Girls Just Wanna Have Lawsuits

It seems to me that if you set out to write book reviews in exchange for payment from the authors, you need to develop a thick skin about the whole enterprise.

But then, I'm a notoriously insensitive clod. Perhaps there are nuances to this that I don't recognize.

ChickLitGirls is a site that bills itself as promoting "goodreads" for women. In fact, they explain right on their front page that they won't provide anything else:

The reviews that we post here are honest and fair. We will not and do not post negative reviews. Our intent is to help-not harm. If we read a book that is less than good, we will not post the review. We are here to help authors, not destroy them!

I've recently discovered that the ethos of only saying nice stuff about books is a thing now in some online circles, and that saying other than nice things about books can lead to perplexing online drama. But that's a post for another day. Today, we're exploring what ChickLitGirls mean when they say that they are here to help authors, not destroy them. Apparently, "not destroy" does not mean "not send deranged, frivolous, barely literate legal threats."

See, author and blogger Michele Gorman wrote ChickLitGirls asking if they would be interested in reviewing her new book, and got an email in response naming a price:

Currently, we have so many requests for book reviews and promotion help, that we do have about a 3-4 week wait list. Because we have such a large amount of book review requests, we have had to start charging for them . So now we are now charging a fee of $95.00 per review and subsequent postings. That includes a nice review with the short synopsis that comes with your book, a picture of the book with a link to purchase it from Amazon.

Ms. Gorman didn't think much about this, and tweeted about it, expressing her disapproval. In doing so, she made one mistake of fact that she has since withdrawn and corrected — she said that ChickLitsGirls does not disclose that it gets paid by authors to review books. In fact, ChickLitGirls does disclose that they get paid for content, though blogger Jane Litte makes a plausible argument that the disclosure is not sufficient in context. But the thrust of Michele's criticism was about charging for reviews in general.

ChickLitGirls was having none of this. They sent Ms. Gorman an email titled “Concerning your recent harassment and threat.” Here's a tip: if someone describes being written about or criticized as "harassment" or a "threat," they are not a person to be taken seriously or respected.

Have you ever heard of kirkus, they charge $425.00 -$575.00 per review. There are a lot of companies that charge for reviews. Educate yourself before harrassing [sic] us next time. We have the ability to track IP addresses, so I would think twice before you begin to defame our name…That is illegal, and we will take action. Our attorney has been notified!
And before you go accusing us of anything, open your eyes, our disclosure link is right there on our home page.

Such wordsmiths. You can totally see why you'd want to pay them to review your book.

Ms. Gorman forthrightly stated that she was wrong and that ChickLitGirls does disclose that they get paid to blog, and also redacted references to their name from her initial post (though I think it's clear she was under no obligation to do so — I won't speculate why she did it). However, as Ms. Litte reports, a commenter identified herself as a ChickLitGirl writer, rendering the redaction irrelevant:

Hi everyone, I am Paula from the Chick Lit Girls website.
We are very upset about this recent attack on us. We love the writing community and would never try to harm or be unethical.
The reviews that we post here are honest and fair. We will not and do not post negative reviews. Our intent is to help-not harm. If we read a book that is less than good, we will not post the review. We are here to help authors, not destroy them!
Yes, we do charge a fee, as do other sites. Such as Kirkus,
All of the authors we have reviewed for knew full wellthat [sic] there was no guarentees [sic] of a good review. We work hard to determine ahead of time, if the author's book will get a good review from us before we agree to do it. We have returned money more than a few times when the book has not met up to a good review. Kirkus does not return the money when the review turns out to be bad, they just "bury the review". Only about 1 out of 15 or more requests for reviews make it through to get an actual review from us. We do a lot of research on the author and their previous reviews and ratings before committing to do it ourselves. We have had so many authors request promotion help, and reviews, that a couple of us quit our regular jobs, to do this fulltime [sic]. Websites cost a lot of money to run and the time involved in sorting through all the requests, reading the books, maintaining the website,and writing the reviews, is more than a full time job and we have to eat too. We state to the authors more than once and in follow up letters, that their are no guarentees [sic], and some have sadly recieved [sic] their money back, but we keep it to ourselves. We have on many many occasion done reviews for free, if we feel the author is good and deserves a chance(but they can't afford to pay) We are here to help-not harm. We are very sincere and nice people and and have done nothing to deserve this. We are very saddened by this recent onslaught and attack on us. Please stop. This is not good for the writing community.

You can see several notable things in this comment. The first is a total lack of apology for a bumptious legal threat. The second is a swollen sense of entitlement. The third is that ethos I mentioned earlier — the notion that the online book reviewing community (or at least this slice of it) should be all happy-happy-joy-joy without negativity, a sentiment I find to be vapid and unworthy of people who actually care about books and the ideas in them.

I have an opinion about book review blogs that charge authors to review their books. I don't trust them. I have an opinion about book review blogs that say they only print positive reviews. I don't trust them either, and I particularly don't trust them when they are the same sites that charge for reviews. I have an opinion about book review blogs with writing that I hate:

I knew right from the very first chapter that I was going to enjoy this book. The author, [author], starts the story out with a bang, showing her excellent writing skills right away. Yes I said excellent! In the first chapter she cleverly introduces the main character, Ellie, by telling us her thoughts, emotions and her views of the world around her, giving us, the readers, a good idea of who our protagonist is and what her life is like.

But these opinions are relatively mild. My far stronger opinion is about people who issue thuggish legal threats to those who criticize them. They can't be trusted, should not receive your business or traffic, and deserve no respect. Ms. Gorman made a mistake — sort of, given ChickLitGirls' rather vague dislosure — which she corrected. But it's clear from the title, text, and follow-up to the ChickLitGirls' threat that what they are really attempting to do is chill and deter criticism of their business model. That's why they describe criticism as "harassment" and "threats." That's contemptible. Moreover, it's legally unsupportable. If they are foolish enough to push it, they will lose, badly.

