Authors Break Silence with Complaints About ChiZine Publications

ChiZine Publications, the Canadian horror publisher run by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, has been under fire from writers this week for slow payment and nonpayment, accused of bullying and blackballing an author who complained, and in connection with remarks made by some individuals associated with CZP of a sexist and racist nature.

The social media outpouring seems to have been precipitated by the sharing of what passed between author Ed Kurtz and ChiZine Publications. I haven’t sourced the beginnings of this conversation (which may not have been public), but the details appear in CZP’s denial and Kurtz’ rebuttal below. But before turning to them, it’s helpful to look at one of Michael Matheson’s posts.  

Matheson’s comments on Facebook include:

…Just now catching the edges of what happened with Ed Kurtz and CZP. And I can’t even begin to say I’m surprised. Honestly, I’m just glad we’re finally as a field starting to talk about the problems with CZP a little more publicly.

If you’ve never had a problem working with/for them, that’s fantastic, and I know it’s true for a number of people. But having been on the inside of that company for two years (2013-2015, longer if you count time spent working for Chiaroscuro Magazine doing reviews and review management before that), the issues that are coming up around Ed aren’t unusual. 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.

…Long story short, you could not pay me to work with CZP ever again – not least of all because beyond the collected freelance payment of $3,200 for working on 30 books in whatever span it was (which I think was also in the two years I worked directly for them), I never did get paid. Nothing like hearing “Oh we’ll be able to pay you a salary/stipend when we get the Book Fund,” for two years running.

ChiZine Publications has publicly responded to charges about their payments to Ed Kurtz and allegations of mistreatment.

Given the recent discussion on social media about our professional relationship with author Ed Kurtz and other authors, we feel some of the mis-statements that have been made need to be corrected.

In 2018, Ed approached us, asking about monies due him from a Russian translation of his novel. At the time, we told him the monies had not yet been paid to us, and we checked with our foreign rights agent, who confirmed that they had received no monies either. We did not receive the translation rights monies until late April of 2019.

Once we received the translation monies owed, we paid Ed within 48 hours.

Earlier this year, we were approached by the Horror Writers Association to mediate the situation—and we do acknowledge that Ed’s author royalties were late at the time, which we regret, and which situation was corrected promptly. ChiZine Publications remains a small press run by two people, and while we do our best to stay on top of the business, we occasionally fall short. This is not something we take lightly—our author relationships are important to us.

Ed Kurtz’s royalties are currently paid in full. Any other monies he might be due will be paid on his next royalty statement, which will be in spring 2020.

As to an accusation that we, along with other small presses, attempted to blacklist Ed Kurtz, or threaten him in any way—that is categorically untrue, and we deny it. We were proud to publish Ed’s novel and were eager to publish his next one, as per our contract option. But when he wished to withdraw that novel, we respected his wish.

At no time has Ed ever asked for a rights reversal, although of course he is entitled to do so. We are happy to revert his rights if he makes that request.

We are aware that this discussion has brought to light instances of late royalty statements or payments, and we believe it is important to address this with our authors.

Accordingly, over the next four to six weeks we will be reviewing our financials, and reaching out to our authors and/or their representatives, to ensure that royalties are up to date, and promptly address any shortfalls.

If any of our authors have any specific questions—whether regarding royalty statements or any other business-related concerns—please contact us and we will do our best to provide answers in a timely fashion.

Ed Kurtz authorized this rebuttal to be posted on Facebook:

The statement from Chizine neglects a number of salient facts, such as the moment in July 2018, at Necon, when I explained to Brett Savory that my partner was facing a layoff, our cat was ill, we were in severe financial distress, and I had *never* been paid a single cent of royalties in what was at that time almost two years for a moderately successful book. He actually grinned and said, “Things are hard for everyone right now” before walking away. The following morning it was reported to me that Sandra was loudly complaining in the dealer room about me having asked about my royalties, and of course the two of them went on a whirlwind trip around the world a few weeks after that, showing us all that things weren’t so rough for them, after all.

In fact, I’d asked after my royalties several times and was rebuffed or given excuses every single time (usually something wrong with their accounting software or something similar, which I later learned they’d been saying to authors for years). I only went to the HWA after several other frustrated CZP authors (one of whom hadn’t been paid in five years!) strongly encouraged me to do so. I expressed fear of bullying and/or retaliation, and some of these authors promised me they’d have my back (they didn’t). And yes, a lot of us got paid through my efforts, though it is untrue I’m paid in full. I was never paid royalties for the months of my first year of publication, 2016, though CZP continues to claim I was. I just gave up on this.

As for bullying/blackballing? I’d call the half dozen people who refused to acknowledge my existence at Necon 2019 and since then just that. Some of these people I once called friends. They know who they are and they can keep their excuses and apologies to themselves. (Not the ones who blocked me for demanding to get paid, of course. They’ll never make excuses!) This behavior has wrecked my mental health, driven me from the writing community, and killed in me any last vestiges of my desire to continue writing at all, so hurrah for you if that’s the sort of thing that pleases you, I guess. (And sending excuses and apologies through my partner when you have my email and/or phone number is just sad and cowardly.) Of course, I’ve heard from a number of people some of the awful, nasty things CZP say about me and other authors (including calling us “cunts”), so if that’s not bullying, I guess I don’t understand the meaning of the word. (That’s just their sense of humor, I was told by one of the authors who completely failed to stand up for me. I just don’t get it, apparently.)

