What goes into a cover letter? A letter. Not a form.
Jun 02 2018
In a previous article on EdgeStudio.com, we advised “15 things n-o-t to say in your voice over cover letter.” The list is based on actual letters received from, mostly, voice actor hopefuls. Thing is, you can’t write a thoughtful letter just by avoiding gaffes. What should your cover email include, and how should you say it? Here are some suggestions.
Note that in offering these suggestions, we’ll also suggest some further things to avoid. Not that they’re so wrong as most of the things in our first list. In many cases, they’re practices that add to the length of your letter without adding to its substance. Or, as your high school English teacher would have said, they’re just “wordy.”
Also note that we’re talking here about a “cold call” letter, one to someone you haven’t already met. In cases where you’ve already started a conversation, you should be able to continue that conversation where you left off. But many of these rhetorical principles will still apply.
Get to the point!
Specifically, tell your reader the upshot of what you’ve learned about them, not how you learned it. Tell them how you can help them, not just what you do.
Consider, for example, the statement, “I see from your website that you produce explainer videos.” A statement such as this is even found in some templates that otherwise might be good examples.
What’s wrong with it?
Your reader knows what’s on their website. They know what they do. And (just between us) it’s no longer very impressive that you thought to visit them online.
Instead, get to your benefit. What did you learn about them that you are especially qualified to handle, or even fix?
Instead of saying:
I see from your website that you produce all types of explainer videos.
… say (for example):
“I enjoy voicing explainer videos, because they often combine my emotive skill as an actor with my marketing experience and lifelong interest in how things work. (Ask my father about the time I “repaired” the family phone machine.)”
… or maybe you have a better anecdote, one based on an actual client situation:
“… I’ve voiced a landing-page explainer that increased conversions by 23% the week it was added.”
… or suppose you see that their videos involve not just animation, but characters:
“… I’ve trained extensively with voice-over coaches in developing a number of unique character voices that would be consistent with your clients’ branding. ”
… or if you’re especially creative and you sense that your prospective client wants to avoid producing a “dry” discussion of a potentially boring subject:
“While I recognize the importance of sticking to a script, I’m also able to help clients explore creative possibilities when desired, and clear, fresh ways of saying things.”
… or if you find that your prospects past videos are full of fractured English or show other signs of inexpert writing:
“Having taught English Composition for 15 years, I’m pretty quick at grasping the copy’s meaning, and I also tend to catch various types of errors (not that your scripts ever have any, of course).”
NOTE: Don’t disparage your reader’s past work, nor the work of talent they have used. For one thing, your reader may have had a hand in that work. For another, disparaging the competition is often considered unprofessional. What might you say about them when their back is turned? Instead, tout your strengths, and develop your reader’s confidence in what you bring to a project.
… or if you find that their videos are all very low budget, or they haven’t produced many such videos at all, maybe they think video is too complicated or expensive. In that case, and if you happen to have a relationship with a qualified audio studio (like, oh, Edge Studio):
“I’ve been recording voice-over for years, and although most of my work these days requires only a dry voice recording, if you need music and sound effects mixed in, I’d be happy to introduce you to a wonderful studio who can provide it – possibly even reducing your production time and cost.”
If you don’t have a one-sentence “war story,” leave it out altogether, don’t fib. But search your experience for jobs and/or aptitude that is relevant to the person you’re pitching. Find commonality between you and your prospective client.
And say it in a single sentence if you can. Remember: the point of your letter is to pique their interest, not publish your life history.
Talk about them, not you.
Maybe the hook is how your personality matches the personality of their product — or, if they’re a producer, not the end-client, the personalities of clients they have served. What makes you special in their business? Communicate it in a concise statement that is both useful and flattering to them, without being sycophantic. For example:
“Although I’m serious about getting the job done, I often speak in a lighthearted manner, much like the tone you take in writing about your fruit drinks.”
Include the basic specifics. And leave out generic statements.
Having suggested to them why you’re writing, be sure to include your specifics. What voice type are you, and do you have a certain style or range? For example,
If you’re concerned that you’re already several sentences into your letter and haven’t mentioned this yet, the solution is simple: Bullets make essential points stand out.
- My voice is a smooth baritone, friendly, age 30-50.
- I specialize in corporate narration and animated characters.
- I’m often cast as a young father, but also frequently play older men, and in the (name of product) game, I was the evil genius.
