Ghost Online: Zoella and the Problem of Authenticity

By Books - Girl online book

Ghostwriting is a serious business. Type it into any search engine and you will find a plethora of websites designed to find you the perfect ghostwriter. It’s easier and more transparent than ever to find one, and yet the nature of the business means their employment still remains as shady and secretive as ever.

The legitimacy and acceptability of ghostwriting was recently put into question when it was revealed that the recent book of blogger and YouTuber Zoella – Girl Online – had actually been ghostwritten. Before its release, and even on its release, it wasn’t explicitly clear that Zoella hadn’t written the book. When finally surfaced that it had been ghostwritten, a flood of disheartened teenage fans resorted to taking it out on her on Twitter, and Zoella promptly ‘left the internet’.

However, in a day and age where everyone and anyone is a brand, why is this particularly surprising? Many celebrity clothing ranges and perfumes involve very little influence from the celebrities themselves. There are various ghostwritten biographies for celebrities who simply do not have the command of English needed to communicate their story effectively. Everyone is aware of this, but no one really complains.

However, there’s something more personable about writing a novel than having your own branded perfume. As a blogger, Zoella’s written thoughts and feelings have been paramount to her success. Her audience is interested in the Zoella written by Zoella, not the one forged by another person.

Zoella is clearly a sweet girl, but that was rather the issue in the whole fiasco. The appeal of the blogger and YouTuber is that she comes across as extremely warm and down to earth, and taking credit for a novel she didn’t actually pen did wonders to undermine her own authenticity.

You commercialise novel-writing as a money-making tool

Zoella and her representatives stressed the ‘collaborative’ nature of writing a novel. Of course collaboration in writing is fundamental to the publishing business; the process of really shaping your novel with the help of editors and publishers is ultimately to the secret of many a novel’s success. However, this is an extremely transparent and well-known process, and no editor is expected to rewrite a novel for its author. The issue with much ghostwriting is that it lacks direct influence from its represented author.

Similarly, being an author is not synonymous with coming up with the plot for a novel. A good author is able to take a plot they have derived from, say, a simple story or something they saw on the street, and shape it to give it the kind of texture and gravity which a truly mesmerising novel deserves. Some of our greatest literature after all can be reduced to a plot about basically ‘nothing’; the devil is literally in the details for some of our most loved novels.

Ghostwriting itself is not really the issue. In an industry so hard to crack, it isn’t surprising that some writers turn to ghostwriting to supplement their income. Ghostwriting is ultimately the perfect outlet for a struggling writer. After all, when a ghostwriter is revealed it does provide them with the perfect platform to premiere their own work under their own name. Ghostwriting isn’t necessarily an admirable route for a struggling author, but it certainly is an understandable one.

The real issue is that ghostwriting is rarely about putting the work of an undervalued writer out into the public eye, but rather about a quick fix for money. Just because a ghostwriter may be happy to do the work, some people are too quick to pretend they’re doing something really noble for their ghostwriter. It’s like bidding in a charity auction and thinking you’ve cured cancer.

You’re misrepresenting yourself, and in doing so you’re neglecting your audience. Your audience has every right to feel cheated because they no longer see the person but the brand. You commercialise novel-writing as a money-making tool and a book to be no more than a marketable product. There are plenty of people who aren’t happy with reducing a well-loved industry to nothing more than money.

Perhaps ghostwriting is a viable option for some, and it will probably be nothing but the norm at some point in the future. But for now, if your brand is based on selling authenticity, don’t be shocked to find out that by employing a ghostwriter it looks like you’ve also sold yourself.

Photograph: Wild Glasgow via Flickr

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