How To Write
COVER LETTER BASICS
he letter is a universal sales implement of business and the greatest
potential creator and transactor of business in the world. That is what
gives it such great power and its infinite possibilities.
In show business, we will use several different kinds of sales letters, from time
to time – but the most important, in our dealings, is the so-called “cover let-
The problem with most cover letters is they are not “aimed” properly and
therefore rarely hit the target. So it is crucial to take your time and do the hard
part of going through several re-writes – to get each cover letter ‘right.’
Letters have their limitations – and their advantages, and every actor is well
advised to understand them. For instance, a letter has the inherent weakness
of lacking personality (one of the best tools a salesman has).
But it also has several natural advantages that can be used to “connect” with
the reader - if it is written effectively. First, a well thought out and carefully
written letter has the distinct advantage of being able to carry a message of
quality and professionalism. It will arrive on the recipient’s desk with exactly
the same amount of enthusiasm and freshness as it left your hand.
Your cover letter, if written clearly, will never misrepresent you – or your skills.
It won’t get discouraged or lack confidence at the last minute. It won’t get
In fact, a written communication is immune to all the pitfalls of an in-person
meeting and when it is properly prepared, it can represent you faithfully,
promptly and efficiently.
Many actors make the mistake of thinking that a cover letter’s purpose is to
introduce oneself to a potential casting director, agent or manager. But it just
isn’t about that at all. In fact, every letter you send out should carry your sales
message. That’s because the written word is the greatest salesman known to
man – and it’s no different in show business.
With all that in mind, it’s important to understand that when it comes to your
cover letter, it’s a very bad plan to try and “knock it out” – just before sending
Since a cover letter can often mean the difference between getting a call and
not getting a call – it’s important to take your time to plan and execute your
cover letter long before you start sending out your submissions.
In fact, a good plan is to have several “cover letters” prepared ahead of time – to
use in various circumstances. There is quite a difference between a cover letter
to an agent and a casting director – or between a producer and a director.
Having pre-prepared cover letters will save you time – and the work you do,
putting them together ahead of time ... will give you ample opportunity to
polish every written communication you have with others – through your
In other words this is more homework.
In order to write an effective cover letter it’s vital that you understand the
principles that govern the letter – whose main object is to “sell the prospect’
on the idea that meeting you is a good idea.
(I’ll use the word ‘prospect’ from now on, so that you will keep in mind that this
is a ‘sales’ letter - and so I don’t have to keep repeating agent, casting director,
To properly construct a good sales letter you must do your best to use the order,
position and essential elements that make up a letter that “pulls.”
Those essential elements are:
1. The Opening = Attention
2. Developing Interest = Establishing Rapport
3. Handling Objections = Reassurance of Professionalism
4. Using Salesmanship = Speaking The “Language” of Your ‘Prospect
5. The Close = Asking For The ‘Order’ - or The Call To Action
6. The P.S. = Drive Home Main Benefit - and Ask Again
he way to begin building your killer cover letter is by gathering as much
information as you can about the person to whom you are sending the
letter. As mentioned in You Must Act! – it is almost always a bad plan to
send a generic cover letter.
“To whom it may concern,” is exactly the sort of greeting that’s always passed
over. The lack of personalization is generally a guarantee that your letter will
be ignored. So, first, you must know the name of the person to whom you are
writing – at a bare minimum.
It also helps enormously if you have some other information ... such as the the
agent’s area of specialization, the casting director’s prior projects, or useful
information about the diretor.
This is information that you can gather from IMDb.com (Pro Version) or by doing
your research from other sources – Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Backstage – or
your local trade paper.
In order to make your letter “do it’s job” – keep in mind the principles discussed
in You Must Act! – from the book I recommended – Influence by Dr. Robert
Be careful not to write about your needs, your concerns and your love of
acting – but instead, focus on the recipient ... “Your agency, your project,
your current needs, etc.”
This is an approach that is used in all effective sales presentations – and
make no mistake, your cover letter is a sales vehicle.
If it’s not – it will not work.
A good way to study up on this written sales presentation – is to start paying
attention to the sales letters you receive from banks, charities, and others who
want you to buy something or contribute. If you read these sorts of letters
carefully, you will soon discover that they share many common components.
Components you will be trying for, in your cover letter.
Another good tactic is to start what is called a ‘swipe file’ of good phrases,
powerful words, quotes and active verbs – elements that you will find in every
good sales presentation.
It’s also a good strategy to have a working knowledge of the vocabulary your
prospect uses on a daily basis.
With agents, for instance, it is remarkably effective to use words and phrases
that communicate your commitment to making a lot of money. By the way,
these should not be “on the nose” comments – but implied results, that whet
an agent’s appetite for income ... based on representing you.
