AFTER President Clinton left office, he set to work on his memoirs. As did Barack Obama, and almost every incumbent of the Oval Office of the past few decades. These typically turgid tomes were often followed by their wives’ accounts, offering a stereophonic perspective on their White House years.

The same applies to British Prime Ministers, and to countless public figures, from television stars and sporting icons to bankers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. Memoir, clearly, is the top achievers’ way of cementing their reputation.

It makes me think of dinosaurs walking on wet clay and leaving prints that endure for millennia. Regardless of whether what they write is worth reading, the urge to publish a record of their time in power is understandable. Even though everyone recognises it as a self-serving process, casting the author in the best possible light, it is an unspoken rule that where once there has been high office, soon there will be a book.

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Autobiographies follow big-shot careers like seagulls after a trawler. Usually they sink without trace within a year unless you haunt charity bookshops, where a pristine copy of David Cameron’s plodding exculpation sits between Hillary Clinton’s doorstopper and Tony Blair’s testament to youthful idealism and ego.

Now, however, this self-gratifying literary exercise is no longer enough. The pinnacle of achievement for politicians and celebrities is one day to grace the Booker Prize shortlist. Or, at the very least, to garner column inches in the Times Literary Supplement.

You might be royalty, like Megan, Fergie and Prince Charles, or a former Director General of MI5, like Stella Rimington, or an actor or comedian – Celia Imrie and David Walliams spring to mind, but there are dozens. Perhaps you are simply a TV presenter, like Clare Balding, or a tea-time quiz master such as Richard Osman. Widely different though all these successful individuals are, they agree on one thing: fiction is the ultimate cherry on the cake.

It seems you haven’t arrived if you haven’t mastered the art of fiction even if, as with Bill Clinton’s The President is Missing, it is written with a little bit of help. In Clinton’s case, his side-kick was James Patterson, one of the most experienced thriller writers. There was never any doubt that, with his professional input, Clinton’s story would shine. As was the case when Patterson performed the same service for Dolly Parton.

Latest in the line of celebs to announce their fictional aspirations is Judy Murray, who has just signed a two-novel deal with Orion. The first, The Wild Card, will be published next summer. As you’d expect, it is set in the world of tennis. Billed as an uplifting story of how it’s “never too late to follow your dreams”, the plot revolves around an ageing female tennis player with a secret she’s desperate to conceal.

Murray says: “If I hadn’t been a tennis coach I think I would have become a writer or an editor”. Whether she intends to write solo, or will have a co-author, as with her autobiography Knowing the Score, I do not know. Nor is it my intention to pour scorn on her. She does, however, join the tide of big names filling bookshop fiction shelves which threatens to wash away the hopes and livelihoods of many professional, full-time writers.

Perhaps it’s flattering to the literary community that, no matter what occupation a high-flyer once excelled in, their CV feels incomplete without the designation ‘novelist’. Despite having already made their name, they will not be content until it can be found alongside that of Kazuo Ishiguro and Toni Morrison.

Yet I don’t think it’s a compliment. Instead, it’s insulting. Writing is a vocation, like any other, and requires years of hard work, experience and commitment. The graft and stamina required are rarely recompensed by the financial rewards. Few occupations are worse remunerated, with the possible exception of artists, poets and musicians. Only when a writer reaches the best-seller lists, or wins a major award, does the cash flow in. Yet for every Ian Rankin or Lee Child, there are thousands who barely earn enough to pay Class 4 National Insurance contributions. And still they persevere, because it’s what they are born to do.

For the average novelist, a publisher’s advance is meagre. (Tell me about it!) It goes without saying that this is not the case for a VIP. Publishers leap upon them like big-game hunters on a prize lion. They will be wooed with money and seduced by praise. No doubt they’ll assume that this is normal. Indeed, I suspect that most would be appalled to learn the sum most novelists are expected to accept as reward for years of work.

After splurging on their prestigious acquisitions, publishers’ publicity budgets are largely devoted to them. Knowing these titles will sell because of the name on the jacket, they are given the commercial push long-standing and much better writers desperately need. The consequence is that readers of all ages – children as much as adults – are in danger of being starved of decent books.

Since media superstars and TV personalities are guaranteed prime time on the airwaves, they are the publishers’ darlings. Book festivals are packed with faces and names recognisable from screen and radio, even if their books are, at best, ordinary. Increasingly, festivals are less about good fiction than a showcase for the famous, whose presence fills tents and theatres and rakes in the cash.

It is a self-perpetuating and pernicious circle that pushes other authors to the sidelines. All but the most acclaimed literary figures are treated as an afterthought, and lucky to earn out their advances. When they don’t, they have a hard time getting their next book published. Meanwhile, as they fall by the wayside, the circus of fame rolls on: ever louder, and brasher, and empty.

So what do novelists turn to when they tire of fiction? Do they write a memoir? Rarely, unless their life has been unusually eventful. Years at a keyboard seldom result in a store of reminiscences rich enough to fill a single chapter. Perhaps their best option is to run for public office, or throw their hat in the ring as head of a major bank or government agency. Or even – and I know it’s left field – turn up at Wimbledon as a coach. Andy – I’m available.

Rosemary Goring has written two historical novels, After Flodden and Dacre's War. Other books include Scotland: The Autobiography: 2000 years of Scottish History By Those Who Saw It Happen, and Scotland: Her Story: The Story of the Nation by the Women Who Were There.