[Edit on Dec. 23: The rights have just reverted to me.]
More than a month ago, I asked for (but have not yet received) reverted rights to my existing and forthcoming publications with ChiZine Publications. This includes the novel Armed in Her Fashion, which was published in 2018. It includes the novel The Humours of Grub Street, which has not yet been published and was scheduled to come out in May 2020.
I haven’t said much about it, because I was waiting for the rights reversion to go through first so that I could speak with some certainty about what it meant for my books. But ChiZine has not yet signed off on the rights reversion, so here is an interim report.
I have also withdrawn my reprint story “Hairbrush, Socks, Pencils, Orange”, which was to be included in the ChiZine anthology War on Christmas (my understanding is that anthology has been cancelled in any event, although there has been no communication about it from the editors).
For clarity, all my other work is with other publishers, and is unaffected.
In early November, a number of posts and social media discussions exposed many disturbing practices at ChiZine Publications. I don’t have the heart to link or enumerate them all here, but they’re easy enough to find. There’s a useful roundup at the Writer Beware blog, and a statement from SFWA. Many writers, it seems, have not been paid on time or at all, and many people report being bullied or otherwise mistreated. Although all the accounts are disturbing, the account that personally devastated me was that of S.M. Beiko, because she was my editor. Armed in Her Fashion must have been one of the last books she worked on for ChiZine, and I had no idea that the experience of working for ChiZine was so difficult for her. I could not stomach the thought of another book of mine being published by ChiZine, since I couldn’t have any faith they would not mistreat whoever worked on it.
Brett and Sandra have now stepped away from their publishing duties and the press has a new interim publisher; I hope that means that everyone will get the money to which they’re entitled, but this does not change my desire to end my relationship with ChiZine.
To be clear, I did not count myself among the victims of their behaviour. Right up until November, what I would tell people about ChiZine was that it was a creative, independent press that published gorgeous and unusual books, run by good people who could sometimes be a bit slow and overburdened, in the way of small presses. Most of that was true; I thought all of it was.
I can recall hearing about one writer having had a hard time getting money out of ChiZine, but I figured many publishers have the occasional paperwork lapse or dispute and didn’t realize it was a pattern, especially given the sheer number of writers of my acquaintance who were apparently happily published by them. They paid me my contracted advances, they paid me for appearing at their reading series, they organized and hosted the launch for my book, and they reimbursed me (without me pushing) for the bookmarks I had printed. My first novel was published with them in 2018, so I hadn’t had very long to assess their practices firsthand. Although there were a few attempts at non-standard practices and delays, I had every reason to think they had good and professional intentions, and that if they slipped on something or were a bit informal or unusual, it’s because they were effectively a two-person operation. Besides, my agent was always there to push back on anything amiss, so I didn’t have any worries for myself. Now, with hindsight and the benefit of other people’s stories to show the pattern, I can recognize some signs that I might well have become one of the unhappy stories, a few years down the road.
On a personal level, Sandra and Brett were very kind to me, even putting me up once overnight in their house when I was in their city for a reading. They encouraged me, showed me nothing but affection, and I was starting to count them as friends. I knew (and liked) one person in another city who had worked for them and I had a sense they were no longer on friendly terms, but I never heard Sandra and Brett mention this person, never thought this was anything more than an unfortunate interpersonal interaction or employment issue that wasn’t any of my business. Now I know it was one of many terrible stories.
I believe the accounts of the people who were mistreated and I am sickened and saddened by them. People can be kind to some and not to others. They can be honorable in some ways, and not in others. ChiZine was not only my own publisher but the publisher of some of my favourite books by other writers. When Armed in Her Fashion won the Aurora Award for Best Novel in October, I was so pleased that Sandra and Brett were at the ceremony to share in that moment. I thanked them with my whole heart for giving my weird, feminist debut novel a chance to find its readers, for believing in it and in me. I still thank them for that. It’s a beautiful book, a credit to everyone who worked on it, and I’m proud of it. But I cannot continue to work with this press. I know Brett and Sandra must be suffering now, and I take no joy in knowing that, but actions have consequences. Their behaviour has hurt many people and has left Canadian speculative fiction with a giant crater where a quirky, imaginative, noble, courageous independent press ought to be.
As for me and where I go from here: The Humours of Grub Street was scheduled to be published by ChiZine in May 2020. I have asked for the rights back, and in any event it seems very unlikely ChiZine would publish the book in their current situation. So it is a safe assumption a spring publication will not happen, and I don’t know yet if or when the book will appear. If you have pre-ordered it, you should get a refund at some point from the retailer. Please let me know directly if you don’t.
Armed in Her Fashion is already becoming difficult to find for sale. It may continue to be available through some retailers for the next few months, at which point (if not before) it will go out of print. I hope to bring it back into the world in some way before too long. I have an agent who will be fighting to get the royalties I’m owed, and as far as my own interests go, I would be happy to have people continue to buy the book over the next few months from the retailers who’ve stocked it. That said, I absolutely understand anyone who chooses not to do business with ChiZine on principle, even indirectly. I have a few copies of Armed in Her Fashion myself, and if you’d like to buy it from me, please feel free to get in touch. [EDIT: As of Dec. 23, I’m out of my own stock of paperbacks, but I may get offered some of the remaining stock, so if I get more in, I’ll post about it. In the meantime feel free to get in touch and I can add your name to the waiting list.]
My other projects are completely unaffected, including my two published novellas from Tor.com Publishing: Alice Payne Arrives and Alice Payne Rides, and my interactive novels The Road to Canterbury and The Magician’s Workshop, published by Choice of Games. I’m working on a contracted novel for Harper Voyager UK, called The Embroidered Book; that novel will be published in 2021, and is also unaffected by any of this.
I’d like to thank everyone for being so kind to me in the aftermath of these revelations about my publisher, and I hope to have some certainty soon on the future of Armed in Her Fashion and The Humours of Grub Street. I send love to my fellow ChiZine authors and especially to the people who have been hurt.