I had been working on a different blog post for this last Friday but I wasn’t able to finish it on time so I figured I would skip a week but the current hubbub surrounding Zoë Sugg’s first novel has spurred me to share my thoughts on the matter. It was being alleged that her debut novel Girl Online was ghostwritten and her publisher has since stated that, “To be factually accurate, you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own.” Okay, so her publisher has admitted that she did not write the book on her own, and Zoë herself responded via Twitter stating, “…of course I was going to have help from Penguin’s editorial team in telling my story, which I talked about from the beginning.”
If you don’t know who Zoë Sugg is, she is a YouTube personality with over six million subscribers. She goes by the name Zoella. I have been watching her videos on and off for a couple of years. She’s bubbly, positive and shares cute buys, hair styles and makeup. She is also outspoken about her struggle with anxiety which I appreciate on a personal level. When she announced that she had received a book deal I was immediately skeptical. In all the time I have watched her she didn’t really ever mention writing, or even much in the way of books. Now, of course YouTubers only share a tiny sliver of their lives on camera so it can be argued that she simply hadn’t shared this long nurtured interest before. I can believe that. Somewhat.
Having a ghostwriter isn’t a big deal to me. Zoella is a name, she is a brand and with an already established fan base she’s prime to sell just about anything.
Which is also why touting her first week numbers being higher than J.K. Rowling’s is silly at best. Cashing in on her popularity is financially savvy and business-y. Good for her. What I take issue with is the fact that she wasn’t forthcoming about her book at all. I am 30 years old, and clearly not her target audience, but I was under the impression that she would be writing this book herself. She mentioned working with her editor (normal) but she never mentioned working alongside another author.
Obviously, this book came about because with six million subscribers it was guaranteed to sell. It’s a reality that popular YouTubers will exploit their fans, and what better fan base than that of tweens who have access to adult bank accounts? It’s very profitable and even though it sounds icky when stated like this it doesn’t mean it’s wrong or untrue.
Zoella is appealing because she’s marketed herself as genuine and she leads you to believe she’s just like you. Had she stated from the beginning that she was getting help writing her book nobody would have cared. I think it’s insulting to her fans/customers to peddle something under false pretenses. Like I said before, having had help is NOT a big deal, what is a big deal to me is the obfuscation. Zoe was able to make her dream of writing a book a reality BECAUSE she is a popular YouTuber not because she’s an amazing writer or worked really hard to write said novel. The fairy tale being sold is a lie and I think it does a disservice to her fans to not clue them in.
Having said all this I don’t think that Zoë deserves any hate, mean messages, or anything of the sort. Chalk it up to an error in judgment or simply an innocent oversight. It is entirely likely that she did not mean to misrepresent the origins of her book (although I doubt that). Regardless of the how and the why I hope that this whole non-issue serves as a valuable lesson to all celebrity authors.