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August 13, 1998

Publisher bemoans lack of 'big names'
HarperCollins dismisses fiction writers with 'lame-ass' names

NEW YORK — HarperCollins today announced a series of drastic cuts from its fiction section. Many prominent writers have been let go, said Literary Editor John Garen, because of their "lame-ass" names.

"It’s just gotten to a point where we don’t know what to do," said Garen. "The names of today’s writers are at an all time low. They may as well not even have names — they’re that bad."

Garen is not the only publisher worried about the quality of writers’ names. "Unfortunately, what you’re seeing with HarperCollins isn’t an isolated occurrence," said Knopf CEO Paul Chambers. "It’s a sad truth, but no one reads the books anymore. They buy them to fill up space on their shelves and impress their friends. So what are you left with? The title and the author’s name. The titles blow. So all you’ve got to sell books with is the author’s name. The better the name, the better the sales."

As an example, Chambers pointed to Leech, a new novel by Fresca Quillingham. Despite a weak promotional budget, a poorly timed launch and a 700-page stream-of-consciousness narrative chronicling the inner turmoil of a pond leech, the novel was a huge hit for Vintage. It skyrocketed to the top of the bestseller lists where it stayed for six months until it was replaced by Tor Tormonagon’s Varnish Trilogy.

On the other hand, HarperCollins’s own highly-touted non-fiction book, Bill Smith’s Cure AIDS with Pasta, which put forth a working vaccination for AIDS that used only angel hair pasta and pine nuts, was well-received in the medical community but sold poorly.

And it is not just publishers worried about the current crop of names. Even writers have begun to sound the cry of alarm. At a meeting of American Fiction Writers’ Guild, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Bill Crame spoke at length on the precipitous decline in the quality of authors’ names.

"It was bad enough, the last generation," said Crame. "Dreadful names. John Updike, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon. Billy-Bob and Thomas and Jimmy. Horrible bland little things. And already we are beginning to see in the next generation a similar quantity of dull, unappealing names. I mean ... David Foster Wallace? There’s three different bad names in that one author."

Crame went on to compare the fiction industry to the American presidency. "America has a great history of names. Think of the presidents. Rutherford B. Hayes. Chester A. Arthur. Millard Fillmore. I mean ... Millard Fillmore. Huh? It’s the most terrific name in the world. It’s on names alone that those Presidents — that whole string from number 12 to number 25 — were able to lead this nation to prosperity. Grover Cleveland. It’s fantastic. Why can’t we have a President today named Grover?"

At this point Crame had to be helped off stage.

Among the casualties at HarperCollins was Joan Brown, who was given the axe despite the fact that her forthcoming The Great American Novel has been heralded as the actual Great American Novel by, among others, Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, and Odin, the Norse god of war. Also put on hold was a recently discovered sequel to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, — The Even Greater Gatsby.

"The name ‘Scott’ just didn’t excite us, " said Garen. "And then there’s that ‘F.’ It’s terrible. It’s just one letter, sitting alone there by itself. It’s sad."

In a related development, HarperCollins announced today that they had signed three young writers to its fiction roster: Zubai Komorav, Quell Mishrod, and Al Cheese. "With names like these," said Garen, "our company and indeed, the fiction industry as a whole, will prosper.

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