Why do writers need to write cover letters?
So, I’ve written before about querying and getting your work solicited via email, but sometimes only a good old fashioned cover letter will do!
You’ll usually write a cover letter as part of your submission process. You may have been asked to send in your screenplay or novel, or perhaps you’re sending it out in the hope of getting representation with an agent. Sometimes you’ll be writing ‘cover letters’ as part of an online submission process, especially if you’re applying for public funding.
Cover Letter Basics
If you take NOTHING ELSE from this post, check out these basics:
Advanced Cover Letter Stuff
Many writers worry what the above means, so here’s some more detail:
1. Always research WHO you’re sending your screenplay or novel to. There’s no excuse for not doing so, in the internet age. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s by sending them your stuff when it’s unsuitable. It’s easy to check this: look at websites and script calls in detail; check out producers’ and agents’ wish lists online via Twitter; network with people (online and offline) and ASK! In other words, just know who is interested in what.
2. A good length = roughly half a page. I often tell Bang2writers roughly 300 words is a good cover letter length. It means plenty of white space, but has enough detail for you to get your point across without getting carried away either. Sometimes writers say this is too short. Trust me: it is NOT too short.
In terms of being ‘warm’ – if you ‘know’ this person online, it’s fine to say so and/or reference anything that ‘bonds’ you, within reason. After all, if they’re not going to remember, you may end up in weird territory … But you don’t want to be frosty, either!
3. Just don’t do comedy. Ever. Yes, even if it’s a comedic book. You just don’t know how it’ll come across in the context of a cover letter. So better just to sidestep that potential hornet’s nest altogether.
4. Let them know you know what you’re talking about. I’m always surprised by the number of cover letters whose writers hide their lights under bushels. We’re talking authors with epic bestsellers right through to screenwriting show runners. Last year a very famous and much-admired writer wrote me an email telling me all about himself as if I didn’t know who he could be … when just his NAME in my inbox gave me a heart attack! Of course, this just came off as very cute … But if you’re NOT as big as this guy, then making sure the person you’re writing to knows what you’ve done is a great tactic and NO, it is not boasting!
5. Having a platform/presence is a great idea. Put simply, if you direct the person you’re writing to straight towards your website or social media profiles, they’re likely to go straight there and check you out. This enables you to showcase what you want ‘upfront’ – though be warned, this can be a double-edged sword. So make sure your platform or presence works FOR you, not AGAINST you!
Cover Letters WORK
NEWSFLASH: A good cover letter WORKS, because the spec pile WORKS.
Whilst contacts and strategy ALWAYS help, a well presented submission package can catch producers’, readers’, publishers’ and agents’ eyes … FACT.
But too many cover letters catch people’s eyes for the WRONG reasons. They’re scrappy, overly long, unprofessional, or just plain weird. (Whatever you do: just don’t ever, EVER write a cover letter like this as our dearly departed Carole Blake demonstrated).
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