As Authors Share More ChiZine Experiences, Others Part Ways with CZP

Additional writers, interns and staffers have opened up about their experiences with ChiZine Publications, the Canadian horror publisher run by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory. At the same time, there has been some pushback from people in the field, of whom Stephen Jones (editor) may be the best known.

Earlier summaries of CZP news can be found in these posts:

Note: There is considerably more information to read at each link beyond the excerpts quoted here.

Michael Matheson, whose extensive commentary on ChiZine Publications’ finances based on records in their possession was linked previously, and who looked into CZP’s funding from grants by Canadian public sources, told Facebook readers the news is having an impact:

ChiZine WERE one of the Ontario Arts Council Recommender Grants for Writers recommending publishers. They’re off the site.

Which means the OAC PULLED them after the news of what they’ve been doing broke

Beverly Bambury shared more about CZP’s “culture of intimidation and silence.” Thread starts here.

Former CZP intern Feli Law spoke in a Facebook post about low pay and no pay, and the unexpected responsibilities dumped on them, concluding —  

…When I finally left CZP, I quit publishing because I was so bitter over what happened and how toxic it all was. I hated the snobbery of publishers and writers, and it ruined my perception of the publishing world.

My story isn’t even the worst one, but it’s my story.

Jeff VanderMeer found that his assistance in negotiating a ChiZine writer’s contract went for nought, as he detailed on Facebook:

I just learned today about another horror story. I acted as the agent to an agentless writer for their first book, from ChiZine. It was a breathtakingly predatory contract. I deleted all of that language and replaced it with reasonable terms. What happened next I didn’t know in its entirety until today, but basically Brett and Sandra waited until this author was in the room with them and them browbeat, cajoled, and pressured the author to sign the original contract. I don’t blame the author, who thought it was their own big break and had no experience. But I do blame ChiZine for being predatory.

Simon Bestwick asks people not to buy his collection from ChiZine, which they released in August.

As I’ve said elsewhere, my initial instinct when the first stories about ChiZine Publications began to come out was to reserve judgement until I’d heard what all parties had had to say and seen the evidence. I knew people who were close to ChiZine who couldn’t believe that what had been described had happened. I don’t believe in trial-by-mob.

But more and more stories came out, from more and more people. Appalling stories, and often appallingly consistent in the conduct they alleged. Consistent and convincing, not only to me but to those same people who were closer to ChiZine than I.

I’m getting in touch with my agent re reverting the rights to And Cannot Come Again, but this might not be a practicable move at my end as I’ll have to return the advance – which, given my current financial position, is something I can’t really do right now.

In the meantime – and it utterly chokes me to say this of a collection I am so proud of and that has been so beautifully put together – I can only ask people NOT to purchase And Cannot Come Again from ChiZine.

Despite the number and gravity of the experiences people have shared, there has been some backlash and scoffing in social media. Perhaps the most widely-known figure warning off ChiZine critics has been Stephen Jones (editor).

As Laird Barron noted on Facebook:

Stephen Jones (editor) basically excoriated everybody complaining and/or reporting about the Chizine debacle. After 200+ comments he deleted the whole thing.

Some who wrote comments say Jones also blocked everyone who commented.

However, Axel Hassen Taiari preserved screencaps of the Jones post before it was removed, which are presented in a thread that starts here.

Axel Hassen Taiari’s own response includes —

Brian Keene’s reaction was —

Amazing Stories has also changed plans for what was formerly a ChiZine-related readings series. The November 20 reading has moved to Bakka Phoenix Books: “Toronto Readings From Amazing Stories Change of Venue”.

Readings from Amazing Stories, originally scheduled to take place at The Round Venue in Toronto on November 20th in conjunction with The Chiaroscuro Reading Series has been relocated to the Bakka Phoenix bookstore, also in Toronto.

Earlier this week a decision was made to host the event independently from its association with the ChiZine Reading series – Chiaroscuro – given the issues currently involving the small press publisher.  In all sincerity we hope that ChiZine Publications and its authors are able to work through their difficulties and find solutions aceptable to all involved.

… The event, hosted by Ira Nayman, Editor-in-Chief of Amazing Stories, will commence at 5 pm on Wednesday, November 20th, and will feature readings from Jen FrankelPaul Levinson, Shirley Meier, Lena Ng and Liz Westbrook-Trenholm (all of whom have had stories published in Amazing Stories over the past year), as well as musical performances by Kari Maaren and Paul Levinson.

