Pity the poor writer: a tragic loner hunched in a garret, dredging her soul for words few will bother to read. Is any novel worth the grief? Probably not, unless you are Zoe Sugg — aka Zoella — whose debut novel, Girl Online, became the fastest-selling book on record when it was published last week.
When Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein in 1818, so many publishing houses declined it that she resorted to begging a tiny outfit, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mayor & Jones to print 500 copies. Booksellers bought about 25. Zoella owns more lipsticks than that.
James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected 22 times before 379 copies were printed. Joyce bought 120 of them. Barely 500 copies of Moby-Dick sold in Britain before Herman Melville’s death.
Yet at a time when reading is supposed to have died for a generation of yoof with the attention span of a goldfish using txtspk, Zoella — who makes video blogs (vlogs) and is best known for reviewing mascaras on YouTube — has become a publishing triumph.
The 24-year-old, who posts YouTube videos known for their not-so-witty catchphrase “Hello, everybody!”, has outsold JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Girl Online shifted more than 78,000 copies last week in Britain. Upon hearing the news, the young writer tweeted: “Holy crap!!! WHAAAAAAAAAAT. This is insane.”
Who is this literary mastermind? How has a girl from Brighton who has previously been derided as “vain and inane”, “beige” and “human vanilla” become a modern literary sensation?
Has she, as some in the publishing world have suggested, become a record-breaking author without doing the hunched loner bit and actually writing the book?
In Girl Online’s acknowledgements, Zoe thanks “everyone at Penguin for helping me put together my first novel, especially Amy Alward [an editorial director at Puffin] and Siobhan Curham who were with me every step of the way”. Did Penguin offer Curham, a young-adult author, the same deal to ghostwrite Zoella’s book? “Penguin does not disclose author advances/ fees/salaries or contracts,” the publishing house said.
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