Discover more from R.F. Kuang
the girls are striking in NYC
and you should come hang
Well this was going to be a tame and cozy end-of-year favorites letter; a look back on all the novels I thought were wonderful and on what novels I am forcing onto friends and family over the holidays. Instead I am inviting you to rally in the streets of NYC with me and other authors on Friday outside the HarperCollins offices at 195 Broadway.
I’m sure by this point everyone has heard about the strikes at HarperCollins, but if you haven’t, here are a few good resources to understand what’s at stake:
“While some are working to change the status quo, the industry also remains glaringly lacking in racial diversity. Workers of color who lack the financial support that their more privileged peers enjoy can’t sustain themselves with low-paying jobs and are therefore pushed out. These wider concerns are reflected in the union’s demands. The HarperCollins Union’s major ask is a raise in wages that would hike the company’s salary minimum to just $50,000. As striker Rye White wrote in a strike dispatch for n+1, the workers are also fighting to win a greater commitment to diversity from the publisher, as well as union security, an agreement which would require all eligible workers to join the union, and which was originally present in the contract prior to the 1980s (today roughly 6% of the company remains in the union).”
And of course, the HarperCollins Union information page itself, which also has links to various ways to remotely support the union
I’ve also asked my own publicist and union member Holly Rice to weigh in on what this strike means to her:
HarperCollins wasn’t my first job, though it’s been the most formative. I jumped in, seemingly off the deep end, the opportunities exhilarating and dazzling. In my two and a half years there, I’ve created publicity campaigns for two #1 New York Times bestsellers. HarperCollins has gotten nothing but my best; I’ve labored, put my heart out on the table, beating and vulnerable with the ups and downs of every publication.
In-house teams are usually composed of individuals who’ve thrown up their hand to be there. Because we understood an editor’s vision. Because we saw something of ourselves in the story authors want to tell. Because we are readers first, above all else. Confirming coverage is intoxicating. Getting it pulled smarts like a slap. We are eager to take care of our authors. It’s been a highlight of my professional life: helping Rebecca chase what she’s worth.
But this fact remains: the cost of entry for these opportunities is too high. I carry a student loan balance of 70k. I’ve hardly made a dent in repayment since grad school in 2017. The stress of this debt is the trade off for working in publishing, what I’ve paid for the honor of earning so little. The strike asks me to question how much more I could have accomplished, what more I could have given, if I had avoided the inevitable burnout. But this debt also means that I got lucky somehow. I figured out how to stay afloat, for now, as publishing loses talent in droves.
For the month our 250 members have been on strike, support has been unwavering. We’re kept fed; we check on each other; we guide each other through the fraught emotions of withholding our labor. There are also plenty of moments of levity. A fellow striking editor has us over at her apartment to paint signs. We drink homemade mimosas and blast Midnights. When I ask my authors for help, they give it without question.
BABEL, at its simplest, is a book about revolution, about a strike, an “unflinching study of the cost of loving what’s destroying you” (New York Times). Is it really a wonder that its author has embraced us, put herself on the line to help us ask for better? We hope you join us on December 16th – defying empire, it turns out, is fun.
I cannot stress how important this strike is for authors as well. These are the folks who are putting our books on shelves. Who edit, produce, market, and publicize the manuscripts we turn in. It’s not management up-top who are putting those finishing touches on your favorite books; it’s under-paid, over-worked editorial assistants, publicists, designers, and marketing folks working late nights and crumbling under the burden of too many assignments and not enough support. This strike is about making publishing jobs survivable for the people standing up for authors - and as Rachel Kambury put it, they can’t stand up for us if they’re not in the room.
We are inviting everyone to come out - readers, publishing professionals, HC authors and non-HC authors alike. I will also be tripping over myself trying not to be too starstruck over all the other authors who’ve made plans to come. Bring books if you want them signed! (Bring Babel, one of HC’s biggest fiction titles of the year, a book that is coincidentally about why collective action works.) Bring your phone if you want to take selfies! If you ever wanted to come to one of my signings but thought it would be more fun if we were chanting on the picket line, then Friday’s the day. It will be a party.
Thanks for reading R.F. Kuang! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.