The Chiaroscuro Reading Series — ChiSeries — has been sponsored in part by grants from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council – Conseil des arts de l’Ontario, ChiZine Publications and donations from attendees. (The series’ publicity webage has been taken down, although its Google cache file can still be viewed, for as long as that remains available).

With the Amazing reading now being hosted independently, a GoFundMe appeal has been launched to raise $700 so Bakka can meet the commitments for the event: “Amazing Stories – Amazing Writers”.

The creators and writers behind AMAZING STORIES have suddenly had to change venues for their thrilling  reading night on Wednesday, November 20th! While Bakka-Phoenix Books is proud to jump in and supply a space and equipment and snacks, we don’t have the budget to pay the authors and musician appearing so we’re asking our AS fans and wider community if you can pitch in. Writers who create, well, amazing stories deserve to be paid!

Writers and Staffers Share More Bad Experiences with ChiZine Publications

Following yesterday’s initial wave of allegations about ChiZine Publications, the Canadian horror publisher run by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, more authors and publishing professionals have come forward to tell about their own toxic experiences at the hands of CZP, or to confirm what others have already said.

Note that most of the following items are excerpts — in most cases there is substantially more to read at the link.

Michael Patrick Hicks collates the many testimonies already made public in his thorough summary “Controversy Erupts Around ChiZine Publications” at High Fever Books.

In what appears to be a mass exodus from ChiZine Publications following the flood of recent allegations, a number of authors have begun requesting the rights to their works be reverted, effectively ending the publication of their materials through this publisher. I have received word from other authors, who shall remain anonymous, that they are currently seeking the cancellation of their contracts, as well.

Gabino Iglesias analyzes why this went on so long in a lengthy commentary at Horror DNA, “CHIZINE FUCKED UP, BUT THEY’RE THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG”.

… What most people don’t understand about the small press world is that we all more or less know each other. Also, sadly, the small press world is a place in which irregular payments, and sometimes no payments at all, are things that happen way too often. Writers love to see their name on book covers, but sometimes the price the pay to do so with what they consider a good press is not worth the pain that comes attached to it.

…The small press world needs to understand the following (especially those entering it as new writers): publishers need to certain things and not doing those things should immediately make them shut their doors. Here’s what publishers need to do:

  • Edit work to make it better.
  • Give books great covers.
  • Make sure the layout is professional.
  • Support writers.
  • Pay royalties.
  • Try to sell books.
  • Communicate effectively.

If you can’t do one of these, quit being a publisher. It’s that simple. Not paying writers is bullshit. It shouldn’t even be part of the conversation. Also, if you can’t pay for professional editing or covers, you have no business being a publisher.

Michael Matheson offers a look under the hood at CZP in their latest Facebook post.  This excerpt is followed by even more financial information and history:

It’s been interesting to see in conversations around the CZP fallout, in a conversation that has been in many ways about numbers, a lack of the numbers themeslves. And I get why from authors, but for the people defending the press talking about how the amounts weren’t enough for people to be fighting over/blasting the press for, that’s an interesting argument. But I tell you what, let’s flip that argument on its head:

The numbers are not high enough that paying them should have been a problem, if the press’s finances had been in good order, or well handled. How do I know this? Because I know the numbers from the back end. So let’s talk about those, and a little bit of poor financial management as well while we’re on the topic so everyone can understand why this all fell apart so spectacularly (and had been destined to do so from pretty much day one):

When I was working for CZP their general advance rate was $300-$500, scaling up (in rare instances) to $1500 for authors who had been published with them mutiple times. I can think of one instance involving a $3,000 advance to a ChiGraphic title, which had been argued down from the far more the artist (rightly) thought was due for the work. It’s possible they’ve upped those rates in the intervening years, but I doubt it.

Producing 10-15 books a year at those rates is entirely doable if you’re a small press with good budgeting and arts council support (project-based or through block funding). Where CZP screwed themselves was thinking that exploding their production schedule up to 30 books a year across multiple lines was going to explode their sales as well and take them from a small press to a medium-size press. And thus get them better visibility, better chances at getting funding, better audience sales penetration.

But as most publishers will tell you, trying to shore up failing revenue by *expanding* your production schedule in a bid to rapidly build your audience is … not a good idea….

Nicholas Kaufmann tells Facebook readers why he believes what people are saying about CZP.

