Marketing Yourself: ’If in Doubt’ Rules For Letter and Email Writing
As with most things in the acting world there is no ‘right way’ when it comes to putting a letter or email together. The following advice comes from interviews I’ve carried out with various actors, casting directors, agents and other industry experts; basic rules you can fall back on when in doubt, that will leave you something professional and effective.
When is it right to send a letter and when is it better to email?
Casting directors and agents are usually clear on their websites about how they want to receive submissions and correspondence so if it is your first time writing to someone then generally follow their individual guidelines. You can ignore it if you know the person you are writing to well, and agents will generally be less annoyed than casting directors if you go against it.
Email is quicker, more direct, more modern and business-like. It will also save you time and money (and the possibly the environment).
But the industry’s streak of conservatism means that the old-fashioned letter, CV and 10-by-8 still has value (and people are fairly protective of their inboxes) so if people ask for them go with that. This is especially handy if you want to write at length to directors and writers about projects you are passionate about.
Choosing Who to Write To
Address it to a Specific Individual, Not a Group
You will increase your chances of success simply because something addressed to an individual will make them feel more obliged to respond. Anything general sent to a group (for example, all the agents at an agency) can be deleted without fear of upsetting the sender for not getting back to them.
Choose People That You Have a Specific Reason For Writing To
I’m an actor wanting to get a new agent, I thought you’d be great’ … generic reasons for writing are over-used, boring for the reader and easy to ignore.
Find a hook! … reeling off someone’s CV that you’ve just looked up won’t help you. So use something that shows you genuinely care/are a fan of their work; you have picked them out for a definite reason.
e.g. you are in a hilarious new play so you invite a casting director who cast your latest favourite TV comedy; a playwright who grew up in the same town as you and their new play is set there; you had a brilliant time recently working with a client of the agent you have written to for representation … or it can be as simple as ‘I’ve saw your most recent show and thought (various wonderful things)’.
This hook, link or whatever you like to call it is the key part of any correspondence you send.
Use Your Connections
If the person you are writing to knows you they are more likely to feel obliged to respond to your request. You may want to attract the attention of a top casting director or agent but if you know their assistant would it be better to contact them first?
How Much Should You Write?
‘Keep it Brief’
Almost every casting director and agent will say this; they receive a lot of emails and letters and have no spare time.
What does ‘brief’ mean? Anything over a couple of short paragraphs and you are probably pushing it. But if you follow the structure below you’ll be able to write a very readable set of three or four precise, information-packed sentences. The key thing is to present your information clearly and get to the point - what you want from that person.
The biggest exception to this rule is if you are explaining your interest/passion for a specific upcoming project to a writer or director. These letters will only have a chance of working if you are 100% genuinely interested or you have a compelling connection to the material in the script so only write if this is true. In these cases your passion is your selling-point so let your genuine interest in the project guide you to an appropriate length.
This is always a slightly tricky balance between formality and informality. If in doubt use these rules:
If you know the person you are writing to then the nature of your relationship will be your guide and you should rely on that.
But if you don’t know the person or have met them only a few times then aim for cautious informality. This means keep it short, to the point, avoid gimmicks and keep jokes and banter to a minimum, use ’Dear …’ instead of ‘Hi …’, use peoples’ first names rather than their full name, and sign off with your full name.
Think about your aims. If you are trying to get someone to watch your showreel or come to your play then clearly explaining why you are targeting that person and putting in a easy-to-use link is your priority. Lots of banter and showing off your vibrant personality is not.
Again, if you are writing to someone (usually writers or directors) explaining your deep passion or connection to a project then the rules are different and you can afford to let you personality come through much more.
Although of course you want everything you write to reflect who your are and your individuality, remember that the tastes of the person you are writing to are what’s most important. Everyone in the industry is busy so keeping things business-like and professional without being too stiff (cautious informality!) is your best ‘if in doubt’ option.
Links and Attachments
The golden rule here is don’t test their patience. You want to limit the level of annoyingness and inconvenience of your email. Make everything as easy to get to as possible.
Showreels and Short Films …
... should be a link that takes the reader there in one click. Use Vimeo or Youtube. Put it between the ‘Dear’ and the ‘Many thanks’, not at the bottom after your name where it is easer to ignore.
Don’t make them wade through the highlights of your CV; instead mention one relevant, recent job and put a one-click-away link in the body of the email.
Rather that making people reach for an attachment, embed photos so a picture of your face is there immediately when the email is opened. Make sure it is small, otherwise you will be clogging up someone’s inbox.
And catch and keep the reader’s attention by using bold or italicised fonts to highlight key information, especially shows you have just worked on or that you want them to see.
Format and Content
The basic things you need to include …
1) Dear/Hi …
only use ‘Hi’ if you know them very well, and if in any doubt go with ‘Dear’. Use their first name rather than their full name.
2) Your strong, fascinating, specific reason for writing to that particular person. A little bit about yourself is optional here if it supports your connection to them (‘I grew up in … ‘; ‘I’ve just finished working on X with your client X’).
3) What you want from them.
4) Include any links or attachments in the body of the email … make them one-click away from your material.
5) A sign-off. ‘Many thanks’ is informal enough, professional, and will stop you finishing off with a lot of grovelling gratitude. Use your full name if you don’t know the person.