How To Get More Responses From Your Letters
Ignored, disrespected, invisible: that’s how you feel right?
You send out 10’s, 100’s of letters and emails even and barely hear so much as a squeak.
It’s really disheartening, I understand.
When I was at drama school I sent out 90 letters in one week to invite Agents and Casting Directors to my showcase. I still have every single response;
I keep them with my imaginary Ferrari in my imaginary mansion in Hampstead.
But the truth is an even harder pill to swallow – you have to keep reaching out.
If you don’t you are certainly going to stay invisible as an actor.
So how can you continue to reach out without wasting your time and make sure you are squeezing every last drop of value out of your outreach.
By improving your “CFC’s”.
And no, I’m not talking about global warming.
Contacts – Who & How Many
10 in every 100
That’s how much of a response you are statistically likely to get.
That doesn’t mean that they other 90 was a waste of your time, just that they didn’t respond.
It makes sense then that if you only write to 10 people you are very unlikely to hear anything positive back. The only real way to guarantee you will get more responses is to actually write more letters to more people. I recommend that you as an actor keep an up to date and regularly contacted database of personal contacts of between 150 and 200 people.
Holy crap that’s a lot right?
Think about it like this. If you’re in a show and you’d like to see maybe 10 or 15 of your contacts show their face then you need to be inviting around 200 because more than half of your responses will be a no.
30-50 Casting Directors, 30-50 Agents, 20 Directors or MD’s, 20 Writers or Producers, 20 choreographers, videographers and other creatives. Sounds much more manageable when you break it down like that right?
So where do you get these names from?
Here is my Top 50 Agents & Casting Director List TK(You might even already have it). This is a great place to start but really your contacts list needs to be unique to you. It needs to be filled with people who you want to connect with for a particular reason.
Make a list of every play, musical, TV show and film you’ve enjoyed and thought you could see yourself in over the last 2 years or so. Pull out the names of the people who cast it, directed it, the agents of the cast and start building up your own database of contacts which you can add you an excel spreadsheet to keep things simple. You should hit the 200 mark fairly quickly if you do this thoroughly.
As you’re going through your lists I suggest you tag each contact as a “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” connection. Tier 1 being people you have auditioned for, met, or are really keen to build a relationship with: the most important one-third of your list. Tier 2 should be people who are slightly more out of reach for you right now but that you would still like to have in there – the less urgent two-thirds of your list.
These two tiers will make it a lot easier to manage the…
Frequency – When & How Often
The next most crucial piece of the outreach puzzle is when to actually write to these people and how often to follow-up.
“The Fortune Is In The Follow Up” I don’t know who said it first but they were right. The success of your outreach will depend on the amount of people you write to but also the amount of times you write to those people.
If you’re not in anything coming up and just want to start doing general outreach then I recommend at two tiers of frequency – Every 3 Months for the contacts you marked as “Tier 1” from before and every 6 months for the “Tier 2” contacts.
Decide on 3 or 4 days in the week where you are going to spend 1 hour sending to 5-10 contacts – about 20 a week is a great start. Once you’ve done the first wave it will start staggering so you will have less and less to do at any one time. Start with your tier 1’s – draft your template, send off the first 20 personalising a sentence or two in each one as you go.
Once you’ve reached out count forward 3/6 months and add a ‘Next Outreach’ date to your spreadsheet or however you are managing your personal database. If they respond – immediately follow-up and count forward from that date again. Use your own judgement as to when is the right time to take somebody from tier 1 to tier 2 or vice-versa. Generally if they respond at all you can bump them up to tier 1 and see where you can take the relationship.
Once you’ve gone through everybody once, you’ll have a month at least off before you need to start following up again and this should continue forever.
To make the future follow-up easier on yourself you can decide a day of the week – lets say a Saturday – that is your ‘Follow Up Day’. If somebody responds then count forward 3 months to the nearest Saturday so that when it comes around you have all the follow-up you need to do on one day instead of all spread out over the week.
Content – What & Why
The only thing you’re missing now is what to actually say in these letters. This is the part that probably gives you the willies. How to come across as a high status, credible actor that the person on the receiving end would want to connect with.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for you to consider when you are writing your templates.
- Never write to “All” or “To Whom…” I don’t care if they tell you to – they’re lying, research it and find the exact correct person to reach out to.
- Avoid beginning with “My name is Jason I am…” so generic, be more creative.
- Find a hook – some reason why you chose them. Generic “I love your work” doesn’t cut it. Why them?
- Use your connections – if you have a mutual acquaintance or worked with someone known by them before mention this early on.
- Brevity is key – unless this is a letter to a director or other creative type that you are appealing to their passion. In this instance you can afford an extra paragraph or so because your passion is your selling point. This only works if you are 100% genuine.
- Avoid ‘banter’ instead aim for “effective friendliness”
- Links should be one-click away for example – YouTube link or spotlight CV. Avoid attachments as these show up as little paper clips in the recipients inbox warning them that it’s a submission. Instead use Dropbox , just paste the share link in the body of the email.
- What is the #1 action you want them to take. Don’t ask them for three things, you will get none. In your first outreach – ask only one thing of them – in follow-up you can give an alternative if they didn’t take the first action.
- “I would love some feedback on my new showreel” – not good. “Let me know if you don’t think I’m right for ‘Doctors’” – good. Ask one specific request that only takes a one sentence response and 10 seconds of the person’s time. Then you can follow-up after they have responded with a slighty more elaborate request.
- Tone: Write like you would talk if you were sitting in front of them at an audition, not to stodgy and formal but not so over-friendly that you ‘LOL’
- If you are reaching out in praise of somebody’s work – Don’t cloak and dagger that with a request. You’re better off leaving the praise stand alone and asking nothing back. Then wait til the next time you write to ask your request.
- Answer these three questions quickly, they will be thinking them – “Who are you, what do you want and why have you chosen me?”
- If you have met them before – “It was great meeting you at XYZ thing, what you said about blah-blah really resonated with me” not – “You may remember we met at XYZ thing where you spoke about Blah-Blah.” Assume they remember you if they don’t it doesn’t matter anyway but gives them a reason they should read the whole thing.
- Show you’re serious about your career even if you’re not working right now – have you been taking classes at the actors center, focusing on your showreel, writing your own material.
- If you are writing a cover letter for a casting submission make sure you refer to the casting breakdown to show you read it and link what has been asked for to your experience or something about you that makes you right for what they are looking for. Give them a reason to call you in.
If you focus on those three areas of your outreach you are giving yourself the absolute best chance at getting more responses to your letters and emails.