I believe these stories for two reasons. First, because as a ChiZine author myself I had to actively chase down every royalty statement and payment I received from them in recent years. If I hadn’t, I know I would not have seen a cent, like the many other ChiZine authors who didn’t receive statements or royalties for years. Second, because I witnessed the badmouthing myself, firsthand. At Necon in 2018, I overheard Sandra complain to a new ChiZine author about an older ChiZine author who had dared to ask her where their royalty statements were. To me, the message she was sending the new author was clear: Never ask me about missing statements. Never ask me about the money you’re owed.

This was confusing and disappointing, because I had been friends with Brett and Sandra since the early 2000s. Good friends. I loved them. I was happy to be one of the first ChiZine Publications authors, and I was proud of my novella CHASING THE DRAGON.

Still, I quietly began to warn authors who asked me about working with ChiZine. I told them if they published with ChiZine they were going to have to chase down every cent that was owed them or they would never see it. I listened sympathetically to friends who had not seen a royalty statement or check from ChiZine in 3 years, 5 years, more. But that was the extent of it until what happened with Ed. I suppose I can say now publicly, for the first time, that I was one of the unnamed authors who went with Ed to the HWA Grievance Committee and shared my story with them. The letter Lisa Morton sent ChiZine must have scared them, because suddenly I and other authors got paid right away.

But then the stories came out yesterday. All those stories. I grew confused and disappointed again, but also angry. I could not in good conscience remain a ChiZine author after hearing about the way they treated other writers and their employees. Last night I asked for my rights back for CHASING THE DRAGON, and this morning they agreed to revert them immediately. I

Bracken MacLeod seconded Kaufman’s comments, on Facebook.

Like Nicholas Kaufmann (and others who I won’t name without their permission), I was one of the writers who lined up behind Ed Kurtz when he went to the HWA for payment of back royalties from ChiZine Publications. He was successful and a bunch of us (but I found out later NOT ALL of us), including me, got paid. We received an accounting statement and a check and a promise to make further remissions in the Spring of 2019 (which never came). At that time, I applied a maxim I used to live by as a litigator: when you’ve won, you can stop fighting. I stepped back and returned to my professional life as usual.

That was the wrong thing to do….

When I heard about the lunch conversation where authors who made a fuss about getting paid by their publisher were called “cunts” and “dead wood” (I wasn’t there and only heard about it later) I was aghast and chose at that time to begin to distance myself socially from ChiZine. Instead, I should’ve stood up, for Ed and the rest of us who said we were behind him but didn’t have the same bullseye on our backs.

For that shameful silence, I am truly sorry.

I think it is important to say, first, I have pulled my contribution from The War on Christmas anthology, and second, this morning I asked for my rights to my short story collection, 13 Views of the Suicide Woods, back from ChiZine….

Beverly Bambury said in a note to File 770, “I posted my own story today, which is pretty egregious. It involves marital interference on top of the professional abuse.” See her complete statement on Facebook.

…I loved working with the authors in the CZP fold, the bloggers and reviewers, and the local Toronto-area community. Publicity was the perfect fit for my personality and I seemed to be thriving to all outside observers, but increasingly I was dealing with destabilizing, gaslighting behaviour behind the scenes.

… I forget the date and how it fits into things on the timeline, but my husband and I were having some troubles, as many marriages do, and even though things were bad with Sandra and Brett and me, in a moment of weakness and feeling isolated, I confessed the struggle I was having to Sandra. She can seem so warm when it suits her. She hugged me and comforted me and I thought maybe things might be OK. I feel stupid and pathetic when I remember this now, because I feel I should have known better after everything that transpired.

Not much later, CZP author and very close confidant to Sandra, Michael Rowe, took my husband out to lunch and tried to get him to say bad things about me. My husband says Rowe turned the conversation towards this multiple times. My husband did not let the conversation go that way, naturally. It was very odd. Later I heard from a very trusted source that Sandra, Brett, Michael and others would sit around and talk about what a terrible person I was, and try to plot to destroy my marriage and who they could hook my husband up with — so they could “keep” my husband but get rid of me. They said I was ruining his life.

Sandra shared my pain with others who then used it to betray me and try to further undermine my life. Think about it. They laughed at and enjoyed my pain and plotted to make it worse….

Samantha Mary Beiko worked for ChiZine Publications from 2010-2018 in increasingly responsible positions. Beiko outlines that history, the problems, and why she left in her post on Facebook.

