How to Handle Negative Criticism by Linda Bennett Pennell — guest blog and giveaway

11_7 NBtM Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel Banner copy

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Linda will be awarding a $15 Amazon or BN GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

How to Handle Negative Criticism
By Linda Bennett Pennell
It starts for most people in the schoolyard. “You stink.” “You can’t play with us because (fill in the blank).” “Fatty, fatty, two by four.” Kids can be really mean to one another. As we grow older, most of us learn to temper our nasty remarks and couch them more tactfully, but negative criticism still has the power to sting, no matter how silken the words or soft the kidskin gloves used in the delivery. Anyone who has ever gone through an annual performance review at work knows how nerve wracking and unsettling it is to hear “you’ve done a great job but…” It’s those “buts” that get us every time.

Authors are certainly no strangers to reviews. In fact, we seek them out in the hopes that the words of someone who has read our work will encourage others to do so. Unfortunately, not all reviews are positive. When one receives a less than charitable, or worse yet, a completely unfair or uninformed review, it is very tempting to try to justify our writing choices or correct the misinformation being put forward in the review. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is “don’t . . . just don’t do it.”

This may seem counter intuitive, but we should consider what outcome responding will accomplish. After all, the author is the true expert on her work, isn’t she? Other than momentarily making the author feel better, probably nothing positive will be achieved by responding to negative criticism. It may in fact make things worse. Reviewers do not take kindly to what they may perceive as argument from an author. Case in point is the recent brouhaha on Goodreads when an author put out the blurb on her soon to be published book and received negative feedback on it. She then asked the “reviewers” how they could comment on a book that hadn’t even been published and that they couldn’t have read. My goodness! The Internet equivalent of World War III broke out. That particular thread quickly degenerated to name calling, invitations to suicide, and suggestions that the author should be raped and sodomized. The author finally pulled her blurb and stated that she would not publish the book, none-the-less, the attacks continued. While this is an extreme example, it should be a lesson to us all.

If the author is the expert on her work, then why do reviewers get so upset when their opinions are challenged or even mildly commented upon? I think it has to do with the rather exclusively American belief that the customer is always right. Readers are an author’s customers – quite literally. And American customers take their rights very seriously. So if an author shouldn’t respond, what should she do to keep from her head from exploding or to prevent going into a deep funk? I believe the analogy of the annual performance review is an apt one here. It comes as close as anything to having one’s novel reviewed. Many experts on getting ahead in the work place advise employees to accept the boss’s negative feedback appropriately and learn from it. Areas marked “needs improvement” should be noted and a plan of action formulated. The same is true for legitimate negative reviews. Think about what is said and see if something can be learned. But what, you ask, if the boss is a blundering, incompetent psycho? Then do the sane thing. Do not take his/her criticism personally and get a new job ASAP. As for negative reviews from trolls, ignore them. We aren’t going to change those folks and responding to them simply feeds the trolls’ exaggerated sense of importance and need for attention.

About the Author:11_7 MEDIA KIT 0449.highresI have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother’s porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, “Let’s pretend.”

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.

Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.” Voltaire

Facebook ~ Website ~ @LindaPennell

11_7 MEDIA KIT AlCaponeAtTheBlancheHotel_850Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.

Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan’s self-righteous vigilantism. Jack’s older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancé, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.

Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.

Buy the book at Amazon


  1. Thank you for hosting

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts linda! I take negative criticism really poorly…I’ll probably cry before I get through it! But it is necessary to help me grow as an author!

    andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Hi Andra,
      Yep, negative feedback hurts! I guess appropriate negative feedback could be compared to childbirth. It’s agony while it’s going on, but the outcome is well worth the pain. Hang in there and keep writing!

  3. Excellent post Linda! Best advice ever. Even in the midst of an absolutely horrible review, there’s usually at least one good thing you can take away from it, whether it’s in something they’ve said or something they’ve taught us. 😉 XOXOXO

  4. Linda, as hard as it is to refrain from engaging the commenter, you’re so right. It’s the best decision to back away when ever anyone decides it’s their right, their duty, to give their opinion–just because they can–and they may not have even read the book.

    There are so many reasons a reviewer will post a negative review. I’ve seen bad reviews posted on Goodreads and Amazon for books that I have read, and it’s apparent that the reviewer’s intentions are to harm the author. Whenever I see those, I shake my head in wonder, and then say a little prayer for that reviewer because they obviously need more help than any human can give.

    Everyone should read your post because it’s part of everyday life and doesn’t just apply to the book world. Thanks for posting this!

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Jaye! We all get by with a little help from our friends, don’t we? Friends are who we need to focus on when the negative stuff comes our way!

  5. Barbara A. Andrews says:

    Your post gave credible advice. A book is probably more compelling if it has a wide variety of review opinions. Good luck on your tour.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you for stopping in, Barbara! They say that variety is the spice of life. Wish that none of us had to endure negative feedback, but if it is valid then it is an opportunity for growth.

