Zoe and the Ghost

So this week the do-da hit the fan when Zoe Sugg aka Zoella was found to have had her book ghostwritten.

Shock, horror, where are the stocks, let’s put her in them and throw rotten fruit at the Vlogger.

But just hang on a minute, put that tomato down.

If you are blissfully unaware who Zoe is you are probably a little bit older than her demographic, those aged roughly between 15 and 25, so you are forgiven. For those of you that don’t know, Zoella is one of a growing breed of young vloggers (video bloggers) who spend their lives, and careers, on YouTube. I hate the word role-model as it’s such an unfair thing to label someone with, but Zoe is an inspiration to teenage girls everywhere, and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

She has over 6.5 million YouTube subscribers, and she is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger. She rarely, if ever, swears on camera, she understands who her viewers are and she has helped a LOT of kids through their teenage years. Ok, a lot of it can seem silly to the more serious adults among us, but this girl runs a very profitable business and has fun doing it.

So what is so bad about having her book ghostwritten?

The recently named ghostwriter will have written with Zoella’s style and presentation in mind (dare we call it her brand?). She will have kept her ‘voice’ and will have worked closely with her to get her message across. This book will have come from Zoe’s own ideas and writing; it’s just that she may have needed help to get her ideas on file to the level of a professional publication.

Is it cheating to want your book to be the best it can be?

It is said that everyone has a story in them, but not everyone has the ability to write clearly, or confidently enough to hold an audience. The depth of the ghostwriting in Zoella’s book is unclear, but the story will have been Zoe’s. Yes, she is popular among the younger demographic, but the audience is there, as can be seen from the huge sales of the book already, and remember folks, publishing is a business. People spend years learning to write; is it so bad that someone whose talent lies in other areas should get help?

Zoe herself made a statement on Twitter before going off-line for a while:

Zoella statement ghostwritten book

‘Everyone needs help when they try something new’ – well said that girl!

If we didn’t try new things, we wouldn’t know if we could do them. And no-one should be hounded for trying something new. Social Media, and the not-so-social variety, can be incredibly cruel.

You won’t believe the amount of books that are ghostwritten, especially celebrity ones.

Zoe’s ghostwriter is a professional, providing a professional service, which is in wide-spread demand. Ghostwriters do not tend to do the job for the money (it’s very unlikely you’ll get rich ghostwriting), or the glory (very few are actually acknowledged, or want to be acknowledged)… they write because they are good at it, they see a way to help people get their stories out there and they love writing. And to be attacked for doing this is as cruel as it is stupid.

The term ghostwriting can also be a bit of a cover-all… the ghostwriter can be anything from an editorial consultant, there to lend a helping hand, to a full-out novelist with many, many books written as a ghost.

If you want to find out more about ghostwriters, Julie-Ann Amos has a good list of 50 top ghostwritten books and Andrew Crofts wrote a great article on life as a ghostwriter for the Guardian.

To say that something is ghostwritten can mean many things. The author may have collaborated with a ghostwriter and written with them; the story may have been told to a ghostwriter who transcribed and polished the interview or the ghostwriter may have written to a brief and then continued write the whole damn thing.

Apart from the author not being the best of writers, there are other reasons for a book to be ghosted, and time is one of them. For someone to write a book can take a LOT of time, and with her hectic schedule it is highly unlikely that Zoella could have written the book quickly. There are only so many hours in the day, and any writer will tell you that writing takes time, and writing well takes longer.

There will have been tight deadlines… let’s not beat around the bush here – this book is very likely intended for the Christmas market.

No matter what, what should be important is whether this is a book that will be enjoyed by a lot of people, and the answer to that seems to be yes. It’s already the fastest selling novel of the year. You wouldn’t buy Victoria Beckham’s clothes and expect her to be the one stitching them together, and the same goes for other brands. In this world where many celebrities are becoming brands (with a relatively short shelf-life), they have to take what they can get, and get as much experience, and do as much, as they can. If that involves getting help then so be it. In a world where DJ’s can design fashion collections, where singers can create their own perfume and where reality tv ‘stars’ can do it all, is it really such a crime for a girl to get help fulfilling her dream?

12 thoughts on “Zoe and the Ghost

  1. I am still amazed that people can make a really good living from just putting up videos of themselves *getting too old for all this face*.

    You make a good point about Victoria Beckham – we do buy seleb branded goods without expecting them to have sewn them/stood in the lab and created them etc. What that says about us as consumers, I’m not sure….. 🙂

    • I think people really just become blinkered. Kids go to college to learn fashion, but celebs suddenly become fully fledged designers… and I’ll bet they have the industry equivalent of ghostwriters.

      As for YouTube… I’m afraid I follow quite a few of them. I may be older than their audience but they can amuse, inform and entertain. Good for them I say 🙂

      • Yep, you’re right. I have a friend doing jewellery design. Which is great, but they make the designs and then get other people to make them for them. Isn’t that odd?!

        Sonshine watches loads of them and he sits laughing his head off (I am assuming that they are funny lol!) but it doesn’t do anything for me really. Maybe you need to point me in the right direction 😀

      • The whole world is available on YouTube, it really is a fab place to go.

        I have a silly sense of humour, but I recommend “Convos with my 2-year-old” go watch, enjoy, and make sure you have a spare hour or two 🙂

    • Will check that out!

      We live in a world where the “fake” is often undistinguishable from the “real”. But I do believe that people all need help to try something new… and Zoe is lucky in that she is in the position to dip her toes in publishing… and with a great team behind her.

      • If she had written her book un-helped and unsupported then all you would hear is how bad how light how wrong it is, we no longer accept any flaws and are led to expect a certain level quality. I haven’t read her book but I may now 🙂 even if I am way out of her demographic.

      • I think it could be interesting for your work Ruan. YouTube seriously is massive (and although I’m way out of the demographic I watch a fair amount of their vids 😉 )

  2. Sara, I’m not sure I agree with you. If I had an idea for a painting but got someone else to paint it for me, would it still be *my* painting? No, of course not!

    There is a *vast* difference between the editing services most authors expect when publishing a book and having your book ghostwritten. Writing is a skill that takes a long time to perfect – drafting, redrafting, honing your talent – and perhaps this is something that YouTubers (ghastly term!) do not appreciate, as everything is so instant and so easily accessible on YouTube.

    You ask, ‘Is it cheating to want your book to be the best it can be?’ No, of course it’s not – but it *is* cheating to pretend that you have written something when you haven’t. And I appreciate that Zoella writes about subjects that are close to many teens’/tweens’ hearts and is a good role model, but I don’t think that should excuse her deceit here!

    • I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here Rebecca.

      And I don’t think deceit is the right word, she will have been perfectly aware of the level of ghostwriting (unlike ourselves who really have no idea how deep the ghosting procedure went), but will also have been made to realise that in the publishing business this is a perfectly valid procedure.

      I think painting is a different subject altogether, although historically many of the Masters had their proteges and studios complete, or start the work for them. The same with music, where sound producers are responsible for the end result (often when the raw material is shocking the result is acceptable).

      I think what has started the whole discussion is that many people were unaware of the reality of ghostwriters, and having found out feel cheated. But it really isn’t that big a deal. It would be nice to see what level of ghostwriting took place, but I doubt it was as terrible as people think.

      And at least it has got us all thinking about the subject and how we feel about it! 🙂

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