Ellery Lloyd's People Like Her is the story of an influencer mom's worst nightmare. Emmy Jackson is a British fashion editor-turned-"Instamum, with two young kids, a novelist husband, and a million followers—one of whom is watching her way too closely. Released on January 12, the fast-paced thriller takes an outsider's curiosity and disdain for influencer culture to its darkest possible conclusions.
The novel joins a handful of books from the past year in casting influencers in leading roles. There was the romance-meets-murder mystery of Jennifer Weiner's Big Summer; the Bachelorette-inspired romance of Kate Stayman-London's One to Watch; the #girlboss satire of Leigh Stein's Self Care: A Novel; the grifter tale of Janelle Brown's Pretty Things; the speculative dystopia of Megan Angelo's Followers; and more. Like it or not, the influencer economy is now formidable, and fictionalized.
But just as Grey's Anatomy downplayed the drudgery (and played up the on-call room sex) of being a doctor, and just as the math doesn't add up between a writer's salary and Carrie Bradshaw's Manolo-filled Sex and the City lifestyle, fictional depictions don't always offer an accurate picture. How do fictional portrayals of influencer life compare to the actual experience? We asked an influencer.
Carly Riordan has run the blog Carly the Prepster since 2008, and with over 227,000 followers on the Instagram account @carly, Riordan describes her job as "influencer," though she admits the word is "cringey." In addition to fashion and lifestyle posts, Riordan shares thoughts on books monthly (she also runs @carlysbookclub). Having read People Like Her and Big Summer, Riordan was the perfect person to break down what these books about influencers get right about the industry—and what they get wrong about influencer culture.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
VICE: As an influencer, do you find yourself wanting to read about influencers or is it more of something that just comes up in your reading?
Carly Riordan: I know other people are going to read them and think that they're getting an inside view of what it's like, [so] I'm curious what the depiction is like. But I'm also hesitant because I feel like it is kind of cringey to read someone who isn't an influencer trying to describe the experience, and I feel like there's a lot of generalizations and guesses made.
Sometimes when I read books written about influencers, it almost feels like it's written by people who don't like influencers.
You recently read People Like Her, the new thriller about a very successful influencer mom. What do you think that book got right about influencers?
I thought it really got right what it's like on the personal side of things. I didn't think it glamorized the influencer world; I thought it kind of showed some of the darker sides to it, which are realities. I constantly think about like, Am I sharing too much about my personal life? People can absolutely find out where I live if they want to. Scary things like that.
I also thought [the way] they shared the pros and cons of being married to an influencer and being in a relationship with someone in that regard [were accurate]. Some of the ways that being an influencer is inherently contrived, and you're curating this feed and this lifestyle, I thought they definitely got that.
What did you feel like it got wrong about influencers?
This was depicting the biggest mom influencer in the U.K., and they were making it seem like she was interacting with people left and right in very deep, meaningful ways. If you had over a million followers and you're talking about personal stuff, you're getting more than 300 DMs, and you're not responding to everyone—you literally couldn't.
Her getting stopped on the side of the road to take photos with [fans], I thought was definitely accurate. But even the way that she was interacting with people on the street, I would have been so much more guarded and not having deep conversations outside of a subway platform.
This is my experience, but I think some people think when you're signed to an agency or a manager, they're doing everything for you. Oftentimes they're doing everything on the back-end like negotiations and contract management, but they're not pulling the strings as much as the manager and the agency that she was signed to in this book were making all these things happen.
Did it feel like she had more help in her daily life than you have when it comes to managing all aspects of the business?
I felt like she had less control over her image. I think if someone was an actually big influencer, they'd have so much more say over what [they're] doing long-term in terms of projects, campaigns, events that she's hosting. I didn't feel like she had as much control over that in the book.
The book is about a mom who shares a lot of her family life online and picks up a stalker. Did you feel like this book likes influencers?
Like 90 percent, I thought it was positive towards influencers. I actually thought it was more of a critique on people who follow influencers, than the actual influencers themselves. I don't have a million followers [like the character does], but 80 percent of people who follow me are totally benign and normal and have normal interactions. Then you have 10 percent of people who just absolutely hate you, and then you have 10 percent of people who are very fanatic about following.
I thought this book did a good job of characterizing the fangirls and the people who hate influencers. I think they use an influencer as the vessel, for one, to show the dangers of social media in general, but also, what does it look like to follow an influencer and what happens when it goes too far?
Did you like hearing the book explain influencer culture and Instagram in the way it did?
I didn't because I live it every day. It kind of brought to light some of my darker fears about being an influencer. Every job is going to have pros and cons, but a big negative about being an influencer is: What happens when you have a stalker? It is scary to think like, there are crazy people out there, and you have kind of opened up your life and people think they're closer to you than you actually are or have more influence over your life than they actually do.
That makes sense—I can't imagine. So, let's talk about Big Summer, the novel about an influencer attending a friend’s wedding in Cape Cod. You wrote that you hated the book. How did you feel about its depiction of influencers?
I thought this was more earnest in trying to describe a micro-influencer trying to break into the industry. I'm not a micro-influencer and I'm not trying to break in in 2021 so I don't know for sure, but it seems like a much more genuine approach of how someone could try to break in. It's all the stuff that I would recommend if someone came to me and said, "I want to start a blog. What do you suggest?"
I would say: You need to post every day, which she talks about; she's trying to get new sponsorships and work with upcoming brands; she was trying to be something that was a little bit different, which was a more inclusive-size influencer. Something I would recommend [is to] find out what makes you different than everyone else, so I thought it was more genuine in that regard. Brands working with influencers and using influencers to kind of increase their social media footprint and clout, I thought that was actually pretty accurate.
What did you not like about its portrayal of influencers?
[The main character’s] best friend, who's this big influencer, basically sells out her entire wedding. It was two years ago when that one girl from Goop and her boyfriend sent around a pitch deck to get people on board with sponsoring their engagement. That's basically what the big influencer best friend had done for her wedding [in Big Summer]. It was cringe-worthy to read; at the same time, I was like, I think people actually do this. I think that kind of makes me annoyed because I don't want people to think everyone who's an influencer does this, because they don't—but it does happen.
Do you think that depiction feeds into the reasons why people say they don't like influencers?
Yeah. When you're reading stories where this influencer's just cavalier about it and it's happening without anyone who's invited to this wedding knowing, it just paints in such a bad light. Not everyone does this; you're just showing the worst of the worst.
Why do you think more books are using influencers as characters right now?
Because of the nature of social media, people feel like you can relate to these people so much more. Even if they're making millions of dollars—which a lot of influencers are—and even if they live in mansions, for some reason, it still feels more normal to connect to someone like that than to connect to, like, a Taylor Swift, who feels rather unapproachable.
It's something people want to know more about, because I think there is a question of what goes on behind the scenes. There's intrigue and curiosity wrapped up—and maybe even a little bit of schadenfreude—where you kind of want to hate these people because they are making money and they are working with brands, but you also can't stop following along at the same time.
It's relatable, but there's enough of a veneer of mystery that it's still interesting and creates curiosity?
Yeah, and I mean, someone could do their best to be as authentic as possible, and still, I think the human brain knows, even if someone feels super super authentic, there's a slight disconnect. [What they post] is not happening live; someone lived it and they're reframing it and taking some sort of photo and then adding a caption and their own curated dialogue around that.
[As a viewer], you're kind of like, Is this actually what I'm seeing? So then people are curious even more, and to read it in a novel, you're getting more of a 360° picture. In People Like Her, she's talking about sitting in bed and responding to DMs, and [it shows]: What does it really look like on the other side of the phone from what you see while scrolling?