Spotlight on a Dark Corner in Canadian Publishing

Tonight, I’m hearing numerous horror stories from other members of the publishing industry about abuse and toxicity at Canadian horror publisher ChiZine. This is sad and awful news. My heart goes out to all the writers, editors, publicists, and others who have endured emotional abuse, harassment, or gaslighting from the publisher or anyone affiliated with it, or who have been denied payment for work they have done or royalties earned. This behaviour is disgraceful and unacceptable.

These stories are all new to me, although I understand that some people have quietly shared their stories with others. While ChiZine is a small publisher, it has a relatively large presence in the speculative fiction community in Canada, and considering how small the publishing industry is, no one wants to get a reputation for being difficult or incompetent. Nonetheless, the sorts of tactics I’m hearing about from various sources indicate that this publisher was willing to use abuse and threats to cow their authors and employees into submission. I believe the victims.

I admit that I fall into the category of people who just didn’t see it happening. My personal interactions with Sandra and Brett were relatively minor but overwhelmingly positive. The only really negative thing I’d heard before now was from a fellow author who had been friends with Sandra until he submitted a novel and ChiZine never contacted him to say the manuscript had been accepted or rejected, and they never responded to his emails asking for confirmation, even after a year. I thought that was highly unprofessional, but publishing is a labour-intensive business, and small publishers tend to have big workloads and shoestring budgets. Perhaps they were overwhelmed with work … or maybe they were just being dicks. (Hey, even the nicest person can be a shithead sometimes.) However, it was in the past, and as disappointed as the author was, he had more or less accepted the situation.

Looking back now, it seems that author may have been lucky compared to others who have been jerked around.

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This is but one of many examples I have seen on Twitter and Facebook just in the last few hours. Every time I follow a thread or a link, there are more stories.

There is no excuse for this sort of behaviour, and it’s clear from the sheer volume of complaints that this was a deeply entrenched and disturbing pattern.

I’m not sure what can be done for the victims at this time, but if nothing else, I hope that they find some relief in knowing that they are not alone.  I doubt ChiZine or its founders can recover from this sort of reputational damage, so I expect the explosion of stories will limit any further harm that they can do. And other cruel and abusive members of the industry should take heed — shape the fuck up or get torn the fuck down.

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