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

Who is it for?

Free Reads is for low-income writers based in the East of 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 (including disabled writers, neurodivergent writers, Black, Asian, and Global Majority writers, and members of the LGBT+ community).

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

Please get in touch via [email protected] if you would like assistance completing the form.

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

Apply now

Applications for the Free Reads programme have closed. Please subscribe to the NCW newsletter and follow us on social media for news on future opportunities.

Step 1

Complete the digital application form.

Please email [email protected] if you have any questions about the form or if you would like assistance completing the form.

Step 2

Please email [email protected] with the subject line Free Read Application – [your name]. Please include the following as individual attachments, in either word document (.doc, .docx) or pdf (.pdf) format:

    • Proof of low income (see FAQs if uncertain).
    • An excerpt of your work: 2,000 words of prose (fiction or non-fiction), 100 lines poetry, 40 pages script, 1 children’s picture book. For other forms please get in touch with us in advance via [email protected].
    • A 500 word synopsis (guidelines here). Please ensure you include content warnings at the top of this synopsis – indicate these by using CW or TW.
    • A one-page letter which includes:
      • An introduction to you and your writing background/experience.
      • What your hopes are for your manuscript.
      • What you would like to get from the free read and any key questions for your reader.
      • Whether you would like a full or partial manuscript read.

What do the selected writers receive?

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.

How are applications assessed?

Applications are assessed based on both the quality of the writing and the need of the applicant, and we prioritise writers who are from under-represented backgrounds. We will let applicants know whether or not their application is successful, and successful applicants should be ready to submit a full or partial manuscript on request. We have previously declined applicants who already have high quality manuscripts and who we believe should be directly approaching agents or seeking publication. Unfortunately we are unable to give feedback on unsuccessful applications.

Application criteria

  1. You must be based in the East of England (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk or Suffolk) to apply for the Free Reads scheme through the National Centre for Writing. If you fall outside of this region, visit the TLC website to find a regional writing partner near you.
  2. You must be a writer on low income to qualify for a Free Read. 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.
  3. You may not apply for the Free Reads scheme two years in a row.

We highly recommend reading the FAQs section below before making your application.

Being awarded a Free Read for my manuscript felt like an affirmation that my writing was worth pursuing.

Leigh Osbourne

Frequently asked questions

What is the Free Reads Scheme?

The Free Reads Scheme is a bursary scheme, funded by Arts Council England, and delivered by The Literary Consultancy. It offers low-income, talented writers free access to TLC’s commercial services for writers, primarily its manuscript assessment offer, as well as events tickets, travel and access bursaries, and mentorships.


What is The Literary Consultancy?

The Literary Consultancy is the UK’s longest-running editorial consultancy, working with writers at all levels and across all formats and genres to help them develop their creative work. Based in London, TLC is also a National Portfolio Organisation, championing writers, writing, and the value of professional feedback across England through its 17 regional partners, and supporting writers through its events programme and online resources as well as its core editing services. TLC alumni include writers like Prue Leith, Winnie M Li, Liam Brown, Fiona Mountain, Kerry Young, and Neamat Iman.


What is a Manuscript Assessment?

Manuscript assessment is a term referring to the style of report typically produced by TLC and other organisations with a similar remit, and the service offered to writers selected for a Free Read. Manuscript assessment offers writers the opportunity to get direct, bespoke feedback on their writing projects, by a reader hand-selected for you, in the form of a written report. The focus of a manuscript assessment is objective critical feedback that identifies key areas for development, whatever your goal is. TLC has produced over 8,000 manuscript assessment reports over the years it has been working with writers, and the Free Reads scheme has offered over 500 writers the opportunity to get this feedback at no cost, thanks to our funding from Arts Council England.


Am I eligible for a Free Read?

Originally begun as a pilot scheme in 2001, Free Reads has grown into an offer for writers that aims to facilitate access to professional and creative development opportunities to writers who might be unable to afford to pay for the service. The core demographic is therefore low-income, talented writers who are resident in England. As part of its commitment to supporting the widest range of literary voices possible, TLC is particularly interested in submissions from writers who feel under-represented in the publishing world, or those who feel they face barriers which make access to these opportunities difficult such as cultural background, mental health, or disability. As the scheme is funded, we are required to collect anonymised data to ensure eligibility criteria are met, but if you have any questions about your eligibility that you would like to discuss with us in confidence, please feel free to get in touch directly on [email protected]. If you have a question about the application process, please get in touch with the organisation delivering Free Reads in your area in the first instance.


