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CHIZINE FUCKED UP, BUT THEY'RE THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

Written by Gabino Iglesias

 

It takes one tiny pebble to start an avalanche. In this case, that pebble was author Ed Kurtz. For the sake of honesty, I’ll say Ed lived in Austin for a while. I met him about a decade ago. We hung out a few times, had some great meals together, and talked books. I consider him a friend. That said, our friendship has nothing to do with what I’m about to write.

Ed Kurtz was the pebble that started an avalanche, and that avalanche basically took out ChiZine Publications. I’ve been reading ChiZine books for years. I have also reviewed their books. Three favorites, all of which I reviewed and have recommended for years, are Bracken MacLeod’s 13 Views of the Suicide Woods, Nick Mamatas’ Bullettime, and Tom Piccirilli’s Every Shallow Cut. In other words, ChiZine was known and respected because they published great work and also did some of the other things publishers should do: They tried to sell books, they paid attention to layout and editing, and they gave authors great covers. Unfortunately, they were neglecting to do one crucial thing: paying writers.

Listen, my main gig is teaching at a public school. I get paid peanuts. For writers like me and Ed Kurtz, getting a royalty payment can mean the difference between paying our internet bill or not. It can mean the difference between paying our electricity bill, filling up the tank, and putting groceries in the fridge or having to pick which one of those we really care about. When publishers fail to pay their writers, we have a serious problem.

Unfortunately, not paying royalties on time was just the start. After Ed spoke openly about not getting paid, being ignored, and getting bullied, many other writers came forward with horror stories of their own. These are also writers I know and have read. We’re talking about known names like Chesya Burke, who had to deal with some racist bullshit; Livia Llewellyn, who had a horrible experience with the kind of sexual bullshit that makes you want to bathe in hand sanitizer; and even publicist Beverly Bambury, who worked for them for free for a year. These women, who are only three of many, have no reason to lie. I believe them. I think what they went through is horrible. I think ChiZine should apologize and close its doors.

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.

Ed Kurtz got the ball rolling and the women I mentioned above echoed his experiences, but it didn’t stop there. Social media has been on fire for the last 48 hours with more testimonials that put ChiZine in an even worse light. To make it all even worse, they made a post about how Ed was more or less wrong, but they failed to address all the issues that had nothing to do with money. Ignoring the claims for explanations was a mistake that turned out to be even worse than skipping a couple of payments. The small press world is small, and we stick together. Now even big names like Jeff VanderMeer are entering the conversation and joining their voices to the clamor against ChiZine.

I know this looks ugly from the outside and a lot of people have been hurt, but in a way I think this is a good thing. It’s the equivalent of women coming forward to denounce assholes like Harvey Weinstein. We need more of this to ensure the literary world stays healthy. We need to decry unscrupulous publishers until there are none left. We need to work together to build a scene in which writers get paid for what they do regularly and in a timely manner.

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.

Having this conversation saddens me. Reading the plethora of stories that are popping up about people—friends—who have been mistreated and bullied angers me. However, I see High Fever Books, Ginger Nuts of Horror, and many fellow reviewers saying they won’t review ChiZine books and it warms my heart. I see writers pulling their stories from ChiZine’s upcoming anthology in solidarity with those who’ve been hurt and I am once again proud to be part of this tribe.

The toughest thing is not shutting ChiZine down. The toughest thing is moving forward. I hope Ed gets his rights back. I hope people like Chesya, Livia, and Beverly never again have to deal with bullshit like they had to deal with in the past. Lastly, I hope those who are currently not getting paid or are getting ignored or bullied by their publishers step forward and tell the world about it. We are here for you. I am here for you. Publishing is writers, editors, cover artists, booksellers, readers, reviewers, etc. Publishing is all of us, and if one of us is getting fucked, we’re all getting fucked. Now go write down the names of ChiZine writers and make sure you support them in all future endeavors. I love books more than anything and being a writer is the best thing that even happened to me. I want every writer to feel the same way. I also want everyone who makes writers and readers feel the opposite to pay the price.

Long live books.

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About The Author
Gi Bio
Staff Writer
Gabino lives in Austin, Texas, where he reads an inordinate amount of books and pens down reviews only for the big bucks he makes doing so. When he was about 12, his mother would tell him that reading all the H.P. Lovecraft and Poe would not lead to anything good. Being on the staff page at Horror DNA is the confirmation of that.
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