Girl Online… And thoughts on publishing based on popularity

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Girl Online – Zoe Sugg

I’m a bit of a YouTube addict, in the same way that I am a blog addict, I love watching/reading about ordinary people’s lives, it’s weird, but I feel like these people online are kind of like my friends, I see way more of their lives than I do of the people I know IRL, hearing about their lives makes me feel better about mine. Knowing that I’m not the only person in the world who suffers with anxiety or is having a permanent existential crisis or doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life makes me feel like I’m not alone. I think that’s kind of the same for everyone else. So although I am not subscribed to Zoella, I am aware of her videos and her blog, I know who she is. I’m not really into hair and make up, hence not subscribing, but I am very much in awe of the work she has done with MIND, I am glad that she is brave enough to share her struggles with anxiety with her audience because it means that when I feel like that, I know that someone as popular as Zoe does too, and that makes me feel less like a failure as a human being.  I personally enjoy Zoe Sugg as a person, I think she is a brilliant role model for young people, I love her bright and bubbly personality and I am happy for her in regards to her popularity and the opportunities she has. I will also always support a fellow female in whatever they chose to do with their life, which is why I completely disagreed with that ridiculous article that was released about her prior to the book’s publication, she is a great role model, I also think it’s about time that someone started supporting MIND and taking it seriously. So, I am quite happy for Zoella to do what she’s doing and continue to do so.
Having said all that, I was in two minds about the news that she was set to release a book. I had never heard of her even so much as mentioning wanting to write a book prior to her announcing its launch, then I heard what the book was called and what it was about and I remained sceptical, is it that difficult for a girl who has a blog to write a book about some one who has a blog?(I am aware that I am not a subscriber of hers and therefore, it’s quite likely that I missed this announcement, but I’ve done a bit of a search and there doesn’t appear to be any videos that have writing or the writing process as a subject.) This whole not being sure was always going to be a problem for me, I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen and although I am suffering from a bit of writer’s block at the moment, I have been trying and failing to get a publisher to speak to me for the past three years. Hence when I heard about Zoe’s book deal, I was obviously going to be clouded with a bit of envy. I wanted to reserve judgement until I’d read it, but I knew if it was bad that I was going to be really pissed because I am fed up of poorly written books being published based on the popularity of the author, not the quality of the writing. As Hemingway says in Midnight in Paris: If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate all the more. Unlike Hemingway, I don’t hate good writing, I love good writing. I do hate being envious though and I am always envious of people who are better than me. I know. I need to work on it. Anyway, let’s talk a little about Girl Online.

Penny has a secret.
Under the alias GirlOnline, she blogs about school dramas, boys, her mad, whirlwind family – and the panic attacks she’s suffered from lately. When things go from bad to worse, her family whisks her away to New York, where she meets the gorgeous, guitar-strumming Noah. Suddenly Penny is falling in love – and capturing every moment of it on her blog.
But Noah has a secret too. One that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover – and her closest friendship – forever.

I put my thoughts on popularity vs quality aside and started the book on an open mind. Two chapters in, I decided I rather liked it. Although writing about socially awkward teenagers who have no idea how to be a functioning human being is nothing original, Zoe’s experiences of being able to express herself in blog form as opposed to in real life obviously came into play here and being someone who is perfectly fine tweeting strangers, but can’t even look a cashier in the face, I related to Penny in a way that I haven’t related to a character in a really long time. The interspersing of Penny’s story with her blog posts was great, though what happens to her is a little unbelievable… For me maybe, with my unsuccessful YouTube channel, maybe that’s the sort of thing that happens to you all the time if you have several million subscribers, I don’t know. But, you know, fiction is allowed to be fictional.

