When actress/singer Hilary Duff made the talk-show rounds last fall to promote her first novel, Elixir, a young-adult romance "with a paranormal element," she answered Ellen, Regis, Kelly and Jimmy's softball questions about moving from her days as a Disney star to that of a writer with ease.
But when George Lopez put Duff on the spot and asked her, with some bewilderment, whether she had written the book on her computer, the carefully constructed image of celebrity-turned-novelist crumbled.
"I'm a terrible speller and I can't spell. Didn't really go to college either, so the computer really helped. And I had an amazing co-writer that I worked with," Duff said.
You won't find Elise Allen's name on the cover of the novel and she didn't go on the Elixir book tour, but that was one of the rare moments of glory for Duff's 39-year-old collaborator. She is credited on the inside title page (Hilary Duff with Elise Allen), but even her name is in a smaller typeface.
Such is the life of the celeb novel collaborator: She probably will enjoy more success with books that have someone else's portrait on the jacket (which look more like Vogue covers than typical author photos) than any titles she releases on her own.
It has been a busy time for those willing to take on the job (or lucky enough to be offered the gig, depending on how you see it): In the past year, reality stars Nicole Richie and Lauren Conrad have released books of their own; award-winning country singer and Dancing with the Stars alumna Sara Evans has released two novels in a four-part series, and Wynonna Judd's debut novel was released this month.
Even Nicole (Snooki) Polizzi, the orange-tinted curiosity from Jersey Shore, is a published author, although it's questionable whether she even flipped through the pages of her masterpiece: A year ago, she famously told Jay Leno, "I don't read books!" when he asked her to name the last one she had finished.
Allen, who worked with Duff, is one of the lucky ones. Most celebrity novel collaborators are true ghostwriters: no acknowledgment - just a cheque. Unsurprisingly, publishers strive to maintain the illusion that the star wrote the book in question without any assistance. Publicists for the books by Richie, Conrad and Judd declined requests for interviews with collaborators.
The level of involvement of the celebrity whose name often drives the title to the top of the New York Times bestseller list (or at least gets startling press attention) varies. In an interview with Slate magazine, Valerie Frankel, Polizzi's collaborator on A Shore Thing (she is given credit only in the acknowledgments), said she had phone consultations with Polizzi about the plot but did all the writing on her own.
In the case of Elixir, Allen says Duff was heavily involved. "Even if I went away and wrote a page, it funnelled through her," she says. "She would sit there and go through it. 'No, I think this word should be this,' 'This should be this.' She had such a strong sense of what she wants and it's great."
Over the span of several months, Allen would drive to Duff's expansive Los Angeles home with her laptop in tow for the pair's joint writing sessions. By the end of the process, she says, "we were sitting together every single day for hours and hours and hours on end."
Duff has been generous with credit, Allen says, though talk-show appearances suggest otherwise. Allen's second novel - which she wrote on her own - is due out in August and she expects Duff's advanced praise for the novel (featured prominently on the back cover) will translate into sales.
Romance writer Rachel Hauck says second billing on the books she co-wrote with country star Evans - Softly & Tenderly is the most recent - is a fair trade-off to her. "I'm reaching thousands of more people than I would've on my own. That was kind of a compensation, not so much 'wow, I hope my backlist flies off the shelf,' " she says.
While Evans had specific ideas of how she wanted scenes to unfold in the book, she never asked to take the reins from Hauck when it came to putting words to the page. The dynamic between the two was understood from the start: Evans brings the star power and glamour to the table; Hauck, 50, who lives a much quieter life in Palm Bay, Fla., brings her chick-lit experience.
"From her standpoint, she had to understand: 'Okay, she's the one putting together the craft pieces of this book,' " Hauck explains. "I'm not going to tell her how to sing a song."