How Our Memoir Prize Guest Judge Stephanie Land Launched Her Writing Career and Became a Bestselling Author
The writer behind the hit memoir-turned-TV show “Maid" and the upcoming “Class” pulls back the curtain on how she worked toward her writing dreams, starting when she was a broke single mom in college.
Our entire team at Narratively is beyond thrilled to have accomplished author (and two-time Narratively contributor!) Stephanie Land guest judging the 2023 Narratively Memoir Prize.
Stephanie’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, was an instant bestseller that inspired readers all over the world — like former President Barack Obama, who called Stephanie’s story a “personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide.” Her book was also adapted into the mega-hit Netflix series Maid. Stephanie’s second book, Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education, is set to be published this November. The new book picks up where Maid left off, chronicling Stephanie’s time as a single working mother trying to finish college and launch a writing career. I sat down to catch up with Stephanie and hear about how she’s managed to make all that happen — and what advice she has for writers just starting out in their careers.
Brendan: So first off, it’s been about five years since you wrote two very striking memoir pieces for us — one on the three car crashes that changed your life, and the other about when the Trump trolls came for you. It’s certainly been an interesting five years for you — Maid was published, it got turned into a huge hit Netflix show and now you have a second book about to come out. How’d you go from the experiences depicted in Maid, when you were cleaning houses for a living, to launching a career as a writer?
Stephanie: I was thinking about that first piece that I wrote for you guys. That piece is kind of mentioned in the new book, Class, (and of course it got folded into Maid quite a bit). A fun thing about writing Class is going back and being able to tell the origin story for a lot of pieces that I eventually sold as a freelancer. Another one, of course, is the “confessions of a housekeeper” piece, which I wrote for a writing workshop in my junior year of college. That’s the one I ended up selling to Vox and it went viral. The pitch for that — my very first pitch for anything — was just like: “Dear editor, My college professor really liked this essay. I hope you like it.” I look back at it now, and it’s like, wow. But they took it and paid me 500 bucks for it, and then it got an obscene number of clicks in the first week. I think it was close to a million. And I got hate mail for months. Every once in a while, I still get hate mail and it’s out of nowhere. And I’m like, “Oh, they just found the house cleaning story.”
Brendan: Internet trolls live forever. You can never escape them.
Stephanie: I know, yeah. Seriously. So after that piece went viral, all the editors knew who I was. They’re like, “Oh, you’re the person behind that house cleaning essay.” So I started getting jobs and I got a writing fellowship through Community Change, which had a monthly stipend of 800 bucks a month. At the time, in low-income housing, that paid my bills. So I had the freedom to focus on freelancing because I wasn’t worried about being able to pay bills as much. And I probably found your email through the Binders [Facebook groups for women writers] in some way and pitched you that piece. I was really scared about that piece being published because it talked about my mom being drunk and my dad being a drug dealer in high school.
Brendan: Did they read it?
Stephanie: I don’t know. I never heard from them. I haven’t talked to them in a long time. But that’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. It’s a good one.
Brendan: It’s really encouraging to hear that the Vox editors took that first pitch from you, because there are so many details about how to pitch an article, how to write a book proposal etc., that they don’t teach you in school. It can be so intimidating for people just starting to write. How about the book? How did you start selling that?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Narratively to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.