Anyway, Penny I liked,  she was raw and real and completely and utterly relatable to introverts everywhere. The narration on the other hand, wasn’t all that brilliant, I felt like it could have done with a LOT of editing, which is ironic, considering how much help Zoe is rumoured to have been given in the creation of this book. Which is where my thoughts on popularity come into it. I am getting a little bit fed up of actual good authors being denied publishing opportunities in the name of people who aren’t as good, but are guaranteed to sell a lot of books very quickly. Girl Online broke records for being the fastest selling debut book ever, not surprising considering the amount of people who watch Zoe’s vlogs, and the fact that even I, who doesn’t spend a lot of time watching her videos, read it. Obviously, this is great for Zoe and her fans, but it’s not so great for me, who yet again has been pushed to the bottom of the pile because I don’t have a million subscribers, even though I know the correct places to use commas. Girl Online isn’t a terrible book, not like Dark Heroine (published due to the author’s popularity on WattPad), but it isn’t a brilliant book either. The story, as much as I liked it, wasn’t original, people have been writing about introverts and awkward teenagers since the dawn of time. The book’s blog posts were the best written part of the whole thing (I was also a bit miffed that my version was full of American spelling, even though Zoe is English and the book was found in England. What’s up with that?) some of the dialogue was a bit off, some of the sentences in the rest of the story were a little clunky, but this is Zoe’s first book, so I can forgive that. I’ve forgiven much worse. What I can’t forgive is a book that isn’t ready to be published purely because of the popularity of the author and then I heard about the ghostwriting.

Let me just reiterate – I do not have a problem with Zoe. I do have a problem with people throwing shade at her on the internet about having her book ghostwritten. Ghostwriting has been around forever, all those celebrity autobiographies, everything Jordan has ever released, ghostwritten. In fact, big corporations  use famous names to sell products all the time. I don’t honestly believe that Dan and Phil physically designed an EE tariff and sim card, One Direction did not sit in a lab and create a perfume, people did that for them and put their names on. This happens every single day and that is fine – that is fine, absolutely fine. I don’t blame any of those people for doing those things, I don’t blame Zoe for doing it, the point I am making is  I don’t like books that are ghostwritten because I am someone who feels that credit should be given where it’s due and if you haven’t written something, your name should not be on the front of it. Obviously, a boy band isn’t going to have the ability to make a perfume, so there are different degrees of okayness with this, I think the perfume probably smelt better having been created by whichever company made it as opposed to getting Harry Styles to add various chemicals to a pot and give it a stir. But things like that are kind of obvious, books are a little different, it’s a completely personal process that physically and mentally takes a lot out of you and that you put a lot into. While I was reading this, I was ready to hold my hands up and say, “You know what Zoe, I am envious of your online popularity, I am envious that you have a book deal, but I am hella happy that your book isn’t terrible because I really hate books that are terrible and published anyway.” In fact, I even said to one of my friends, “this book is actually a bit good!” I was ready to let go of my scepticism. Then, this happened.

Seriously. WTF?. Though the credits do have Zoe thanking people for helping her create this book, if the news reports are true that she didn’t actually write any of it, this really does just take the piss in terms of publication.
Yes, I am aware that publishing is a business, it is there to make money, but seriously? If you start publishing things that aren’t good, can I just remind you that Zoe’s book isn’t a bad book, this is a general point, just because you know it’ll make money, then you are making a mockery of literature. I am constantly overwhelmed by the amount of books I am sent to review that are downright awful, not just in the way that they are written, but the grammar, the way they’re put together and it makes me so mad. I have several incredible writer friends, none of whom are given a chance by a publishing house, purely because they don’t have a massive audience already. I am proud of Zoella, I am proud of the success she has amassed for herself, the fact that her novel has broken records is not down to what is it in, but down completely to the audience that she has built herself from nothing. Props to you Zoe. That is some amazing shiz right there that no one can take away from you,  but I am not happy about her debut novel not even being written by her, I wouldn’t have a problem with her having help, if this was explicit from the start, if the front cover said by Zoe Sugg and Siobhan Curham, we all need a little help sometimes, I need major help right now with writing, but I just don’t like the people who did do the hard work not getting the credit they deserve. The story might be Zoe’s, but the words aren’t and the words are the most important bit. And to be honest, if you’re going to hire a professional writer to write a book for you, it ought to be a damn sight better than this was. Just saying.

It is kind of sad, John Green is a popular YouTuber who writes books and he talks about the books he is writing in his vlogs, we know about what projects he is working on and I know from experience, that novel writing is a big part of your life. When I’m not crippled by writer’s block and I am in the midst of a story, it tends to take over my entire Twitter feed. For which I apologise and is probably why I don’t have many followers. Though I am not an avid viewer of Zoe’s, from what I have seen, she hasn’t really mentioned the writing process at all. I could be wrong, but it seems that she announced she had a book coming out then announced it’s release date. She may have been sworn to secrecy, but I’m sure if she did write it herself, it would have been so all encompassing that it would have been at least a side note in her vlogs/blog. I feel a bit sorry for her if this means that she didn’t get to experience the amazing feeling that is creating something and then releasing it for the public to see.

