Saturday, 20 December 2014

Why do we do it? by Jenny Harper

So Girl Online wasn't written by Zoella. What a surprise!

Zoella, from Wikimedia Commons,
photograph by Gage Skidmore.
When a young girl who has created her own brand of fame in the relatively new world of vlogging is commissioned to write a novel – in eight weeks – and it becomes a runaway bestseller, why are fans 'outraged' when they discover (shock, horror), it's not actually written by her? Or at least, not all of it. Or, at least, the characters and stories are hers. According to her publisher, Penguin, she 'worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming yet compelling story.'

Those of us who have slogged over the years to learn the craft of storytelling might a) chortle at the notion that anyone could actually believe that a young twenty-something can master the art with her first book, in a mere eight weeks or b) go green with envy at the ringing of the tills as Girl Online becomes the highest selling first week sales of a debut novelist of all time.

But think about it. Pretty girl, popular girl = marketing opportunity. A smart editor at Penguin had the idea and followed it through. Celebrity sells. What's not to like? (Ahem – honestly? Only the knowledge I'll never be twenty-something again, and that the seemingly boundless opportunities afforded by social media weren't available when I was?)

But that's just sour grapes. As writers, what we need to do is acknowledge that this is a smart, savvy marketing initiative, tip our hats to the ghostwriter who pulled off the stunt of actually penning a credible and readable 80,000 word YA novel in eight weeks, then sit down and get on with our own writing.

No, we won't sell nearly 80,000 copies in the first week (or might we...? We can still dream!) But we will have crafted something readable, and thoughtful, and polished, that is all our own work and that – hopefully – will connect with our own readership and give pleasure.

I can't get worked up about it. The row about whether Penguin were misleading readers by 'pretending' the book was written by Zoella might rumble on, but if it has made at least some people realise that writing is a skill and a craft that needs to be honed and polished over the years, then I'll be happy.

What do I know about Zoella anyway? Only that she temporarily withdrew from the internet after her legion of Twitter fans turned their wrath on her, claiming that it was 'clouding her brain.' You and me both, Zoe, you and me both.


  1. Wonderfully entertaining post, Jenny -- and enlightening, too, as I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of Zoella.
    I'm always pretty cynical about ghost writers, I confess. I certainly assume that all celebrities have them.

    1. Do you think Dawn French writes her own? SHe's done loads of scriptwriting. But certainly many do - which sleb famously said she was looking forward to reading her autobiography one day? vbg

    2. I'm sure some do - and I have very great respect for them. Personally I think ghost writing's a skill too.

  2. Enlightening for me, too. I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy it, but it makes a very interesting critique of current marketing trends... Thanks Jenny.

    1. Probably quite a good YA book, Gill. Read, digest and learn...?

  3. I enoyed your post, Jenny. Like the others I had never heard of Zoella. I guess I don't keep up with YA because I don't read them and my own young adult has gone past that stage in his reading. 80,000 in a week sounds pretty nice, ghost written or noy.