Arts Council England Free Reads Scheme

“I found [my TLC reader’s] feedback incredibly useful and so insightful- it has made me feel excited to write again after seeing someone (especially a REAL WRITER) engage with my work so thoroughly.”

What is the Free Read Scheme and how does it work?

In 2001 TLC received its first sum of ongoing core funding from Arts Council England. This enabled the provision of bursaried manuscript assessments for talented writers on low income. The scheme is known as ‘The Free Read Scheme’ and offers access to TLC’s core services to writers who under normal circumstances might not be able to afford them. Free Reads are selected by a range of literature development bodies coming from as wide a spread across England possible. There are currently seventeen regional literature organisations benefiting from the Free Reads Scheme. We work with partners who are proven to work well, but will also from time to time open the process up to include new partners and ensure the best possible national spread.

The Free Reads scheme runs on the financial year (April-April). Each regional writing organisation arranges its selection of submissions through writing competitions, open submissions or individual systems that work for their areas, so application guidelines will vary, though eligibility criteria remain the same: the scheme is for low-income writers, writing in English (fiction/ non-fiction/ short stories/ poetry/ scripts/ screenplays/ radio plays), who are resident in England. Deadlines and submissions processes vary, so please contact your regional writing partner before sending your submission. Please read all information here carefully, including what a TLC Manuscript Assessment is. If you have any questions about the scheme in general please contact TLC on info@literaryconsultancy.co.uk. Please DO NOT send your application to us directly.

Am I eligible?

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), and prioritises those from marginalised backgrounds (BAME, disabled, LGBTQ and other under-represented groups). 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. If you are a full-time student or pensioner, or in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance, Disability Benefits, Income Support, or Working Tax Credits, you are eligible to apply. You may also submit HMRC self-assessment paperwork to show you are low-earning if you are a freelancer 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. It is a necessary requirement of our funding paperwork that we show we are serving those most in need, so there is some paperwork to fill out, however we do not wish this to be a barrier, so if at any stage you have any issues with the application process, please get in touch with TLC directly on info@literaryconsultancy.co.uk

Submission rules and guidelines
How do I apply?

Quality Writing For All Campaign 2015-2018

The Literary Consultancy wasPrint among the 9% of National Portfolio Organisations to have been granted an uplift in funding from Arts Council England for the period 2015-2018, during which time we significantly expanded our offer of free manuscript assessment, added five free mentoring places for BAME and disabled writers, and offered access support to those travelling from outside of London to TLC events, and those with additional access needs: our 20th anniversary celebrations were BSL interpreted, held in a wheelchair accessible venue, and podcasts and transcriptions were made of the content produced over the year. Over the period, 300 Free Reads were awarded to low-income writers.

We worked with award-winning PR company FMcM, in particular focusing on supporting talented, low-income writers from BAME and disabled communities. This work included improving access to professional services to these writers, and championing their work where appropriate, via showcases, events, and talent management support from our in-house team for those whose work our readers identify as having real commercial potential. We added five new diversity-focussed partners as announced at our QWfA launch event on June 16th 2015 which featured performer, writer and disability arts activist Penny Pepper alongside Peepal Tree Press Associate Editor Jacob Ross, and novelist Liam Brown (Legend Press), whose work was critiqued by TLC through the Free Read scheme and whose TLC Writers’ Showcase can be found here, with a little information about his experience of the Free Read scheme.

97% of respondents in our 2017 Free Reads survey would recommend the scheme to others

81% of respondents to our 2017 Free Reads survey felt they had a more objective sense of their own work and a better understanding of where it might fit in the market after receiving a Free Read

We will continue to work closely with our twelve existing Free Read partner organisations, with whom we are proud to collaborate, and delighted to confirm that we will continue to work with our new partners in the period 2018-22, our newest funding period as we remain part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio.

Over the period 2015-18, we are proud to have worked with a number of partners including Writers’ Centre Norwich, English PEN, Apples & Snakes, Maya Centre, RenaissanceOne, IngramSpark, Byte the Book, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and Free Word Centre. TLC has additionally appeared at, supported, or was associated with Salisbury Lit Fest, Bare Lit Festival, Writing West Midlands, London Writers’ Cafe, Bailey’s Prize Book Club, Mslexia, Unthank School of Writing, the Creative Future Literary Awards, and the Bridport Prize. The Quality Writing for All campaign was featured in The Bookseller here.

Of TLC’s online Writers’ Showcase across 2015-18, 22% were BAME writers with a target of 40% by 2022.

Of TLC’s Blog entries across 2015-18, 41% were BAME contributors, with a target of 50% by 2022.

Of TLC speakers and tutors across 2015-18, 35% were BAME, with a target of 50% by 2022.

We will also be looking into widening our outreach with disabled communities, working with Shape Arts and Creative Future, and looking at working with writers from working class backgrounds, those outside of London, and those facing mental health difficulties in the period 2018-2022.

Sponsorship 2018-2022

As part of our commitment to the legacy of the 2-15-18 Quality Writing for All campaign, TLC is seeking strategic sponsorship in the period 2018-22, to show our commitment to expanding our offer and widening opportunities, access, and inclusivity. This has so far included new partnerships with the Publishing Training Centre, offering 90 free editing training bursaries to aspiring editors from under-represented backgrounds. We are actively seeking a sponsor to continue this partnership in 2019 and beyond. Individual donations have included TLC bursaries awarded by novelists Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Michael Langan to support debut writers including a quota of Free Reads for LGBTQ+ writers in conjunction with Pride Month, and in-kind support by fundraising consultant Craig Pollard and PR company FMcM. In April 2018 we were able to offer  50% of tickets for our ‘Get a Job in Publishing’ course in association with the Book Skills Collective at no cost to aspiring publishers from under-represented backgrounds thanks to sponsors including Clays, the Publishers’ Association and Hachette and individual donations from Kit de Waal, Katie Roden and others, and were able to make it the first  course of its kind to offer BSL interpretation. We are currently able to provide bursaries for 80-120 writers per annum with the support of Arts Council England, and are keen to expand the reach of the Free Reads scheme which provides vital editorial support for writers facing barriers, as well as developing a number of key initiatives around TLC’s commitment to supporting unheard and marginalised voices to publication.

