The marvellous Becky asks my thoughts on cover letters today. I’ve read a lot of cover letters over the years that accompany scripts. I know a lot of agents’ assistants, readers, etc don’t bother but I’ve always found them very illuminating. What a writer does (or doesn’t) put in their cover letter can say A LOT about the script’s quality, believe it or not, in that the weirder or more badly written a cover letter is, *generally speaking* the weirder and more badly written the actual script is. A simple equation, really.
So here’s a quick breakdown of my thoughts on cover letters. Obviously I’m just one reader in a crowd of many, but this is how your cover letter *might* be perceived:
1) Do your research. There is no point sending a comedy script to a production company that specialises in drama; literary agents too can have preferences. The “write” way to approach the right people is by consulting agent and prodco’s websites and resources like The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Never skimp on research. Similarly, GET A NAME and send it to someone specific within the organisation. Stuff addressed to “Sir/Madam” looks amateur when you can get a name easily off the internet. The really clever writers RING PEOPLE UP and ask them if they’re interested in reading their stuff. Very often they will say yes and if they say no, you haven’t wasted your time.
2) Presentation is everything. A grammar and spelling check is a must in the “write” cover letter: you’re trying to persuade someone to think you’re a good writer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a bit of colour or making yourself a nice letterhead on your cover letter, but do not go overboard. Inspirational quotes, very bright coloured paper, photographs, daft fonts with super squiggly serifs, etc are a BIG no-no.
3) Recommendations, meetings, solicited works. If you have been recommended by someone to the person you’re sending to, have met them before (however fleetingly) or this person has ASKED you to send your work in, for God’s sake SAY SO in your cover letter. Chances are the agent or producer won’t be reading the cover letter anyway, it will be their assistant; at some places you may get preferential treatment (ie. get read quicker) if you’ve been recommended, have met them before or been solicited. DON’T however kiss arse or tell gigantic fibs, you will be found out, it’s a smaller world than you think.
4) Keep your letter brief and to the point. Tell them what you’re sending them (a script, a novel, a treatment, etc), tell them the title and most importantly the GENRE. You’d be surprised by how many writers leave this information out!
5) The one page pitch. ALWAYS include a one page pitch or synopsis with your work (and that includes you, novelists!!). Readers HATE having to dive into a draft “cold” with no idea of what it is, plus this is an added opportunity to SELL YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY. Don’t let it pass you by just because one pagers are a bitch to write. Go that extra mile. DON’T however include CDs of music that “go with” the script, photographs of characters, concept art or anything else. Once I read a script about a a family of girls who make a quilt and the writer thought it an excellent idea to include a piece of said imaginary quilt. That was just odd.
6) Don’t be needy, weird or boastful. Gushing over someone via letter just creeps people out; so does going on about how VERY DIFFICULT you’ve found writing the script [for whatever reason], how much scriptwriting or other writers do your head in or what your deepest, darkest fears are. Similarly, there is a difference between bigging yourself up (after all, no one will do it for you – and if you’ve won a contest or have credits, say so!) and full-on BOASTING about how fabulous you are. Sounds an exaggeration, but I’ve read cover letters like all of these lots of times. I’ll never forget one I read about five years’ ago that came through a literary agent which, I kid ye not, said: “As someone of above-average intelligence, I have created a script that asks wise questions of its audience and provides them with the answers.” Blimey, wish I knew all the answers. The funniest thing was, it was a very derivative comedy with very little to say in my opinion. However, my ultimate fave weirdo letter STILL of all time came to me just three scripts in to my reading career and said: “This script has received funding [from this initiative]. This means it is good. If upon reading it you disagree, please call [this number] and the writer will be happy to explain anything you did not understand.” Arf!
Anyway, hope that helps – The Rouge Wave has some of its own thoughts on query letters. NOTE: query letters are different to cover letters in that a writer will send these out with a logline and NO SCRIPT, asking an agent, producer etc IF they want to read their script. This is a good idea – sending your stuff out cold is a mug’s game because even if someone *does* get round to reading it, how do you know if you’ve targetted them correctly? It’s a waste of time and trees. Send query letters, phone calls and emails people!