Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cover Letters

Been catching up on script reading this week. One company I read for send me the cover letters, the CV's and anything else the writer has included in addition to the scripts. I'm always fascinated by the cover letters because they are a good indicator of the quality of the script. I've read all sorts of things in cover letters - quotes from friends and teachers in support of the writer, details of where they grew up and their childhood, their day job, instructions for how the script should be read, A-level results and a boast that the script enclosed is like "nothing else", followed promptly by an admission that s/he had "borrowed" bits from other TV programmes.

It makes no difference to me what's in the cover letter. I'm paid to read the script from start to finish so a bad cover letter won't prevent me from making a recommendation if the script is good. But it rarely is if the cover letter is bad. And not all companies have the resources to read every script submitted and a badly written cover letter is just one of many excuses they may use to filter scripts.

There's no perfect cover letter for a spec script and just because I read a lot of them, doesn't make me an expert. But there are certainly things not to include, such as the examples above. In my view it's best to keep to a couple of paragraphs. Use the first paragraph to introduce the script you have enclosed - describe the story in a sentence or two and state what genre it is. If it's TV, make sure you mention if it is a one-off a series or a serial.

In the next paragraph, include some details about yourself. Keep these details strictly writing related unless it is directly relevant to the script you've enclosed - for example, if you've written a medical drama and used to be a nurse or trained to be a doctor. Focus on whatever writing success you have had like competition wins, options and any produced work. Don't list every single achievement; be selective. If you are submitting work to a talent spotting service like Writer's Room include a line or two about the kind of writing you would like to do such as radio, continuing drama series, comedy sketches, sitcoms etc.

Scriptwriting MA's and creative writing courses come in for a lot of flack. I think it's absolutely fine to mention you've done (or are doing) a writing course in the cover letter, but keep it to the "about me" paragraph. Don't bang on about it in the first paragraph before you've bothered to introduce your script and don't include the grade you got for the script you are submitting - the only thing it shows is that you are serious enough about a screenwriting career to invest time in money in learning more about the craft, not that you are a fantastic writer.

Avoid telling the reader what their production company should be making or being dismissive of the quality of British TV or film (assuming that's the market you're going for of course). Avoid being jokey or matey in tone - even if you are submitting a comedy script! The purpose of the cover letter is simply to explain what you have submitted and introduce yourself, not to convince the reader you are an undiscovered comedy genius. Let your script do that. Don't use superlatives about your work but don't be coy either. Keep it to one page unless absolutely necessary and be polite and courteous in summing up.

I'm sure most regular readers of this blog don't need to be told this stuff, but then I've read dodgy cover letters from writers with a lot of experience, so this isn't a mistake only beginners make. The golden rule is to keep it short and to the point, including only information that is relevant to the script or you as a writer.


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