You Don’t Have to be a Star

You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show. – Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.
A couple of years ago my lovely wife and I were in New York and went to see Blithe Spirit on Broadway. We had only one reason to go, the best in fact: Angela Lansbury. She’s always been a fave of ours, and the chance to see her onstage (in, it turned out, her Tony Award winning role) was too much to pass up.
Sweetening the pot was that the male lead was Rupert Everett in his Broadway debut. It would be two “names” in a revival of  a famous play.
When the curtain was about to go up an announcer told us that Mr. Everett would not be going on that night. His understudy would play the part. There were a few sighs of disappointment. Cindy and I comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the divine Angela, at least, was still a go.
And she was stupendous. The production was a hoot.
And that understudy for Everett? He was brilliant.
So good that I looked him up on IMDB after the show. His name is Mark Capri.
Now, I was an actor for a time on the boards of the Big Apple, and appreciate a fine theatrical turn. Especially from a guy who the audience was initially disappointed to see (he won them over, however, and got huge applause at the end). So I wrote Mr. Capri a note to thank him for his performance.

I bring this up for writers because it illustrates a point. Mark Capri no doubt went into acting, as all Thespians do, hoping to become a star. He did what actors are supposed to do. He got training (at no less than the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London). He was accepted into the Royal Shakespeare Company and began his theatrical apprenticeship.
Over the years he’s played many roles in theatre (in a serendipitous touch, he made his New York debut with the same theatre company where I made mine, The Roundabout) and guest roles on TV.
In other words, he is a professional in every sense of the term. And when he was needed for that performance in Blithe Spirit, he came through as a consummate pro should.
We are, as we all know, in the midst of the self-publishing revolution. More and more indie authors are making good money, not because they are “stars,” but because they are professionals. The ones who think just tossing up mediocre material into the digi-system is going to make them rich are fooling themselves. I posted a brief clip about this on YouTube.
The ones who will make it will follow the same path as Mark Capri. They will train, they will get some good direction, they will write, they will keep writing. A miniscule number of them may even gain “star status,” whatever that’s going to look like in the future.
But I suspect the era of the superstar writer is coming to an end. The era of the solid professional is upon us. Those who learn how to do it all well (and I’m doing my part to help) will increasingly be able to realize the dream of doing something they love and making a living at it.
They will find their audience and please them with good performances, just like the one Mr. Capri delivered that warm July evening on Broadway. 

22 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to be a Star

  1. Just watched the sequence of videos on YouTube. Great stuff. I love that they are short little snippets full of humor (not to mention sound advice!).

  2. Man, your videos, are AWESOME!!

    But I also wanted to mention: why do you suspect the era of the superstar writer is waning?

    Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are both household names, probably as big as any writers were at their time. Then there is also James Patterson to a lower degree.

  3. Thanks for the nice comments about the videos, all. They’re fun to make and I’ll do more.

    Taylor, good question. The names you mention have been around for awhile and are products of the traditional print model. As that model declines and physical shelf space dries up, that type of success will not be as easily replicable.

    Another part of that superstar making model was big marketing dollars from a big publisher. But that kind of money isn’t being spent much anymore, in part because there are fewer places to adequately spend it. A full page ad in USA Today or the NY Times doesn’t do what it used to, in part because fewer people are reading printed newspapers. And so on, throughout that old eco-system.

    At the same time, more and more self-published writers are making significant income all by themselves. They don’t appear on Oprah. They aren’t household names. But that is not of concern to most of them.

  4. Loving both Angela and Rupert, I was with you on your little adventure, and relieved by the Happy Ending!

    As a new fan of you and your writing, I am looking forward to the videos and know they won’t disappoint either!


  5. Traditional publishers with their contracts that retain an author’s rights for many years make self-publishing look more attractive too. Plus an author retains control on book content, publishing schedule, cover art, pricing, etc. No proposals that require approval & time too. And with more immediate cash flow (rather than 6-mo royalty stmts), no returns, no retention monies, no waiting on sales print numbers, my list could go on. This industry is in for a lot of changes (contracts, practices, distribution, etc) if they plan on being an option for authors who get a taste of the immediacy of being in charge.

  6. You make an excellent point and I couldn’t agree more. Times they are changing and we need to adjust accordingly.

  7. I love this post.

    One of the best things I’ve learned from following TKZ, and your videos, and your books, Jim, is what it looks like to be a professional.

    Standing on the crest of the changing publishing world is a very interesting place to be for any author today.

    Jordan’s words ring true – there’s lots to consider with the changing industry today.

    If you find the time, check out what I have to say about this very thing @

    Thanks for pointing out the road to professionalism (another word for Stardom, if you will) with your posts.


  8. I consider myself to be the understudy for Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy and W.E.B. Griffin. Any of them need a day off…I right there for ya gents, at a moments notice.

  9. Great post with good points on many levels. Watching shows like JUSTIFIED, DEADWOOD, THE WIRE, etc. has taught me how many talented “character” actors are working now, just below the surface of stardom, many of whom are better actors than well-known stars. They are, as you said, professionals. They show up for work on time, know their lines, can make adjustments, work well with others, and can play multiple kinds of parts convincingly. They may not be stars, but they’ll never fall out of favor, either. These pros will always find work.

    The analogy to writers (musicians, artists, any pyramid-shaped profesion) is apt.

  10. Basil, you can always take matters into your own hands…ahem. I have an understudy story. My first job, as mentioned, was at the Roundabout in a spear carrier role in Othello. I used to do impersonations of the other actors (a skill for which I have never received just compensation). I had the show memorized, all the parts. One night Montano couldn’t get to the show from Brooklyn. Panic, for he had no understudy. Someone said, “Hey, Jim knows the lines.” So I was on! As I walk into the dressing room, the actor playing Iago looked up from his mirror and, loud enough for all to hear, said, “Well well, if it isn’t Eve Harrington.”

    Everybody, including me, cracked up. But I went on and nailed it.

  11. Good observation, Dana, about character actors. In the old print days (I’m now calling them the “old days”!) a writer of genre paperbacks might have been able to eke out a modest sum (esp. when Westerns were hot). But even that dried up. Now it’s the reverse. The universe is expanding.

  12. Thanks for taking your time to help the understudies. I love your book, The Art of War for Fiction Writers. A group of us are reading and discussing it. I will have to bookmark this and explore the archives. 🙂


  13. Terri Lynn: I haven’t folk danced or written a romance. Too scary.

    Jennette, give my best to your group, and welcome to TKZ. The archives are a true treasure trove of writing instruction and inspiration. Happy tromping!

  14. Thank you for this post. This really spoke to me, as I’m a big fan of both Angela Lansbury and Rupert Everett, and in the process of learning how to be a writer. This is going to be filed away under “Advice not to be forgotten”.

Comments are closed.