TLC: ACE Free Reads

The National Centre for Writing partners with The Literary Consultancy and Arts Council England each year to offer free manuscript assessment to writers of low income. Please read the application guidelines carefully before submission.

How to Apply

You will need:

  • TLC Free Reads Application Form – please complete this form, indicating the full length of your manuscript (not the length of your excerpt, please indicate length in pages or lines as appropriate for script or poetry entries)
  • Proof of low-income document (please do not send original documents) – see application criteria for further guidance
  • Opening excerpt of your manuscript (2000 words prose, 40 lines poetry, or 10 pages script)
  • A 500-word synopsis of your complete manuscript
  • A 500-word covering letter

Send these as a single email with the subject line: TLC Free Reads Application – [Your Name] to

Accepted file formats: .doc, .docx, .pdf

Please note we are unable to accept postal entries this year.

Application Deadline: Midday, Friday 15 January 2021

We are able to award full or partial manuscript reads to successful applicants. If you would prefer a partial read, please make this clear in your covering letter.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us by email or phone 01603 877177.


Application criteria

  1. The National Centre for Writing is the Regional Literature Development Agency for the East of England. You must be based in the East of England (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk or Suffolk) to apply for the TLC Free Reads scheme through the National Centre for Writing.
  2. You must be a writer on low income to qualify for a Free Read. Using current UK Government Guidelines, low income is an annual income of £15,000 or less.
  3. You may not apply for the TLC Free Reads scheme two years in a row.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a TLC ACE Free Read?

The Free Reads scheme is for low-income writers resident in England, writing in English, who would not be able to afford TLC’s commercial fees (the commercial service is open to all). This service is possible thanks to Arts Council England (ACE) funding.

What is ‘low income’?

We use current UK Government Guidelines, which advise that an individual or benefit unit (a single adult or a couple living as married and any dependent children) who earns £15,000 or less per annum qualifies as low income in our region.

What proof of income do you accept?

We accept any government paperwork which proves that you are a full-time student or pensioner, or in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance, Disability Benefits, Income Support, or Working Tax Credits. You may also submit an HMRC self-assessment form to show you are low-earning if you are a freelancer and not in receipt of income support. If none of the above apply but you still believe your annual income is below £15,000, you may also write a letter outlining your circumstances and include other paperwork as proof of low income.

What should I include in my covering letter?

Your covering letter should detail a little of your background and any writing experience or qualifications you may have. You should also detail what you hope to get from your free read, should you have a specific goal in mind, as well as your ambitions for your writing.

What should I include in my synopsis?

Your synopsis should give the broad brushstrokes of your story – it should be slightly more detailed than a book blurb but doesn’t need to detail each character arc and backstory. TLC has a good ‘how-to’ on their website.

What kind of feedback should I expect from my Free Read?

Like any other manuscript assessment that TLC provides, your Free Read may contain a combination of line edits and structural suggestions. It gives you an in-depth professional view on your work, to enable you to focus on improving your writing in a targeted manner. As with any feedback on your work, please remember that this is only the opinion of a single person and it is always worth sourcing a number of opinions from trusted readers (people who will give you honest feedback) before you submit to an agent or begin the self-publishing process. We recommending reading this article, which documents the experience of one of our Free Read recipients Sally-Anne Lomas.

What counts as East of England?

We accept applications from any resident of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk or Suffolk. If you are not based in the East of England, please visit the TLC Free Reads site to find details for your Regional Literature Development Agency.