There's controversy in the wake of Zoe Sugg's Girl Online breaking sales records set by J.K. Rowling and other prominent U.K. writers. Her publisher Penguin admitted that Sugg, better known by her handle Zoella, had help with a Girl Online ghostwriter. A Penguin spokesperson released this statement, after fans suggested online that Sugg did not write her debut novel herself:
To be factually accurate, you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own.
For those over 40 years old, Sugg is a fashion and beauty video blogging star, who has caught worldwide attention for her fun, approachable style and advice. She is also well-known for tackling common teen and twentysomething girl issues, such as anxiety, body image, and bullying. Her YouTube channel has a whopping 6.5 million subscribers (and climbing), and she's followed by more than 2.5 million people on Twitter. Her debut novel Girl Online is a semi-autobiographical story about a young vlogger who falls for a celebrity, Notting Hill style.
Sugg's own acknowledgements in her book could be taken as light confirmation of her writing help, as she thanks "everyone at Penguin for helping me put together my first novel, especially Amy Alward and Siobhan Curham, who were with me every step of the way." The latter name, Siobhan Curham, is who allegedly was Sugg's primary ghostwriter. Curham wrote a blog post in August describing how Penguin asked her to write a novel in six weeks. That post has since been deleted, but The Telegraph has quotes from the post:
When I was asked this year by a publisher if I could write a book for them and oh yes, please could I write it in six weeks, you can imagine the expletive deleteds that popped into my head ... But part of me was intrigued. So, I decided to accept the challenge aaaaaand ... I did it! I wrote an entire 80,000 word novel in six weeks.
If this unnamed novel is in fact Girl Online — which, it must be clear, Penguin has denied — it would seem that Curham wrote the entire novel herself. Sugg, for her part, released a note on social media acknowledging the controversy, before she said she was going to take a break from being online:
Look, let's get this straight right away: We would be delusional if we didn't think that most celebrities used ghostwriters to write their books. (And we learned as much with Kendall and Kylie Jenner.) That much is essentially a given in the publishing industry. What bothers me about Sugg's statement, however, is that she says "of course I was going to have help."
Is it me, or does that essentially cast shadows on all young (and adult!) authors who have worked hard to write and publish their debut novels? I'm thinking now of Alexandra Adornetto who wrote a novel when she was 15; or Helen Oyeyemi, who debuted when she was 20; or heck, even S.E. Hinton who published The Outsiders when she was 18. I don't think "of course" they used ghostwriters, and saying so devalues their work.
But still, it's not that I think it's a problem that she used a ghostwriter. Sugg has certainly earned her place in the spotlight with her amazing online presence and the help she offers young women. It's just that Penguin and Sugg could have saved this entire controversy and embarrassment had they just credited Curham with her work — and her cut of the royalties. Would this even be a conversation if it was on the bookshelves as Girl Online by Zoe Sugg and Siobhan Curham? Probably not. Curham, after all, is a working young adult and adult fiction writer herself, who frankly deserves some of the credit in an industry that is too often looking for the flashy celebrity name to sell books.
Image: Zoe Sugg/Facebook