibly humbling,” she wrote. “I’m cancelling the rest of the tour. Everyone will be refunded today.”
— ◥◤Caroline Calloway (@carolinecaloway) January 14, 2019
Journalist Kayleigh Donaldson had been chronicling the progress of her tour on Twitter for the past month. She described it as a “scam,” writing about how Calloway’s plan incrementally changed from a meal-included creativity seminar to a food-less meet and greet between aspiring influencers. The thread has elevated Calloway’s tour into the annals of failed viral events organized by influencers, like TanaCon and an Instagram expert series run by the influencer Aggie Lal.
Calloway seemed out of her depth
Calloway didn’t have basic details locked down even as she made tickets available for her tour – including locations an spaces in which to hold the events. She then cancelled events in Philadelphia and Boston, choosing to hold events on those days in Brooklyn instead. A separate event date in Denver was also cancelled for unclear reasons.
Calloway promised to give refunds to everyone who originally signed up for the events. On Monday, everyone who signed up for a cancelled event received one.
“We do have a hard and fast rule that if an event is cancelled, all refunds are required,” Terra Carmichael, Eventbrite’s vice president for global communications, told INSIDER. “To confirm, all attendees of these cancelled events were refunded.”
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Hi, beautiful friends. I know I’ve been off the Insta for a while, but I have an excuse as unglamorous as it is valid: I finished a book. Ok, I didn’t finish it. And it’s not a book. But it is the first step in a series of random steps towards doing precisely that. You see, publishing houses don’t buy manuscripts; they buy “proposals,” pitches that should be snappy, absorbing, and persuasive—think Hemingway and Don Draper collaborating on some copy. What you don’t want to do is write 103 pages of graphic narrative LIKE A CRAZY PERSON. I’ll give you one guess what kind of proposal mine is. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” my agent Byrd said over the phone, and I could almost hear him shake his head. Byrd is the Ari Gold of New York literary agents. He wears a blue tooth headset, edits ruthlessly well, and when he likes something he slaps his desk in excitement, grinning, “This is fucking money.” I decided I wanted him to be my agent when I was 18, reading Tucker Max. Three years later I worked up the courage to call his secretary and ask her for a ten minute meeting with Byrd. She said, “We’ll call you!” They did not. The next week I called back and eventually she said fine. But when I walked into Byrd’s office a month later he had no idea why I was there. As he sat at his desk Googling me, I stood awkwardly in the corner. “Come back when you have a proposal,” he said finally. “I want pages.” Eighteen months later—on this past Thursday—I finished the 103-page 20,000-word tsunami that is my proposal. “If this were even a fraction less good, I wouldn’t submit.” Byrd continued. “The file is too big and, frankly, editors don’t want to read something so long… But this… This is fucking amazing. Nice work.” But my proposal came at a price. Namely: my grades, friendships, and whatever it costs to cure carpal tunnel syndrome, which I now have. But do you know what’s so special about us, Instagram? You and I? Much like me and my carpal tunnel syndrome, we’ll always have each other. Writing for Byrd and NYC editors has been fun, but writing for you guys is what this has always been about. I AM SO EXCITED TO WRITE THIS BOOK FOR YOU. Are you excited to read it?
Calloway also seemed out of her depth when it came to organizing the event series. She first tried to hire an unpaid photographer for one event, before receiving backlash from her fans and then choosing to pay a photographer for their work for one event. She also panicked about ordering 1,200 mason jars because she wanted to give all attendees “a portable DIY wildflower garden to take home” as part of her care packages – but realized her West Village studio apartment hardly had room for them.
In her Instagram stories, Calloway also made bizarre claims about herself and her planned events. She said she pioneered using long Instagram captions to tell stories, and said an unrelated event sponsored by a beer company, with the music duo Matt and Kim, was her afterparty – despite the concert being in no way affiliated with Calloway.
Donaldson’s tweet went viral this weekend with a flood of updates about the tour appearing to fall apart, since Calloway failed to book some venues and people who attended the events said it was poorly organized.
That Instagram influencer I occasionally check in on because she's The Worst is now charging $165 for a 4 hour "seminar" on how to be yourself. pic.twitter.com/zLvBFn9dPI
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) December 20, 2018
UPDATE: She's clearly been guilt tripped into, you know, paying people for their services. But she's "honestly a little overwhelmed" about how she's going to pay for it all. Should have thought of that before you started scamming! pic.twitter.com/QL2tpIyKsg
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) December 28, 2018
So a reminder: For $165, you'll get a 4 hour workshop, one hour of which the host won't actually be there. You won't get the handwritten letters she promised, you won't get chairs to sit on, and after this event, you may not even get the lunch she promised. So what do you get?!