Nonetheless, as is my practice, I have contacted Ms. Gorman and offered to call for pro bono legal assistance for her if she needs it. I'll follow up with a Popehat Signal if necessary. Meanwhile, Ms. Gorman has followed up with a post about paid reviews in general, and Ms. Litte's post on the subject is worth a read.

Edited to add: If any of our readers are lawyers in the United Kingdom, and might be willing to give Ms. Gorman a bit of pro bono advice, please drop me a line.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    I'd expect supposed paid literature nerds to have better grammar. I wonder if they even read the books.

    As a beauty blogger, I receive "press samples" in exchange for my reviews. It's common for beauty bloggers (those who want to be taken seriously, anyway) to have a disclaimer stating when they've received free product and promising to given an honest review. Of course, there are bloggers who give dubiously positive reviews of $120 lipsticks, disclaimer and all.

  2. says

    Ugh, paid reviews. I run an entertainment site, we review movies and music and sometimes books. We've never received a single dime to review anything, and I doubt we ever will. I think "vapid" really is the right word to describe paid reviews. You can't trust them. Real reviews are driven by a need to comment (good or bad) on the material. A real review comes from careful analysis not a payday.

  3. says

    And they offered me some advice too: "You are young and need to learn a lot about life still, especially when it comes to business practices. What you are doing is causing others (especially the people that matter) to see you as a trouble maker, and then they won't want to work with you."

    So very tired you must be…

  4. Matthew Walker says

    You're on target about the legal stuff, but the happy-happy-joy bit and the rest of the female culture stuff is beyond your expertise. It's like criticising the way a herd of reindeer organizes itself: You're not a reindeer, it doesn't affect you, you weren't invited. It works for reindeer. It wouldn't work for you, yeah, that's trivial. But making reindeer live like eagles would make them miserable and accomplish nothing. They like being reindeer, and they know more about being reindeer than you do. From the outside, your customs might look funny too.

    Again, if reindeer make bumptious legal threats, I don't deny that it's very much your area of expertise. That's where their fist collides with somebody's face so to speak. Or antlers. Whatever.

  5. says


    The whole concept of "only nice reviews" is flawed. Not that I'm a huge fan of scathing reviews, but sometimes critique has it's own merits, especially if the artist/author is willing to accept it.

  6. Chris R. says

    If I pay $95.00 for a review, I better get something more than generalities and fluff. Not one piece of her intro actually even told me the reviewer did anything but skim the book quickly.

  7. says

    I get books to review. All the time. Some I want to read, and some sent blind with a request. There isn't enough time to read them all, and some hold no interest for me at all. No author has ever offered to pay me, and I've never asked to be paid (except when my reviews are published in a media outlet, like the WSJ, in which case I damn well expect to be paid).

    I used to review every book I read. I no longer do. Some I don't care for, but can't say are wrong, dangerous or idiotic. Just not my cup of tea. After one such negative review, I received a hate email from the author, who informed me how he put his soul into his book and I cavalierly trashed him.

    He was right. I had nothing against him, and my review (which wasn't terribly negative, but certainly not positive) needless diminished his efforts. While it wasn't meant personally, it was obvious why he took it that way. I felt very badly about it.

    So I no longer publish negative book reviews unless a book is seriously wrong, dangerous or idiotic. Bad isn't enough to trash some author's sincere effort, just because I didn't care for it.

  8. says

    Scott, I have no problem with your approach, because you do not present yourself primarily as a book reviewer, and do not promote your blog as a book review site.

    If you did . . . well, then I would have a problem with it.

  9. Phe0n1x says

    Oh HO! We've got some badasses over here. They track IP addresses which have been ruled to not identify a person as well as not locate you within a US State border.

  10. says

    The most you can really do with an IP address is block someone from accessing your site, and even that isn't foolproof. Using "we know your IP" as a threat is juvenile and ignorant at best.

  11. says

    @Matthew Walker: I hate the whole female-on-female pampering culture, particularly at times like this when it comes across as sarcastic and/or ineffectual. I wouldn't feel much better knowing that my book wasn't good enough for them to review than I would if they let me have it outright.

    Then again, this is the Internet, where everyone has an opinion, a novel, and an asshole. Or something like that.

  12. Laura K says

    While I realize that this observation has no bearing on the legal issues…come on. Chicklit? Positive reviews only? "Nice people?" This is a service where authors pay a sum of money to be treated with the methods that the backstabbing sweet-smiling division of popular girls in High School perfected.

  13. says

    Offering only positive reviews is no favor to readers or to the authors. For readers, it limits their exposure to works that don't happen to be to a reviewer's particular taste. Authors don't get valuable feedback that would allow them to improve their work and target their intended audience more appropriately. In extreme cases, crappy authors don't get the feedback they need to know when to quit. I wish I'd gotten more negative reviews; it would have saved me a lot of heartache.

    Vanity press…

    (And I was editor of an online mag that did reviews. The only "payment" we would accept was the book/product to be reviewed, with no guarantee of a favorable review. I recall the uproar when one of my writers did a negative review on an encryption app; sheesh.)

  14. Ayse says


    I am female. You, judging solely by your chosen posting name, are not. How can I put this politely? Your suggestion that this whole happy-happy-joy-joy is "female culture stuff" is just plain ignorant. Being relentlessly positive and kind of stupid is not "female culture." Women are also smart, thoughtful people who sometimes think or write negative things. Not all women are incapable of tolerating dissent or uncomfortable thoughts. Not all women think criticism is bullying. To suggest otherwise, to flat out say that being a nitwit is part of female culture and that women cannot be judged by the same standards of intelligence as men is outstandingly sexist.

  15. says

    It's one thing to carve out a little happy sparkly magic kingdom where nobody says nasty things. It's quite another to expect the rest of the world to operate by those rules, on pain of lawyer.

    Feh. I feel queasy after browsing that site for a while.

  16. says

    @Laura K: "This is a service where authors pay a sum of money to be treated with the methods that the backstabbing sweet-smiling division of popular girls in High School perfected."

