Girl Online & The Ghostwriter


You have have missed yesterday that a tweet of mine regarding the whole Zoe Sugg/Girl Online/Ghostwriter saga was featured in an article on the Cosmopolitan website.  After the excitement of my name featuring in a Cosmo article subsided (a little bit of a dream come true there even if it was just a tweet) I realised that the one tweet that was featured out of four that I had posted may not have gotten my point across adequately and I wanted to elaborate a little.

Yesterday it was revealed Girl Online – debut novel of Zoella (Zoe Sugg) was in fact ghostwritten.

Applaud, congratulations, pat on the back – a YouTuber or blogger done good – let’s get that out of the way and dismiss any “this is all just jealousy!” chants. 

No, I’ve not read “Girl Online” because just as I’m not a target audience for Zoe’s YouTube channel and Superdrug beauty line I’m also not the priority audience for running out and buying Girl Online or downloading it on my Kindle (I prefer my books a little more gruesome and rough round the edges) so I can’t really give a positive or negative review on the book itself but what I can give a review on is the admission from Penguin that Zoe did not infact write the book on her own.

Outselling the likes of JK Rowling and Dan Brown thanks to Zoella’s ginormous following and fanbase (and perhaps those curious as to just what Girl Online delivers) the book is probably sitting at the top of many a young girls Christmas list and has been featured favourably in many YouTubers current “favourite” videos.

It’s been speculated that a blog post (which has now been written) by freelance writer Siobhan Curham saying that she needed to write a novel with a turnaround of 6 weeks (which would fit the timeline of Zoe’s announcement of her debut novel and the release date) is indicitivate that Girl Online was actually entirely written by Curham.  With Zoe also thanking Curham in her “acknowledgements” section of the book only cements that theory further.  Maybe Siobhan Curham and Zoe worked together and Siobhan simply edited some of Zoe’s own original writing – I for one often send blog posts or pieces of work to friends before hitting the publish button for a second opinion but during the space of time between the Girl Online announcement and release date I didn’t see any “OHMYGOD IT’S 3AM AND THIS NOVEL IS BEGINNING TO MAKE ME WANT TO SLAM MY HEAD INTO THE MONITOR” tweets that I send even when I’m just writing an elaborate blog post.  With this in mind the revelations that *shock gasp* Girl Online was ghostwritten do not come as a complete surprise to me.

Looking back to what I said in the blog post regarding the Band Aid single, if Penguin called your agent (my agent would be my mum, or Ted) and said “Hello Charl!  If you wouldn’t mind giving us a brief idea for a book, we’ll get someone in to write it, you’ll be the face of it and get loads of publicity, you’ll make history as a best selling ‘novelist’ and we both make loads of dollar” would I turn it down?  My integrity says yes and that I’d stick to my morals and hold out for my original work to be published rather than selling off someone elses work as my own.  For example, during a nativity show at primary school I was the singing voice of Mary..I stood behind a screen and sung a sung whilst “Mary” on the stage simply mouthed the words.  I was fuming, but I did it.

Cashing in and riding the gravy train for as long as it lasts is the equivalent of bloggers like myself accepting sponsored blog posts or pre written content in exchange for $$$.  To take the sponsored posts under a “bloggers gotta eat” proviso or to battle on with your integrity in tact and wave the money bye bye?  It’s a 50/50 situation.

With reports that almost 80,000 people in one week bought Girl Online – does it matter that this book WASN’T written by Zoe?  To her legion of fans, probably not because they’ll lap it up. To me, if the claims that the entire book was written entirely by Siobhan Curham and released under Zoe’s name then, yes.  It matters.  The likes of Katie Price have posed at book launches and released their novels which have been ghostwritten and allowed them to call themselves “novelists”… but there has been a certain level of transparency.  At best Zoe endorsed Girl Online.  There’s perfumes released by Britney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyonce, One Direction… do we actually believe that Brit, SJP, Bey and Hazza and co sit around in a lab sit around sniffing top and base notes whilst wearing white lab coats?  No, they have a team to manufacture, package and produce the product, they may give it a bit of a whiff, get their legal teams to give it the okay and then their name is smacked all over the advertising and released to their legions of fans to snap up while they attend “launches” up and down the country.  These are paid endorsements.

The problem here for me is with the publishers of the book.  It’s been reported that Penguin CEO Tom Weldon was told by his 13-year-old goddaughter that the book would be ‘a huge best-seller’.  A best seller because of her writing capabilities or because of her celebrity status. Their ?  That is the question.  There was no transparency with the ghostwriting claim and only when questioned as to whether Zoe wrote the book herself did Penguin Random House say “to be factually accurate you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own”.  Gee, could you vague that up for me?   If I were 13/14 years of age (as I once was) and sat writing short stories at my computer with the hopes of one day seeing my name adorning the spine of an orange Penguin novel or see my work in Waterstones, to see my idol jump from vlogger to novelist would make me think that my dreams were achievable.  But that reality is that it isn’t quite that achievable and is actually a fabricated fairytale.

