Ghostwriting isn’t new to the publishing industry, especially where celebrities are concerned – and what are YouTubers but new age celebrities? And like most celebrities, YouTubers are branching out into books.
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, wasn’t the first to write one. Before her, Zoella’s equally YouTube famous boyfriend Alfie Deyes released The Pointless Book, a tome of uncanny resemblance to the Wreck This Journal series. While Alfie did get heat for bribing fans with Twitter shout outs for five star reviews, Zoella was the first to have such a large backlash.
After the confirmation from Penguin of using the services of ghostwriter Siobhan Curham, many criticised and outright insulted Zoella. In turn, vocal fans labelled any critic as ‘jealous’ and ‘bitter’, calling out anyone who dared put Zoella down for achieving her dream.
I don’t think I would’ve paid much attention to it, if, of course, she hadn’t later made a statement on twitter about the whole incident. These two lines irritated me: ‘Of course I was going to have help from Penguin’s editorial team in telling my story … everyone needs help when they try something new.’
That’s probably the ironic thing about it: Zoella may have accidently caused her own backlash.
I have nothing against YouTubers. They are a new breed of creative entrepreneurs, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you realise they command armies of fans from a bedroom much like yours or mine. Zoella must have touched her followers on some emotional level to earn such adoration. So in my eyes, Zoella has earned every single one of those 7 million screaming fans. Good for her; she’s a better role model than Kim Kardashian and her butt, I guess.
But as an aspiring writer, her words annoyed me because they imply this is the norm for every single fiction writer: we simply stroll into any famous publishing house, chat about the ideas of our novels and poof! We get an entire editorial team and a ghostwriter to hold our hand as we write it together like a big happy family.
Just to clarify, most writers struggle to get published, and most certainly can’t just walk into a publishing house with only an idea. To regurgitate a popular meme, ain’t nobody got time for that. Publishers want an agent with a finished manuscript.
As writers, we forever sculpt our craft with persistence and practise, and it can take up to a couple of months (Eimear McBride style) or several years to write our novels; last year’s Man Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan, took ten years to write his. Re-draft, after redraft, after re-draft. Then we have to find an agent, which is in itself an arduous process, then more re-drafting, and crossing our fingers to see if any of the many number of publishers our agent has solicited will accept what is figuratively our baby. Nine times out ten, their answer is a pile of rejection letters. It’s a soul-crushing process, and consequently we don’t like to see someone getting rewarded for nothing.
The situation becomes further demoralising when we read that Zoella’s book sells over 78,000 copies in the first week of its release, becoming the highest-selling debut novel ever. Just to put that in perspective, most publishers consider 10,000 copies sold in the space of a year to be a raging success.
In short, Zoella’s backlash had less to do with her skill as a writer, but rather her privilege in getting a major publishing deal despite bypassing a process that most writers have to face: a privilege, which she completely failed to recognise. Not only that but she was rewarded handsomely for her very limited effort.
So, no wonder some of us sound bitter. Zoella’s naivety in justifying her ghostwriter opened up the perception that she was only using the ‘Zoella’ brand for monetary gain. It opened up the perception that she was indifferent to writing as an art form and the often unrewarded effort that so many less fortunate writers go through.
These are just perceptions though. Her comment was only proof of ignorance rather than indifference. The ghostwriter, Careham, despite having only earned a measly £8000 for her services, denied that Zoella did it for any gain other than just a way to tell her story. Perhaps Zoella really did have an honest dream about publishing a book. Nevertheless, if you’re going to step into another creative field, have the respect to begin where everyone else does.
And hey, look on the bright side; maybe Penguin will reinvest all the money they earned from her book and sign on some new authors. A few lucky souls will finally have all their efforts paid off.