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) January 12, 2019
Anonymous DM from someone who attended one of the workshops. pic.twitter.com/6x2V3WEKiC
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) January 13, 2019
‘Am I stupid for trusting you?’
Calloway’s fans also criticized her poor planning. Abigail Scott, an influencer who bought a ticket for Calloway’s San Francisco event but asked for a refund when she saw her retreating on her promises, published an open letter Sunday on her blog saying she was “duped.”
“Am I stupid for trusting you? Are we the real punchlines who spent our hourly wages to support you and see your ‘workshop’? Is this an instance of blind faith? AM I IN A CULT?” she wrote. “There is never a good reason to dupe people. ESPECIALLY those who quite frankly adore you.”
Eventbrite, which hosted the event information on its site, said it would investigate Calloway’s events.
Thanks! I can confirm that this organizer has already been reported to our Trust & Safety team, and I have now escalated this. They will investigate as soon as possible. We appreciate your report!
— Eventbrite Help (@eventbritehelp) January 14, 2019
Calloway rose to fame in 2015, when she reportedly sold a memoir based on her Instagram posts about falling in love at the University of Cambridge for $500,000. Her publisher, Flatiron Books, ultimately cancelled her contract after she lost interest in writing the book, she told Man Repeller in 2018. She admitted she’d already spent her $165,000 advance and is in the process of repaying it to Flatiron Books.
“I realized the boy-obsessed version of myself I planned to depict as my memoir’s protagonist was not one I could stand behind,” she told Man Repeller. “I think there are a lot of people who would have written the book anyways and taken the money, but I couldn’t do it.”
Calloway used to sell chapters of her unfinished book on Etsy, but has since removed the product from the site. She also deleted several posts where she listed her price points for sponsored content – which at its highest was $1,000 for a brand mention in an Instagram story and $5,000 for a regular Instagram post.
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I’ve fallen in love for the first time since Oscar and I broke up. His name is Conrad. But for a long time I lost my love of writing. I had a whole plan to do non-stop sponsored posts going forward, but it turns out you don’t reconnect to the work that gives you purpose and joy by monetizing it. Shocking, I KNOW. What I love is pairing beautiful photos with sad stories and flowers. And so that’s why I’ve archived all of my posts from the past two years. ARCHIVED—NOT DELETED. Maybe I’ll bring them back some day, in some form. But my favorite kind of writing is when you say inventively and with grace and without trying to look cool at all: This is how I am. Broken and scared and still worthy of love. And those old posts were incohesive and just not vulnerable enough. So I trimmed my account down to my last “To Be Continued.” The last time I told our story—the one that takes place at Cambridge, in my freshman year dorm room. The story I want to pick up and intertwine with all my new memories and all I’ve learned about activism and all the parts of old memories I never told until now. I ended the post prior to this one with these words: “and that was how I began to fall in love.” I was talking about Oscar then. “When you fall in love the things you lost come back to you.” That quote is from @lianafinck’s beautiful memoir and it sunk its fangs into my heart. I’m talking about Conrad now. But to her quote I would also add: When you fall in love the things you lost come back to you—just not all of the things and you don’t choose which ones. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a tough chapter with your creativity. Maybe you had it once and drifted away from it. Maybe you’re still trying to find it. Well. Creative engagement is not a guarantee just because you have a loving partner in your life. Creative engagement is something you have to find. Like love, it meets you when you’re ready. But also like love, you really have to look. Things that have come back to me since I’ve fallen in love: breathlessness, a sense of comfort, cuddles. And the memory of what it was like to sit at my desk in my freshman year dorm room as Oscar sat on my bed. To Be Continued…
Donaldson excoriated Calloway in an essay for Pajiba, where she called her dishonest and incompetent.
“Caroline Calloway is merely the sloppiest and most obviously incompetent version of the influencer economy run amok,” she wrote. “Calloway’s main problem is that she doesn’t want to be an artist or a storyteller or a writer: she wants to have made art, to have told stories, to have been a writer, to have taught, and so on. But that requires work, research, planning, sacrifice, and an acute understanding that not everything you do will be successful or worthy of celebration. She has nothing to offer but is selling everything.”
In her post apologizing for her seminars, Calloway blamed herself for the event falling apart, and said “greed” got the better of her.
“I take full responsibility for letting my total inexperience with event planning and GREED create a situation where the details of the tour were ever-changing, preparation was inadequate, and the event did not match the description by the time it went on,” she wrote. “To anyone I’ve disappointed or outraged – I have so much empathy for how you must be feeling right now.”
Calloway didn’t immediately responded to INSIDER’s request for comment.
CORRECTION: This post originally said Eventbrite doesn’t issue refunds after 30 days before an event. Refund policies for each event are determined by event creators.
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