Some people work for months and years to eventually bag themselves a publishing deal after having draft novel upon draft novel returned after a brief thumbing by an assistant of an assistant and deemed not good enough.  To have someone handed the title “novelist” after simply handing their name and new found status to the tireless works of someone else must be frustrating.  Sure, Siobhan Curham was probably paid handsomely considering those staggering sales but to have someone else “take all the glory” for your talent must smart a little, especially with that lack of transparency.  One would hope that this new age of blogging would open up the discovery of young and new talent in the writing world, where “writing talent scouts” (if there is such a thing) would be presented with so much material to potentially pick up on and develop those peoples talents.  I could give you a list of bloggers who write beautifully and continually engage their audience who I would rush out and buy the books of because I would know the content would be quality and so “them”.  I’d hope that it would be those people that publishers would be approaching because of the talent and future sales, not jumping on the gravy train of this new wave of celebrity and flash in the pan endorsements. Perhaps Penguin could invest the amassed revenue of sales from Girl Online both from that first week and it’s follow up sales into coaching and developing new and up and coming bloggers as writers?

Yes, the book industry is just that, an industry and thrives on sales and income made from book releases and if Zoe has ran to the bank with a few 00’s on her paycheck then bloody good on her but it’s a little underhand in my eyes.

  • Thanks for writing this!
    If the publishers and Authors had been more transparent from the onset, there wouldn’t have been such a shitstorm

    Joelle xx

  • You mentioned on twitter it’s difficult not to come across as jealous, but I don’t think this post comes across that way at all.

    I’ll be the first to admit a major case of green eyed monster but because it’s my dream to be an author. Never in a billion years will I get the sales on a first book that she has, and hell yeh, i’m jelly! But above all of that, I was pretty pleased for her! Like, you go girl. She has done fantastically for herself and building her career the way she has. I do however, feel like it shouldn’t be claimed it was HER book if someone else did all the writing. Perhaps co-written would have been more appropriate? It still would have hit the same sales i’ve no doubt. Then there wouldn’t have been any of this sticky mess the publishers seem to have encountered now.

    But the most important thing about all this I think… The ghost writer did it in SIX WEEKS. Six. Think that would actually kill me trying to achieve 80,000 words in six weeks.

    • Martyna

      well you know when she annonced it she was half way writing the book xD

  • Your blogpost comes across cynical and negative.
    I think you did not express well enough what ghostwriting really is. Also about the transparancy of everything you are not right. She always said, that she has help by writing the book because obviously she has not the skills yet to write a whole book…
    This article helps some of you to understand the situation better, because this blogpost can’t do it correctly:

    • See i would disgree – Charl isn’t the one being sketchy, its Zoe and penguin. They ‘helped’ me is not answering the question – its actually avoiding it. Saying the story and characters are all suggests she told someone the names and the brief story and they padded it out, but no one will say the word ghost writer. Yes all novelists require help, editors are a huge part of any book, but there is a huge difference between editing and writing and you are the naive one if you cannot see that. I would have so much more respect for the girl if she came out and was honest and stopped avoiding the question

    • I entirely disagree with this comment. I think Charl did a fab job of summing up what a ghostwriter is: someone who writes a book from behind the scenes, which is then published under someone else’s name.

      As to your point on Zoe “obviously not having the skills to write a whole book”: there is a HUGE difference between having someone edit (maybe help guide you as to what would work well in a narrative sequence), and having someone put their own words on the paper to write the story for you.

      [comment continued below]

  • Totally agree – i like zoes writing style and you know what I think if she had wrote it 100% herself it would have been a good book (for that genre) but this is a prime example of every company jumping on her success and putting her name on anything to make money. Couple that with the 6 week turnaround, clearly they do not think her fame will last or they would have gave her more time, but instead of holding her head up high and saying no she jumps on the bandwagon. Do I blame the companies, no as this is their ethos but jesus this is a 25ish year old girl whos fan base is early teens, how can you dupe them over and over again and sleep at night? She sat and told them she was writing a book, how it was a dream of hers etc – she is giving this generation complete false hope.

    What im most interested to see is what happens with the other bloggers books as a result? Fleur and Tanya both have ones in the pipeline and I reckon they will learn from zoes mistakes and will declare a ghost writer from the get go!

  • In my eyes Zoe always made it clear in her Vlogs that she was getting help to write it, in a few of her videos there was a girl there with her whilst she was writing. Zoe needs a break , I think she is amazing xox

    • Martyna

      i agree Mariesndrsn

  • Ornella (@euhnella)

    I think this is an interesting take on the whole ghostwriting debate. Ghostwritten or not, Zoe Suggs has achieved something amazing, and the book industry does have to compete with the online age, and by collaborating with bloggers like Zoe, I feel it’s bridging a gap to keep them (rather than Zoe) relevant. I’m not saying that teens are in danger of never reading again, but an industry has to do what an industry has to do.

    I have to admit that despite not being her target audience either, I was quite inspired by the fact that she managed to write a book and get it published by Penguin of all publishers (which I would love to do) and the fact that she didn’t personally write it does somewhat deflate my hopes, so I would assume it might have the same effect for young(er) people. She might not have wanted to be a role model, but she is one, and no one would have thought of her any differently if she’d been honest about the ghostwriting – it might have inspired collaborations between young people with ideas and those who can write, and shed a different light on ghostwriting all together.

    If the moral had been: “ghostwriting is not a bad thing” she would have probably come out of this mostly unscathed (after all haters gon’ hate) and more loved, but skirting around the subject does, as you said, make it seem questionably underhand.