Thoughts on the Vlogging of Zoella - Andrew Crofts

This was the month of Zoella the Vlogger, (that’s “video-blogger”, for those who haven’t been following the story.) For reasons too complicated to be bothered with, I was aware of this book’s approach before the full page article in the Sunday Times explained that it was the fastest selling new release from a debut author since the beginning of time. The article was a sort of expose, telling shocked readers that Miss Sugg, (Zoella’s wonderfully Dickensian real name), had had the help of a ghostwriter to pen her debut novel, “Girl Online.” A languidly affronted Will Self was quoted as saying that he did not regard Zoella as a writer “in the sense that I’d regard Marcel Proust or Franz Kafka as one.”

The following morning my in-box was filled with requests from eminent journalists asking if I had any thoughts on the whole shocking scandal. Always eager for a bit of free publicity I stared hard, (it has also of course been a triumphant month for that greatest of all starers, Paddington Bear,) into the depths of my soul to see what I truly thought about the whole broo-haha.

Why, I wondered, was everyone being so po-faced about the whole thing?

A likeable young woman had been blogging and vlogging about stuff most young girls are interested in. Digital word-of-mouth had led to millions of followers, which whetted the appetites of agents and publishers. They suggested she wrote a novel – why wouldn’t she? It’s a fun thing to do!

Writing a book takes a bit of practice, so obviously she would need some help if it was to be done quickly, which she freely admits to. A professional writer was then paid a rather mean fee by the publisher considering the company’s managing director has been quoted as saying that he knew immediately that the book was going to be a “Christmas number one.” As a member of the Society of Authors Management Committee I am well aware most writers are grateful for any crumbs thrown their way, but I don’t think that the fee this writer was allegedly paid, (£8,000), supports the general argument that publishers like to put forward about being authors’ best friends and supporters, unlike that naughty bunch of ruthless business people over at Amazon.

I’m sure, however, that the ghostwriter enjoyed herself; the publisher got a jolly romantic novel for teenagers, which did indeed go to number one, and the teenagers were hysterically happy when their heroine signed their copies. The book was so successful, however, that the denizens of Fleet Street felt stirred to shoot it out of the sky with the revelation that a ghost had done the whole thing, (something which Zoella herself had never denied but which the publisher became extremely mealy-mouthed about when asked to comment).

A little bit of fluffy glitz had illuminated the usually sombre world of publishing for a few days. Why would Will Self even have an opinion? (The same reason as me, I suppose). Why did so many highly educated, well-read and literate people want to rain on this poor girl’s parade? This has got nothing to do with Kafka or Proust. This is a little Christmas treat for young people who like reading about celebrities as much as they like reading about vampires, boy wizards and romantic goings-on and ponies. Maybe if the publishing industry lightened up a bit more often it wouldn’t find it so hard to get people to buy books! That, I think, is what I think.


Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Andrew - I wasn't sure what, if anything, I thought about it, but Zoella was honest about the ghostwriting, which is more than most ghosted 'authors' are, as you say - so what's all the fuss about?
I agree with you, Andrew about the nature of the project and the hissy fits. But I followed some threads about this on Facebook with interest - I think the payment wasn't nearly enough - but it amazed me (why? God knows you'd think I'd realise it by now) how many writers on there seemed to think it was a great deal of money. It's work for hire - so she shouldn't expect royalties - but in lieu of that, surely she should have expected a pro rata fee for however long the project would take (6 months? I don't know) based on an annual salary for an equivalent profession. As I said elsewhere, can you imagine approaching an advertising agency in London and offering them £8000 for six months of their time? Cue chorus of hysterical laughter. It still amazes me how many professional writers don't seem to realise that they are self employed and don't realise the kind of mark-up you have to make on your fees to account for the fact that you are using your own premises, equipment, accountancy etc.
Lydia Bennet said…
As authors we know about stuff like ghost writers but a lot of the book buyers wouldn't - they assumed she did her own Vlog, and loved it, and so assumed she did her own book as well. She wasn't particularly open about it until they got outed - the publishers were weaselly about it - youngsters and fans felt betrayed. What shocks me is that this lack of knowledge has led to the poor ghost writer who was already treated like crap being paid damn all, was attacked and trolled online! Hilariously, someone accused her for doing it 'for money and fame', as if that's not what everyone they've heard of, a lot of authors, in fact everyone BUT ghostwriters is after and why not? Poor soul would have got neither before she was outed.
'Money and fame'? I hadn't heard that. Hilarious and sad. What are we all supposed to work for? Oh, I know. Love. That's why there's so often 'no money in the budget to pay you.' One point that did occur to me though -all this seemed to become public when the parents who had bought the novel for their youngsters - as well as the young people themselves - read it and noticed that it was completely different in 'tone' from the Vlog. And I did begin to wonder - did nobody notice? I mean, didn't some editor, somewhere, say to the poor ghost writer, 'You have to write it in the same register as the Vlog. Make it sound like her.' Why didn't they do this? Most sporting 'auto'biographies manage to sound like the sportsman or woman in question so why not in this case?

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