Earlier this week there was quite a furore when it was revealed that Zoe Sugg’s (a YouTube star, apparently) debut novel, Girl Online was largely ghost-written by her editorial team. The book went on to shift nearly 80,000 copies in the initial weekend and there was a wide-ranging debate as to where, ethically, ghost-writing in terms of fiction stands.
Immediately I was pretty angry about the deception. Ghost-writing is a common practise in terms of non-fiction work, especially biographical work, where the subject may not be able to adequately convey their thoughts in prose, and employ the services of a ghost-writer to better form them. That’s fine by me, and almost a given, even if the reasons behind these biographies and other such works are more tenuous. If I were to have a biography written, I’d almost certainly want to have it ghost-written because I’m rubbish at writing about myself.
What really angered me is the fact this is a novel being ghost-written. I consider the novel to be the purest form of storytelling and an intensely personal endeavour from the writer. Part of the joy of reading a novel is getting a feel for the “voice” of the person who brought it to life. To simply hand a set of vague notes to another writer for them to stitch into a narrative seems, to me, cheap and lazy. To then lie and market the book as the “first novel by Zoella” feels a half-truth at best, and a devious ploy at worst.
Sure, there’s an editorial team in place to point authors in the right direction in regards to structure, narrative and plot but when large parts of the novel are written “from an idea” I feel the line has been crossed in terms of ethically crediting the book, at least, to just one author.
Incidentally but not unrelated: I’m not happy at what my friend Sam Richards termed “X Factor publishing” – would Zoe’s book have sold nearly as well as it had without a “famous name” behind it? It seems that achieving fame in mainstream publishing is not dependent on skill or talent – Zoe’s story suggests the absolute opposite. I feel her fan-base has been exploited to buy a book on the basis of its author, not its content. And secondly, it leaves a bitter taste in my mind with regards to hardworking, independent authors that go either unnoticed or pursue publication for years at considerable effort whereas individuals either strike it lucky with badly-written bilge or cash in on their status to circumvent such formalities as learning a craft. And it’s poor form for publishers who are already struggling in the face of the rise of indie publishing to treat their consumers so cynically.