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HarperCollins Adds ‘Christmas’ to Jewish Book Title Without Author’s Consent

Reason number one jillion why union-busting sucks

Front and back cover of How to Excavate a Heart.

Last week, YA author Jake Maia Arlow announced on TikTok that the title of their romantic comedy about two Jewish lesbians, How To Excavate a Heart, was changed without their knowledge or permission to How To Excavate a Heart: A Christmas, Hanukkah, and Holiday Story. Arlow’s editor is participating in the HarperCollins strike, which has been going since November 10, which means that Arlow initially had no one to contact to find out who made the change.

“[This novel] is not a Christmas book,” Arlow explains in the video. “I described it a lot—and I still do—as a Christmas time book, but it stars two lesbian Jews, and on Christmas day … they celebrate ‘Jewmas’ and not Christmas.” Arlow goes on to explain that the novel isn’t even a Hanukkah book, saying that “Hanukkah is well over in the timeline of the book.”

“No one consulted me,” Arlow says. “No one asked me. That’s just the title now. So I’m guessing either a scab or a non-union employee simply changed the title of How to Excavate a Heart. I have no one to ask about this … I really hope this changes, because it fucking sucks and it’s not true.”

The title appears to have been changed for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes, making it easier to find when people Google the terms “Christmas,” “Hanukkah,” or “Holiday.” However, the change was still made without the author’s knowledge or consent, and in a way that misleads readers about the contents of the book.

Thankfully, Arlow’s agent was able to get the title change reversed, as they explain in an update. The situation should never have come to that, though.

There are so many ethical problems in this situation

Hopefully, HarperCollins will learn a few lessons from this fiasco.

First off, scab labor (if that’s what happened here) simply sucks. It’s not just underhanded and unethical—it’s demonstrably subpar. This is yet another reason why organizations should pay their employees reasonable wages. Treat your employees fairly, and you’ll be able to recruit and retain better employees!

Secondly, there’s the lack of author input. Authors are increasingly locked out of the publishing process, with little to no say over crucial decisions impacting their work. In this case, the problem is compounded by the fact that Arlow is Jewish. Changing major aspects of her work without consulting her contributes to the erasure and harm of Jewish communities, especially in a time of skyrocketing antisemitism. Members of Jewish communities need to have control over how our stories are told.

Finally, there’s the issue of ethical SEO content. Ethics don’t go out the window when you’re looking for clicks. Even if the person who changed the title had good intentions, their effort to cast a wider net resulted in drastically misrepresenting an author’s work (and, again, a Jewish story). This kind of situation is exactly how authors end up getting screwed over, and marginalized communities are pushed further into the margins.

There is a bright side to all this. Arlow has announced on her TikTok page that she’ll be donating a portion of her book sales to the HarperCollins strike fund. Her novel, How to Excavate a Heart, is now available at retailers and libraries.

(featured image: HarperCollins)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. She lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and makes yarn on her spinning wheel. You can check out more of her writing at https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.