    That hit the nail on the head just perfectly.

  17. says

    Based on a cursory glance at their site and "content", couldn't it be accomplished a lot easier with just a list of "good" books, since all of the "glowing reviews" are pretty redundant?

  18. corporal lint says

    I've worked on a couple of literary magazines that would not include negative book reviews of small press books. The idea was that readers would probably never hear of these books if they weren't in our review section, so printing a negative review of one was essentially pointless — "This thing you have never heard of and will never see any other reference to is not good." If we didn't like it we wouldn't do the review, which would have the same effect as a bad review but without the public embarrassment for the author (and lost opportunity to use the space on something we actually liked).

    If you try to review everything or if you review major book releases or every Star Trek novel or something like that then you have to do bad reviews as well as good ones. But if you only review what you want to review then there is no such requirement.

    If you do only positive paid reviews then you're a disreputable hack.

  19. says

    Blocking IP is especially useless because of how easy it is to hide it. I also don't agree that this kind of vapidness is part of female culture. It is part of the vacuous niche they have carved out for themselves. It is extreme retaliation against the flame war mentality prevelent on the internet. It makes the writer of the reviews look like they aren't capable of rational thought.

  20. JLA Girl says

    This is why I prefer Chicks with Crossbows ( or Book Chick City ( for reviews. Chicks with Crossbows actually has an entertaining post on this very issue.

    *shrugs* I don't care about the gender of a book reviewer. If they review what I like to read, I just want to see an honest review. If a book is bad, I don't want to read it. Damning it with faint, vague praise helps no one.

  21. Kat says

    @Matthew Walker: I'm a little confused by what you mean about "the happy-happy-joy bit and the rest of the female culture stuff is beyond your expertise." It's possible you're right, I'm just not sure that I'm understanding what you're getting at.

    RE: "Nice girl behavior." Maybe I'm just hanging out in the wrong circles, but most of the women I hang out with (me included) find rules about only being positive creepy and demeaning. A large part of why is because "just being nice" tends to spawn behavior like this–strange threats paired with contradictory statements like "I'm a nice girl! I'm saddened by the mean people who are suddenly attacking us for no reason! Watch as I faint from the strain of expressing the slightest negative thought! (But, we'll sue you if you don't shut up.)"

    Like Laura K says above, it really smacks of high school. And lack of strength of character. It takes guts to say something negative, particularly when you don't want to hurt anyone. It's an essential life skill. You can still be nice while saying something negative, even though it's harder.

    I'm not saying people should walk around ripping people a new one at every turn, but neither should we be walking on eggshells.

  22. says

    @Ayse: In Matthew's defense, from my interpretation of his comment:

    You're on target about the legal stuff, but the happy-happy-joy bit and the rest of the female culture stuff is beyond your expertise.

    It sounds to me like he's mentioning the "happy-happy-joy" and the "female culture stuff" as two separate items, hence the "and the" modifier. I don't think he was being intentionally sexist, but I do see how it could be construed that way.

    I believe, more than anything, he was critiquing Ken's understanding of that particular sub-culture of the female culture. I don't think he was calling all women everywhere "relentlessly positive".

    Matthew, correct me if I'm wrong. I suppose it's always possible that you really are just a sexist douche :P

  23. Tansey says

    Wow, as an avid book reader I did not know that there's websites out there who are paid to write only positive reviews. Thank you for this post, now I know that on top of researching a book to see if I want to read it, I also have to research the reviews to make sure they're legit. Why would I invest my time reading a book who only received positive reviews because said reviews were paid for? I guess I'll be sticking solely with the Goodreads app for reviews, as they're all submitted by regular readers.

  24. says

    @John Ammon: There's definitely an excessively pampering yet two-faced female-on-female culture. While it's not universal, it's more widespread than you might expect. I don't know how to quantify it exactly, but I'd say I have two or three bullshit-free female friends and a couple dozen bullshit-inclusive female friends and excessively huggy acquaintances. That's not even getting into family dynamics or female lovers.

    I have many more male friends for whatever reason.

  25. says

    @M. Oh believe me, I've had enough former female co-workers to understand the dynamic. :P I'm with Laura K on this, it's definitely a natural extension of high school into the real world. Except now, no one buys into their "nice" BS.

  26. nlp says

    In the "Writers" section this sentence appears at the top: Note: Chick Lit Girls are currently in the process of updating our site and policy.

    It's possible that other people didn't understand all the bit about advertising and compensation. I don't think much of their disclosure policy as it currently stands. No wonder Ms Gorman failed to enclose payment.

    Yes, the whole "we must never say anything to hurt someone's feeling" attitude is gooey thinking at best. But it's the same sort of thinking that pervades political correctness and a host of other areas. We aren't allowed to be honest, because someone might be offended. We can't even be gentle or tactful in our honesty, but rather, we can't be honest at all.

    If people can't be honest, how can other people learn to improve? And how will authors who are reviewed by Chicklits ever realize that they need to improve if they want to be taken seriously as writers?

  27. Allen says

    That's an interesting busines plan, marketing books masked as reviews. Some crtochety oldtimers, like myself, night call that fraud, but that's just me I guess.

  28. says

    @Allen, It's not just you, I'm 28 and I find myself falling into the "crotchety oldtimer" category more and more… Although, I suppose given enough time, it's an eventuality anyway :P

  29. Kinsey says

    I hate the whole female-on-female pampering culture…

    Word. I'm not sure if the "book reviews mustn't hurt the author's tender feelings" meme is prevalent across all genres, but it's infected the hell out of the romance community (disclosure: I'm a romance author) and I hates it. Nor do I like reviewers who claim to want to help authors–that's a marketing person's mission, not a reviewer's. A reviewer, whether paid or not, should be concerned with the reader.

    Any author who pays for a review is a chump. And any author who pays for what they know will be a positive review is too chickenshit to be a professional writer. If you don't have the balls to put your book out there and accept whatever reaction it elicits with at least public equanimity (getting drunk and raving about a reviewer's intellectual disabilities is something you do behind closed doors), then save your drivel for your friends and family.

