So, Zoella. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know all about the guinea-pig owning ,
|Zoella the record-breaker|
Now, one might say, that is fair enough. After all the ghost agreed to the deal. And the sales are nothing to do with the prose, and everything to do with the platform that Zoella has worked hard to create in her years of blogging, vlogging and other activities which skilfully inflated her profile and turned her from an ordinary girl into a brand. Zoella’s story is a fairytale for our times, and those who quibble that she missed out the hard graft of actually writing a novel, should consider whether they would want to put in the considerable effort of producing a vlog that so chimes with the interests of teenage girls. And please don’t knock those interests. Teenage girls face so much hostility about their actual likes (Twilight? Pah! Make up? Piffle! The Hunger Games? Narcissism!) that there is something quite wonderful about someone breaking all records by being exceptionally good at reflecting the taste and concern of actual girls.
I also like Zoella a lot for talking about her own struggles with anxiety, a problem which is a raging epidemic among teenagers today, particularly those unfortunate enough to be educated in the Age of Gove.
There are a few things though that do bother me about Zoella’s story. First, that a clearly talented ghostwriter could accept a deal paying her a modest fee (reportedly in the region of £7k) without the tiniest percentage of royalties for writing 80,000 words in six weeks. What does that say about the income of writers nowadays?
Secondly, that no one from Zoella’s management team or publishers - let alone Zoella herself - wanted to give the ghostwriter a co-writing credit, or admit up front that Zoella needed a hand to get her ideas down in print. As Zoella herself admitted yesterday: ‘Everyone needs help when they try something new.’ Bring honest wouldn’t have dented her sales one little bit. Today's embarrassment was completely avoidable, and carries an unpleasant whiff of big business trying to mislead young consumers. I’d like to see more openness about the use of ‘helpers’ in celebrity publishing, more light shed on the process, so that young writers don’t feel hopelessly inadequate when they try and emulate their idols. Also, when celebrities scoop up sales and awards, this would ensure that we’re all clear about who is actually being honoured. Not all celebrities need as much help as Zoella, after all, and a few do all the work themselves.
And last, I'm concerned that brand, not quality is increasingly valued in children’s and young adult literature. Do all debut authors need millions of vlog followers nowadays? (John Green, after all, gathered fame as a vlogger - except I'm pretty sure he writes his books unaided) Or a career as an actor or comedian? Are publishers willing to take a chance on an unknown author - particularly one who isn’t especially glamorous? How many authors have a chance to build their careers nowadays? It sometimes can feel that people have only a few months to prove their worth.
This was also the week that the shortlist was announced for a new prize for YA from the UK and Ireland. I have a particular interest because my book, Salvage is on the shortlist (short break here, while I dance for joy), but even if it were not I would be applauding the way that this prize celebrates the quality and diversity of books for teenagers being produced in this country. It’s not all about big American bestsellers, it’s not all about the YouTubers, we have a lot of wonderful authors writing excellent books, that deserve a lot more attention than they get. A big thank you to The Bookseller for spotting this gap and doing something about it.
In a perfect world, Zoella’s triumphant entrance into the world of YA books will spark her interest in the work of other YA authors. She’ll start to read and review books on her vlog. She’ll champion books by people like Anne Cassidy, Sally Nicholls, Lydia Syson, Cat Clarke, Tom Easton, Patrick Ness, Bali Rai and Zoe Marriott. Rachel Ward, Clare Furniss, Sheena Wilkinson, Meg Rosoff, Joanna Nadin, Emma Pass, Emma Haughton, Marcus Sedgwick, Ruth Warburton, CJ Daugherty, Sarra Manning, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Philip, CJ Skuse, CJ Harper, Helen Grant, Keris Stainton, Tanya Landman, Tanya Byrne, Susie Day and Sara Grant. Not forgetting Candy Gourlay, Dave Cousins, Bryony Pearce, Kim Curran, Sharon Jones, Rae Earl, Catherine Johnson, Caroline Green, James Dawson, Non Pratt, Katy Moran, Moira Young, Hilary Freeman, Miriam Halahmy, Lee Weatherly, Sophia Bennett, Phil Earle, Luisa Plaja, Gina Blaxill, Liz de Jager, Holly Smale and Holly Bourne. And more. So many more.
In 2015 she’ll seek out debut books from the likes of Eve Ainsworth, Lisa Williamson and Nicole Burstein. She'll read Liz Kessler's first YA book. She’ll use the hashtag #UKYA, she’ll take part in the regular UKYA chats on twitter, she'll campaign against library closures and she’ll start following some of the UK’s fabulous book bloggers I may well send her a copy of my 2015 book This is Not a Love Story which features a girl vlogger who loves glimmering tealights, vintage teacups and makeovers. Call it zeitgeist, Zoella.
Most of all, I look forward to Zoella shouting about the books written under her rumoured ghost’s real name: Siobhan Curham. Siobhan has written many wonderful YA books, and she scooped a national award for her novel Dear Dylan, which she self-published with no help from anyone.
Wouldn’t that be great? Zoella?