TLC Free Reads

Supporting low-income writers in England to access expert advice and support on their manuscript

Are you looking for a constructive, detailed and professional assessment of your manuscript from a highly skilled editor? Are such services currently beyond your financial means? This scheme could be for you.

Each year NCW partners with The Literary Consultancy (TLC), supported by Arts Council England, to give free access to TLC’s industry-leading manuscript assessment service for up to 10 writers. Free Reads is a national scheme, delivered by a range of literature development organisations, with NCW accepting applications from writers based in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk or Suffolk.

Applications for Free Reads 2023/24 are now closed.

Applications will reopen in late 2024

Applications are now closed! Please subscribe to the NCW newsletter and follow us on social media for news on future opportunities.

Details on how to apply

What is a manuscript assessment?

TLC’s manuscript assessment service provides writers of all levels with an honest, detailed and professional market-aware manuscript appraisal from a highly skilled editor. Through written feedback, the assessment will help you understand where your work currently sits in relation to the commercial literary marketplace and offer practical developmental advice for next steps. The principal focus in all instances of the manuscript assessment is editorial

Who is Free Reads for?

TLC Free Reads is for low-income writers residing in England, writing in English, who may not have the financial stability to afford TLC’s regular manuscript assessment fees (their commercial service is open to all). The scheme prioritises those from under-represented backgrounds (women writers, BAME writers, disabled writers, LGBTQ+ writers and other under-represented groups).

You can submit prose (fiction or non-fiction), poetry, short stories, children’s picture books or a script/screenplay (including treatments) across all genres.

You cannot apply for a Free Read two years in a row. You must be over 16.

What counts as low income?

Current UK government guidelines suggest that low-income (household) equals 60% of the median household income. If you are not sure what low-income means, the Citizens Advice Bureau has some useful guidelines here, and there are some helpful calculations here to show how these margins are measured by the Government across the country.

If you are a full-time student or pensioner, or in receipt of any kind of Universal Credit, you are eligible to apply. You may also submit HMRC self-assessment paperwork to show you are low-earning if you are self-employed and not in receipt of income support.

If none of these apply but you feel you are still eligible, you may be asked to submit a signed declaration outlining your circumstances. This information will be anonymised and is confidential, but is a necessary requirement of TLC’s funding relationship with ACE, to show that the scheme is genuinely serving those most in need.

Any questions?

If at any stage you have any issues with the application process, require individual support with it, or require any of the information in a different format, please get in touch with TLC directly on [email protected].

Not from the East of England? Find out more about TLC’s Free Reads scheme in other areas across England here.

From Free Reads winner to award-winning debut novelist

Claire Wade is the author of The Choice. Read about her TLC Free Reads experience, which led her towards winning the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition.

‘It really helped me clarify what I wanted from my story. The following year I won the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition with The Choice and went on to win the East Anglian Book Award 2020 for Fiction. Having feedback on your work is an essential part of developing not only your manuscript but also your writing technique. I’d highly recommend applying.’

Read more

Meet our former Free Reads winners

Congratulations to our four wonderful Free Reads winners for 2023: Ruth Renner, Shimanto (Robin) Reza, Sienna Norris and Sue Saunders.

Hear from our alumni

‘TLC’s Free Read scheme provided invaluable insight for me as an unpublished writer at the outset of my endeavours in this creative arena. Being on a low income, it’s unlikely I would’ve otherwise been able to afford such in-depth feedback on my work, so I’m especially grateful for the service. The report I received on my piece was incredibly detailed, thoughtful, encouraging and enhanced my understanding of the craft. It instilled in me a renewed motivation and has aided my progression as a writer, in addition to directly influencing me to undertake a masterclass in the literary form of the short story.’

— David Smith


‘Four drafts into a promising novel that failed to get noticed by publishers, I submitted an excerpt to Free Reads. Based on this feedback, I’m now enthusiastically well into draft five and very grateful for some perceptive insights.’

— Donna McLuskie

‘Being awarded a Free Read for my manuscript felt like an affirmation that my writing was worth pursuing. The report was comprehensive and has helped me to see what my strengths and weaknesses are. It has shown me what I need to work on, with the aim of attracting an agent or a publisher.’

— Leigh Osborne


‘I found that my assessment provided really helpful advice about my manuscript. The editor’s professional eye highlighted points I’d not even considered, enabling me to edit and generally improve the story.’

— Beryl Brown

I would certainly recommend any aspiring writers to apply for a Free Read. The constructive criticism I received resulted in a rewrite of my story which has just been published by novum, ‘Costly Truths’. They will be publishing my second novel soon, and I have just completed the first draft of my fifth! Without the support and encouragement of my writer’s group and your scheme, I doubt any of that would have happened, so thank you!

— Maggie Williams Richmond