Casting directors are generally looking for “the next big thing,” “lightning in
a bottle,” “craft,” “training,” etc. They are more susceptible to adjectives about
your acting choices.
Directors and producer’s are usually looking for things like “easy to work with,”
“collaboration,” “commitment,” “professionalism,” etc. They are generally more
inclined toward actors who promise to be “a joy to work with.”
It is only human nature to respond to someone who “speaks your language.” So
be sure to do this homework too. And write your letter using every opportunity
to present what your prospect ‘wants’ – not what you need.
BUILDING YOUR COVER LETTER
irst visualize your prospect. See things from the casting director’s,
agent’s, producer’s or director’s point of view. Imagine their needs, their
ambitions, their environment – and approach your communication
from that angle.
If you are not sure how agents, casting directors and producers see things
– go to the library and do your research.
Agents, producers, directors and casting directors are all featured in many
books on acting - as well as interviews in trade papers, etc. Pay attention to
the way they express themselves, the things they consider important, and
the sorts of approaches that have worked with them before. All of this is good
information, when it comes time to sit down to write your cover letter.
Now, imagine you are sitting face to face with the person to whom you are
writing. Keep your language conversational (without resorting to slang) and
Put your proposition in clear, unmistakable language. “I’d like to meet with you
someday” is nowhere near as strong as “I’d like ten minutes of your time to
convince you that I am the sort of client who brings home the bookings.”
Remember that all ‘deals’ are decided from an emotional reaction – and then
backed up with logic. So, be sure that your cover letter conveys the “promise”
of: more money, easier work situation, professionalism, commitment, and
other ideas that will hit home with your ‘prospect.’
In the following examples, I will concentrate on a cover letter for agents
(because, in fact, this is the main recipient you will be targeting with your
first cover letter.
But keep in mind that the principles are the same for every sort of “business”
letter you will send – to producers, directors, casting folks and other people
who are in a position to consider you for participation in a project.
lways address your letter to a specific person. To repeat, that is the
only sort of letter that has any chance of being read. Keep in mind the
general principal of being memorable to other people: Use their name
– people respond more to their own name than any other word you can use.
In your opening sentences, don’t waste time on the obvious.
It’s pointless to spend time telling an agent that you are “seeking representation”
as this is self-evident. The same with casting directors – they already know that
you want an opportunity to meet them, so don’t start with “I would like to meet
The main reason not to start with any of that, is that your letter will not ‘grab’
the prospect – if you start by telling them something they already know.
You should also avoid saying things like: “I love acting,” “I think I’d be a good
actor,” “I really want this,” “Everybody tells me I should be an actor,” “I starred in
every show at my high school,” “This is the only thing I ever wanted to do with my
life,” “People say I’m crazy ...”
These are phrases that you should avoid at all costs. These kinds of phrases
will label you as an amateur.
Instead, what you must do is get them involved in your ‘story’ immediately.
(Be sure to review that section of You Must Act! where we talked about “telling
a story” - since the same advisories apply in your written communications.
“Dear Mr. Walker,
“When I started my professional career, one critic said I was the strangest actor
he’d ever seen on stage. That may be because I was almost seven feet tall, with
flaming red hair.”
Now, I’ve exaggerated here, so that you will understand the point.
In other words, you should be looking for something in your own uniqueness,
your own ‘story’ – that “grabs” the reader’s eyeballs – in the first couple of
he next few lines should keep the reader interested and reading. It’s im-
portant to stand out from the crowd (as it always will be in your acting
career – in all circumstances). The best way to stand out – is to focus on
benefits to the prospect.
This means focusing on your product’s ‘features.’ (Keep in mind that your act-
ing services are the product.)
Probably the most important ‘feature’ that any actor can ‘sell’ to an agent is the
ability to make money. But to repeat, this is not something you can approach
directly. You must infer it.
“Last year I was quite busy with both theatre and television work in my home town
of Cleveland. My goal was to book enough work to purchase a new car – and I did
it! I came to Los Angeles because I want to buy a house.”
Again, this is just an example – but it’s imperative to understand that however
you decide to put it, you must engage the agent in the idea that you are in it
for the money (because every agent is – and that’s what gets their attention)
and that you have goals that are money related.
ne of the most significant parts of any sales letter – is getting past
the objections your ‘prospect’ is probably likely to have. In the case
of most agents, the main objection is the knowledge (which every
agent has), that most actors are unprepared for the marketplace – or have
So, something like this may be effective:
“Now that I’m based here in Los Angeles I am on track to exceed my first year
goals – both artistically and career-wise. So far I’ve booked 2 under-five roles
and a principal role in a commercial without the benefit of representation ... so
I feel that having a professional such as yourself working on my behalf will only
increase my success rate.”
f you have gotten Influence by Robert Cialdini, you already have a sense of
the elements that make up a good sales presentation. These elements are
useful in every sort of sales message.
