My experience of a partial Free Read
by Chris Howard


Spread the Word are delighted to be one of The Literary Consultancy’s partners for their Free Reads scheme – an opportunity for talented low-income writers to get free, professional feedback on their writing. Chris Howard shares his experience of getting a partial read…

“In 2019 my writing wasn’t going well at all, and it had reached the point where I was strongly considering just giving up. I had more than ten years of being rejected by everything I submitted to. Agents, competitions, writing development opportunities. A lot of novels written. They all came back with rejections, or in most cases, no response at all. I felt like I’d wasted a decade of my life.

I said to my friend, if I had any talent or ability to be a writer, there would’ve been some sign of it by now. So I was going to quit. I had a half-finished draft of the novel I was writing at the time and it was going to go in the bin. Well, soon after I said that, I got the message saying I’d been granted a partial Free Read. This would be a professional critique of the first 15,000 words of my manuscript and synopsis. At the time I’d forgotten I’d even applied. Just another submission amongst many that I’d fired off.

There’s a few writing development opportunities out there. Most of them cost money, and some of them cost a lot of money. Many were closed off to me because of financial reasons. The Free Reads scheme was one of the few I’d seen that didn’t cost money to access.

Once the elation of being accepted wore off, it was back to worrying about my work. As much as I could see, there were only two ways this could go. They were going to either say, this has a lot of problems, but you might be able to fix them if you work hard, or they were going to say this is an unsalvageable mess and you better put it in the bin and start something else.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. There was more praise and positives than negatives. Not only had some stranger read my work, but they had really enjoyed it and told me they thought my work was of a publishable standard. Alongside the praise was some very useful feedback on what wasn’t working. Moments of overwriting in my prose and parts that lacked specificity. An ending to the story that was overly abrupt. The advice to correct these flaws was both astute and broad enough that I could carry it forward with me to future projects as well.

I went back and reworked the book over several months. The prose was refined and the story got a new ending that worked much better.  After those additional drafts, I managed to win further feedback from Spread The Word’s Bookouture competition.

The advice I received from the Free Reads scheme helped me improve the quality of my work a lot, and I regularly go back to it whilst writing, particularly when I need to edit my prose. Not only that, but after all the years of rejection, I can finally feel more confident in myself and my work.”

Published 13 August 2020