Why We Need to Talk about Zoella's Ghostwriter

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Zoe Sugg is a "YouTuber" (as I typed this, I literally had to close my eyes and take ten deep breaths, all while reminding myself of Myspace and Livejournal celebrities when I was a teenager). Most people know her as "Zoella", a name that is somehow more unwieldy than her given name.

For months, she's been talking on her channel about her first book. You see, it was a dream of her's to have a book published. She talked about how hard she was working, about writing, about creating this book with her own two hands. She's a vlogger, guys; her job consists of making perhaps one 10-minute video per day. And for that she makes more than I do in a year. Ha! Wow! That's so cool! (Silent seething.) 

Except, after her book was released and started to sell lots and lots of copies, it was revealed that, um, Zoella didn't write it. Ok, yeah, everyone says she "thought up the characters and ideas," but they said that about Kendall and Kylie Jenner's book, too. I'm sure Zoella (and Kendal & Kylie) sat in a meeting about the book and "thought up characters" -- but I don't think for a second she had anymore input than that. 

The sad part is that in the video announcing her novel, Zoella talked about how excited she was and expressed a love of writing. If she loved writing so much, why was the book ghostwritten? Her publisher has said explicitly that it was not written by Zoella -- but even a word. In fact, the ghostwriter has actually stepped forward to talk about the lack of transparency when it comes to celebrity ghostwriters.

You might wonder: Michelle, what's the big deal? She's a celebrity, a "YouTuber." Surely no one expected her to write a novel? 

Sure, yeah. However, like I said, Zoella has said she "wrote" the novel several times and has expressed a love of writing. As someone who is famous on YouTube for being, er, famous on YouTube (can you tell I do not understand this YouTuber fame trend?), her brand is based entirely on authenticity. She's famous for being her, not for having any kind of specific talent. That sounds like a total burn, but I don't mean it like that. Her fame is based on the fact that she's just a normal person filming videos (and making obscene amounts of money for it...). 

This article does a great job in pointing out that yes, Zoella, there are major issues with using a ghostwriter, specifically for your book. It might be standard practice in publishing, but with a new medium like YouTube, the results are not the same for others. YouTubers base their fame on authenticity and using a ghostwriter is the opposite of that. It undermines the brand that Zoella has established. 

That being said, I don't really think any of this is Zoella's fault. Do I think Zoella was naive about how the publishing industry worked? Yes. I believe she was probably told that ghostwriting was the standard for the industry and that if she wanted the book to get finished and be successful, it was the way to go. If she'd known more, she would have put her foot down and demanded to write the book herself -- but she didn't. We know that. She let a ghostwriter do it.

So yes, Zoella is naive, but being ignorant isn't a crime. 

Now, if only she would stop tweeting about quitting the internet and people "twisting her words" and actually show that she's learned from this experience -- she might actually build on that brand that's been hurt by this whole ghostwriting debacle. Because really, the people she lied to were the fans who bought her book in the thousands. People bought that book thinking Zoella had written it because she'd told them she had -- and to find out she hadn't? That's a major break in trust. 

The real issue here is the greater implication this has for publishing as a whole. People are becoming more aware of ghostwriting -- and more aware of issues facing the publishing world. Remember James Fry's A Million Little Pieces? After his book was revealed to be, uh, wildly elaborated, a slew of other autobiographies were revealed to be largely works of fiction. Which was kind of embarrassing for a lot of people, but it had been happening for a long time. 

Does Zoella's use of a ghostwriter -- and the public's reaction to it -- mean that more books will be shunned because of their use of ghostwriters? It is entirely possible and personally, I think it will be a good thing.