Commercial women's fiction has always gotten a bad rap from those on the literary-minded side of publishing. Believe me, I know. I've seen it from both sides. Part of my job at the short-lived was to compile bestseller data. I'd pull the New York Times list from the fax machine and immediately begin to calculate how few "real" books made it to the top 15 that week. The continuous appearances of Nora Roberts and Mary Higgins Clark depressed me. Where was Mary and O'Neill, my favorite book of 2001? Where was Feast of Love?

Fast forward a few years: Now I'm an editor at Red Dress Ink, a chick-lit imprint owned by Harlequin. When I took my current job, one of my biggest concerns was that I would forever be branded as a romance editor and that I'd never be able to wash off the commercial stain. I worried that potential future employers would pigeonhole me and feared that people might not believe that I like to read the New Yorkerand short story collections and... books by men. I asked my former boss her opinion of all this, and her response was something along the lines of "Some of the smartest women I know edit romance and commercial fiction."

Since then, I've come to love the genre and to understand that, as with any form of entertainment, there's good chick lit and there's crappy chick lit. Still, I'm somewhat of a self-loathing chick-lit editor. When faced with an insult—like the recent announcement of a collection called This Is Not Chick Lit, whose editor, Elizabeth Merrick, refers to "the evils of chick lit"—I defend the category in the privacy of my own head or across the table at an agent lunch.

But to publicly come to chick-lit's defense, something would really have to piss me off.

Enter Curtis Sittenfeld's review of Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spotin the June 5 New York Times Book Review. From beginning to end, her critique smacks of a snobbery and disdain—aimed at Bank and chick-lit writers in general—that struck me as defensive. I recalled an article I had read about Sittenfeld's debut novel, Prep, that mentioned chick lit, and I wondered if the author's comments reflected more a fear of being tainted with that label than any real familiarity with the hugely popular novels. Her assertion that a book "simply couldn't be chick lit" if the heroine ends up manless, for example, is just not true. Ever hear of Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada? The protagonist ends up without a man. Lesser known, but closer to my heart since I edited it, is Fiona Gibson's Babyface, where the narrator ends up with no man (but two babies).

No one should be surprised that Bank's second book is chick lit—after all, her debut, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, helped establish the genre. And yet, Sittenfeld spends a large part of her review pressing her Bank-Is-Chick-Lit theory, starting by saying she hates to insult a writer by calling her book chick lit, then proceeding to treat chick lit as the ugly cousin of Real Writing.

Chick-lit bashing is nothing new. Even the nice reviews often state the equivalent of "this is pretty good... for a chick-lit book," and women who write "serious fiction" have been pooh-poohing it for years. If women's fiction was seen as a pox on fiction in times past, it seems the pox now has a new, more specific, strain. But distinguishing between "good novels" and chick lit, as if the two are mutually exclusive, is narrow-minded, at best, and just plain mean-spirited, at worst.

The truth is, there's some really bad chick lit out there. Novels that hit every cliché. (Gay best friend? Check! Job in publishing? Check!). Novels by women who couldn't write their way out of the proverbial paper bag. But guess what? The same can be said of many other kinds of books. Books by smartypants women, stuffy men, octogenarian historians.... Here's the thing: chick lit in and of itself shouldn't be regarded as an insult or a crime. There are good novels that also happen to be chick lit. You really shouldn't judge a book by its girly cover.

Farrin Jacobs, in addition to being an editor at Red Dress Ink, is co-writing a book titled Like Life but Funnier (Quirk, Sept. 2006), which she hopes will help aspiring chick-lit authors write good novels.