A Small Piece of Asexual History: The Heart of Aces, Unfortunately

Do you remember The Heart of Aces? It’s an anthology of asexual romance stories. Those stories may be very good, or not, I have no idea. See, I never bought a copy of The Heart of Aces, even though I probably could have afforded it then. (Actually I think I was pretty broke then, but I would have done without some ramen for it; it was only a few dollars, and I’m very passionate about getting more books about asexuality and with asexual characters).

The reason I didn’t buy it was a kerfluffle over the cover, and the way the publishing company handled it. The cover had two very pale, thin, attractive white women on the cover, in lingerie and nighties, staring ahead with dead-eyes. The cover’s stock photo had been used on a variety of porn and erotica sites. See, when you self-publish or have a book published by a small company, the amount of money that can be spent on cover design is usually quite low (there are exceptions; some people want to “do it right” and will invest quite a bit in a good cover). One way to keep costs low is to go with a stock photo; a photo that is available for free use or for a small cost.

It is a problem with small publishing, that the stock photos will often be used many times, and that your steamy romance will have the same bodice-ripped heroine as 40 other steamy romances.

In this case, the main use of the stock photo (as erotic content) is a good indicator that it’s sexualized (if the image itself didn’t make that quite clear. Nextstepcake detailed some of the instances of the stock photo’s use here.

Some asexuals offered criticism of the cover over the sexualized nature of the photo, and for the lack of diversity. The models were the stereotypical face of beauty everywhere. They were white, they were thin, not visibly disabled, wearing traditional modern markers of femininity such as make-up and lingerie.

Some asexuals were not pleased to have one of the first anthologies for asexuals, and one of the first books of asexual fiction period, graced with a cover that depicted sexualized white women.

The person who represented the anthology on tumblr was Christy Leigh Stewart. Her role in the publishing was unclear/muddied; she stated that her postings were simply to help a friend who was behind the company that published the anthology; yet she claimed to know intimate details of the effort such as the amount of money that the effort was costing, as well as knowledge of the publishing contracts).

While her exact role was unclear, she was the one who answered the criticism of the cover, and did so by lashing out at the asexuals who had offered criticism, outright insulting those aces, such as calling them “pathetic”.

She’s on the record with such gems as:

“And, seriously, to all you bitching…make your own book!  God, you good for nothing social justice types are such a fucking pain in the ass when someone tries to do something good.”

It was all the more disturbing because critique and advice from asexuals for the anthology’s title had been received very well by the representative on AVEN. The point of this blog post though, is not to slam the rather unprofessional behavior of one person involved in The Heart of Aces effort. Rather, it is to chronicle a small piece of Asexual History, while the matter still exists fairly intact in my memory, and before the relevant blog posts all disappear. (Some of the commentators have already since deleted their tumblrs, erasing their contribution to this event for all time.)

It also serves to remind me of how good the asexual community can be. Yes, there is infighting, and some ace issues get prioritized and focused on over others. But every group has that issue to some extent.

And I think The Heart of Aces debacle showed our good side, how strong we can be. We were not content to let a cover go out there that potentially sexualized women and asexuals. We were not content to just accept two thin attractive white women as the face of asexuality, as it has been the face of so many genres and stories. We remained civil (as far as I can see) and we did not remain passive and content to allow an outsider to twist the face of asexuality into something that we did not want, something that poorly represented us.

So when I read back through posts on The Heart of Aces I was really inspired, and reminded of how much this community has helped me, and how much love I feel for it. (Platonic love, I swear :P)

Other details about The Heart of Aces:

The call for submissions was in April 2012, and it was published in July 2012. The payment offered was rather low, a flat payment of $30.

. For some comparison, the pro-rates the SWFA lists are 5 cents a word. According to Duotrope’s classificions, unless the stories in The Heart of Aces had a very, very low wordcount, it doesn’t even amount to semi-pro classification. It is, in other words, what people in the business call a “token payment”.

Did you take part in any of the controversies around The Heart of Aces? Did you witness them? If you have any thoughts or reflections on the issue, please feel free to share them!

14 thoughts on “A Small Piece of Asexual History: The Heart of Aces, Unfortunately

  1. I’d heard of the anthology and seen the cover before, but I never knew there was all this discussion about it at the time! Wasn’t impressed to begin with, but wow, the way the folks on the publishing end responded to all this actually makes it worse. Thanks for sharing these links; I wouldn’t have known about any of this otherwise.

    • No problem. I was kind of hesitant to write about this since I assumed most people were familiar with the details, so I’m glad to hear I’m not being totally redundant ;P I guess it was all over in a few days, so it was easy to miss.

      I’m glad it was useful to you.

  2. I remember Swankivy wrote a rather scathing post about the extremely unprofessional editing job on the finished book, although now I’m having trouble finding it (because tumblr). I read bits of it over my then-partner’s shoulder and…yeah, it was not the best editing job.

      • There were actual problems with the copy-editing, namely that, as far as anyone could tell, it didn’t exist. So the authors who could also self-edit have much cleaner looking stories than those who couldn’t.

        • That’s really sad. I’m all for author’s cleaning up their work as much as possible on their own, but not everyone has the skills to do so, or can be expected to catch every typo and mistake. Writers are usually advised to leave pieces alone and unseen for a long period of time so they can view it with fresh eyes and clean it up, and the authors would barely have had time to do any such thing given that there was only 3 months between the original call for submissions and the publication date.

          Any reputable publisher/press should be providing basic copyediting services to its writer, if only for its own sake. It’s shameful to be putting out unedited work full of typos and easily correctable mistakes, and it’s the kind of thing that gives e-publishing and self/small-press publishing a bad name. I wonder if the authors realized their work wouldn’t be being edited?

    • I actually didn’t read the finished book, but what I did provide editing on was the publisher’s previous book (which was a book of romance stories about people with disabilities; great idea, with not so great execution). I looked into it very critically because when I heard about it I’d considered submitting, and then backed way off because of what I found. I’d read the available “look inside” excerpts and found tons and tons and tons of mistakes–even in the paragraph that was about the book on Amazon, on its description page. I did this on LiveJournal, not Tumblr, so that’s probably why no one could find it. :)

      Here it is: “Thoughts On That Asexuality Anthology”:

      • That was an excellent take on the editing issues, thank you for linking to that. I don’t understand why so many self-pubbers don’t invest in hiring a professional editor–there are free-lance ones out there that are affordable and well-vetted.

  3. Pingback: Linkspam: August 22nd, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

  4. Something about this image as a book cover being a problem that people in the ace community were objecting to sounds vaguely familiar, but yeah I missed most of what happened so thanks for explaining everything that went down. :D I also agree, books being “published” with no editing is really… really unfortunate.

    • It’s fortunate you missed it because it was rather upsetting to see happen at the time…the person’s lashing out at the critiques came as a total shock to me.

      Without editing, and with a cover provided that very few people liked, I’m not sure what the publishers thought they were offering to the writers as benefits over self-publishing on their own… because there wasn’t a whole lot provided in the way of marketing the book, either. And you would only have to sell maybe 20 copies of your individual short story to exceed the flat payment offered.

  5. Just found your blog. :) I’ve been thinking of buying this anthology, since it is one of the few books out there right now with ace characters, but the cover definitely bothered me, and I’d heard about the lack of editing too–and after reading your post (I hadn’t heard about the cover kerfuffle before), I’m having second thoughts… Now I have to decide if reading a book featuring ace characters is worth supporting these people. The Kindle edition is less than $3, though…

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