My Experience of a Full Free Read by Shahema Tafader


“Learning to write was like climbing a ladder without a friend to hold it steady. The first few steps were secure – easy, even. I wrote a piece of flash fiction here and there, 500 words at most. Not that difficult to edit (how many things could I possibly get wrong in a few hundred words?). Then I climbed higher and tried my hand at 3,000 words. That’s when the ladder shook a little, but I held on and slowly ascended. One day, I was two-thirds of my way up – writing my first novel – when the wind picked up, rocking me (no, not gently like a cradled baby, silly). I stiffened, my breath held, certain the gust that would blow me over was coming. The ladder made a took, took sound as each leg stepped on and lifted off the ground, and when I felt my body sinking to the side, the wind frilling my hair (dramatic, I know), I was jerked back to the vertical with my head spinning. At the bottom, holding my ladder steady, was a friend.

The Free Reads scheme.

Or at least, I’m quite certain that’s how it happened, but who knows – ‘recollections may vary’.

And after all that, I’m going to make the cardinal sin of telling you what I mean (editors, look away).

I wrote my first manuscript – middle grade, around 40,000 words – edited it (content and line edits), had no idea if I had done a decent job, and no one to tell me if I was on the right track. After all, every other person I knew was on the same path with me – writing and learning together. We weren’t exactly seasoned professionals. Sure, we could pick up on the literary techniques (you’re telling a bit too much here; perhaps you could add some description here, I still don’t know where we are), but none of us had read an entire manuscript and given feedback on, for example, plot, and character development, and that marvellous word – denouement (yes, spellcheck had to correct me). In fact, based on the feedback I was getting from my writing group, my manuscript was basically there.

But it wasn’t.

I knew it wasn’t, because that voice in my head (and that agent form rejection) told me so. So where could I go from there? It was Twitter that gave me the answer: apply for Spread the Word’s Free Reads scheme.

The scheme is applied for through Spread the Word who selects the manuscripts and sends them off to The Literary Consultancy (TLC). TLC then matches the manuscript up with the best editor for the job, and they, in turn, rip our worlds apart with their detailed and unrelenting feedback (this is a good thing, I promise).

The prize – I’m sure you’ll agree – is astonishing. What a dream, especially considering I couldn’t afford to get a partial manuscript edit, let alone a full one.

And here’s why I love my personality – I keep trying regardless of how many rejections I get. I knew the chances of me being selected were slim to none, but I didn’t care. Apply, apply, apply, and something will hit. Well, this did hit, and fast forward to April, I went through all of the emotions of receiving my edits. My beautiful, perfect, maddeningly constructive edits. And do you know what the funny part is? TLC knows very well the emotions we feel when we receive edits that they have a whole aftercare document to ease us. I love it:

I got annoyed at myself for making so many errors.

Shhhh, take a breather, the document tells me.

I felt overwhelmed by the number of edits.

Shhhh, get your highlighter and pick out the key points.

I felt like I could never re-write my work.

Shhhh, you can do it.

And yes, I can do it.

It’s going to be quite an uphill battle, I know (I’ll need climbing ropes this time instead of a ladder, because those edits were de-tailed!), but I’ve written a whole manuscript once before, and I can do it again.

Yes, I’ll go back and incorporate world-building (apparently, my book is a fantasy/horror, and not just a horror … don’t ask me how that happened). Yes, I’ll go back and include flashbacks of my protagonist with her father (we need to know more clearly why we hate this man). And yes, I’ll make Marion a part of the lead characters’ crew (we need this so our hearts can bleed us dead by the end).

What Goliath changes, but little old me can do it, one secure step on a rung at a time.

I started this post by saying that learning to write was like climbing a ladder. I was wrong … it is like climbing a ladder. One that never ends, and each time you come across a new person, you might just find yourself learning something new. This is why getting as many eyes on your work as possible is paramount to writing something of a high standard. This is why I would highly encourage you to apply for the Free Reads scheme. Another pair of fresh eyes on your work could only be a benefit, and who better than a professional?




Trust me, this ladder’s worth getting on, and it’s bolted to the ground.”

Published: 24 July 2023