    Same goes for blogging. No one owes you validation or approval or civility and there IS. NO. FUCKING. TORT. for "you hurt my feelings." Men threaten suit for a lot of dumbass reasons but the "you hurt my feelings" suit seems to be a female thing and it's pathetic.

  30. Jack B. says

    Personally, I think the "positive reviews only" policy rubs me the wrong way more that the expectation of payment for reviews.

    While Scott Greenfield and corporal lint gave valid reasons for not doing negative reviews, for someone who reads reviews, a negative review can help — for lack of a better word — "calibrate" a reader's sense of what makes something good… or bad.

    For example, Roger Ebert gave The Raid Redemption a horrible one-star review, and his review was pretty much on the mark. On the other hand, there's a lot of hype about it being the Greatest Action Movie Ever Made. Yeah, Ebert is right when he says it's basically a video game for people too lazy to hold the controller, but it does have some awesome martial arts sequences. After reading Ebert's review, I expected 100 minutes of brainless action, and that's what I got. (I do feel that Roger Ebert could have tacked on an extra star or so. After all, the movie did an excellent — yes, I said Excellent! — job by introducing the main character, Rama, in the first act and telling us his thoughts, emotions and his views of the world around him, giving us, the viewers, a good idea of who our protagonist is and what his life is like.) Would I recommend the movie to someone? Sure, after giving a caveat that Marmaduke comic strips have a more complex storyline than The Raid: Redemption.

    I know this is already in tl;dr territory, but one more thing… Years ago I left a negative review of the James Woods film, Killer: A Journal of Murder, at the IMdB. A few weeks later I got an email from the director, Tim Metcalfe, thanking me for my honest review and saying that my criticisms were not unfounded. I guess it's a good thing he didn't threaten to sue me, because Popehat wasn't around then…

  31. Mike K says

    I can see a place for sites that only give positive reviews (as long as the readers know that, which should be fairly clear for that site). That would be for someone looking for a book that they'd like, assuming they liked similar things to the reviewer. Just being on the list would be a start, followed by reading the review to make sure that it's still something the reader would like. The being paid part would only seem to lower the quality, though, in my mind.

  32. says

    You're mighty salty for a romance writer, Kinsey. You sure you didn't just misspell "hardboiled detective fiction"? (Also, no link? Boo!)

  33. says

    Men threaten suit for a lot of dumbass reasons but the "you hurt my feelings" suit seems to be a female thing and it's pathetic.

    Tell that to Charles Carreon >_<

  34. says

    @Kinsey: I can assure you that legal threats for damaging feelings are not an exclusively female thing – pretty much every bogus suit that claims "emotional distress" falls into this category. I can name several high-profile suits involving both genders claiming emotional distress with no bodily harm component (e.g. the passengers on the recent Jet Blue flight with the crazy pilot). In one bizarre attempt to circumvent this, the plaintiffs claimed that the defamation caused them to get diabetes (see

  35. says

    The cynical part of me thinks that sites only containing positive reviews will have a shelf life not much longer than that of the infamous "only good news" news agency that somebody started many years ago.
    There is so much crap out there, especially in the online world, that I need some indication of what to avoid far more than I need to be told what to embrace. Giving every book a good review denies elementary statistics and logic. It's totally unrealistic.

  36. Lindsay K says

    Everything about that site is absurd and makes me throw up in my mouth.

    And I'm not just saying that because they misspelled the word "fiction" in their header.

    …Well, okay, maybe I am.

  37. says

    no negative reviews… yeah, thats helpful (insert sarcastic tone here)

    they don't want to say bad things about books, but they have no problem giving lit chicks everywhere a bad name. nice…

  38. CourtneyLee says

    I first started reading Popehat during Carreon v. The Oatmeal–linked here by Jane Little at Dear Author. I love that DA and Popehat have intersected once again.

    I'm a romance reader and I learned the hard way to trust very few review sites. The "we have to be nice lest someone's feelings get hurt" mentality of several of them is incredibly off-putting for me precisely because it produces incredibly thin-skinned personalities. My parents had a better idea: instead of the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" lesson lots of my peers were spoonfed in their formative years, my mom had a much more useful phrase: "You can tell a person to go to Hell two ways. One of those ways will make them go willingly." She taught us to call a spade a spade, but not to be a jerk about it. Honesty combined with tact and sensitivity can accomplish a lot.

    As a woman, the existence of the "female-on-female pampering culture" (good term for it, btw) irritates me. I admit that I like to be pampered as much as the next girl, but I've never been a fan of getting sunshine blown up my skirt because people, especially other women who are supposed to know better, think I can't handle the truth.

  39. says

    ChickLitGirls sounds like "Chicklit Girls" which sounds like a bad and poorly timed seventies prostitution exploitation film where everyone dies at the end in a martial-arts explosion.

    I'm surprised that the gum people haven't called with a C&D.

  40. jag says

    "Chick-Lits are similar to “Chick Flicks” in that they appeal to women and are some what “girly,” with girly antics and happenings, like spa trips, lattes, frienships[sic], love, etc!”"

    I'm fairly convinced the site is run by a 45 year old guy out of his basement.

    I'll take the chicks with the xbows.

  41. Kinsey says

    Weasel: I write werewolf smut (and steampunk). Werewolves curse a lot, you know.

    John and Derrick: Seems that frequently when men try to pull the "I haz a tort for butthurt" routine, they claim reputational harm or defamation or something to the effect of "you made me look stupid and that's not fair." It's still petulant, but not quite as pussified as "you're mean."

    Or maybe it's the same thing. But yeah – emotional distress is frequently just as dumbass as the butthurt complaint. In Texas, at least, an emotional distress (whether negligent or intentional) claim has to jump a really high bar.