The language, approach and premise of your cover letter needs to be aligned
with Dr. Cialdini’s principles. This next part of your letter is the place to begin
your closing - by establishing authority, commitment, liking, etc.
“In doing my research, I feel that I would be a good fit for your agency. I know my
work ethic and drive are closely aligned with what you said you were looking for
in a client (in the Backstage interview in April of last year).”
Now the critical part of every cover letter:
his section of your cover letter is the most important. Here is where your
goal is to compel your ‘prospect’ to take action. The action you want the
agent to take is, of course, to give you an appointment.
Worded properly, this last bit can increase your “call-in” rate dramatically. So,
take pains and great care in formulating your “call to action.”
“I have heard that you’re very busy with your current clients, so I do appreciate any
consideration you may give me.”
(Notice that I’ve provided the prospect with an opportunity to tell me otherwise,
by saying “I have heard.” We humans love “correcting.”)
“If you don’t mind, I’ll follow up this letter with a phone call on (date) in hopes that
you can give me ten minutes of your time to discuss our possible association.”
(I’ve used two “closers” here. The assumption that the prospect will accept my
call on a date in the near future. And that there will be time for a discussion - if
the prospect will “give” 10 minutes.)
“I’m confident that meeting me in person will convince you I’m the sort of committed
professional actor who can bring home the bookings.”
(Now I’ve gone back to ‘benefits’ with the phrase ‘bring home the bookings.’)
ne of the most effective (and important) parts of any sales letter is the
‘P.S.’ This short sentence or two is usually glanced at, before the letter
is actually read – so it’s a great time to to state your main benefits and
cause the ‘prospect’ to take an action that will enhance your chances – even
compel the ‘prospect’ to want to meet with you.
“P.S. If you’d like to get a sense of my work, please visit my website - www.joeactor.
com – where you can see my short reel and some recent headshots. You can also
email me from there – if you’d like to have me come in sooner. I look forward to
Please notice that the end result is a fairly short letter.
When you are dealing with people in our business, it’s very important to
keep in mind that they are very time oriented and if they open a long, two or
three page, densely packed letter – it will almost always cause them to “shut
This is not the result you want, is it?
Also, be aware that this is a business letter and it should look ‘business-like.’
Use quality paper, make sure the print out is neat and clean, don’t use fancy
fonts, check your spelling (especially your prospect’s name), sign it with black
or blue ink, and keep it to one page.
A neat little trick that you can use – to make your letter look like it’s been
written just for this ‘prospect’ – is to use a typewriter font such as Courier
– with a display font used to create your ‘stationery.’
You’ll find a sample of what your final letter can (and should) look like on the
inally, it’s also very important to prepare yourself for your likely results. Most
agents are going to be difficult to ‘win over’ with this initial submission, so,
as I hope I’ve hammered home by now, be prepared to handle rejection.
Because it will happen.
By now, you know what to do ... “shake it off and step up.”
Try, try again.
123 W. 50th St.
New York City, NY 10038
(212) 555 - 8912
ABC Talent Agency
Dear Mr. Walker,
When I started my professional acting career, one reviewer said I was
the strangest actor he’d ever seen on stage. That may be because I’m
almost seven feet tall and have flaming red hair.
Last year, as you can see from my résumé, I was quite busy with both
theatre and television work in my home town of Cleveland. My goal was
to book enough work to purchase a new car - and I did it! Now that I’m
based here in NYC, I am on track to exceed my first year goals – both
artistically and career-wise. So far I’ve booked 2 under-five roles
and a commercial without the benefit of representation ... so I feel
that having a skilled agent working on my behalf will only increase
my success rate.
In doing my research, I feel that I would be a good fit for your agency.
I know my work ethic and drive are closely aligned with what you said
you were looking for in a client (in the Backstage interview – April of
I have heard that you’re busy this time of year, so I do appreciate any
consideration you may give me. If you don’t mind, I’ll follow up this
letter with a phone call on January 16th, in hopes that you can give me
ten minutes of your time to discuss our possible association. I’m con-
fident that meeting me in person will convince you I’m the sort of com-
mitted professional actor who can bring home the bookings.
Thanks for your time,
P.S. If you’d like to get a sense of my work, please visit my website
- www.joeactor.com - where you can see my current reel and some recent
headshots. You can also email me from there – if you’d like to have
me come in on a specific date. I look forward to meeting you.