THE BLOG
01/03/2008 07:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Literary Writer's Strike

Novelists Take a Page from Striking Screenwriters: Immortality No Longer Enough!

"Leo Tolstoy," head of the newly formed Union of Literary Fiction Writers, announced today that his membership of 35 would go on strike, "Till somebody somewhere pays us something."

The group began picketing at 6 a.m. outside the Starbucks on 91st Street and Broadway, where several members usually work on their laptops and where one was outraged recently when a barista asked him to relinquish his table to a customer who had actually ordered a coffee.

"We've been inspired by our screenwriting brethren in Hollywood," said Leo. "We got to thinking that it's time literary fiction writers demanded their due." According to Leo, 99% of union members currently show no income from their writing. One percent declared an income of $200 or less based on the sale of one or more short stories to a literary journal. That amount does not include the value of author copies and free subscriptions.

"I want more than two free copies of the literary journal where I have been published," said a woman who would only give the name "Virginia Woolf." As she spoke she clutched copies of the literary journals White Chocolate and the University of Southern Kansas-North Campus Review. "I would also like to demand fifteen cents per page."

"It's just pennies," said Leo. "But it adds up."

The Hollywood picket lines have had international news coverage, with famous actors joining the strikers. Screenwriters have been using the picket lines to network. In contrast, the literary writers have found it challenging to get their members to show up. A few began picketing sleepily at 5 a.m., the only time any of them could gather before they had to get to the paying work that subsidizes their literary fiction. Virginia could stand in line for twenty minutes before she had to go teach her five sections of composition at College of Staten Island that, with her part-time gig legal proofreading and occasional stint dog-walking, subsidized her short story collection. She joined with the three others present, chanting "No Money, No Ambiguity!"

The writers have also had some conflicts on where to picket. A confused group rushed down to DC to stand in front of the Atlantic Monthly offices until they realized that the magazine does not publish fiction anymore, except in the summer. Several wore sunglasses while they stood in front of the offices of literary journals, as they did not want to be spotted by editors.

"I didn't realize they had unionized," said a spokesperson for a New York publisher. "We here at Empire believe that writing is its own reward."

Unlike Hollywood studios who are concerned about when shows will go into reruns, the publishers of novels and literary journals seem oddly unconcerned about the content pipeline shutting down. "They're going to run out," said Leo. "And then they'll be coming to us."
"Not everyone can do what we do," said Virginia.

When asked how many literary manuscripts were waiting to be read, a New York editor laughed hysterically and slammed down the phone.

"The Hollywood writers have had stars walk with them," said Leo. "Where are the celebrities who will help our cause? Does anyone see any?"

"Do any of them read?"

"Is that Ethan Hawke?"

"He writes, too!"

"Put down your pen, Ethan, and join us!"

Everyone looked; the Ethan Hawke lookalike ducked quickly into a deli. A woman walked by clutching a copy of War and Peace. "Look!" said Virginia, rushing up to her. "I found a reader!"

The woman stopped. The writers gathered around. They applauded.

"What's happening?" asked the woman with the book, suspiciously.

"We're fiction writers," Virginia explained. "And we want to get paid." She smiled. "How much did you pay for that fine book?"

"I borrowed this from my sister, and I'm not paying anyone," said the woman, and hurried off.
It was 7 a.m. Leo looked wistful but determined. "What's New York without dense language and complex characters? We're shutting this city down."

The sun was rising and commuters began to brush past the writers on their way to work. It was almost time for Leo to get to his paying job. "No one's going to stop us. We're going to keep writing," he said. He paused. "But I don't understand why the screenwriters are so angry about the Internet downloads," said Leo.

He leaned toward the reporter and whispered, "I would just like to be read."

Read more strike coverage on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.