  42. princessartemis says

    I don't read romance, but this thread has reminded me of a couple sites I visit now and again: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Or OCD, Vampires, and Rants, Oh My!, who does review books that have been provided to her and has been known to thoroughly pan them when called for.

    It's not quite in the same field as chick-lit, but on behalf of snarky, smart female book reviewers, I felt the need to speak up. It's certainly not my experience that most, or even many, review sites are of this particular saccharine-sweet viper's nest nature.

  43. Jack B. says

    ChickLitGirls sounds like "Chicklit Girls" which sounds like a bad and poorly timed seventies prostitution exploitation film where everyone dies at the end in a martial-arts explosion.

    Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez present: Chicklit Girls! When Susie, the treasurer of the Centerville Ladie's Book Club is murdered, the rest of the girls go undercover as ladies of the night to bring the killer to justice. Justice, of course, means being pummeled to death by having scantily-clad women literally throw books at the killer. Naturally, the heroine's name will be Paige Turner.

  44. says

    @Matthew Walker – You might want to consider narrowing down that "female culture" reference just a little. The subculture you describe certainly does exist, but it's a relatively small, if vocal, one. Speaking as a published reindeer… I have never been interested in having my work evaluated on anything but its intrinsic merits, on a level playing field where my reindeerism is not a factor. If my work ain't up to par, then I will take my lumps plz kthx – from critics of any species in the forest – and go back to the drawing board to improve it. The same is true of all the other reindeer I associate with – a pretty damn big herd, as it happens. It may just be that I choose my company wisely – but it may also be that many of us reindeer actually do have some gumption and some standards, and don't need to cheapen same by limiting them to the context of our reindeerosity. In any case, this kind of shoddy practice doesn't belong in any arena, and reindeerlit is no exception.

    @Chris R – If I paid any money at all for a review (not that I ever would, as both that concept and that of positive-only reviewing are inherently paradoxical at best), I would demand a certain minimal standard of literacy in the result – value for money. The sample given here barely rises to the level of a fourth-grade book report, and dang, if there's money to be made writing those, then I obviously missed out big-time when I was in grade school.

  45. Miranda says

    @jag – Is it fair to assume that, based on the site's own description of its preferred genre, all the books reviewed are terrible?

  46. Susan says

    I will have to say that when Michael Walker used the phrase "female culture" I winched a bit but I think Tsarina of Tsocks added clarity by using the term "subculture".

    Note: I was not paid for this review of the posts of either Michael or Tsarina.

  47. Kelly says

    Kinsey: Oh now see, I really want a link now. Weres and steampunk…awesome! (Your books don't mention parasols a lot do they?)

    That being said, most 'chick lit' makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spork. Paying for reviews tells me you need to go back to the computer and start again. I read The Author Goddess, JR Ward, and a few others… and I tell people how much I love them and then jump in on discussing any weak points or the like- because no matter how awesome you are, no one is perfect. (I've even given the books as gifts). I wouldn't trust a site that only gives paid reviews- whoever said it was an extension of high school had it right.

    Women and men are different- from an anthropological standpoint. The reindeer comparison was spot on. Men don't get how women's minds work and vice versa. For many, many years and still in some cultures today, like the Hadza– men and women do not spend much time together. The internet has taken those separate "spheres", if you will, and thrown them together. It makes for confusing times.

    Also, thanks for the link to the Chicks with crossbows, that seems more my style than the one Ken was talking about. That site made my head hurt.

  48. RogBoy says

    The linked review is fantastic: "Form a crash-or-burn plan". Really? Why would anyone do that? Then again, I suppose it's nice to be offered a choice – usually its just a combination of those events that are offered.

    As we're suffer austerity here in Europe, and I need to cash for more Ed Hardy shirts, I'm offering my own paid for reviews. For an English pound, I will write you a glowing review comparing you to your choice of Hemmingway, Wolf or the bloke who writes those Bourne identity etc. books. For a dollar (US), I will admit your book is a blockbuster must read. For a euro, I'll claim to have read your book. Customers wanting the euro service should book now before the euro ceases to be a measurable unit of money.

  49. says

    @ Kinsey – I like the cut of your jib.

    @ Miranda – Not nessa-celery. I haven't read much of the genre, but what I have suggests that in this as in any other there's a whole spectrum of quality ranging from the unreadable to the engrossing and skilfully-crafted. And why the hell not? There's nothing inherently limiting about the genre itself, to a writer with any chops. If you can really write, and if you're gonna write reindeerlit, then why not write the BEST damn reindeerlit? Louisa May Alcott wrote trash stories for penny dreadfuls to make ends meet. She made no bones about it, and she held no brief for the genre, but she was good at it, and it worked for her. As trash stories go they were pretty deftly done, and very much in her characteristic style. The choice of subject matter or market is not the issue; what makes or breaks any work in any genre is the craftsmanship applied to it.

  50. Greg says

    As other people have mentioned, I have only distaste of exclusively and blithely positive reviews and the idea of paid (by the authors at least) reviews. If magazines want to pay for reviews of authors works, that is one thing, but for the author to pay is dishonest and blatantly disrespectful to any readers of that reviewer. A real journalist accepting direct payment from the creator for a review would be uniformly trashed and thereafter ignored/un-hireable.

    One thing that leaves me scratching my head is how the $95 is viable as an ongoing business with full-time employees. I mean, if you are paying an employee $20/hr including benefits, then you are talking about 4.75 hours of total work. That would include reading the full book, writing a review, any communication with the author in question, any website work to post, etc. Even for a cheap romance novel (which I can only imagine aren't exactly the most complex of stories), that seems like a really low number. Add in to the fact any taxes/fees for business and any fees from money transferring, and you probably end up with something closer to 2.5-3 hours.

    I can understand if it is a hobby or a passion, but as a business with full-time employees as is stated by the woman that posted? Has to be paying employees minimum wage or the reviewers have to be just skimming the book. I just can't accept that they are doing in-depth reviews as a business for the money that they are charging.

