Skip to Content

The Editor's View October 05


John Jenkins

John Jenkins' monthly column from Writers' Forum magazine

Free offer (UK only)


Never, never sell all rights. . . put not your trust in computers. . . a left hook from Pratchett. . . change for Granta?

AMERICA’S most successful playwright, Neil Simon, gives an example to illustrate our often-quoted advice: never sell all rights. Simon rose to fame with Come Blow Your Horn and reached stardom with Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. After his epic struggle for recognition and literally hundreds of re-writes he still did not recognise his own genius.

However, he put two plays, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park into a company called Ellen Enterprises and received an offer of $125,000 for it from Paramount pictures.

His then business adviser pointed out that the odds on him writing another smash hit play were remote and $125,000 was a good price.

Eventually the deal was done. Simon got his money and Paramount got a property from which they made millions of dollars. For a start they launched a TV series, The Odd Couple, which went global and as Barefoot became one of the most popular plays in the world more millions in royalties poured in.

As Simon writes: From that day I never received a penny royalties from these two works. My children will never see the money nor my grandchildren. Nobody stole it from me but I just wish that the business manager from Paramount had been my business manager.

So remember: never sell all rights. After all, who would have thought Les Miserables would have made a musical?

STUDENTS bewitched by computers need to be told – and we tell them frequently – that there are two sorts of writers. Those who have lost everything on their hard disk – and those who will. Always back up.

Second lesson is: never trust their spelling. We had two examples in one day. Was the much-maligned first Labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald or Ramsay MacDonald? And the great Nathaniel Hawthorn. Did he have an e on the end of his name or not?

A quick search via Mr Google showed both spellings for both men quoted on the world wide web. Back to the reference books.

I HAVE always liked Terry Pratchett from the moment one of my daughters went rushing off to our local bookseller to buy one of his books. Television is to film a three-part version of Johnny and the Bomb which is scheduled for showing next year.

But what amused me was his comments in the 2006 Writers’ and Artists' Yearbook.

He writes: I get asked all the time: can you give me a few tips about being a writer. And you sense that gleam in the eye, that hope that somehow you’ll drop your guard and hand over the map to the Holy Grail or, preferably, its URL.

I detect a slight worrying edge to all this, a hint that grammar, spelling and punctuation have a part to play in all this . . . and that the universe is remiss in not making allowance for the fact that you don’t have the time.

So I give tips on how to be a professional boxer. A good diet is essential, of course, as is a daily regime of exercise. Pay attention to your footwork, it will often get you out of trouble ... take every opportunity to watch a good professional fight. Learn something from the fighters who get it wrong. Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Got it? Well becoming a writer is basically exactly the same thing, except that it isn’t about boxing. It’s as simple as that.

The only thing he forgot to mention was that boxing hurts when you get a punch on the nose . . . and writing hurts when you open another rejection.

If you use the W & A Yb merely as a directory and don’t read the articles you are missing out on much useful information.

RUMOUR has it that Granta is up for sale as the American owner, Rea Hederman, wishes to retire. It would be a pity if this magazine and publishing company were to change greatly on any transfer of ownership for it has long been a beacon in the world of publishing.

Provocative and often infuriating, it shows courage in its choice of subjects and is always well written and edited.

JAMES HENEAGE is looking to lead a management campaign to buy back Ottakar’s the book-selling chain he founded. He has certainly been on the receiving end of some criticism in the City following poor performances.

No doubt people who bought shares at the top will not be jumping for joy at his proposed price. Perhaps a new bidder will appear forcing him to up the ante.

OUR office seems to abound with reference books and trawling through Bloomsbury’s Quotations for Speeches I came across this gem: You know I go to the theatre to be entertained . . . I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction...  I can get all that at home. – the late, incomparable Peter Cook.

Gazing out of the window time (instead of writing)

Why are there five syllables in the word monosyllabic?

If four out of five people suffer from diarrhoea does that mean one enjoys it?


John Jenkins, Publisher, Writers' Forum


Read the article about setting up WritersServices which was originally published in Writers' Forum magazine.

© Writers International Ltd 2005. Reproduced from the December-Januray edition of Writers' Forum magazine by kind permission of the editor.