Maine author Monica Wood said she “didn’t hesitate for a minute,” on Monday when she publicly lent support to striking union workers at publishing giant HarperCollins, the parent company of her publisher, Mariner Books. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine author Monica Wood knew she was taking a big risk when she publicly lent support last week to striking union workers at publishing giant HarperCollins, the parent company of her publisher, Mariner Books.

Wood’s decision is almost certain to delay the release of her sixth novel, titled “How to Read a Book,” and could even force her to return her advance payment.

“I didn’t hesitate for a minute,” she said in an interview Monday. “Sometimes the right thing to do is so bleeping obvious.”

Unionized employees at New York-based HarperCollins, one of the largest publishing companies in the country, walked off the job on Nov. 10 after months of failed bargaining to secure higher wages, a better family leave policy and a stronger commitment from the company to diversify staff.

The roughly 250 workers who are represented by United Auto Workers 2110 include copy editors, marketing assistants and designers who had been working without a contract since April. They represent a small percentage of HarperCollins’ worldwide personnel, which totals around 4,000, The Associated Press reported.

HarperCollins is owned by News Corp, the media giant built by Rupert Murdoch that includes the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, among others. Murdoch also owns Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News.


“HarperCollins has agreed to a number of proposals that the United Auto Workers Union is seeking to include in a new contract,” the company said in a statement this month about the strike. “We are disappointed an agreement has not been reached and will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

The publishing company hasn’t said much since, even as pressure has mounted. On Monday, a coalition of more than 160 literary agents signed a letter sent to HarperCollins informing the publisher that they would no longer send submissions until the dispute is resolved.

Other prominent authors also have publicly supported striking workers, including Lauren Groff, Jonathan Katz, R.O. Kwon and Chuck Wendig.

“It’s meaningful and morale-boosting to know that everyone from debut authors to National Book Award winners and New York Times bestsellers have our back and are willing to be vocal about it,” said Stephanie Guerdan, a HarperCollins editor and union representative. “Harper wouldn’t be able to do business at all without authors and agents, so their solidarity adds yet another pressure point on the company as we wait for them to return to the bargaining table.”

Wood said she didn’t even know about the strike until she reached out to her editor this month.

“For a complicated set of reasons, I ended up with a young editor this time,” she said. “I’m her first solo outing and it’s been the most poignant, lovely experience. She’s smart, asks all the right questions. I have no doubt she made my book better.”


That editor is among the employees now on strike. When Wood got an email recently from someone else at HarperCollins asking her to sign off on the final version of the cover of her latest work, she declined and said she wouldn’t participate in any pre-publication tasks associated with the novel. The publication date had been set for June 6.

Wood posted a letter last week on the writers’ website Literary Hub explaining her decision and the reasons behind it.

“Solidarity is just words if what you say can’t come back to bite you,” she wrote. “This novel means a lot to me, but the principles of fairness, instilled in me long ago as the child of a union man, mean far more. I hope my fellow HarperCollins authors feel the same.”

Wood lives in Portland now but grew up in the western Maine mill town of Mexico, which was the setting of her most well-known book, “When We Were the Kennedys.” Her grandfather, father and brother were all union workers.

“When I feel myself wavering, thinking ‘What have I done!?’, I just imagine …” she said, pausing to collect her emotion. “I just imagine my dad with his hand on my shoulder.”

According to published reports, the average salary for HarperCollins employees is $55,000, and the minimum salary is $45,000, even as the company reported record profits in 2021.


Wood said many of those employees are young women, like her editor.

“These are not the people companies are used to seeing on a picket line,” she said.

In recent years, unionization efforts have mobilized workforces that haven’t had representation in the past, such as coffee shops, museums and publishers.

“HarperCollins is one of the big five,” Wood said, referring to the five major publishing companies in the U.S. “I’m sure the other four are paying close attention.”

A HarperCollins spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the company is concerned about increased pressure from authors and agents.

Wood said despite improvements in most workplaces since the first unions were formed, the need hasn’t waned.

“I think we’re seeing a renaissance of union movement that’s probably long overdue,” she said. “There are still far too many working long hours for not enough money.”

Comments are no longer available on this story