  51. Chris R. says

    Tsarina, I thought about your answer and decided to pose a question to chicklitgirls.

    Chris R ‏@dese1ect
    Can @ChickLitGirls help me with a dispute? I say your reviews are written satirically as a 4th grader. He says you write at 4th grade lvl???

    Maybe we will find out!

  52. says

    @Chris R – love how you drew a veil over my tarandous nature. ;-)

    If the writing were actually done by a fourth-grader, that would make the pay scale a little less unfathomable, as per @Greg. If OTOH it's done by someone pretending to be a fourth-grader, then the pay scale is indeed dizzyingly low, because aping bad/illiterate style is surprisingly difficult to do well. No way that $95/review is adequate compensation for that level of skill!

    Pity. Just think, a Satirical-ChickLitGirls web site would be such a great Get Rich Slow scheme….

  53. says

    Hi Ken. I would love to comment on your wonderful blog. My comments will be honest and fair because my only intent is to help, not harm. I believe in helping bloggers, not destroying them!

    That will be 95 bucks please.

  54. Thorne says


    "…because aping bad/illiterate style is surprisingly difficult to do well."

    I respectfully disagree.

    1) Read the opening chapter to Stephenie Meyers' 'Twilight'.

    2) Write just like that. Always.


  55. wgering says

    @Tsarina: I tip my hat to you for your use of the word "tarandous." I like that almost as much as I like "syzygy."

    So they offer "reviews" (which say only positive things) of books for a fee…

    Perhaps they need reminding of what a review is. I think they missed the "critical" part.

    What they're doing seems much more like advertising, considering the solicitation of payment and "we only say good things" policy.

    Now, at the risk of straying from the original post, I would assert that the aversion to criticism is not exclusive to, nor even more prevalent in, female culture or any subculture thereof; as support I offer the "reviewing" practices of the video game industry.

    Specifically, I would point to the "AAA" titles, such as the Gears of War and Halo franchises. As a specific case study, let's look at Gears of War.

    I feel pretty safe saying (without proof) that the Gears franchise was targeted at a male audience ([snark]unless the games themselves count as proof[/snark]); if that is incorrect, my entire argument falls apart. Likewise, I assume that most of the culture/dialogue surrounding Gears of War is male-dominated (again, without proof, but when was the last time you saw a Gears review written by a female writer in Game Informer?).

    Now, Gears 1, 2, and 3 Metacritic'd 94, 93, and 91 (respectively). To which I say, "Are you shitting me?" No, really. I actually said that aloud when I read those scores.

    Let me clarify: I don't think the Gears games were bad (and I don't want this to turn into a debate on that subject). They were merely average. They featured pretty visuals, functional gameplay and weak writing, which is pretty much the standard for games in the shooter genre. Overall, not a bad way to kill a few hours if you don't feel like being productive, but they don't contribute anything to gaming as a medium (kinda like the video game equivalent of the recent Marvel movies).

    So why in the bloody hell do these games, which represent the absolute middle of the bell curve, get 90+/100 average scores? Part of me wants to immediately say, "Studio bribes," but I have no proof, so that must remain speculation on my part.

    I think the "hype factor" may play a part in excessively-positive game reviews, as building anticipation for major releases is standard practice for AAA titles (whether this holds true for books as well, I can't really say; apart from the later Harry Potter installments and the recent Hunger Games, I haven't noticed it, but then I haven't really been looking).

    I think the root of the issue is the "effort = excellence" mentality that has popped up in the last few years. This was especially irritating in high school (diclaimer: I'm only 19, so feel free to use my youth and inexperience in your argumentum ad hominem), when those entitled little fucksticks in AP English Lit who drove their parents' BMW to school would be upset when I viciously attacked them by pointing out their incorrect use of a semicolon, or were outraged after receiving anything other than an A for their incoherent ramblings (you know, the kind who would have their parents complain to the teacher that their kid wasn't perfect). Honestly, I was hoping it wouldn't extend into the real world. Thanks for curing me of my childish naïveté ChickLit!

  56. says

    @Thorne – Man, I am SO in the wrong racket.

    Also – hmmmm, last time I tried posting a link here I got caught in the spam trap, so I'm just going to suggest you Google "monty python how to do it" for what this reminds me of (<–see what I did there? I heart me some dangling preposition).

    Anyway, I flat-out don't have the guts for that first step. "Be afraid, be very afraid," in this case that if I read that stuff I won't ever be able to unread it. Not going there. I'm content to remain culturally illiterate in this area, kthxbai.

  57. Mike K says

    I haven't read that series either Tsarina (haven't read much since high school other than starting to read the bible in college), although I did watch the first movie and was rather underwhelmed by its quality. Really, the key to making money is to just convince a lot of people that they need what you're selling.

  58. darius404 says

    Robert, the only reason I can think of that people would not click your link is that they have already seen the video movie. It's not a GOOD reason, but it IS a reason.

  59. Kinsey says

    The choice of subject matter or market is not the issue; what makes or breaks any work in any genre is the craftsmanship applied to it.


    Kelly: Sorry, I wasn't clear – I write werewolves AND steampunk, but not werewolf steampunk. I haven't even finished my steampunk book yet (I love the Parasol Protectorate books too!)

    This link goes to my Amazon page, and thanks to everyone for asking.

    This post got me to thinking about Amazon reviews. I have a weird and masochistic habit of checking for new reviews every so often – believe it or not, some authors refuse to read their Amazon reviews, but I just can't stay away. And whenever I get a 5 star review, something that's all praise and no criticism, I always look for the reviewer's other reviews. If the reviewer only posts glowing reviews of books, I'm terribly deflated. It's no fun being praised by a constant praiser.

    "Entitled little fucksticks" will be finding its way into one of my books, just like "tedious wankery."

    Tsarina's right – doing bad writing well is hard. My co-bloggers and I have written a couple of romance parodies and several reviewers have totally missed the fact that the books are intended to be funny. In fact, for the second parody we felt we had to include (Not Your Typical Regency Romance) in the title. It's really hard to parody a genre which has so much seriously bad writing.

