Your covering letter or, more accurately, your covering email, is the first thing an agent will see: your first impression. Working with an agent takes time and, like all relationships, needs to be developed and worked on with input from both sides. You are building a relationship that will hopefully last for many years so your cover letter should demonstrate, from the first words, that you have given care, thought and attention to the person you are addressing. Be personal, be professional and write to an individual, not an organisation. Most agents have a biog on their website which will tell you something about them, many have a Twitter account, and some write about their work. It is not unusual for me to have had a look at your social media or your website to try and help me form a picture of who you are and what you are interested in. It is useful for you to do the same and it may save you wasting your time applying to an agent who does not have the skills or interests to be able to help you with your career.
Most applicants write very similar cover letters. Probably 98% of emails I receive are almost identical; I’m interested in the 2%. Most list similar things and tell similar stories. Of the hundred or so applications I receive each week almost all tell me how passionate, hard-working, driven, and full of potential they are. These are the attributes we expect as a basic requirement from absolutely every actor crazy enough to try to work in this industry; believe me when I say you will not survive without them.
As I expect everyone to have those basic attributes what I’m looking for is actors with something unique about them; something that makes them stand out. Once you’ve worked out what it is about you that makes you unique, lead with that. Be specific. In a world where everyone with any musical theatre training at all is claiming to be a triple-threat, why not be specific? “I’m an outstanding dancer with a strong voice which makes me a great first or second cover in an ensemble. I’m not Killian Donnelly but I’m well-trained and I continue to work with a singing teacher weekly”. Specificity. This applicant was telling me what I had to work with, demonstrating they were up to date on current musical theatre voices, and telling me they continued to train professionally. All in just 37 words.
Brevity is key. We prefer brief emails, thank-you very much. Let me stress that again, brevity is key.
How do you actually write it? I think you can say everything you need in three short paragraphs.
The first paragraph need only be a line or two. It should say who you are and why you are getting in contact. If you have a personal connection, mention it in the first sentence “We met at the first night of…” or, if you know the recipient has seen you recently, “You attended my showcase at…” etc. Do not say “My friend Mavis told me to get in touch…” unless you are absolutely sure we know who Mavis is. Some Casting Directors know my taste and frequently advise people to get in touch with me. You would be surprised how many people think that is the last thing they should mention. There is no need to begin “I am writing to you today…” as it is obvious this is what you are doing.
The second paragraph is usually much harder to get right. You need to demonstrate in about three sentences precisely why you think you are a good match for this particular agent and their particular book. “I know you represent a lot of physical theatre actors, with strong singing voices and are particularly interested in new writing. I trained in physical theatre, circus, and rope, and have a strong baritone voice. I have worked with new writing companies, Theatre 503 and Paines Plough”, “I am an Asian actor from Sheffield in the 30-40 casting bracket with good TV credits and have noticed you do not have someone like me on your books.”
It is unfortunately true that most agents already have every casting type covered. My priority is always to be sure that I am representing my current client list as diligently as I can rather than extending myself too far. If I am looking for clients at all, then I am looking for clients I think I can help; those with a skill set I understand and have a track record of working with, those who have CV’s that demonstrate they are working at the level I am looking for, or those who fill a gap that is underrepresented on my book. The key points your second paragraph needs to address for me are;
-Why are you relevant or right for this particular agents book?
-Do you have a interesting skill set?
-Have you some recent news, such as a new role, new headshots, just graduated?
Your third and final paragraph need not be more than a line, thanking them for their time. Include your headshot in the body of the email not as an attachment – when I’m not in the office I work from home or a laptop and won’t compromise my security by opening unsolicited attachments in case they contain a virus. The same goes for your CV; include your Spotlight webpage as a hyper-link we can click on which takes us directly to your Spotlight CV. This is a tremendous timesaver and we will be grateful for it.
If you are inviting us to your show provide a hyperlink, taking us to the company, or show website. There is no need to write lengthy paragraphs about the show; while it is great publicity for them, it is you we are interested in. If we’re interested in you, we will find out about the show. If we’re not interested in you then no amount of prose describing what a wonderful experience, or what a fantastic part it is, will persuade us. Make your email specific to you, not a production. Please do give us plenty of time. Agents have very full diaries and are unlikely to have space in the next month. The more notice you are able to give the more chance you have of finding us with a free slot.
One of my favourite exercises when I was an English teacher was the art of the concise redraft. It was a particularly useful exercise for journalism students who need to learn to write to a word count. Once you have finished your first draft count the words then re-draft cutting the word count by a third. It is amazing how often you can do this and is an extremely useful exercise in discovering the most information you can pack in to the fewest words. Your aim is to be precise and give as much relevant and pertinent information as possible. Have I mentioned that brevity is key? Please, please get to the point as quickly as possible. Please redraft, reading it aloud as you go – reading your email aloud will help you spot any grammatical mistakes and a spell check will help your spelling.
Finally, do put some thought into the time of day you send your email – send it in the evening and your email is likely to be buried under 30 or more emails in an inbox by morning, even more so if you send it over the weekend.
Really, getting an agent isn’t that big a deal and it is only a step on your journey, not the end. It should not affect your confidence or belief in yourself if you don’t have one. There are many, many talented actors sat on agents’ books, out of work. Getting an agent should never be the point at which you sit back and relax – this is your career and you must be the driving force. An agent is a passenger on your journey; a helpful map-reader perhaps, but you are the driver.