In Defense Of Zoe Sugg: Since When Is Knowing Your Limits And Asking For Help A Bad Thing?
British fashion and beauty vlogger Zoe Sugg, 24, had a ghostwriter help her on her debut novel, Girl Online, and it matters. Because. Because … because. That’s why. It just matters.
My original intention was to say that it really and truly doesn’t matter, and it really and truly doesn’t. Most autobiographies are ghostwritten (which gives a truly different meaning to the idea of “autobiography”). R.L. Stine had people help him write the Goosebumps books (he wrote them, but he got help with outlining). George Takei’s Facebook page is — GASP! — not written by George Takei. The Nancy Drew series was ghost written. The Sweet Valley High series was ghostwritten. And if you want to talk about dishonesty of some kind, let’s talk about the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald flat-out plagiarized his wife Zelda for his books while excoriating her publicly as a terrible writer. If we want to talk about it mattering that someone “got help” or “hired people” or “stole from their wives,” let’s not jump on Zoe Sugg; let’s jump on Fitzgerald. He’s the one who’s heralded as one of the greatest writers of his time and whose works are taught in high schools and universities around the nation/globe without mentioning that he stole from Zelda Fitzgerald. How can you tell students not to plagiarize and then teach them plagiarized works?
But I digress. Apparently it matters that Zoe Sugg hired a ghostwriter because (excuse me while I prepare to roll my eyes until they pop out of their sockets), according to the Independent:
“Girl Online is different to your standard ghost-written book, and that’s because of the implicit promise that Zoella makes to her followers. Their relationship is based on a fundamental understanding that she will be honest with them. These are teenage girls who worship their idol, and really believe her capable of doing anything. To them, she isn’t a celebrity whose name will be used to shift a product; she’s their best friend. If Zoella tells them she is “writing a book”, as she did several times, they believe that she is doing just that. This is why they bought it, and why they are so proud of her. If this is not the full story then they have misled.”
Let’s unpack this. It matters because of this article writer’s perception of a promise Zoe made to her followers, but that Zoe did not, in fact, make to her followers. It matters because the author of that article believes that ghostwriting is dishonest and not a normal thing that normal authors do all the time in order to write a better book. It matters because Zoe said she was writing a book, and she did write a book, by the way, but she didn’t write a book the way the author of that statement assumed she was writing a book.
And let’s be clear: Saying that Zoe “isn’t a celebrity whose name will be used to shift a product” and then saying “she’s their best friend” is contradictory. Zoe’s product is Zoella, and her brand is “your best friend.” Let’s not delude ourselves. She has the right to brand herself, and she has the right not to be castigated for branding herself. Her branding is why she’s successful. It’s only a bonus that, by all accounts, she appears to be a genuinely very pleasant person.
Girl Online is not “different to your standard ghost-written book.” Not everyone is S.E. Hinton and capable of producing a compelling novel on their own the first time around. The problem isn’t that Zoe hired a ghostwriter and didn’t tell anyone, it’s that some of her fans don’t understand how challenging it is to write a compelling novel and won’t give their “idol” the humanity and dignity to be imperfect, acknowledge her limits, and ask for help. What they got was, by Zoe and her publisher’s statements, a narrative and characters that were born out of Zoe’s imagination and ideas and helped to become engaging and readable by a more experienced writer, to whom she gave an acknowledgment. And we’re going to go ahead and pressure her off the internet for that?
You know what? From a 27-year-old who hasn’t written a book despite being a professional writer, who has a good idea for a book but hasn’t asked for any help in fleshing it out, and who, meanwhile, hasn’t accomplished half of what Zoe Sugg has at 24: Good on you, Zoe. Everyone has the right to ask for help, advice, and guidance when they need it, and it takes humility and self-awareness to do that. Because Zoe did that, she wrote — she wrote — a novel that is, I’ve heard, a very good young adult novel. Anyone who objects to that has a great big distance between their heads and the real world.
[Image via Instagram]
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