    Now I have to go look up tarandous.

  60. says

    Hee. @wgering and @kinsey – I kinda made it up. "Tarandus" is a real word; "tarandous" is neither a typo nor a misspelling, more a home-grown adjectival variant. It's how I roll, I'm afraid. Words… I can never resist playing with them.

  61. John Berry says

    Their site is down. Where will their dozens of readers turn? Surely the thought of reading a negative review must paralyze them with dread. At least they could have just posted puppy and unicorn pictures.

    How fragile their world must be when they refer to criticism as: "this recent onslaught and attack on us"?

  62. Xenocles says

    "I'm surprised that the gum people haven't called with a C&D."

    I'm glad I scrolled down because I was going to post something similar.

  63. says

    @Tsarina of Tsocks: Sorry, something went wrong between original thought and actual comment there. I mean that I really wouldn't describe it as relatively small. I find it to be pervasive.

  64. says

    Hey, @kinsey, is there something you want to tell us?

    As some of y’all know, I only blog or review books I like. I don’t feel comfortable doing negative reviews of other authors’ work.

    Just wondering what you charge. ;-)

  65. Kelly says

    Kinsey: Thank you! Bookmarked. :D I like weres and steampunk so no worries.

    Also, I went and read all the links… Cassandra Clare? These little brats are upset because someone was 'mean' to a woman run out of the Harry Potter fandom because she was outed as a massive plagiarizer and only got away with it because her 'beta' was allegedly a copyright attorney? Oh…ohhh myyyy…Excuse me while I go die laughing.

  66. says

    I love reviews on places like Amazon. I want to see what the negative reviews say, if it's not something I personally consider a "negative" then I take that as a point toward reading that book.

    It's so hard to find good, engaging books lately that I go through a lot of reviews before I try a new author. Sometimes you come up with a stunning winner (Patrick Rothfuss…omg) and sometimes it's a dismal failure. I try to be careful because I actually buy my ebooks instead of just dload them so Im out real money if I buy a book that I hate.

    So all of that said, I would NEVER frequent a site that only hosted paid-for positive reviews. It would be pretty pointless imo…

  67. says

    @wgering: Games are more up to individual taste than books. It's easy to begin reading a book and quickly realize that, thanks to the author's "unique style," you've just spent $25 on toilet paper. Bad writing is bad writing. On the other hand, there's a fairly wide spectrum of what people want from games – I want sexy music and an engaging futuristic story that makes me feel like a well-written Canon Sue (Mass Effect, System Shock 2; my boyfriend is content to pwn noobs in Soldier Front, which I think is dreck. My ex-boyfriend is still playing Gears of War 3, and the Halo franchise continues to be popular despite the players, who tend to be…well, at the lower end of the bell curve.

    If any game truly illustrates hype over quality, it's Starcraft 2.

  68. says

    @M – well, there is certainly a whole lot too much of it for my taste! But – oh, I dunno, maybe it's just Pollyanna-ism on my part, but I prefer to believe that the majority of reindeer don't fall into either the whiny or the strident Speshul Snoflayk category. Those who do are apt to give the rest of us a bad name, but I tell myself that that is a squeaky wheel phenomenon; they're the ones making all the loud noise while the rest of us are just getting through the day and trying to deal rationally with whatever comes up. Seems to me, either you can expend your effort in ranting about being Strong or being Misunderstood or being [insert preferred flavor of Speshulness here], or you can put it into actually living your life and getting the job done. I tend to distrust that sort of posturing – the lady doth damn near always protest too much, methinks. The Misunderstood and/or Marginalized Snoflayks don't actually WANT to be understood or enfranchised; what they want is to keep up their bully platform of butthurt. I don't see how that leaves them time for anything else.

    Most of the reindeer I actually know or deal with regularly have a much more reasonable perspective. I tell myself that that is the baseline, the definition of normal, because if it isn't… I need to go find myself some dimension where it is, becaue this one is just too shrill and embarrassing to live in.

    Mind you, none of this is limited to reindeer. There's Snoflayk Butthurt out there in any and every species you can name; if it can be defined as a demographic, it can arm itself with grievances and Issues.

  69. says

    @Tsarina of Tsocks: I've never been published, and don't see it happening if I don't actually, I don't know, work on my novel, so I definitely can't judge within the sphere of writers. I do think there's a quite widespread "female-on-female pampering culture," as I called it – that's what I interpreted Matthew Walker's post as referring to.

  70. singersdd says

    This is why I only trust the reviews of friends on GoodReads. They've led me to Connie Willis (sci-fi/time travel) and Maureen Johnson (YA paranormal not what you think, wild but good plot twists) and kept me very VERY far from Fifty Shades of Grey.

  71. says

    @M – totally was not limiting it to the world of writers! I'm looking more at the big picture. And I don't deny that that culture makes a lot of noise on the public scene. I just refuse to accept it as representative, is all. The real people I encounter (in a whole cross-section of professions, mostly the fiber arts these days) are better than that.

  72. says

    @Tsarina of Tsocks: My experience is definitely different – perhaps I need to learn to knit. ;) (One of my good friends is a knitter, and she is the loveliest person ever, but I credit her being Canadian in part as well.)

  73. Allen says

    Tsarina of Tsocks.

    Way the hell off topic but how the heck do I get some of your socks? Thick, warm fluffy ones, brrr it gets cold in the Sierras. A certain amount of bear motif would be wonderful, we kind of have one who hassles us.

    You might ask why a bear might hassle us, but you'll have to ask the bear. A friend recently asked, "why is that bear in the back of your truck?"

    Good question, says I.

  74. Basil Forthrightly says

    Speaking of "emotional distress", I've seen a jury award compensation for medical treatment due to emotional distress, in turn due to plaintiff's reaction to reverse discrimination, in Federal Court.

