Tagline: At the risk of sounding butthurt.
The internet’s been all in storm about Zoella, the makeup, YouTube vlogger whose book Girl Online sold 80,000 books in a week (something of a record in the UK book industry), but turned out to be ghostwritten by writer Siobhan Curran. I could summarise who Zoe is, what she does, how old she is, and the entire YouTube vlogging culture that she belongs to, but it would be me regurgitating well-known information that is pretty much better summarised in other articles. Neither is that the point of this post.
The problem isn’t so much that Zoe had the novel ghostwritten. It’s more that mostly throughout the process, it was led to be believed that she was writing it with the help of editors not a ghostwriter. And just to clarify, writing a novel yourself and having it edited by an editor and having a ghostwriter write your novel and then have it edited by an editor are two completely different things. I could come up with a novel plot, characters, a beginning, middle and an end by the end of today. But to actually write it and make it work is a completely separate thing. I know. It’s what my life revolves around doing. And to quote Zoe Suggs herself: “My dream has been to write a book, and I can’t believe it’s come true. Girl Online is my first novel and I’m so excited for you to read it.” When celebrities, footballers, athletes, actors release books it is understood that they had the help of a ghostwriter. Those books are also usually memoirs and autobiographies, that fall into the categories of non-fiction, rather than a fictional novel. Again, the process of writing is slightly different for both of these. But that is also not the point of this post.
What Zoe has actually done is to take her brand and sell it. As an undergrad, this is something our tutors actually advised us to do. We were told that there will be people who won’t be as skilled at writing as you, but because there will be a market for them, an audience, and through efforts of self promotion, they will get published. Now that isn’t meant to sound pretentious and snobby, but it probably does. Nor is it meant to sound butthurt. But it probably does. This is actually in defence of Zoe. I’m a makeup lover. I watch YouTube makeup vloggers. I’m even attempting to start an authentic makeup blog with friends, which clashes with the part of me that realises how inauthentic and waste of my typing hours and words that can be. Which, for someone working on their dissertation, is invaluable.
It is simply coming from someone who spends hours weekly trying to get the perfect paragraph, perfect 1000 words written, and is contemplating a PhD in the future in order to have the right environment to write and pursue having a book published and becoming a higher education lecturer, as well as an author. From someone who, despite studying Creative Writing for 4 years going onto 5, and writing throughout those years, is still reluctant to call themselves a writer and feels that she has no claim to to the title until she has gotten through masses of rejection letters from magazines and publishers and actually got to the point that she has something in print. It sounds like a cry-me-a-river tale but really, am I myself to blame for not branding/promoting myself, for not creating an audience for my writing? Yes. For not developing and writing enough material to send off to magazines? Entirely. Does a PhD, then, feel like a long way to becoming a writer when all I have to do is find a way to brand myself? Yes. But these people work hard at branding themselves via YouTube and editing videos? Go back and read the start of this paragraph.
Again though, Zoe is actually not to blame. Okay maybe to be blamed for not being entirely honest. But she is not to be blamed for what is actually the harsh reality of the publishing industry. She is not the first and won’t be the last. Her book has sold and broken records because she had the audience all set for it. That, she deserves credit for. Because that is audience generated by her work on YouTube. But would she have had time to do that and write a book in 6 months? Highly doubtful. It is simply worrying for people like myself, or people who actually have been writing all their life and have novels hidden in their drawers, to be cliched. It is also worrying for our culture. And I fully confess to being a snob at this point. But it feels like our culture is trickling down and thinning. We’re going from watching celebrities on TV to watching celebrities on YouTube and most of the time, one is no different from the other.
What can we do about it? I’m not really sure. Change the industry and how it works is easier said than done. But coming from a possibly naive, optimistic, not-fully-aware graduate/student/writer, keep tapping at those keyboards and hope to get there one day. (And Google some articles about self promotion).