How to know how long a cover letter should be

A cover letter should only be as long as you need it to be; not more, not less. What does that mean? That you need to leave in everything that is important and is going to help you in an application, and take out all the stuff that isn’t.

So a few notes on what should be left in.

Remember that you’re still writing a letter, so make sure it’s reasonably formal and business-like. Introduce yourself and let them know why you are writing to them. It should be concise and to the point – remember, they’re going to get loads of these, and they don’t want to be reading rambling, indirect, skirting-around-the-issue letters. They want to-the-point and direct, but still polite and not demanding. Think about how you would like to receive a letter, and what you might be impressed by.

They need to know the essentials about you. So, age, playing age, hair colour, height, body shape/type; they are all good things to include. Especially so if they want specifics, so if they’re casting for a part that require someone has brown hair, blue eyes, are tall and has dark skin, and that is you, make sure you mention that – all of them. They’ll go “great! That’s the job half done.” If you live close to the place filming, or have a base in the area where the play, shoot or whatever is taking place, be sure to mention that too, as that will help you stand out, particularly if they’ve asked for people to apply only who live in a certain area.

Also include any skills you may have that are going to back up for application. I know it’s not technically a skill, but if the part is for an Irish person and is set in Dublin and you’re from there, well hey, might be worth mentioning that. Ditto if it’s for, say, a corporate shoot for a cycling holiday company and you’re an avid cyclist; they may not mention that you need to ride a bike in the breakdown, but you still may be required to at some point, so that’s going to help you. It’s also going to make them start to think “I’m actually casting a real cyclist here, not an actor”, so they will perceive it that you have a cyclist’s body, maybe access to a bike if they need it, and generally meet the correct ‘look’ for the part.

Mention some recent credits you’ve done as well, they want to know that you are working and are busy. Again especially mention anything that is relevant; therefore if you’ve just appeared in a play set in America playing an American character and you’re now applying for a corporate job playing an American character again, they’re going to look favourably on it. If you’ve had any acclaim or a nomination for a past project too, this would be worth mentioning, though don’t go on about it too much. They want to hear that you are good, they don’t want to hear you blow your own horn through a whole paragraph and be told how amazing everyone thinks you are.

Let them know that your CV and photo is attached, and that they can see all the information and more photos on your Spotlight page too, and give them the View Pin. Let them know how they may contact you – direct and/or through your agent if you have one, and sign off again being polite, but still concise.

Finally, if you do want a project; I mean really, really want it, then mention this. If you have a passion or you have done a lot of previous work/study/hobby time for a specific subject that is being addressed in the project, talk about it. Directors want collaborators as well as actors, so if you are knowledgeable about the subject and may know more than the director does (or even the writer), then obviously this is going to help, so tell them, and stress how passionate about it you are and how much you would like to work on the project. But remember, if you’re being false and you get called in, you’d better either do a shed-load of research before the audition or be very good at lying, because if not you’re going to get exposed, and they ain’t gonna look too favourably onto liars.

If you can stress all these points onto a cover letter that doesn’t take up much more than one page, including name/address for you and the person you’re writing to and the date, then you’re on the right track. They’re going to skim-read a lot of them anyway, so giving them two-three full pages of information, they’re only going to take in 20%. So give them that 20% and nothing more, and give it to them on one, concise, clear page, and they’ll be much more happy with that.

And so thanks for your time, and I look forward to any reply you may have, and to possibly meeting you at the audition.