Is reading poorly edited fiction bad for your health?


Reading poor writing desensitises you to it, and if you’re not careful soon we’ll all be drowning in custard.

This might be a short post because I’m trying to review five books and a camel today. Okay, it’s not that bad, but I have a few things I need to do before I can sit down and edit my work in progress.

If you pay any attention to the self-publishing world, you’ll have heard the frequent cries of outrage about how badly edited some self-published fiction is. I’m not going to argue that point. I’m going to assert some self-published fiction is terribly edited and some is not, and if you don’t agree with me you can go play on the see-saw on your own because I’m not going to play with you.

Glad we got that out of the way.

Now that we’ve established some self-published fiction is poorly edited, here’s my claim:

Reading it is bad for your health.

Even when it doesn’t lead to accidental ingestion of Grandma.

Maybe not your physical health.

Poorly edited fiction is bad for your English health. It interferes with your ability to sense when a sentence is correct.

Don’t believe me? How did you learn to write and speak English correctly (assuming you’re a native speaker)? I bet it wasn’t by memorising endless grammar rules. You learned by reading and listening to people speak, and over time you internalised the rules of the language.

If you’re human and have a fallible memory like most of us, you gradually forget these rules and refresh them by reading more. Fortunately there’s always plenty to read.

It’s a perfect system.

Until you start reading stories in which I went home and laid in bed and we needed to keep the secret between you and I. Now if I got laid in bed that might be a secret worth keeping, but that’s entirely different.

Maybe you can overlook these slips, or maybe they drive you mad.

If you read enough poorly edited writing (and remain sane) you develop defence mechanisms.

The most effective of these is to stop noticing the errors.

They no longer make your “bad writing!” alert flash. Your reading eye does not judder to a halt. After a while they begin to sound normal.


Stop sign on a mountain
Danger! Turn back.

You’re one misstep away from plummeting to a state of not being able to tell if a sentence is right or wrong.

You probably won’t entirely lose you sense of correct and incorrect grammar, but you won’t be as attuned to it. More mistakes will slip through as you edit, and soon we’ll all be drowning in custard.

So every time you open a badly edited book ask yourself, “Can I afford to read this?”

Have you noticed your ability to spot errors being eroded by reading bad writing? Do you think I’m too much of a stickler for correct grammar?


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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

20 thoughts on “Is reading poorly edited fiction bad for your health?”

  1. Standards are important. Grammar is important. Creativity is important, but we must also appreciate work, skill, and understanding of conventions. After all, language is communication, not random thoughts.

  2. Yes! It’s bad for the health, the eyes, and the brain. Not to mention, it makes for a horrible reading experience. It’s so disrespectful to the reader. I read a book in January put out by a company that has no right calling themselves publishers. The book had no editing, only “proofreading done by friends” according to the author. The formatting was horrible. There were so many errors and the writing wasn’t good. I wanted to find those people and smack them. Plus, it was really sad and embarrassing for the writer. And it was someone I know or I wouldn’t have tortured myself like that. Never again. Wasn’t worth it.

    1. Ugh, that sounds dreadful! I found a book once with a fascinating premise and writing that wasn’t painful, but it was so full of errors that I couldn’t touch it. I’ve lost track of the book now, but it still makes me sad.

  3. I agree with this post. It’s so important for writers to strive to write well. And Krystal Jane voiced my thoughts: bad writing is disrespectful toward the reader. If the author doesn’t care about the quality of their work, why should the reader care? If the author doesn’t bother to put in the work to have the book edited and proofread, why should the reader spend time and money on it?

    1. I wonder if there are readers who don’t care. I’ve met people who say they can ignore errors, but maybe there are also people who don’t see them and couldn’t care less about them. It’s a scary thought if there are and they start writing.

    1. I think it makes sense too, though I don’t actually have any proof. It would be hard to run that experiment… (Actually now I’m thinking of ways you would run that experiment.)

  4. i gotta disagree, like i think peeple r who they r regurdless an i reed everythin and dont even notice any miztaaks if the story is gud. dont bee so meen

  5. I agree. For the same reason, being an English teacher is dangerous because you see errors so often they begin to seem normal. The more often we see errors, the more likely we are to stop noticing them. I can’t believe some of the mistakes I see in self-published books. I’m glad I’m still able to notice them.

    1. That’s a fascinating point! I’d never considered that risk of becoming an English teacher. Though I’m sure you keep your eye in by reading a lot of good literature. 🙂

  6. Reading unedited or poorly edited work is tough. Unless it’s absolutely egregious though, I usually plow through to the end of the book (grimacing and making notes of all the mistakes on my kindle) and then make sure to read a really GOOD book afterward as a ‘cleansing’ of sorts lol. Usually, finishing the book isn’t worth it, but I hate not knowing how a story ends.

    I do sort of like those moderately bad self-published books though. The ones where the grammar mistakes are few and far between but the writing style is awkward or bad, because I think those are the best to learn from when it comes to examples of what NOT to do lol. And it’s sort of like Where’s Waldo. Can you find all the errors or are you secretly at risk of perpetuating all of the same atrocities?

    1. A reading cleanse. I like it! I also admire your determination to finish even bad books. I tend to find if the book is bad I don’t care how it ends, I just want it out of my life.

      That’s an interesting take on awkward writing. I do read it in small quantities from time to time, but I always worry that I’m learning the feel of awkward writing. What you read is what you write and all that. Though I’m sure you’re right that you can learn a lot by studying what not to do.

      1. I think it helps that I rarely get caught up in stories. It’s why I rate all the books I read so low. Even in the ones that are AMAZING (and edited), I still find awkward lines and scrunch up my nose about certain choices the author makes (with the storyline or characterization). It’s why I give so many 4 stars for books that probably deserve 5. I’m way too critical. But even in the books I DO give 5 stars to, I still usually find ‘issues’ so to speak.

        I’m reading The Princess Bride right now and thoroughly enjoying it. It’ll probably get 5 stars. But I’m still paying attention to syntax and structure and such for learning purposes 😀

        1. I know what you mean – I have trouble getting caught up in stories too, and awkward constructions yank me out of even excellent stories. I gave up rating harshly, though, because no one else seems to. I try to give informative comments to go with my (high) ratings.

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