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Have you heard of Zoe Sugg?

This British fashion, beauty, and lifestyle vlogger has earned quite the impressive following. At only 24 years old, she has 2.62 million followers on Twitter and over 6.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

In spite of this success, a lot of writers didn’t know who she was until she released her first book.

Girl Online sold more than 78,000 copies in its first week, breaking records for British book sales and  sailing past the previous records set by J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and E.L. James.

Predictably, the claws have started to come out.

Writers everywhere are smacking their heads against their desks, bemoaning the state of a world that would make this young woman an international bestseller.

We heard much the same when E.L. James, author of the 50 Shades of Grey series, or Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, sold thousands of books.

When someone like heiress Paris Hilton pens a novel and it hits the bestseller list, the cries of protest are heard in writing groups and forums around the world. “But what about the good books who can’t find their audience? What about the quiet literary novelists who can’t find an agent or publisher?”

There’s this perception, you see, that to succeed as a novelist, you have to be an extraordinarily talented writer.

But that’s not true.

That’s what you need (sometimes) to win high-brow awards in literature.

To achieve success at the level of E.L. James, Meyer, or Sugg, you need to write something a lot of people want to read. And that is an art all its own.

As writers, we’re always hearing that books are dying. Brick and mortar bookstores are closing, Amazon is taking over the world, and people have shorter attention spans…blah blah blah.

Sugg’s success proves that people will still read books. And if Girl Online gets more people to read–especially young people–that’s a good thing for every writer.

Maybe they’ll read other books. Maybe Penguin will be able to take a chance on more authors because of its success with Sugg. Maybe Sugg will blurb other writers, or refer them to her agent.

Anything that gets people reading is a good thing.

Maybe Girl Online isn’t an upcoming National Book Award-winner, but why does it have to be? The easiest way to get people to read is to suggest that books are actually–gasp!–FUN. And not everyone wants to feel like they’re in high school English class whenever they crack open a novel.

Some people just want to be entertained. And what’s wrong with that?

If writers like Sugg convince thousands of people that books are a valid form of entertainment, that only helps the rest of us.

How do you feel about writers who achieve monumental success with “light” books? Why do you think people are so harsh when it comes to writers like Sugg? I’d love to hear your views.

It’s recently come to light that a ghostwriter helped Sugg with “Girl Online,” which only heightened the controversy. To this I say, “So what?” Sugg recognized she needed help, just like almost every other celebrity author on the planet.

And James Patterson.

That Sugg’s book sales were so high in the first week speaks to her following, not to the quality of the writing. 

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  1. AJ Lauer

    I think your last sentence is spot on. Some authors become wildly successful because they have an incredible following *before* writing the book. Some of us only realize we’re supposed to be working on that once we’ve already got the book on track for publication, and have to try to make up for lost time.

    I think the only person that you mentioned whom I begrudge their authorial success is Paris Hilton, because.. ugghhh

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Hello AJ,

      Thanks for commenting! Yeah, none of Hilton’s success sits too well with me, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re born into it. Look at it this way–her DAD busted his ass so she could be where she is.

      I don’t think many writers could achieve Zoe’s following even if they tried for years. She’s definitely worth watching as a case study in the potential power of social media.

      Some people say that her success is due to famous friends, but how did she get those friends in the first place? Celebrity endorsement might help people find her, but they wouldn’t keep watching if the content wasn’t there.

  2. Crystal

    GREAT post Holli!

    I think that every writer dreams about the kind of success that J.K Rowling (and now Sugg) has. However, we want everything to happen right away, without actually looking at the bigger picture. For example: how many years did J.K Rowling put into trying to find an agent? How much time did Sugg put into developing and growing her audience?

    We don’t see the work, we hear about the result. If it hasn’t happened for us yet, it’s easy to let jealousy rule our reaction.

    I’m happy that Sugg is successful because as you said, it means people are reading. If people love reading, they are going to buy books. I think it’s a win/win situation for everyone.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Crystal, and welcome back! I’ve missed you around these parts. 🙂

      I agree completely. Zoe has been vlogging since she was a child, and she’s obviously very talented at producing content her peers are interested in. (Her book is geared at young adults as well.) I’ve watched some of her videos, and I personally wouldn’t be willing to let strangers into my home and life the way she does. I can’t even imagine the pressure that comes with millions of followers.

      People often want the end result without being willing to do the work, as you said.

  3. Daveler

    I personally have different moods when I go to read. Sometimes I want something poetic, intellectual, challenging, and maybe somewhat dense, sometimes I want easy get-my-mind-off-of-things fluff. Usually I want a combination of the two. I agree with you, marketing is different than being a good author, and honestly I don’t want a homogenized, what a good book “should” be, selection at the library.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog. I also go through different reading moods, and a lot of so-called “worthy” books are just plain boring. I’m all for classics, but like you said, I don’t want anyone telling me what I should read, or that lighter books aren’t worthy.

      I really appreciate your take on this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Steven

    Oh the literary snobs who think they can dictate which books are good and which are not! Being able to be happy for others and their success is a sign of maturity and self-awareness. I, like you, am all for anything that gets people reading.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Steven. I completely agree.

      I’m so sick of the sour grapes scenario whenever someone who isn’t considered “literary” does well. There are all types of books in the world for all types of people. Those who turn their noses up at Zoe’s book don’t have to read it.


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