  6. Lovely post, Linda. I agree it’s best not to engage if a review is nasty-toned. I’ve been guilty of replying and gently correcting a reviewer when they’ve gotten a fact wrong, but I’m not recommending that to anyone. I blogged recently on “books belong to readers”, because I do now realize that however I ‘meant’ something, readers are entitled to inerpret an event, theme or character through their own lens. But it’s great to remember your good advice. And I love the Queen of your house! I have 2 queens, and they do rule everthing!

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you for stopping in Emelle! Our queen of the house is feeling her age today and is being very clingy. I think she wants a warm lap to help with her arthritis now the days have turned cooler.

  7. Great post, Linda! It’s like charging into the schoolyard to defend your kid from the bully. A deep breath and a little perspective are often more useful than a quick reaction.

  8. I enjoyed the post, thank you.

  9. Linda Bennett Pennell says:

    Thank you for stopping by, Rita. So glad you enjoyed the post!

  10. Karen Lopp says:

    Great advise, Linda. I’ve never been tempted to respond. While my books are my babies, they still must stand on their own.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Hey, Karen. Thanks for stopping by! You are so right about our books being our babies! Glad you agree about not responding.

  11. Anne Brocole says:

    Great advice! Criticism is hard to take especially if it involves something close to you. As a parent, I tell my kids to ‘let it go’. As a teacher, I tell my students to ‘let it go’. As an author, I will have to tell myself to ‘let it go’.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Anne! Let it go are words to the wise. I’ve been in your shoes with kids and students. Now I, too, must just let it go as an author!

  12. Katie O'Boyle (Kate Collier) says:

    Wise words from a wonderful author. Thank you, Linda. You’re so level-headed, and you know your priorities!

  13. Such wise and wonderful advice! Thanks for the excellent post on responding to people who sometimes don’t know that their POV shouldn’t be the dominant one or those who just have an axe to grind for no particular reason. Arguing with them only leads to headaches and you’re right to advise authors not to engage with them.

  14. Excellent advice, Linda. Thanks

  15. Linda could not agree more, especially when you get “legitimate” positive or negative comments. The rest have to be treated, as best as possible, like water on a duck’s back. Thought your book was great also when we read it.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you so much C & D! Water off a duck’s back is an important motto when dealing with the inexplicable. Or as my grandmother used to say, there’s no accounting for fools.

  16. Excellent advice, Linda. When it comes to negative criticism, it is best to stop and consider the source. Sometimes, there are morsels of truth, but if it is simply scathing, I agree with treating it like “water off a duck’s back.”

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Joanne! I agree. Valid criticism helps us all, but needless meanness – UGH!

  17. Nice post and advice

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  18. Excellent advise, Linda. Hard to follow sometimes when we are itching to justify ourselves, but the best path, nonetheless.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Catherine! I agree that not responding is hard to do, especially when the criticism is unfair or undeserved.

  19. So timely this post! I try and find the message tucked inside the rant, but not after having a good half an hour pity party for myself.
    Excellent advice!!

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! Along with everything else we must learn and do, we authors must grow thick skins if we hope to survive. Rants usually serve a purpose other than sharing constructive information. They often are the ranter’s excuse to unload the ills of his own life onto someone who is not in a position to fight back. Ranters also seem to have an inordinate amount of free time in which to engage and keep things on a downward spiral. Ignoring them really is the best policy.

  20. Catherine says:

    But it does help to think of critics as “Trolls,” though–doesn’t it! LOL. Criticism can also be formative. I find that there can often be a nugget of truth in criticism–if the receiver is willing to look for it.
    catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      You bet! Trolls lurk on the internet just for the pleasure of hurting others, but legitimate criticism can help us improve our writing.

  21. It is unfortunate that some people do enjoy giving bad reviews; it is bullyism; they feel empowered in their weakness by hurting others. It is also unfortunate that not all writers are experts in what they write and are foolish or lazy enough not to do simple research.A few books/stories have driven me mad with glaring, foolish mistakes that could easily have been looked into. I wonder what their editor did to earn their pay, as well,
    I have yet to attack an author; I would never hurt a person for their work.I wish there were easy ways to let them know that a phone call, a question asked,would have made their work perfect, but once the work is published, what could be done anyway? I would, however, encourage any and all writers to just do their homework; just ask if they are not sure.

    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Excellent points, Tonette! The things you have mentioned fall into the performance review area of “needs improvement.” I strongly suspect that your reviews are honest and well thought out. Thank you for stopping by!

  22. Mary Preston says:

    The best reviews give a rounded opinion. Concentrating on being fair and respectful.


    • Linda Bennett Pennell says:

      Hi, Mary. Thanks for stopping by. I couldn’t agree more. The reviewers you describe are the ones that help us grow in our craft.

  23. Karen H in NC says:

    Interesting discussion points. Negative criticism is always hard to take and quite often, it borders on bullying. I have written negative reviews, but very few and when I do write the negative, it is not to slam the author, but to point out the items I didn’t like in the story and gave a legitimate reason why. Most times, if I can’t say something nice, I won’t say it at all.

    kareninnc at gmail dot com

  24. Great advice!
    Thanks for the chance to win!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

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