As this blog is being published, I am over the Atlantic returning from my two-and-a-half-week vacation in Paris. What a great time I had. I met new writing friends, went to the theater, had some wonderful meals but mainly I enjoyed reconnecting with my second home. (I lived there 10 years and that’s where my writing career took off.)
While in Paris, I got to celebrate both our national holidays—July 4th for US and July 14th for FRANCE. During both I thought about French and American presidents past and present and their writing careers. Most presidents in modern years do write a book or two but usually they are about political thought and activity. A few have attempted fiction or poetry. In France, one of their recent presidents, François Mitterrand, was a poet and author. The American president who made a name for himself in writing fiction was Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote a lot of action-laden stories especially for young boys. Franklin Roosevelt tried a novel but abandoned it.
Earlier presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and many French presidents were more known for the many articles and speeches they wrote instead of literary prose. However, ALL are chiefly known for their letters. Compilations of their works are around for historians and present-day citizens to peruse. But it’s via their letters that we really got to know these people. To get to first base in their careers, they had to write many application letters and inquiry and request letters. Those are the meat and potatoes of anyone’s life—whether he or she be president or YOU.
Letters—this brings us to Part 2 of becoming a better letter writer. In this blog, you will properly learn how to write the most important type of letter: AN APPLICATION LETTER . In the next blog, you will learn all about a second important type of letter: AN INQUIRY AND REQUEST LETTER.
- An Application letter is generally used in tandem with a résumé and both are considered your passport for attempting to get a job. These you will need to secure your livelihood until you get your toe in the door of the writing profession—that is unless you were born into a family of kizillionaires or someone already well established in the arts or until you meet a sugar daddy—er, I mean a mentor. So application letters are awfully important to those who don’t have two dimes to rub together as far as wealth and business and influence go.
- Inquiry and request letters are used to gather information. They are our lifeline to getting the lowdown on something rather than setting off on a course of action. You will learn all about this type of letter in the next blog.
FIRST —SOME GENERAL DOS AND DON’TS FOR LETTER WRITING.
Be sure to address your letter to someone in authority. Don’t use Dear Sir or Dear Madam. If you don’t know the name of a person, give the unknown person a title like Dear Manager, Dear Selection Committee, Dear Human Resources Coordinator, etc. NEVER Dear Box 4109.
Use the words “I” and “we” as few times as possible. Especially try to avoid these two words at the beginning of sentences. I know that at times you have no choice so go ahead but make it a rare event. For sure though, don’t make the first word of a paragraph “I” or “We”. It just makes you look egotistical.
Make sure that any letter you write is personal. This means you include something relating to the company or person by name. Otherwise, your letter screams” form letter”, which will insure it receives little or no attention.
APPLICATION (COVER) LETTER: (For a job and to go with a résumé.) This letter should be 4 paragraphs in length.
Present some particular reason you are applying to these people OR something that sets you apart from the ordinary. (You can name at least one thing about yourself that is distinctive. We all have at least one thing that is interesting about us.) Never open your letter with “I’m writing in answer to your ad which was in last Tuesday’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter.” Instead you can say, “Through Variety’s Monday November 3rd edition, I learned of your opening for the position of staff writer.” If you have a connection of some type (sugar daddy or mentor) you might want to say, “David Anderson at Hometown Production told me about your plans to open up an intern program at Disney.” In an effort to bring some attention to yourself and your background, you could say, “Having just won the Junior Pulitzer Door Stop Award for this year, I believe (never “I feel”) I have the qualifications to apply for the staff position you advertised in last Friday’s Hollywood Reporter.” (NOTE: these are only the topic sentences of your paragraphs. Then via add-ons and seeds you will flesh out the other sentences of the paragraph.)
Briefly state your preparation for the job at hand. Don’t say, “I had two years of writing experience at our local ABC affiliate. “ (Remember, don’t begin paragraphs with “I” or “we”.) It is better to say, “As you will note in my résumé, I have 2 years writing experience with the ABC local affiliate.”
Concrete evidence of your qualifications. List with bullets (black dots) in a column the items or qualifications that make you an outstanding candidate for the job. You should have an absolute minimum of 4 bullets. They are easier to read than ordinary prose. Remember, the easier your letter is to read, the more attention it will get. Here is how bullets are presented. They are indented. As a minimum, you should have 4 of them. Example:
- Two years film editing experience at the local ABC affiliate.
- Wrote copy for television and print media at Station KBIG, Modesto, CA.
- Film critic with University of Indio college newspaper for two years.
- Won this year’s Junior Pulitzer Door Stop Award in Screenwriting.
Final paragraph. Ask for action. Do not use such hackneyed expressions as “Thanking you for your consideration”, “At your earliest convenience”, “I appreciate your time, etc.” These sound as though you’re kissing up and that’s exactly what you’re doing. Instead, just tell them what you’d like for them to do. Also do not use “contact me” as it is too general. Say either “write me” “telephone me” or “email me.” “Will you write me at the address shown above or telephone me at (215) 804-7213 or email me? You can as a rule reach me by phone after 6 pm.” Or “The attached résumé provides further information about my abilities, background and interests. Please write me at the address above or telephone me at (213) 804-7213 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
You can close your letter with Best regards or Sincerely yours.
You now have the basic information you need to know in order to produce a quality application letter. This just may be the ticket to keeping you from starving while you’re dreaming of stardom. Next blog you will learn how to construct a worthwhile résumé and all about Inquiry and Request Letters. In the meantime, try your hand at constructing an application letter.
Best to you with your writing!