- From my home studio I can return finished work within 24 hours.
Also, omit generic statements that any voice actor would make. For example, you enunciate well. Shouldn’t everyone? We’ve seen some otherwise exemplary letters that, at first glance, seem very thorough and well organized. Until you realize that they are actually form letters that could be used in almost any industry. Where the form asks, “List a skill you have,” you might fill in “enunciation,” where a chemist might fill in “concern for safety.” After reading several long letters like that, they get rather tedious.
Do include a brief summary of your experience, if it is not already apparent in your discussion of their needs. But if you’re just starting out, don’t say you’re a newcomer. Because if you’re well trained (as someone who has completed the demo program at Edge Studio would be), you have experience, even if you don’t have a long list of credits.
For example, “I’ve trained with four industry-recognized coaches, and the attached demo represents my real-world capability (no unrealistic editing).
In fact, your experience might be broader and deeper than that of some working pros who happened to luck into their first jobs. Simply say what genre or specialty you work in, and who you have worked with. (For a variety of reasons, many established VO professionals continue to get coaching, so that doesn’t necessarily give you away.) Or merely let your demo convey your range and experience.
Stop there. And send them to your website.
Long copy has its place, but your initial cover letter isn’t it. Once upon a time, it was, because your letter was the only way they could know about you. But now they have your website. Tell them what they’ll find there. Again, be specific and link not just to your homepage, but to a few examples that apply most directly to their needs.
It’s good to attach an mp3 demo, and include a link to the demo at your website. That way recipients can choose whichever listening approach they prefer.
Except, one more thing: Ask for the sale.
Never miss an opportunity to close the order. If your cover letter is a “cold call,” you might not get a response right away, let alone a job. But who knows your prospect’s situation and where their head is at as they read your email? Don’t drop the ball. As you end, ask for the order. For example:
“When you have a suitable audition, or just a question or suggestion, please call me at 555-555-5555 or write JanDoe@yourdomainname.com.”
Or list your phone and email, along with your website address, so they’re easy to visually scan.
(By the way, if you’re using an address at Gmail or wherever, consider instead enabling email through your domain name, and learn how to send from it, too. It looks all the more professional.)
Some people advise that you should say you’ll follow up. We’re not so sure about that, at least not sure about saying exactly when. If you are somehow prevented from doing so, you’ll have failed to follow through. And what if they reply, “Don’t bother”? (In that case, maybe they’re doing you a favor, maybe not.) If your letter was memorable, it may be enough to call next week and refer to it.
If you can’t get their phone number, or can’t get past the phone menu, send a brief follow-up email. If you have any news, that’s great to mention. (A “best case” example: Since writing you last week, I landed a Pepsi commercial that’s already airing, but am still available for every other category.” Your actual example of news may not be quite so impressive, but it still shows you’re working. Remember some news may still be confidential (for example, if the spot is not yet public knowledge). If so, do NOT mention it, or describe it generically.
More likely, your email will be simply your personal version of, “I want to be sure you noticed the email / letter I sent you last week. Your clients and I seem such a great match, it would be a shame if it got misrouted.” Be businesslike and brief, but if you can inject some personality or added value, so much the better. Quote your email or letter below your message, including the original date stamp.
And if all you can get is their voicemail, leave an even briefer message along those lines, much as you would introduce yourself at a live audition: cheerful or friendly, but businesslike. Remember that they might have a whole slew of similar voice messages to get past, so don’t be tedious.
Should you include an offer? If so, when?
Some people advise mentioning that your follow-up will include a special offer. That might work if you’re selling toothbrushes – send them a sample. But what will your offer be? A discount? Conditioning a new client to expect discounts is hardly the best way to start a relationship. Continue to follow up, short of becoming a pest.
Furthermore, if you have a meaningful special offer, why make them wait for it? That seems rather disingenuous. It costs you nothing to mention the offer at the outset. The only reason to delay it might be if they need to provide you with certain information first. And in that case, you’ll at least have to describe what you need to know and why.
Why didn’t we show you a completed letter below? Simple. If you follow these guidelines, every letter you write will be a bit different — different not only from other people’s letters, but from other letters you write.
It’s more work, and you’ll probably need to fine-tune your approach for best results. But your cover letter will have covered the bases without wasting energy. It will make you stand out, appearing more relevant and unique. And it will stand a better chance of hitting a home run.
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