07/12/2014

In defence of Zoella


Nothing causes disdain quicker than success and in the case of Zoella this has seemed all too true in the past week. In case you didn’t know, Zoella (real name Zoe Sugg) is a YouTube vlogger whose debut novel Girl Online has sold more in its first week of release than any book ever, more even than the likes of JK Rowling. Which is all fine except for the fact that some people seem to resent this fact. Digging around with barely concealed zeal they have unearthed that the book was ghostwritten and made it a big Sunday media story. The subtext of these stories is very much to belittle her achievement.  Zoella’s success seems to have irked people is because she is `only` a vlogger, she is `only` 24 and most of all her `sudden` appearance as if from nowhere. 



I’ve no idea what her book is like because it’s not aimed at me at all but if she has sold so many copies then surely it is connecting with a lot of people? As with music and theatre, critics and the literati always look down on writers who are successfully without their say so. They have forgotten that the whole point of writing is to communicate, to connect and Zoella’s book clearly does that on a massive scale. They have probably not even noticed that the most popular YouTubers enjoy audiences well in excess of most tv programmes and certainly above even the biggest selling authors. Zoella for example has over 9 million followers to her vlog.
It has  now been admitted that the book was ghostwritten but a lot of books are and let’s face it every author has some ghost writing presence at their shoulder whether it’s family or friends, an editor or simply the influences that shape the work. Most celebrity novels are ghost written but it’s important to remember that this does not mean the credited author did not write them. A ghost writer will help shape ideas but is unlikely to initiate them. By all accounts the book rings true to the nature of Zoella’s previous videos.


I’d say Zoella’s biggest achievement though is in getting 78,000 teenagers reading a book. This is the decade, let’s not forget, in which were told nobody would read books and we’d only look at texts or Tweets.  Yet this is not turning out to be true at all; the format may be changing from paper to electronic but the idea of books as an artform is healthier than ever. I hope Zoella goes on to publish more successful books because if she is getting teenagers and twentysomethings into the idea of reading novels that can only be a good thing. I seem to recall a certain JK Rowling’s initial success was sneered at too, but she did ok in the end didn’t she?

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