It’s ok to be ok with ghostwriting, it’s ok to not be ok about it. It is definitely not ok to abuse a young woman on the internet for taking an opportunity that was offered to her. I have seriously seen hundreds of tweets slating Zoe for her hair. HER HAIR. HER HAIR WROTE LESS OF THE BOOK THAN SHE DID. I mean seriously people? There is being a bit upset and feeling deceived and then there is just being a moron. I know that if I was given the opportunity to do something like this and that I would be given help from industry professionals to make that happen, I would totally consider it and I also know that if I did that and got found out, if people started writing tweets generally attacking me for things other than the thing that I had done, I would be super pissed and would probably leave twitter for a few days too. For me, as someone who cares so much about literature and words more upsetting to know that popularity trumps talent and actual wanting to be an author all over again and it’s upsetting to me that the person who did most of the hardwork on this project, the person who sculpted the story that Zoe wanted to tell has barely gotten any of the credit.

Girl Online isn’t a terrible book, it isn’t a brilliant book. It is average at best, that didn’t stop me enjoying it. I actually really enjoyed it, but knowing that there are people who have genuine writing talent that aren’t given a chance because their name isn’t Zoe Sugg, that I can’t stomach. Not only is it unfair to people who are decent writers, but its also ridiculously exploitative. Let’s put someone famous’ name on a book and con their fans out of their money. It’s kind of dispicable if you ask me. I don’t dislike Zoella for choosing to do this, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of desperate for cash and if someone said to me, we’re going to give you a tonne of money to put your name on something, I would have to give it some careful consideration. I don’t blame Zoe for doing the same thing. I just think claiming credit for something you didn’t do is wrong.

What do you guys think of the idea of ghostwriting? Or publishing in general? Let’s not have a go at Zoe though eh? Its not her fault and she has done more good for people than she has done bad. Also, if you think I’m bashing her, you should probably take off the angry fangirl glasses and read this. Then you can click on this and be safe in the knowledge that I am team Zoe. Also, I really liked this blog post on the subject that talks about ghostwriting and how its ok that I think ya’ll should check out too.

I know I’m gonna get a tonne of hate for this EVEN THOUGH I HAVE EXPLICITLY SAID THAT I LIKE ZOE AND I LIKE THE BOOK LIKE A MILLION TIMES AND INCLUDED IT IN CAPITALS HERE FOR CLARIFICATION but you know #yoloswaggins.

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9 thoughts on “Girl Online… And thoughts on publishing based on popularity

  1. Long post, but I really love what you said. I agree with you about being ok with ghostwriting but that it needed to be stated and the real writer should have been give credit from the get go. It’s great if you have an idea of a story and characters, but without doing any of the actual writing, it isn’t your work, it’s simply your idea. I could come up with a million story ideas, but that doesn’t make me a writer if I don’t do something with those ideas. At the very least, the novel should have said it was co-written, or even if it gave credit to the writer as ‘edited by’ or something along those lines.

  2. “It’s ok to be ok with ghostwriting, it’s ok to not be ok about it. It is definitely not ok to abuse a young woman on the internet for taking an opportunity that was offered to her.”

    Truer words have never been said. This is such a valid post and you are a legend for getting your points across so coherently. People want to make money and publishers are desperate to cash-in quickly in a climate that still is struggling after the recession. So many responses I have gotten about my work is about how non-marketable it is: publishers want what sells and Zoe clearly sells.

    I hope this experience doesn’t push her from trying to write herself, as she clearly has the ideas for it but it seems that no publisher was going to take the time to help her write it, to guide her, to even put her on a creative writing course to tell a story in her own words. They’d rather cash in on the brand she has made by hiring a ghostwriter and Zoe would have been a fool to turn down such a great opportunity (it’s hard enough being a young woman at her age in the limelight).

    I hate bullying. To all those who are hurling abuse at Zoe, ask yourself what you’d do in her shoes.

  3. Really enjoyed this post!

    I don’t know why people are so surprised to be honest. I knew from the start that it would have been ghostwritten. As you said, she never really once mentioned the writing process, unlike the John Greens and Giovanna Fletchers of the blogging world, so why it came as a surprise to so many people when she suddenly produced a book is beyond me.