… We spent hours in the car together. I felt the joy in abundance in the community that I felt proud to be a part of. Proud of building. I have often been looked over in my life, but my work with CZP gave me a voice, gave me insight, taught me things I could pass on to other authors, like I became. Brett and Sandra celebrated my successes as if they were proud parents. They sought out opportunities for me. I stayed at their home sometimes for days on end. I got to know their cats. We grieved together over past despairs. We looked to the future and got excited about things. I have such beautiful memories of meals made for me and shared, of baking giant cakes, of oatmeal in the morning with Brett, of going to pick up fresh books from the printer, of extended inside jokes.

They included me in their lives. They called me their daughter. They loved me. I still believe it.

… By the end of 2017, it was apparent this wasn’t sustainable, and I needed to take a step back due to my own author promotion work. Also by this point, I’d about had it with being ‘on call,’ staying up all hours, and devoting my heart and soul into a company where I had no control, little input, and how easily all my planning could be railroaded. At one point, we were 6-12 months ahead of schedule on production. That was all undone when Sandra couldn’t get to looking over the books in a timely fashion. And by this point, authors were asking me about royalties. And I was trying to get them their royalty reports. But it was constantly shoved to the back burner when I brought it up with Sandra. And I couldn’t access them myself. And I was told to tell everyone they’d ‘be coming.’ These reports, like my income, was late. As you’ve likely read elsewhere.

I set hours. I wouldn’t answer emails after 5pm. They didn’t like that. I told them they needed to get things in to me with more than 24hr notice. They didn’t like that either. Soon, when I kept following up to be paid promptly, the narrative became: we are strapped for money Sam. You know we are. Why would you demand this of us? Aren’t we family? Don’t you know that paying you puts a huge strain on us?

Remember that they offered to pay ME a wage. And I accepted it after years of having…no wage.

It came to a head when I simply couldn’t do what I had been doing for 7 years. I watched them eviscerate people’s reputations and realized, no matter what, that was more of an inevitability for me, and that I was fine with it. And by this time, I felt more confident in my skills and credibility so…I no longer cared. I was hurting. It needed to stop. I laid out my grievances in a very detailed email: the late nights. The poor wages. The late payments. How much blood and sweat and lots, AND LOTS of tears, I had put into working for them, and all I really wanted in the end was respect. That yes, they’d given me a lot, but my loyalty needed to be earned, and I no longer felt it was.

Sandra told me that the reason they were ‘going bankrupt’ was because of me. That I was the reason authors, printers, etc., were not being paid on time. Because they were paying me to keep things going.

When I left, this is how they spoke of me in the community. Community members told me this. And honestly? I’m not surprised. I’m sure they said worse…

John Goodrich confirms some of the negative statements that CZP co-publisher Sandra Kasturi allegedly made at NECON in a Facebook post.

…At the NECON 39 Saturday lunch break, I was sitting near Sandra. There were people around me, but I couldn’t name them now. Brett was not there. She said that Chizine would soon be getting rid of their quote deadwood, referring to their underperforming authors, and that the people who were talking about non-payment were all, and I quote again, cunts. No names were mentioned, but I’d heard some of the accusations of non-payment. I don’t remember anyone replying, but I was pretty shocked, and didn’t participate in the conversation myself.

Subsequently, I spoke with a couple of authors who Brett and Sandra had published, including one who had a book published by Chizine ten years ago. I haven’t asked if I can publicly share their stories, so I won’t share their names. But both confirmed that they’d never been paid by Chizine, and had given up on the idea of ever seeing money from them.

I share this story because I do not want to see more people get ripped off. I believe those authors.

NECON, having read about one of the things that happened at their event, have issued “AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM THE NORTHEASTERN WRITERS’ CONFERENCE”.  

Like many in the horror community, we have been shocked and saddened this week by the news centered around ChiZine Publications. While the events that occurred during last year’s Necon seem like just the tip of the iceberg, we feel we have an obligation to address them.

Necon expects all of our Campers, including publishers who attend and vend at our convention, to conduct themselves to the highest standards of professional behavior. We have verified from multiple independent sources that such was not the case at Necon 39. Simply put, it is unacceptable for any Camper to ever feel bullied, shunned, or unwelcome at Necon. As such, we’d like to offer a sincere apology to Ed Kurtz — Ed, we are terribly sorry for what you experienced last summer.

To quote Ed’s statement on the matter, we can all do better. We give you all our word that we’re sure as hell going to try.

More developments: