Back in the day, it was simple. Actresses were actresses, musicians were musicians and authors were authors. Now it seems that any self-respecting star has to diversify to build his or her brand. Take Hilary Duff: she broke through with the Disney teen show Lizzie McGuire and went on to star in the smash-hit drama Gossip Girl. Clearly, that wasn't enough. She's designed clothing lines for the likes of DKNY and put her name to perfume collections for Elizabeth Arden. Then there's her charity and animal rights work, and platinum-selling albums of, if we're being honest, pretty generic rock and dance-pop. And last week, she announced details of the first in a series of novels she's written, to be published later this year. You see, it appears that Duff - just 22 years old, remember - is a writer, too. Is there no end to her talents?
Thankfully, Duff isn't setting her artistic crosshairs upon highbrow literary fiction. Instead, the first novel in the series is firmly and cleverly aimed at the "young adult" market she knows inside out. Elixir, though, does sound rather fun: the heroine is a young photojournalist called Clea Raymond who travels the globe to unravel an ancient mystery and in so doing hopes to discover the secret of her father's disappearance. Simon & Schuster's website excitably says it will combine "the overpowering allure of a dangerous love triangle with thrilling international adventure". Bet that's exactly what it'll do.
Of course, it's easy to be cynical about such endeavours. And that's because, overwhelmingly, celebrities do not make good authors. Perhaps they know this themselves: why else would the likes of Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jay Leno retreat to what they probably (and incorrectly, incidentally) believe is the slightly easier world of the children's book? Probably because they've seen the efforts of peers who have taken the plunge with fiction for grown-ups. The socialite Nicole Richie's The Truth About Diamonds was such a thinly veiled autobiography - it's about the trials and tribulations of a woman, Chloe, adopted by a music superstar as a young child - that the publishers may as well have scrubbed out the words "a novel" from the cover.
The reality television star Lauren Conrad - of Laguna Beach and The Hills fame - has been slightly more successful: her latest book, Sweet Little Lies, topped The New York Times best-seller list recently. But again, it's about the star of a reality television show. Isn't the point of reality television that it's, you know, real? These "authors" have British counterparts too: the model Katie Price - or Jordan to most - might be regularly derided, but at least she can say she is a successful novelist. Angel (about, unsurprisingly, a young woman who becomes a model) memorably sold more than the entire 2007 Booker shortlist put together, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. Problem is, she hasn't been able to escape the rumours that the ghostwriter Rebecca Farnworth - name-checked on the copyright page - actually penned the thing. Kerry Katona, the troubled former member of the British pop act Atomic Kitten, went a step further. She openly admitted she didn't write her novels.
At least Katona had some input on ideas and storyline. Naomi Campbell's debut 1994 novel, set in the fashion industry, was hugely anticipated, but it was revealed years later that the supermodel's sole involvement in Swan was the use of her name. So, because we have no reason to believe that Duff didn't write Elixir, and because it's not about the life of a fictional teenage star, at least herbook appears to be trying to achieve something slightly different. And maybe, if you don't take it seriously, celebrity fiction is not such a signifier of all that's wrong in publishing after all. Sharon Osbourne's new novel, Revenge, has received a surprising amount of positive reviews. It's fun, fluffy and soap opera in style, but enjoyable, too - and it'll probably sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Like a major record label that can have both Coldplay and Hot Chip on its roster, the argument is that the big-selling act generates the money that publishers can then plough into more interesting, cutting-edge work.
Of course, all of this is monumentally irritating for struggling authors who happen not to have been in a soap, or a reality television show, or a teenage drama, and therefore will probably not get published. Still, there's always a backup for them. They can always become ghostwriters for the stars.