And again, I had no idea that I would be the only one named on the complaint submitted through the HWA to Chizine. There were more than half a dozen of us, some of whom were happily chumming it up with Brett and Sandra at Necon while avoiding me like the bubonic plague—after getting them paid. Had I known these authors had planned to do this to me, I might never have gone that route. (Also note, I’ve been told a LOT of other Chizine authors were NEVER paid.)

As to all this nonsense handwringing about them being just a small, two-person operation, look—if you can’t pay, you can’t play. Shut down. If you’re doing more than you can handle, do less or shut down. It does NOT MATTER how small you are or what accounting problems you’ve had for ten years running. PAY YOUR AUTHORS. PAY THEM EVERY TIME. PAY THEM ON TIME. And for fuck’s sake, stop lying about every goddamned thing. No one is fooled by you anymore. Chizine has been a “squeaky stair” in the whisper network for a decade about how they mistreat and cheat people. It’s out now. No more whispers. Tell your truths, people. I’ve heard from a LOT of people. Other authors, former employees. It’s all coming out now.

Let this be a public announcement that I demand my rights back for THE RIB FROM WHICH I REMAKE THE WORLD in total. I have sent an email to the same effect and I have been told this morning by ChiZine that this will be granted. I asked for my rights back once before, when CZP asked me about turning the book into a POD affair, and the request was ignored. We’ll see about this time around. Let it also be known that I received an unrequested PayPal payment this afternoon from ChiZine, along with a statement I have yet to review at the time of this writing, which ostensibly covers 2019 to the present day. I was also promised a final payment come February 2020. I do not know if it will ever be re-issued once it goes out of print.

Anyway, they don’t have to worry too much. I’m still gone. I’m still wrecked. My career is still in shambles. They won in that regard, they and their minions. I just want my book back so I don’t have to have any further contact and I’ll stay away from the whole damn scene that’s been so toxic to me and others. And to everyone else, for Christ’s sake: DO BETTER. I know everyone wants to get ahead, but when you stop being a decent human being just for this nonsense? When someone you have the temerity to call a friend tells you they’ve been hurt and wronged, and you go running to the one doing the hurting with your hands open like Oliver fucking Twist? DO BETTER. It’s fucking pathetic the way some of y’all treat each other just to get your name on the cover of a small press book. The whole “Well, gee, I see how awful you and literally dozens of others have been treated, but I’ve known them LONGER!” thing? Do I need to say it again?

DO. BETTER.

Adios.

Michael Matheson also indicates there were deep problems with CZP’s work environment. Thread starts here.

Kerrie Byrne told about some of their experiences working for CZP. Thread starts here.

Today’s conversation has also surfaced complaints of sexism and racism.

Livia Llewellyn’s thread starts here.

Chesya Burke on Facebook recalled a 2013 experience where she was a victim of online racism by ChiZine author Michael Rowe, and detailed the ways in which CZP’s publishers condoned his behavior:

…Even after posting yesterday that writers need to stick together and talk about their experiences in this business, I hesitated writing this post. Not because it isn’t important, but because I know it could be seen as a pile on and it’s not quite a ChiZine ChiZine story. But, I’ve never been one to shut the fuck up out of fear and it won’t start now.

While this story has nothing to do with ChiZine not paying their authors and artists, it certainly supports the growing concern over the atmosphere of fear and control that ChiZine seems to create….

Few people, in all of horror defended me. One of them was an artist friend who called them all out for their racism. He also worked for ChiZine. After this, Brett and Sandra [of ChiZine] began “relaying passive aggressive messages” to my artist friend from Micheal. Eventually, “they defended Micheal saying that he didn’t mean it,” which lets you know that they knew what he’d said was beyond the pale, but the refused to address it. The artist says that ChiZine “became this insular thing about their buddies and pals. Don’t worship their racist friends? You’re not worth it.”

My artist friend, who is a damn fine artist, quit publishing altogether. This left a bad taste in his mouth and because “it’s hard to get work after you’ve severed ties abruptly.”

Let me make it clear, Brett and Sandra are not responsible for Micheal Rowe’s behavior. But I absolutely hold them responsible for harboring an atmosphere that hid and silently condoned racists and white supremacy. I don’t know their ideologies. Their ideologies don’t matter. Their actions when faced with outright, in your face, call-a-black-woman-a-nigger-in-2013 racism, was to support the racists and harm anyone who didn’t fall in line.

Do with this this information, what you want. But I will not hide it. And will repost every single time it’s taken down.

Jeff VanderMeer, after reading these revelations, made a succinct statement:

We do not recommend ChiZine as a publisher or as an employer.

He also said:

Meanwhile, there is concern that the authors will unfairly receive the brunt of the punishment when customers stop buying books from CZP, or reviewers don’t cover their CZP books (as a couple online critics have already announced they will refuse to do in the future). Rio Youers said:

This concern prompted Richard Thomas to remind people about the “Ten Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors This Holiday Season” which he posted last December and could be helpful now.

More people are expected to share their CZP stories in days to come. Among those reaching out to authors for their ChiZine experiences are Jason Sanford, and The Horror Show with Brian Keene.

Note: A follow-up post with more information can be read here.