Ghostwriting and Why Zoella Is NOT An Author

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Never judge a book by it's cover" holds a lot more weight than we thought.

Have you heard?! YouTube star Zoella wrote a book, except - she didn't. A few months ago, she began circulating the news that she would soon be releasing a fiction novel based on her life. Well, it's out, and so is the scandalous fact that she, in fact, didn't write the book. Her novel, Girl Online, was received excellently by her throngs of build-in YouTube fans, and broke the record for highest ever first week sales for a debut author, outselling the phenomenal and talent writer J.K. Rowling. I italicized 'writer' because despite Zoella's insistence that she's always wanted to be a writer and that the story and characters were her own, she is most definitely not a writer.
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Ghostwriting has been around forever. A ghostwriter is simply a writer retained to write a novel, report, article or any other kind of writing on the behalf of another person, without being listed as the author on the front cover. I remember hearing about ghostwriting in the music industry, specifically ghostwriters composing all of P.Diddy's rhymes, when I was younger. At that point, I didn't really think too much of it. I was writing back then, but nothing more than creating characters, main plot points and maybe penning a chapter or two. Now, that I've struggled through the process of writing something, most recently the fifty thousand words for NaNoWriMo 2014, I'm appalled at the business of ghostwriting (not collaborating, which to me is entirely different) for two major reasons.

You're Being Dishonest

This first point of contention isn't so much an issue with ghostwriting in theory as it is with the industry in practice. As was the case with Zoella's (Zoe Sugg) Girl Online and probably so many other novels we don't know about, there is no mention anywhere on the book that it was ghostwritten. In this vlog, she makes the big announcement that Penguin publishing house contacted her regarding the writing style of her personal blog and suggested that she write a book. But as she continues to talk about the premise of the novel, it seems as though she's not acquainted well enough with the storyline to relay it to her viewers properly. She makes no mention of actually writing the book or using a ghostwriter in this video or any subsequent videos, aside from claiming that her "dream has been to write a book." So says most people, sister. Zoe mentions working really closely with an editor and an "editorial consultant" but doesn't clarify that "working really closely" and "helping [her] out" is actually code for "I didn't write this." Adding insult to injury, rumor has it that Siobhan Curham, Zoe's ghostwriter, only received about $11,000 for her part in Girl Online. My little writing heart is screaming in disbelief.

You're Not A Writer

I struggle with writing. Being a writer doesn't mean that you don't struggle with it, just that you push past it. In defense of her novel, Zoe insists that the characters and the plot were entirely her own. I'm sure this is representative of the thinking of many celebrity (or semi-celebrity) 'authors'. But as someone who is deep in the thick of piecing together a coherent novel from scraps of plot and characterization, the writing of the book takes place in, surprise!, the actual writing of the book. Initial character development and major storyline is just the beginning (the characters and major plot of my current work were create over a year ago!). Once the writing process begins, characters show you what they're really made of, some plot points get switched up and others ex'd out altogether. Midway through, you look back at what you have and you barely recognize the manuscript as even remotely related to what you had in the beginning. To claim that throwing characters and plot points out there is in any way equivocal to writing a novel is to claim that choosing paint colors and hauling a brick or two out to a plot of land means you've built a house. No. Just no.  

What do you think about ghostwriting? Do you care if the listed author was not the actual author?


While I'm talking about books and before you run out to do your last minute shopping, consider picking up our December book of the month while you're out there!
My True Love Gave To Me by Stephanie Perkins et. al. 
I read Rainbow Rowell's story, Midnights, yesterday and was completely and expectantly blown-away. Anything Rainbow writes is an insta-love for me. I loved it so much I reread it before turning to any of the other stories :) If you're joining us this month (Kay and I will be linking up on January 6th!), I hope your enjoying the novel just as much. And if you haven't joined us yet, what are you waiting for?!


  1. I don't mind co-authoring and even ghostwriting of autobiographies for instance since not everyone is a writer but some may have a story to tell.... but the hollywood trend of every housewife and reality tv star "writing" a book just for money when they have neither the ability, patience, nor story to write ... I can't.

  2. i don't know much about it, to be honest, but i remember being broken hearted when i found out that the sweet valley high & babysitters club books weren't all written by francine pascal and ann m martin, that they had other people writing as well (ghost writing?). it's disappointing!

  3. I don't mind either because I know it's a way for writers to earn money they otherwise would not be able to (because they don't have her fame/notoriety.)

    Though I wish people would be more upfront about it. There is no shame in needing a ghost-writer, we're not all Stephen King!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Georgina!
      I definitely see your point about ghost-writing giving writer's work. I never thought of it like that. And like you said there's no shame in needing help - even Stephen King has an editor! I just feel like those who write are writers, and calling someone who didn't write the book "a writer" is misleading. Like if I tell you to draw a picture of a girl with a purple balloon, I shouldn't I be able to take credit at all for your drawing when it ends up in the Guggenheim, ya know? Being a muse/inspiration just isn't enough.
      But really, if only we could all be King :)

  4. You definitely wrote the heck out of this post and I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I've never heard of this Youtuber, because I am not on enough, but it seems as if she should have just come clean. You make it worse when you don't. And I don't think there is anything wrong with people needing help to write something, which is why they have co-writers listed on the book. But don't go say you wrote it and didn't. It is dishonest and a sort of bait and switch. Great article. I hope you had a great holiday

  5. Not fair!!! I see nothing wrong with having a ghost writer but I don't think it's fair that it doesn't have to be mentioned. Even if you leave off the name it should be required that it be mentioned. Lots of people have ideas but putting it into thousands of words and actually writing the book is what makes you a writer. It almost belittles the efforts of writers if those that don't write can receive the same accolades. I wouldn't feel right about it if I had a ghostwriter.

  6. As and artist I do not think that I would paint something and let someone else put their name on it. So, I am not sure I understand why a writer would do that. I think it is fine to have help, but lets give credit where credit goes. Also, I love Rainbow's stuff!!


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