The Acting Cover Letter - A 'How To' Guide
Ah yes, the acting cover letter. If you found this article, you're probably getting ready to mail your headshot & resumé to every agent, manager, and casting director in town. But before you do...
You need to write a fantastic acting cover letter. One that grabs attention. One that says, "I'm here. I'm available. Hire me!"
I used to do that too. I would beg, borrow, and steal the mailing address of every agent I could find. Then I would mail over 100 packages and start praying for a phone call.
But the phone never rang. And the worst part? You spent the 44¢ for postage.
Why Mass Mailings Don't Work
Mailing headshots is expensive, time-consuming, and utterly pointless. Why? Because talent agencies receive hundreds, even thousands of them on a daily basis. But less than 2% actually find their way onto the desk of an agent.
The other 98% find their way into the paper shredder.
So why would an actor do a mass mailing? Because it makes him feel like he did something to further his career.
But the only thing that will further your acting career is showing up. Attending auditions. Doing the work.
When to Use a Cover Letter
That being said, an acting cover letter can be useful. But how?
Let's say you meet an agent (or manager, or casting director) at a showcase, or a party, or a box social. That person is a new contact, so don't let that trail run cold. Instead, send them a package:
• A business card with your photo on it.
• A cover letter, addressed to them personally.
But what makes for an effective cover letter? That comes next.
How to Write an Acting Cover Letter
There's only one major rule when writing a cover letter: keep it short. Get your point across without wasting anyone's time. Remember, this is a business first.
1. Remind them where they met you. Your opening paragraph is a greeting, and a reminder.
Don't say: You might remember meeting me at John Smith's Christmas party.
Instead, It was an absolute pleasure speaking with you at John Smith's Christmas party. You gave me a lot to think about.
2. Show them you're serious. Tell them where you went to school, whose class you're currently taking, and what your career goals are. This will reassure them that you are commited to being an actor.
3. Show them you're in demand. Tell them about the play you're working on, and encourage them to come see it. (Maybe even throw in some comp tickets.) This will show them that there's money to be made if they represent you.
4. Refer them to your headshot/resumé. Go in for the kill. Once they see your headshot/resumé, they'll have a better idea of what kind of actor you are. (And whether you're marketable.)
Here's an example of a bad cover letter. I pulled this from Gordon Hunt's book, How to Audition.
And here's an example of a good cover letter, written by yours truly.
Make it Look Professional
• Use business letter format. If you need help, follow the format of the 'good cover letter' above.
• Use high quality paper or stationary: This isn't essential, but it adds extra credibility and professionalism.
• Use titles. Like Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr., Esq., and so on.
• Sign it. Get a good quality black pen and sign your name at the bottom.
• Use a full-sized, catalog style envelope. This is important... Don't fold anything. Instead, get an envelope large enough to fit your 8 x 10 headshot, and your cover letter.
• Use a mailing label. Once again, not essential. But printing a mailing label could be the difference between the agent's desk or the shredder.
• "Do Not Bend." Take a marker or a Sharpie and write this in big, bold letters at the bottom of your envelope. Or else some disgruntled postal worker will screw up your chances of getting on Broadway.
• No crazy stamps. Stick to the American flag, or the Queen, something standard. If he sees Minnie Mouse or Betty Boop on the envelope, it goes into the shredder.
Drop it Off in Person
What's better than sending your package through the mail? Dropping it off in person!
When you arrive at the agency, you obviously won't get past the gatekeeper... I mean receptionist. Here's what you do...
Smile, give the receptionist your package and say: "Hello, would you give this to Mr. So-and-so? He's expecting it."
Works every time.
The Bottom Line
What's the bottom line? Use the acting cover letter wisely, and with discretion. The thing that will garner you attention is the work you're doing on stage and screen, not letters on a page.