My Thoughts on ChiZine Publications and the Genre’s Troubling Wall of Silence

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The genre exploded this week over allegations that Canadian horror publisher ChiZine Publications had not paid a number of authors and also allegedly engaged in bullying behavior of their authors and staff.

The catalyst for all this appears to have been author Ed Kurtz going to the Horror Writers of America on behalf of himself and other unpaid ChiZine authors, with Kurtz claiming one author hadn't been paid in five years. Kurtz then reported he was bullied and isolated by the larger genre community for doing this.

Michael Patrick Hicks at High Fever Books reports that there now appears to be a “mass exodus” of authors from ChiZine Publications, with a number of authors “requesting the rights to their works be reverted, effectively ending the publication of their materials through this publisher.” According to Hicks, authors who have requested the reversion of rights to their books include Bracken MacLeod, Nicholas Kaufmann, Christopher Golden, and Ed Kurtz.

In addition, staff and freelancers working with ChiZine have reported not being paid for all the work they did. Matheson worked for ChiZine for a couple of years and said “These are longstanding issues, spread across CZP's interactions with writers, editors, interns, publicists, cover artists, agents (some who flat out won't allow their clients to work with CZP), multiple distributors, several book printers, and they're not going to get better.”

Kerrie Colleen Byrne said they worked 20-30 hours a week for ChiZine over ten months but were paid only $700 then fired “when I said I couldn’t afford unpaid labour anymore.” 

And numerous people have reported bullying and wrong behavior from ChiZine publisher and editor Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, including Chesya Burke (whose post broke the wall of silence around all this and also raised concerns around ChiZine author Michael Rowe), Livia Llewellyn, and former ChiZine staffer Samantha Mary Beiko, who worked for ChiZine Publications from 2010-2018. Beiko has stated that "Everything that has been said about the press is true, fundamentally.”

ChiZine released a statement on November 5 on their Facebook page in which they said they’d paid their authors and denied the other allegations. However, on November 8 the ChiZine Facebook page and that statement appeared to either be gone or no longer visible to the public. (Update: On Nov. 9, the ChiZine Facebook page was back online. Here's their statement from Nov. 5.)

Interviews with ChiZine authors and others

While researching this topic, I spoke with several people who confirmed what has already been reported by others.

For example, Beverly Bambury told me she worked for ChiZine for over a year with no pay. 

“It started out fine,” Bambury said, “but very quickly escalated into Sandra Kasturi (primarily) constantly berating everything I did or said. Gaslighting in the sense that she would say I had done something I hadn't done, or hadn't done things I had. I found it very confusing and upsetting but it was helping my career so I put up with it as best I could. Eventually it got worse, with being literally physically ostracized at their events.”

After I spoke with Bambury, she wrote a detailed Facebook post about what she experienced, including how Kasturi, Savory and author Michael Rowe tried to interfere in her marriage. I suggest people read her own words on what happened, which is very disturbing.

Other people I spoke with about ChiZine requested anonymity, fearful of being ostracized by the Canadian genre community or retaliated against for what they said. 

One author described how the release dates for their ChiZine books often changed at the last minute for no reason, hurting generation of reviews and publicity, and how some of their books received little to no editing prior to publication. When the author spoke out against this, their concerns were dismissed or ignored.

Another prominent author I spoke with said they felt they were personally lied to about being sent review copies by ChiZine staff. This author said they were told multiple times they’d receive review copies of books they wanted to write about for a major publication, but never received anything. This attention could have helped some ChiZine books that instead suffered poor sales for lack of coverage.

“Throughout my years there, there were also issues with royalties,” author Caitlin Sweet told me. “And again, there were always excuses for why I wasn't getting them when I'd been told I would. New accountant; bad accountant; new software; even worse accountant...”

Sweet added, “Yes, CZP pays shit advances, has to be browbeaten into sending out royalties (I can't remember the last time I got any), and are hideously disorganized in general – but the worst part about it all is their attitude toward their own authors. It's very clear who their inner-sanctum author-friends are (there are 3-4 of these); the rest are fair game.”

(Update: Caitlin Sweet asked to be identified as the source of these quotes, so the copy has been updated to reflect this. Sweet also told me she has requested revision of the rights to her books from ChiZine.)

As Beverly Bambury told me, “All I ever did was work hard for them for free. I was passionate about their authors and worked hard for them. The skills I got from the experience have me working full-time on my own publicity business for about 6 years. There is no reason at all for this treatment.”

ChiZine and Grant Money

One interesting aspect of this story which other accounts haven’t discussed is how a large percentage of ChiZine’s operating budget comes from governmental arts grants.

For those unfamiliar with the Canadian publishing industry, many publishers benefit from subsidies and grant money. For example, according to a 2013 article in the National Post between 50% and 60% of ChiZine's operating budget comes from grants. And in 2016, the Ontario Arts Council gave a $20,262 block grant to ChiZine

ChiZine has also received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, such as a “Supporting Artistic Practice” grant for $42,000 for 2017-18 and the same amount for 2018-19 (note: link is a spreadsheet download from Canada Council for the Arts; all amounts are in Canadian dollars).

I won’t speculate about why so many authors reported being unpaid after ChiZine received this grant money. However, the receipt of government funds does mean that ChiZine has a special duty to speak publicly about what has been going on and make sure all their authors are taken care of. 

(Update: After I published this, Michael Matheson released a detailed post going into ChiZine's finances, including the role grant money played and how much they paid in author advances over a five-year period. It's a deep dive, but worth checking out.)

Destroy the Genre’s Wall of Silence

Based on my personal conversations with ChiZine authors and former staff, the allegations against ChiZine appear to be very real. Too many people are reporting similar occurrences of not being paid along with bullying behavior from ChiZine staff.

It’s also troubling how the people I personally spoke with said they were afraid of being ostracized by the Canadian genre community or retaliated against for speaking up about ChiZine. This fear was echoed in the public posts people are now making and comments I’ve seen in private forums.

But don’t believe this fear is an issue specific to the Canadian genre community. Sadly, what we’re seeing with ChiZine fits a trend we see over and over in the overall science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing communities. Too often in the genre communities, bad behavior is overlooked and excused.

Yes, people will whisper in private and share details on which publishers aren’t paying their authors, and which people are harassing or bullying others. But if you’re not part of these whisper networks, you will have no knowledge of any of this.

And worse, if you’re one of these authors who was not paid or a person who was bullied, you may think you stand alone. This makes you want to stay even more silent about what happened to you.

I hope what’s coming out about ChiZine helps change the genre for the better. No one should ever be forced to tolerate bullying behavior or harassment. No author should ever believe they have no choice but to accept not being paid for their work.

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