  75. ShelbyC says

    Felling really great about myself today. The site I paid to review my book said it was a great, thrilling read. And then, the hooker I got to celebrate said I had the best tequnique of anybody she'd ever been with!

  76. wgering says

    @M.: I would contend that individual taste is as much a factor in one's appreciation of books as it is in appreciation of games (and by extension, any work in any medium).

    I might want to peruse a collection of Tennyson while my roommate reads some Star Wars: Expanded Universe novels (and not the semi-decent ones; the ones that try to justify Lucas' misuse of "parsec" as a unit of time rather than distance). If one were to suddenly switch the two works, we would both be a bit put off by the sudden stylistic shift.

    Although you may regret spending $25 on Twilight toilet paper, it is my understanding that there are, in fact, people who enjoy that sort of thing, just as there are people who enjoy playing online multiplayer in whatever the current Call of Duty clone is (my theory is that these people are masochists).

    As in any artistic medium, different game developers and studios can have their own distinct styles. Just look at Tim Schafer / Double Fine. His games have a style just as unique among games as Swift's satire among literature. These varying styles attract varying audiences. Some, like the Hunger Games, seem to appeal to a wide audience (from what I can tell; haven't read them myself); others, such as Philip K. Dick, attract much smaller audiences with radically different stylistic and thematic preferences.

    To bring this back on-topic, I think reviews consisting exclusively of faint praise are disingenuous and damaging to the artistic process (regardless of the medium), especially if the reviews are, ahem, "commissioned."

    It transforms the creative process from a means of growth and improvement into something more akin to masturbation (please don't quote Tyler Durden at me). Rather than a sacrifice of time and effort by the artist for the collective benefit of an audience, the act of creation becomes a means of self-gratification.

    Should any artist engage in this sort of wankery, they're really just shooting themselves in the foot. If the flaws in their works are never brought to their attention and discussed, then how will they ever be corrected? How, then, will the artist ever grow and develop?

    How, also, do these end up being so much longer than I intend them? Sorry for the text assault.

  77. says

    @wgering: Thanks (?) to self-publishing, however, writing that's much worse than SMeyer's is out there. I do think there's some sort of minimum standard, however low, for questionable writing. I think that subject matter of writing is a different story from its actual quality; frankly, I've read some Star Wars novels (Stackpole) that are better-written than some of the supposed classics. (For Us, the Living…what the heck happened there?)

    Now everyone here knows I'm a hopeless geek. Fortunately, I'm in good company.

  78. wgering says

    @M.: I agree that subject matter is distinct from quality of writing; if I implied otherwise it was an error on my part (I've actually read some Expanded Universe novels that were quite good as well [see Heir to the Empire], but I cite the collection because the vast majority I read were poorly-written atrocities that made my eyes bleed).

    If you wouldn't mind clarifying: when you refer to a "minimum standard" for writing, are you referring to a minimum quality level for a written work to be published?

  79. says

    @darius404 – I was talking about the link under my name (e.g. to my stuff) not the movie. People will follow my recommendations to normal things.

    I like to think I have the most widely distributed unread manuscript in the Greater Seattle area… 8-)

  80. says

    @wgering: Sorry, I shouldn't try to write coherent posts right after waking up. That was rather Donna Barstow of me. My "minimum standard" refers to a line below which anyone literate enough to read for pleasure will say "WTF, I wrote better than this when I was six."

  81. GrimGhost says

    @Kinsey — I'm one of those relentless praisers. I don't get motivated to write a review of a book that I found to be absolutely mediocre; I only review a book if I'm thinking either >You gotta read this!Avoid at all costs!< However, even when I like a book overall, I'll mention what I DISlike about it. People like me not only write lots of five-star reviews, but we also write FEW reviews — I only write one or two reviews a year.

  82. GrimGhost says

    Corrected post:

    @Kinsey — I'm one of those relentless praisers. I don't get motivated to write a review of a book that I found to be absolutely mediocre; I only review a book if I'm thinking either _You gotta read this!_ or _Avoid at all costs!_ However, even when I like a book overall, I'll mention what I DISlike about it. People like me not only write lots of five-star reviews, but we also write FEW reviews — I only write one or two reviews a year.

  83. says

    With as many comments as you get, can I put in a request that you open up threaded comments so it is easier to follow similar conversations and their direct responses.

  84. says

    Ah, @Allen… welcome to the world of the Cobbler's Child. Since I went pro I rarely have time to knit anything other than design prototypes; I haven't done warm and fluffy – let alone anything in pairs – in years. :( Your best bet is to cozy up to a good knitter; handknit socks are all about love. Better yet, take up sock knitting yourself; your feet will thank you, as will your hands and brain.

    :: wanders off to contemplate bear-themed sock design ::

  85. Gal says

    This is hardly germane, but just from looking at the covers of her books, I can say that it's unreasonable of her to expect anyone to read her stuff for free. I certainly wouldn't.

    But maybe that's just me.

    She's absolutely right about the "blog" though.

  86. Teresa says

    On the positive only thing, I will note that Booklist, the library world review journal for over 100 years, has always only published 'positive' reviews, in that it only reviews books recommended for purchase by libraries. So there is an offline tradition of not wasting space talking about bad books.

  87. says

    @ Bearman Threaded comments tend to cap at three or four replies. IME, it's better to have a 'reply' button so the link will show automatically in the reply and take the reader back upthread to the original comment.

  88. says

    Huh, looks like they're done for good, they've been offline for over a month and now the site has a godaddy landing page. I wonder which part of the whole fiasco caused the "ragequit"


  1. […] Gurlzzzz Posted on July 18, 2012 8:57 pm by Bill Quick ChickLitGirls Threatens Michele Gorman Over Criticism of Paid Reviews | Popehat But these opinions are relatively mild. My far stronger opinion is about people who issue thuggish […]

  2. […] PW Select, not to mention RT’s policy of ‘buy an ad, get a review.’ And let’s not forget the ChickLit Girls blog that got in trouble recently for charging authors for reviews (which would inevitably be positive, since they openly said they […]