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writing cover letterIs writing about yourself a wincing, dreadful proposition, equal to the prospect of a dinner theater staging of Sweeney Todd starring Sarah Palin and Gilbert Gottfried?

When sending an e-mail in response to a casting notice are you left witless as to what to type onto that intimidating white field? Do you quickly pen a single sentence containing listless language nearly every actor uses, such as “cast,” “headshot,” “resume,” “please,” and “perfect?” Or, like too many actors for whom deafening silence is the reply to their seeking an audition appointment, do you cowardly leave the body of your e-mail blank?

Then this is the blog post for you.

Rule #1 on Cover Letters

Change your vocabulary mindset.

Stop thinking of your hard-copy and digital communication as “cover letters” and instead as “messages.” “Cover letter” is so Jane Austin-austere and formal. Messaging (“Message”) is what you do nearly 24/7.

Writing about you is easy; you do it daily without knowing so.

How often do you post an informal status update on a social network? How many e-mails to friends do you send, sharing what’s going on with your latest fling found on How often do you chat with a companion in a Starbucks, gym, or at a self-serve frozen yogurt disco for vegans?

The hourly communications you’re having with friends and family (blood relatives who don’t raise your blood pressure) is you routinely creating messages and casting submission e-mails without your knowing it.

Message writing in the arts isn’t the corporate stick-up-the-butt writing you learned from Ms. Steinhardt in 9th grade or from your prickly college English professor Mr. Prescott Sportsjacket. That bloated, stilted, every-gerund-must-have-its-rightful-place bullsh*t belongs in academia, starched corporations, and congressional legislation.

Nor is message writing for actors copying a formula you believe to be savvy because you paid for a course that instructed you and thousands of actors to compare yourself to other actors, using flowery prose to demonstrate you’re one-third a vivacious Miley Cyrus while two-fifths the homebody of Shelley Duvall. I and my casting colleagues dread these insert-adjective-followed by a celebrity, plastic produced-missives. What have we learned of the actor? That the actor can’t speak for themselves in their own voice.

What’s important in writing a letter/email?


Write as if you’re writing to your best-friend, but leave out LOLs and emoticons. Write with the voice that speaks in your head when you’re relaxed. Don’t write with a “professional” voice that you think should be the stodgy voice others want of you. Write with your natural voice that you use in your daily e-mails, status updates, and conversations.

The employers and representatives of actors want to know your personality, not how well you marry an adjective to a verb. Yes, grammar is important, but don’t get lost in the writing mechanics. Dive into the voice you hear speaking to you daily in your head. That’s you. That’s the person that casting and talent reps want to know. Be true to your voice. Don’t manufacture a “professional voice.” You’ll kill your identity if you write in a voice you were taught, in order to “sound professional.” Game over before you’re given an opportunity to play.

Also to avoid: rambling gimmickry. Repeat: NO GIMMICKS. And definitely do not write info-tainment. And no cataloging your life’s activities like your Aunt Susan does in her annual holiday letters of boredom that have you wanting to disown your family name.


Follow proper business guidelines (i.e. all text aligned to the left and include date, name and address of receiver, etc.). Keep it to one to two paragraphs, three to four sentences per paragraph, stating: “This is who I am. This is what I’ve got. Thank you. Ciao.” Again, written in your voice.

Message Writing Exercise for Finding Your Natural Voice

Give yourself the following exercises I give my acting students:

  • In 100 to 200 words, write to yourself about your most joyful life experience. On paper. In pen. One draft only.
  • In 100 to 200 words, write a message about your overall career, including highlights of that career, but write as if you’re writing to your best friend, favorite family member, or loved one.

Casting and talent agents do read e-mails and cover letters. Ignore the lazy ass instructors who flout, “I never read.” If you listen to that job-stopping advice, you’re closing off opportunities from the people wanting to know more about you than your picture and resume.

How do you write for specific casting notices, or to talent representatives when seeking an agent? Detailed examples and job-getting tips on how to create multiple letters and e-mails that are successful and informative, while utilizing your voice, are displayed and discussed by talent agents, Hollywood and Broadway actors, and casting in my book ACTING: Make It Your Business.

Grab your voice. Charge forward beyond your peers.

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and spoken at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is also the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working ActorFor more information, please visit