EXCLUSIVE: British beauty and fashion blogger-turned-vlogger Zoe Sugg made publishing history in the UK when her first book, Girl Online, was released in November. It set a record for the biggest one-week sales of a debut novel with over 78K copies flying off the shelves in Britain. An auction is now up and running for rights to adapt the fictional story of a 15-year-old blogger’s love, friendships, family and anxiety which take her from England to New York. The list of suitors for Girl Online is said to be about 10 deep. I’ve heard the pool includes at least two U.S. studios, along with names like The Weinstein Co, Lionsgate UK and Working Title also cropping up, as well as some other big and small independent producers from both sides of the pond.
I hear first proposals are in to Penguin Books, in association with social media talent managers Gleam, with pitches including both TV and feature adaptations. A price-tag has been hard to pinpoint given the range of proposals, with the first round focusing on parameters. An initial whittling-down should come in mid-January, at which point a shortlist is expected to be called to meet with Sugg, who goes by the online alias Zoella.
Sugg/Zoella is a phenomenon in Britain. The 24-year-old’s massive fan base includes 2M Facebook page likes and 2.75M Twitter followers. She created her Zoella blog in 2009, writing about fashion, beauty and “the things I liked, the things I’d purchased & other opinions on products in general,” Sugg says on her website. She now has her own YouTube channel (see trailer below) which has nearly 7M subscribers.
Girl Online is her first novel. It sold faster than JK Rowling’s debut Harry Potter book (anecdotally, Sugg appeared in the film adaptation, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, in an uncredited role in 2001). Her sales were also five times those of Fifty Shades Of Grey in its first UK week. In December, Girl Online debuted at No. 9 on the New York Times’ Young Adult bestseller list.
Described as a “Notting Hill for teens,” Girl Online centers on Penny, a 15-year-old who blogs her hidden feelings about friendship, boys, high school drama, her crazy family, and the panic attacks that have begun to take over her life. When things go from bad to worse, her family whisks her away to New York, where she meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming American. Suddenly Penny is falling in love — and capturing every moment of it on her blog. But Noah has a secret, too, one that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover — and her closest friendship – forever. Penguin has said the book tackles many of the issues modern teens have to deal with today, like cyberbullying, self-esteem and anxiety.
There was a bit of a firestorm in the UK in early December when Penguin allowed that Sugg didn’t write Girl Online all on her own. The revelation made headlines, but Sugg tweeted, “Of course I was going to have help from Penguin’s editorial team in telling my story, which I talked about from the beginning. Everyone needs help when they try something new. The story and the characters of Girl Online are mine.” Amid the furor, on December 8, she tweeted, “Bare with me on vlogmas. I’m taking a few days out and off the internet because it’s clouding up my brain. Thanks for understanding.” Such is her popularity, that alarm bells went up, and a few hours later, she calmed her fans, “The stuff press write about it literally ridiculous! I AM NOT QUITTING YOUTUBE. Yet again, twisting stuff to gain views. Sad.”
Sugg has a two-book deal, giving Girl Online franchise potential à la Bridget Jones.