I have been thinking about where we are, the times we are in, and the position and relevance of The Literary Consultancy as we move, somewhat astonishingly, into our 24th year as a company working with and for writers at all levels. In 2017 I took over direction of TLC from its founder, the much loved and missed Rebecca Swift, and it was important to me that we were able to preserve its founding spirit, which was always one of meeting writers on the page, in a supportive but honest context, as well as moving us into the future. That future is finally, after two years of hard work, visible on the horizon, with the launch of an exciting new programme of work, developed in direct response to writers’ need and focussed on creativity and resilience. ‘Being A Writer’ is the culmination of 12 months of preparation behind the scenes, but it is also the result of 24 years of working with and (critically) listening to writers.
There will be much more to come about the programme as it develops, but this also feels a good moment for us to take stock, and in particular to give thanks. Working in the so-called author service industry, it can feel like being a small fish crammed into a very small pond with…. lots of other fish. It seems everyone wants to write, and everyone thinks they have something to offer that writers need. There are only a few things, I think, that writers actually need (time and space, purpose, confidence, resilience, money?). We are trying to focus on these things with Being A Writer. Beyond that, there are many things that are extremely useful to have, but aren’t strictly necessary. Is TLC manuscript assessment ‘necessary’? No. Do we believe that honest, professional feedback on your writing is valuable? Absolutely, and our clients tell us so, and I will never tire of the positive feedback or become complacent about how lucky we are to have played a part in thousands of writers’ journeys over the years.
What we have found that we need at TLC, is community. We are lucky to have writers who trust us and they feel like an extended TLC family to us, but it’s important that TLC also feels connected to the wider industry. We aren’t interested in operating in a silo in order to gain a competitive edge (though we do feel that we offer consistently high quality services, and are vigilant about self-evaluation to make sure this stays the case). We want to make change, and to facilitate it. We are in a position, thanks to our Arts Council England NPO status, to be able to do this. And to do that you need allies and partners. I would like to take a moment to honour some of ours.
In 2018, novelist and activist Kit de Waal asked Twitter what would help to make literary events more accessible. Based on the feedback, TLC decided to introduce free tickets for carers and support workers to all of its events. It trialled BSL interpretation at its bigger events, and hosted a Get A Job in Publishing weekend conference in partnership with BKS Agency. 40% of those tickets were sponsored by brilliant industry partners, allowing aspiring publishers to come who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. Those sponsors were:
AM Heath, Anna and Ned Vaught, Bluemoose Books, Caskie Mushens, Clays, Curtis Brown, Daniel Hahn, David Higham Associates, David Luxton Associates, Dead Ink, Emma Ward, Hachette UK, Hachette Children’s, Hardman & Swainson, Greene & Heaton, Jacaranda, Joe Sedgwick, Jonathan Conway, Katie Roden, Kingsford Campbell, Kit de Waal, LAW Agency, London Literary Scouting, Lutyens and Rubinstein, Michael Langan, New Writing South, the Publishers Association, Publishing Training Centre, Red Door, Short Books, United Agents.
In the same year, I had a chat with writer and disability rights activist Dan Holloway. Inspired by Dan, we introduced a Quiet Space at TLC’s evening events, and ensured that as well as reserving space for wheelchairs (already standard procedure at Free Word, the venue where we are based), we also reserved end seats for those who ask to be near an exit.
In 2019, Free Word rolled out both free spaces for carers and Quiet Spaces across all of their events.
In 2019, Penned in the Margins announced it was pledging to plant trees in the National Forest to offset its carbon imprint. Inspired by Penned’s Director Tom Chivers, whose idea the initiative was, TLC committed to plant a tree for every writer who signs up to our mentoring programme, Chapter and Verse. Also this year, AM Heath generously sponsored the printing of an anthology of TLC Free Reads writers – writers who have received TLC bursaries. 20 writers from all parts of England and from all backgrounds were featured, and 200 copies printed and distributed to UK-based agencies. All featured writers were paid.
It was, and continues to be, a collective effort, and we are so grateful to all those who are willing to sponsor opportunities for others, from event tickets (My Ly), single MS assessments (Katharine Orton) to prizes for women writing non-fiction (Kate Jegede), training for aspiring editors (Jude Cook, Peter McKay), and LGBT writers’ schemes (Michael Langan).
TLC’s ACE funding represents 25% of its income, but around 50% of its activity. Without support from partners, sponsors and individual donors, we simply could not do what we do. We also rely on our commercial client fees, to keep the business going. Just last week, two writers called their TLC manuscript assessments the best money they’d ever spent on their writing, something echoed by former clients who have gone on to huge success, like Tina Seskis and Kerry Young. Being A Writer, our new programme focussed on creativity and resilience, will be totally self-funded. We can only do this because we have the privilege of being able to invest TLC cash back into the writing community, and because of careful management of our assets with support from the brilliant TLC Board of Advisors.
We are proud of what we offer, and proud to be able to support a team of simply world-class editors and mentors who work with us and for our writers. And we are grateful to all of you for continuing to believe in TLC, but most importantly, for continuing to believe in the value of writing. Yours, and others’. The literature of now and tomorrow. It’s what we believe in, too.
Director, The Literary Consultancy