The moment you’ve been dreading is finally here: your first bad review. You stare at it, wondering if you’ve misread it, then read it several more times. Each negative word feels like a tiny dagger to the heart. For some of us, there are tears. For others, there’s cursing, hand-wringing, or an inner critic that mocks us. But the point is this—bad reviews hurt.

It’s okay to take a few minutes and let it sting. You’ve poured yourself onto the page, and criticism is bound to cut you to the core, but do yourself a favor and don’t let harsh words blind you to the fact that even the most scathing review can be turned into marketing gold. Plenty of savvy authors have done it, and you can too. 

Sometimes we just have to chalk bad reviews up to the fact that you cannot please everyone. Understanding this is key when it comes to audience targeting. Take a deep dive to see what you can glean about the person from their review, then use it to refine your ad strategy. 

Next, be honest with yourself. Is there some truth to the review that will help you improve your craft? My first bad review was titled, Why Use 3 Words When 10 Will Do? It temporarily crushed me, but the reviewer was spot on. My writing wasn’t tight. Fixing that improved read-through, which translated to increased profit. 

Lastly, try handling it like author and creator of the Self Publishing Formula, Mark Dawson. In 2019, he received a letter from a man who felt that his own writing was superior to Dawson’s. He described Dawson as a talentless hack who wouldn’t recognize skill if it “sucked” him in the face. While harsh, the letter was hysterical. Dawson shared it and some passages from the other author’s work with the Self Publishing Formula audience and during his 20Books Vegas keynote address later that year. The engagement was massive and even resulted in a spin-off line of revenue-generating merchandise featuring phrases from the letter and the other author’s work. 

So the next time you get a bad review, turn your frown upside down, and buck up, buttercup. You’ve just been handed the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive cash flow. 

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Jennifer Mitchell

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