What constitutes ‘low-income’?

Current UK government guidelines suggest that low-income (household) equals 60% of the median household income. This is only a rule of thumb, but is a helpful guideline when assessing applications. According to the latest figures this would put the national low-income threshold at roughly £18,000 per annum income, with the London low-income threshold £23,000 per annum and below. For the purposes of the Free Reads scheme we are referring to your earnings in the last full financial year.

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 for a TLC Free Read. 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.

We understand that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, loss of income has affected many communities and individuals particularly hard, and we want to be able to provide the scheme to those who are looking to develop their writing in the wake of the pandemic and whose financial circumstances might have been affected by the pandemic. If you are eligible on this basis, please simply submit a one-paragraph statement outlining your circumstances. This information is completely confidential, but is a necessary requirement of our funding relationship with ACE, to show that the scheme is genuinely serving those most in need. You can find out how we store personal information in our privacy policy here.

If you have any questions about your eligibility that you would like to discuss with us in confidence, please get in touch directly by sending us an email: [email protected]. If you have a question about the application process, please get in touch with the organisation delivering Free Reads in your area in the first instance, as application processes may vary.


What proof of income do you accept?

We accept any government paperwork which proves that you are a full-time student or pensioner (over 60), or in receipt of Universal Credit, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Disability Benefits, Income Support, Child Benefit 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 £18,000, you may also write a letter outlining your circumstances and include other paperwork as proof of low income.


What kind of writing can I submit?

TLC accepts submissions of: prose (fiction and non-fiction), short stories, children’s fiction including picture books, poetry, scripts, and screenplays. We are unfortunately unable to accept academic works for manuscript assessment. Please note that TLC co-ordinates the Free Reads scheme, but each of its delivery partners will have its own application process. If there are any restrictions on what can and cannot be submitted to individual delivery partners, this will be clearly outlined in the application process, so please read this carefully. Please do not submit your work directly to TLC for a Free Read.


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.


Will I get my whole manuscript read?

TLC receives a grant for Free Reads which is awarded on an annual basis and distributed to partners at the beginning of each financial year. This funding is currently secure until April 2022. The grant is split between 17 Free Reads delivery partners, trusted organisations who work with writers across England. Budget is allocated according to need, geographic spread,
numbers of applications per region etc. Each partner will have their own way of allocating their budget and we ask that writers please respect this; their decisions in these matters are final. We cannot guarantee that each writer awarded a Free Read will receive a full manuscript assessment, but every writer selected is guaranteed at least an extract read, by a professional TLC reader. Please do not be disheartened if you do not get selected; the process is highly selective, and we encourage you to apply to as many opportunities as you can.


Who will read my work?

If your work is selected by your regional delivery partner for a Free Read, the work will be handed to TLC and you will from that point on be in the care of TLC and its in-house team. The team will assign you a reader from its list of 90 professional readers. All TLC readers are given training and guidelines to support them in their delivery of the feedback, which aims to be personalised, market-aware, and suited to your level of work and aims and aspirations. We encourage you therefore to fill in the details on your Application Form carefully, to ensure we can send the most up-to-date information along to your reader.


Will I get to talk to my Reader?

Objectivity is the cornerstone of TLC’s manuscript assessment offer. We firmly believe that for this kind of intervention to work at its best, the reader needs to be free to make an independent assessment of the work in hand. We also believe that honest feedback is the best kind of feedback for a writer’s creative development in the longer term. For this reason, all feedback is monitored by TLC, quality-checked and proofed in-house, and reports are sent on to you by TLC. You are welcome to send a covering note with any specific questions at the point of being awarded a Free Read, should you wish to. If you have questions following your report, please be in touch with the TLC office in the first instance.


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.


How long does the whole process take?

TLC aims to match Free Reads submissions to a reader within one week maximum. Once the work has been assigned, the process of receiving feedback takes around 4-6 weeks. Please refer to your delivery partner’s application process for a sense of their submission wait times, which you will need to incorporate into your timeframe for receiving feedback. If you have requirements which are time sensitive, we strongly recommend you speak to your delivery partner before submitting.

Any other 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.

The editor’s professional eye highlighted points I’d not even considered, enabling me to edit and generally improve the story.

Beryl Brown