If you are interested in being involved as a Quality Writing for All sponsor, to buy a quota of Free Reads to support TLC’s matched income commitment, or to discuss creative partnership across TLC’s editorial service and events provision for writers, please get in touch with TLC Director Aki Schilz at aki@literaryconsultancy.co.uk, or call the office on 020 7324 2563.

The Impact of the Free Reads Scheme

We have included a selection of key testimonials that reflect the quality and impact of the Free Reads scheme for writers facing barriers.

“Over this last year, I have learned a vast amount, and I am about to put together a pamphlet of the best poems we worked on together, plus possibly a few others to tie the collection together. This wouldn’t have been possible without my TLC mentor’s input. This mentorship has made me a better poet, but it’s also had an invaluable knock-on effect on my novel-writing, which I wasn’t expecting. The last month of the mentorship coincided with NaNoWriMo, so I cobbled together a novel, and reading back over it, I can see the influence of Ahren’s suggestions about form, and writing to my strengths. I have leapt forward writing-wise this year. I have the skills, I have the enthusiasm. I’m going for it.

Cathy Edmunds, poet, novelist, Free Reads poetry mentee 2016

TLC truly changed my life. I believe their QWfA campaign will do this for many other disabled writers, and those facing other barriers to the mainstream. Through the support of the QWfA campaign, my contacts have broadened hugely. This is crucial for disabled people, in particular as there are many physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent access to the normal outlets of networking. It has also been hugely beneficial to have access to people within literature who genuinely support what you do, don’t patronise you but nurture you to be the best you can be. Through TLC I met a literary agent, pitched my memoir, and finally got a positive response to my concerns about it being about the uniqueness of my journey, rather than an impairment-focussed, tragic but brave piece of inspiration porn. ‘First in the World Somewhere’ is being published by Unbound in 2017.”

Penny Pepper, poet, novelist, disability rights activist, TLC Free Read recipient

I don’t believe that voices like ours are heard enough in society. Being an Asian woman with disabilities (cerebral palsy) has many complex issues in itself. I understand that writers generally find it tough to get into the mainstream. For people like me, it proves to be even more difficult as we have a lot of restrictions and physical/social/financial/cultural barriers. I, therefore, am very grateful to TLC, especially to be taken seriously as a writer. This has been so important for my self-esteem to feel significant, valuable and accepted in the world of writing and publishing.”

Kuli Kohli, author of ‘Rag Doll’, TLC Free Read recipient

Free Read Success Stories

“TLC INTRODUCED MY WORK TO AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS ON MY BEHALF. I SUSPECT NO-ONE WOULD HAVE LOOKED AT IT OTHERWISE.” 
JENNY DOWNHAM, Best-selling author of BEFORE I DIE (filmed as Now is Good starring Dakota Fanning), David Fickling Books 

“THE TLC READ WAS A BRILLIANT OPPORTUNITY TO GET DETAILED AND USEFUL FEEDBACK. EVIE WYLD’S REPORT WAS COMPREHENSIVE AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING. TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE HAS NOW SOLD IN FIFTEEN TERRITORIES, AND WAS SELECTED AS BOOK OF THE WEEK ON OPRAH.COM AFTER IT WAS PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN PRESS IN THE US.”
SARAH BUTLER, TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE, Picador

“I RE-READ THE MS, AND, WITH THE HELP OF ANNA’S EXCELLENT ADVICE, RE-WROTE. WHEN MY AGENT SENT THE BOOK OFF AGAIN, WE SECURED A DEAL WITH SERPENT’S TAIL.” 
BETHAN ROBERTS, THE POOLS, Serpent’s Tail

“THE FEEDBACK FROM SARA MAITLAND (TLC) WAS INVALUABLE AND GAVE ME THE CONFIDENCE TO BEGIN CONSIDERING MYSELF AS A WRITER.” 
VALERIE MASON JOHN, THE BANANA KID, British Association for Adopting and Fostering

Please note:
  • That the scheme is designed for low-income and high-quality writers.
  • The Free Read may consist of either a partial or full manuscript assessment (including poetry, short stories and scripts) and is dependent on budget.
  • All submissions must meet the TLC submission guidelines and eligibility criteria.

ACE Regional Writing Partners

Click on your location on the map to be taken
to your regional writing partner’s website
or use the key below.

Commonword
Literature Works
Dorset County Council
New Writing North
New Writing South
Writers’ Centre Norwich
Spread the Word
Writing East Midlands
Writing West Midlands

All of UK– Arvon and TLC

Quality Writing For All Partners:

Creative Future Literary Award
(working with marginalised writers)
Exiled Writers Ink
(for UK-based exiles, refugees and asylum seekers)
Wasafiri Magazine
(working with BAME writers)
SABLE LitMag
(working with BAME writers)
Shape Arts
(working with writers with disabilities)
NAWE Young Writers’ Hub
(working with young writers)

Quality Writing For All Supporters: 

English PEN
Disability Arts Online
Bernardine Evaristo
Ellah Allfrey