Where Two People Are Writing the Same Book, Each Believes He Gets All the Worries and Only Half the Royalties

Agatha Christie? James Beasley Simpson? Joe Bushkin? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Successful collaboration is difficult to achieve for many creators. The outstanding mystery writer Agatha Christie once referred to the difficulty of splitting royalties while explaining why she did not have coauthors. Would you please help me to find her remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation located by QI appeared in a compilation of quotations published in 1957 by James Beasley Simpson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.

Agatha Christie, British mystery writer, news summaries of March 15, 1955.

QI has not yet found a newspaper article containing this statement on the date mentioned by Simpson, but electronic archives are incomplete. Also, QI does not have access to all pertinent databases.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1954 the popular syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons reported that pianist and composer Joe Bushkin made a thematically related comment about collaboration: 2

Joey Bushkin, who wrote 38 songs with Garson Kanin, said: “The difficulty usually found in collaboration is that one writer keeps thinking he has all the talent and only half the royalties.”

In 1957 James Beasley Simpson’s compilation titled “Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56” included the quotation from Agatha Christie as mentioned previously in this article.

In 1963 “The New York Times” printed a piece for “Author’s Day” containing miscellaneous quotations from authors including the following two items: 3

“There can be nothing so gratifying to an author as to arouse the respect and esteem of the reader. Make him laugh and he will think you a trivial fellow, but bore him in the right way and your reputation is assured.”
—William Lyon Phelps.

“I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.
—Agatha Christie.

In 1964 syndicated columnist Bennett Cerf published the following two quotations about writing. Oddly, the statement from Christie was slightly altered. The word ‘where’ was changed to ‘when’, and the second instance of ‘writing’ was changed to ‘reading’: 4

“The only sensible ends of literature are: first: The pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.”—Nathaniel Hawthorne.

“I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because when two people are reading the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.“—Agatha Christie.

In 1979 “The Book of Quotes” assembled by Barbara Rowes included an instance that exactly matched the version from 1957. Christie received credit, but no citation was provided. 5

In 1980 “The Writer’s Quotation Book” edited by James Charlton also included Christie’s statement without a citation. 6

In 2000 “The Guardian” of London acknowledged Christie while presenting a paraphrased instance: 7

The advantages of cooperation depend on cases. Agatha Christie remarked that co-authors of books each believe they get all the worry for only half the royalties, which if true undermines the gain.

In conclusion, QI believes that Agatha Christie should receive credit for the statement in the 1957 reference. Future researchers may determine the precise newspaper that published Christie’s remark. Joe Bushkin employed an interesting precursor in 1954.

Image Notes: Picture depicting collaboration from rawpixel at Pixabay. Picture of the Agatha Christie plaque at Torre Abbey. The original picture was created by Violetriga. The picture was modified by F l a n k e r. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

(Great thanks to the Agatha Christie fan who asked about this quotation and others by the author. The inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1957, Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56, Compiled by James Beasley Simpson, Section: Authors 1955, Quote Page 112, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1954 December 18, San Mateo Times, Broadway Medley by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 6, San Mateo, California. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1963 October 27, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Magazine, Topic: Writing: Author’s Day, which falls on Friday, calls to mind a few appropriate remarks, Compiled by Edward F. Murphy, Quote Page 26, New York. (ProQuest)
  4. 1964 June 29, Coldwater Daily Reporter, Try and Stop Me Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Coldwater, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Chapter 32: Literary Set, Quote Page 313, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1980, The Writer’s Quotation Book, Edited by James Charlton, Quote Page 43, (Third printing August 1981: Gift copy from Blackwell North America), Pushcart Press, Yonkers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  7. 2000 November 25, The Guardian, Section: Saturday Review: Books, The last word on Cooperation by A. C. Grayling, Quote Page 12, Column 6, London, England. (Newspapers_com)