Leave Zoella Alone: Publishing Loves a Sexist Scapegoat as Much as Anyone

Stock: CRIMES BY WOMEN 04, digital comics museum, 1948, Fox Features Syndicate

Zoella, Zoe Sugg, youtube, 2914Day-before-yesterday in publishing: turns out the YouTube-to-bestseller helter-skelter can deliver you right into the croc pit. Zoella, vlog sensation, became the proud recipient of a fastest debut seller ever crown early in December. Then this week, we’re all atwitter because maybe there was assistance given, in the writing of this book. What’s that, Scoob? A g-g-g-ghostwriter!

Zoella is the name used on her videos, her blog; in business terms (registered or not), it is the company name for her brand. Zoe Sugg is the entrepreneur and performer, life coach and verbal essayist, mental health advocate, and personal grooming tutor, who created the Zoella girl. Her fans know her as Zoella, but nobody can live their brand to the limit. Barbara Hulanicki did not spend all day wafting about like a Biba girl. She was in the office W-O-R-K-I-N-G. Baby Spice is a mother. Posh put on a fake voice. “Zoella” is an image, a figment, although she is powerfully animated by the true intentions and honest sharing of her progenitor.

David Bowie has an entourage

Joan Jett came from the Runaways

1Direction were manufactured in front of the whole country.

None of us create glamour alone.

Spare me from your scandalised gasps at the existence of the ghostwriting industry. I think we all know. Shakespeare, in fact — okay, it’s contentious, but it’s a legitimate faction of battle scholarship re: the Bard, the idea that maybe “Shakespeare” is a name that refers to the work of more than just one, common, Stratfordian man. And ghostwriting is a profession, it pays, it supports incomes and lifestyles and provides great practice. Are you tragic about being a ghostwriter? Maybe you shouldn’t be one!

The apparent co-author in question, Siobhan Curham, is gratefully receiving sympathy. Perhaps she has been instructed this way by her agent, or by Penguin. EDIT: Clarity: she’s #TeamZoella

Teenagers, okay. Maybe teenagers aren’t aware of the various traditions of the cut-throat publishing world. If fans of Zoella didn’t know this was a possibility and they feel like she lied, let’s hear them. Let’s have the agents and publishing company (Penguin Random House) responsible talk back, explain the tradition, explain the choice here. But most news outlets are reporting, at the ends of their articles about “fraud,” that her core fan base does not care. Their hearts go on.

So where’s the beef?

Perhaps it’s that… girls are yucky? Zoella’s been all over YouYube ads recently, bothering me about doing my hair messy-on-purpose when I’m just trying to watch Stuart Ashen eat something that will probably kill him. I did not appreciate that, it’s true. “Who is this Zoella yelling at me?” I  tweet. I can see, although certainly not forgive, how this same advertorial distaste might entice a person to spring upon a weakness in this woman’s machine, as soon as they see it.

That’s bad form though, isn’t it? That’s being a “spiteful bully” with a “sad vendetta.” Hm?

Maybe it’s because grown-ups still don’t believe in YouTube? Silly bitch thought she could engineer her own success through some modern thing I don’t understand, eh? Let’s use something I do understand to crush her successful, girl-friendly little face!

Perhaps it’s just that, online and off, tabloids are awful and exist to sell harm second-hand. I don’t know, it could be anything. But the number of “news outlets” who have covered this “story” — celebrity book written with help from professional wordsmith — speaks to how exciting it is to have a young woman to blame. Ooh, yes, blame. Doesn’t it feel dirty-good. Our media delivery structure, reader, is sick.

None of the Telegraph’s pieces on Zoella following news of her collaboration referred back to the earlier piece quoted below:

She landed a two-book deal with Penguin Random House earlier this year. The CEO, Tom Weldon, said he was initially doubtful about the wisdom of signing a YouTube star but did so after consulting his 13-year-old goddaughter. […]

He predicted then that Girl Online would be “absolutely enormous” and said Penguin Random House would be her publisher “for many, many years to come.”

Tom Weldon! Were you fooled by this lying liar, Zoella? Did she trick you into accepting a book she didn’t 100% write herself? Oh! What a minx!

Do you know that none of the large publications’ coverage seems to mention Zoe Sugg’s status as Mind Digital Ambassador? The first one, ever? In this world of cyberbullying and digital harassment? Which is a position she was granted as she “speaks to over 8 million subscribers about beauty, fashion, and the adventures of her life. However she has also used this channel to share open and honest accounts of her own battles with anxiety and panic attacks.”

Zoella, Zoe Sugg, Mind, Mind Digital Ambassador, 2014

Further down the same page, Zoe says:

I know just how isolating it can feel to experience severe anxiety. However, the overwhelming response I’ve received every time I’ve spoken out online, shows just how many young people confront it every day.

It would be irresponsible to report on that, at the same time as revealing the news that her book was co- or fully- or something-written by a professional ghost. Wouldn’t it? Don’t remind the public that mental health is real when you’re laying siege to a young woman’s authenticity. However would they cope.

Hey, tangent. I was listening to a terrible podcast last week. It was actually a pretty good episode: Jim Ross talking to Bob “Hardcore” Holly about blah blah wrestling blah. Bob recently wrote this book, see? He has a book out. The Hardcore Truth, from ECW Press. “Your book,” says Jim Ross. Bob talks about how he was thinking about writing a book, and was told to get someone to write it for him by the powers that be at WWE. He talks about how a friend of his was actually a writer, and this friend suggested he could help. He talks about Skyping with this friend for hours, every day, and the friend then writing his book. He mentions the guy’s name, I couldn’t make it out. Jim Ross does not ask for it to be repeated. It’s Bob Holly’s memoir. Here’s the cover:

Hardcore-Truth-cover, Bob Holly, Ross Williams, ECW Press, 2014

Bob Holly with Ross Williams. Can’t we have a big furore about how it should be Ross Williams with Bob Holly? Can’t we get up a fuss that it’s called the “truth” but it’s written by one man from the recollections of another? Can’t we pillory JR for not asking all about poor Ross Williams? Zoella thanked Siobhan Curham in the font pages of her book. “For being with me every step of the way.” (By the by, who’s crusty enough to see a thank-you and go looking for a blood feud?). Why aren’t we setting fires at the feet of every adult whose product used questionable semantics to dance around an established practice encouraged by publishers?

You know why.

bullying nerd meme, Zoe Sugg, youtube, 2014

We punish women.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money