Big Internet-y news hit the er.. Internet today and it exploded into a million fireballs (and “likes” and retweets). Zoe Sugg (or “Zoella”) as her fans better know her as on YouTube, Blogspot, Instagram and Twitter just been signed a huge book deal, with none other than Penguin Books.
This is really huge news. And for Zoe it totally makes sense. Zoe released a video on her YouTube channel to announce the news and she is clearly a very passionate, intelligent lady who loves to write. Growing up as a total bookworm this is her dream; it’s her calling – she wants to be a novelist. She’s not being self-indulgent either: she’s going to write a young adult fiction. It’ll be based on things that she “knows stuff about” such as social anxiety, panic attacks, romance and of course the “online world” and she’s going to build it along with her followers. She’s going to offer her fans opportunities to feedback on the cover, perhaps even name characters and basically go on this journey with us. It’s perfect.
Her fans (in their multiple millions) will get to have a hard copy of her novel on their bedside table to read, with her face and name on it. It makes total sense to give people a physical copy of something they love consuming. After all, you can’t store a blog post on a bookcase or mantelpiece without it just looking like a crappy Word Document. It is immortalising the experience even more so– you know, in case the Internet breaks or blows up or someone exactly turns off the “on button”.
Go Zoe. But here comes the cynical bit – I don’t think all YouTubers should write books. This “jumping on the bandwagon” of big publishers seems to be going slightly over my head. Book publishers are wanting to represent a “new talent pool” of YouTube celebrities. Of course there are examples of YouTubers who can write, Zoe starting off writing her blog: long, well-put-together posts which really are a joy to read. I love reading her blog with a cup of tea. But what about those other YouTubers/vloggers who are good at just exactly that: VIDEOS? Not all media can be mixed together, not every medium is the same thing, formats are different for reason and some writers are shit on camera, and vice versa. I’m slightly cynical and reluctant to say “hooray and yay” to the fact that YouTube and publishers are so officially “joining forces”. It’s just quite scary. It’s massive.
The New York Times recently covered this merging of the analogue and digital world in a story and summed it up well, that taking “bets” on YouTube celebrities “could either open up a blockbuster new publishing market or reveal the limitations of Internet celebrity.” The new venture is called KeyWords Press and the president Judith Carr announced it in this way: “Not to be too grand about it, but books are coming to YouTube for the first time,” she said. “It gives us access to a whole new talent pool.”
Now don’t get me wrong: I am ALL up for blogs and books colliding. What a beautiful beautiful idea. In fact, it’s the best idea. But that’s what I mean, blogs are just a series of WRITING. But taking a video superstar who is totally talented at “vlogging” might not completely translate onto paper. It just might not create the same magic.
Speaking of “magic”, having a big online following before the book is released adds pressure to the finished creation surely. When J.K Rowling first wrote her story, she had an idea and a typewriter: she certainly didn’t have an army of Twitter followers to update or appease. Tim Parks recently wrote for the Independent stating his concern for the novel entitled “Internet spells end of long, complex literary novels”. I don’t think that novels are doomed per se, but I do think that grabbing anyone with a hefty Instagram following and giving them a book deal might see the death of it a lot sooner than we think. Of course he’s worried about our digitally-dependant attention spans too. Will Zoella’s followers even be able to read the whole book without tweeting every five seconds I wonder? Philip Roth also echoes Park’s sentiments on attention span and behaviour in the piece: “The concentration, the focus, the solitude, the silence, all the things that are required for serious reading are not within people’s reach any more.”
A book is also something that needs an incredible amount of thought. Books are absolutely not born over night and I have spoken to enough authors and read enough books (and in the progress of writing my own) to know that it is painstaking whilst being enjoyable, but is akin to a bricklayer out in the sun laying brick after brick, fucking bits of it up and powering through, redoing it so it’s “just right”. A few months ago I was approached by a literary agent, one of those out of the blue emails that make you perk up a bit and asking me about my book-writing endeavours. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t leap out of seat and scream yes yes and tell everyone I knew. But the truth is, I am not ready to write one. I am going at my own pace with my writing and know that one day I will. But I haven’t had that lightning bolt moment that I think has to happen with big, great ideas. To pump out a book “just because” seems silly to me, because that book will be around forever and there has to be a reason for it. Otherwise it’s just a waste of trees. At least on the Internet you’re not wasting the earth’s resources. After all, anyone can write a book, but not anyone can write a good book.
I am super excited about the online world joining forces with print. I love print media: I spend a small fortune every month buying big hardback books, big heavy magazines from the niche newsagents, and newspapers by the truckload. I never ever want the online crazy social media world to take away anything from the print world and I’m glad if the print industry gets a boost out of this.
I just hope that the publishers pick their topics and authors wisely. I hope they don’t just release biographies of quirky “YouTube celebrities” just for a numbers game. Novels and books are sacred and should be treated with the same respect that they had before the Internet came along.