Over the past few years YouTubers Zoe Sugg, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Tyler Oakley, Connor Franta, Marcus Butler, Dan Howell and Phil Lester and many more have become more than just online vloggers. They have dedicated time and energy to become published authors, and extremely successful ones at that. This craze of online celebrities writing both fiction and non-fiction works has driven much speculation over the publishing industry. Primarily, are famous writers being published because their work is deserving, or because of who they are? What does this mean for unknown, talented writers?
Undoubtedly, celebrity books sell. Connor Franta’s A Work In Progress is both a New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller while Zoe Sugg’s Girl Online quickly became the fastest selling book of 2014 and broke all records of first week sales for a debut author. Most likely, this is due to the following they have online – meaning that many will have bought the book not for the content inside, but for the name on the cover. Nonetheless, these YouTubers-gone-authors have inspired their young audiences to become active readers in a society where the act of reading is becoming lost amongst technology.
YouTubers are not the only group of famous faces getting published. All kinds of celebrities are huge sellers – look at Katie Price, she has released a succession of five autobiographies since 2014. Likewise, Jeremy Clarkson has had 18 books published across his career, selling over a million copies of The World According To Clarkson. From sportsmen to actors to musicians, people from every walk of fame have jumped on the monetary bandwagon and released a book of some form. As readers we encourage this, if we idolise someone or enjoy their work it is likely we will enjoy their book too – and there’s nothing wrong with that! There’s nothing wrong with a famous person writing or releasing a novel and they should in no way be discouraged from doing so.
The main issue writers’ face within the publishing industry is actually getting published and what that boils down to, sadly, is money. As a competitive industry, publishers are naturally more likely to invest in authors who already have a large following as they are more likely to make a greater profit than unknown authors publishing their debut. The recent surge of publishing books by well-known YouTubers indicates that large publishing houses like Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Hachette strongly consider the fame of the author when selecting a manuscript for print. But should this be the case?
In 2014 it arose that Zoe Sugg was aided by the help of ghostwriter Siobhan Curham during her writing of Girl Online, suggesting that without her fame she would not have had the opportunity to become a published author. In contrast, Lisa Genova, who wrote bestseller Still Alice, self-published her novel which was later picked up by Simon & Schuster after it had risen in popularity. In this case, Genova was the more capable author and didn’t receive initial publication, whereas Sugg was the famous author who did, demonstrating how fame can sometimes trump ability in the industry.
Like any group of writers, some celebrities produce incredible books while others produce terrible ones which is why I believe that their attempts should be judged in the same way as every other writer. Admittedly, famous writers offer high profits in a struggling industry, however to publish the best books out there the manuscript should be the determining factor with no attention paid to the popularity of the author. Famous or not famous, it should be down the story on the page rather than the face on the back cover.
Jessikah Hope Stenson