    I also have to disagree with putting the ghostwriter’s name on the front cover and not being ok with that process. Ghost writers know exactly what they are getting in to when they take on a project and hey, if they are ok with it, we should be too. Yes they get paid a small proportion of the profit but in the case of Zoella’s book, I bet that’s made for a very comfortable Christmas and, again, if they are willing to sign a contract over it and be ok with it, it’s absolutely none of our business to say what’s right or wrong on their behalf.

    I do think that Zoella and Penguin have been rather silly in the way they have gone about the book though. With such a large online community and the media following Youtubers around like a bad penny at the moment, they should have foreseen that this would have been ‘uncovered’ and just said from the start ‘I’ve been working on my own book with the help of a professional writer’. There. Simples. No damage done.

    I am a big YouTube watcher and do find it funny how so many others are jumping on the ‘let’s write a book’ bandwagon. Sadly it’s not just about the writing these days – it’s about how marketable you and your product are.

    Really enjoy your blog! 🙂 xx

    • Thank you! I agree with you in the sense that ghostwriters know exactly what they’re doing and they’re invisible because they’re ghostwriters, but I don’t know… I just like people getting the credit they deserve I suppose!
      Mostly, I just feel kind of sad for Zoe because writing and crafting something is such a wonderful feeling and its awful that she didn’t get to experience that.
      You raise a really good point about how they should have just said it from the beginning, it would have saved Zoe a lot of abuse in the past few weeks. What is it with random YouTubers getting mega famous all of a sudden?!

      • I so agree, the poor girl is only my age and to receive so much crap all the time must be blooming hard. We all make mistakes, just a shame hers are so public now that she is so famous – and i really think that keeping the ghost writing thing quiet was a big mistake on both her and Penguin’s behalf!

        Youtubers are getting increasingly recognised because so many companies and products are now really realising the power of social media and bloggers/vloggers presence on the internet – especially in the case if vloggers like Zoella who have such a massive following. Because they are so idolised themselves, they are really, really marketable for businesses and so everyone is junping at the chance to have them advertise a product or write a blog on thier hotel etc etc. Really powerful marketing! I found it so interesting how a few of them were in the recent Band Aid video – there because they have following of 4 or 5 million people, who idolise them so much they would no doubt buy a copy of the single – very clever! Bet Penguin jumped at the chance to work with Zoella …. And no doubt will have the same results when Tanya Burr’s book comes out next year! Quite fascinating really! 🙂

  4. I love this post! I’m only vaguely aware of this actual example having never heard of Zoe before and therefore being uninterested in the fact that she’s written a book that doesn’t sound like anything I’d ever read so my opinion on this exact situation is pretty indistinct.

    Ghostwriting is something I don’t think about much really and it does make me vaguely uncomfortable because of the fact that someone (usually famous) is taking all the credit for someone else’s hard work. I mean sure as a ghostwriter this is something you know is going to happen and you’re hopefully paid accordingly but it must still suck especially if you can’t make it as an actual writer in your own right (maybe she is known in other circles but I’ve never heard of Siobhan Curham).

    I do actually feel the same way about celebrity perfumes and clothing lines and all the other stuff we’re supposed to believe they can do. For one thing – if I want a perfume I want it made by someone who knows lots about making it and has spent years honing their craft, not by J-Lo. And if I want a book I want one written by someone who is passionate about writing and who has put their heart and soul making it the best that it can be, not by someone who got a book deal on the basis of how many people watch their YouTube videos. Why can’t everyone stick to the thing they’re good at and love instead of trying to do everything?!

    Anyway I think that everything you said is spot-on and very well put so I hope you don’t get any hate over it because it would be entirely undeserved.

    • Thank you! Uncomfortable is exactly the word I was looking for, but I don’t think I actually managed to get it in! I’m just very sad that Zoe didn’t get to experience the joy of creating something herself, I think it’s very exploitative and deceptive of publishing companies to credit someone with something that they didn’t create. Publishing is a business and they need to make money, but, and this might be naive, but I think that the quality of the story should be enough to sell it, not whose name is on the front.

      • It’s a really good point actually, I never thought of it from the “celebrity” side before but actually I feel pretty ropey when I get the credit for someone else’s work (which of course I never do on purpose) because I feel like a bit of an imposter. With so much attention on Zoe and other celebrities in the same position it must feel even worse.

        Sadly as with so much in life it’s not about the quality but how well its going to sell. You’d hope the publishing world was above that but as I’m learning, no field is above that 😦

  5. Pingback: In December I read… | The Perks of Being a Bookworm

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