The British YouTube star known as Zoella has amassed 6.6 million subscribers and 2.6 million Twitter followers with her fashion and beauty videos. Capitalizing on her runaway popularity, she just released a YA novel, which promptly rocketed up the bestseller lists. But now she's caught in a ghostwriting controversy.
Zoe Suggs' Girl Online debuted to an absolute frenzy in the U.K. According to the L.A. Times, the book moved 78,000 copies in its first week, shattering British sales records to become 2014's fastest-selling title. The plot, via Amazon:
Under the alias GirlOnline, Penny blogs her hidden feelings about friendship, boys, high school drama, her quirky family, and the panic attacks that have begun to take over her life. When things go from bad to worse at school, her parents accept an opportunity to whisk the family away for Christmas at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. There, she meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming American. Suddenly Penny is falling in love—and capturing every moment she spends with "Brooklyn Boy" on her blog.
But Noah has a secret, too, one that threatens to ruin Penny's cover—and her closest friendship—forever.
Well, the Guardian reports that after such a promising start Sugg hit some gravel, with a flurry of accusations online that the book was ghostwritten. Before long, her U.K. publisher, Penguin, confirmed that she had substantial assistance: "For her first novel, Girl Online, Zoe has worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming and compelling story." And Sugg herself responded via Twitter with what reads a lot like "yeah, so?"
Thanks for all the positive feedback about Girl Online and for all the doubters out there, of course I was going to have help from Penguin's editorial team in telling my story, which I talked about from the beginning. Everyone needs help when they try something new. The story and the characters of Girl Online are mine.
Amid the hubbub, Suggs tweeted that she'd be taking a few days off:
But don't you dare accuse her of flouncing over Internet dramz:
In all fairness, this is hardly earth-shattering news. Lots of celebrities get book deals, and let's face it, most of them aren't famous for their sparkling prose. So their publishers scrounge up some patient ghostwriter to take their half-formed ideas and turn them into something that can grace the shelves at Barnes and Noble without embarrassing the industry pros involved. Yes, it's depressing that the book business sometimes functions like a celebrity clothing line, where anonymous designers do the work then slap a singer's name on the label for maximum brand awareness. (And it sells.) But it's not surprising, nor is it Sugg's fault. Longtime ghostwriter Andrew Crofts told Mashable to blame Penguin for the fact this ever became a controversy:
"She's a nice girl who's got a following. It's Penguin who have created this by not being completely open in their initial answers.... The public doesn't care, and they've shown that with people like David Beckham and Katie Price," he says, referring to two celebrities who openly admit their books are the work of someone else. "If the book's good people don't care who wrote it. They just want a quality product."
The real question is whether Sugg's fans will find this off-putting. Aren't authenticity and presumed intimacy supposed to three-quarters of the appeal of these YouTube stars? Makes even a partially ghostwritten novel seem pretty risky. But something tells me that while she might slough off a few followers, this won't be a terrible setback in a field where you can quite literally become famous for opening newly purchased makeup products. #teenstoday have their own definition of authenticity.