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3 Keys to the Kingdom
by Jenifer Nipps

Many analogies compare writing success to gaining access to some exclusive kingdom. The publishing houses and magazines serve as the castles to which writers must find the keys to open the doors that allow them entry. It seems to be a formidable task. We writers fret over our keys, worried we don’t have the correct ones.

That worry has no true purpose. Confident wordsmiths have all the necessary keys. There are three main ones, aside from the writing itself.

Query Letters:
Peggy Fielding, a writer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says, “Your query is the golden key. It opens all the doors you need.” Barb Nefer, a freelance writer in Florida, agrees. “For large markets and national publications, particularly those where writers' guidelines are readily available, a query is most appropriate.” Most writers already have this key in their repertoire.

Rebecca Chappell, a freelance writer since 2006, adds, “A query is typically the only acceptable form of introduction. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but unless your name is on par with Stephen King or Oprah Winfrey, I’d refrain from sending [a letter of introduction] to the editor of Vogue or Time. Not following the general rules of the trade is just a breach of etiquette, in my opinion.”

Cover Letters:
Some publications prefer a completed article with a cover letter. They also serve as reminders for requested material. Nita Beshear, a freelance writer in southeast Oklahoma who once worked as a stringer for the Daily Oklahoman, shares her experience with this key. “I think the actual article with a cover letter cinched the position for me since a simple query letter wouldn't have given him a good idea of my writing skills. Because of information I gave him in the cover letter, he knew I understood about deadlines and timeliness of articles, something I couldn't have conveyed as well in a query letter.” I used this key myself with my first article to Writing for DOLLARS!

Letters of Introduction:
While the first two keys are well known, letters of introduction (LOIs) are relatively rare. Think of a letter of introduction as a query letter without a specific idea pitch. It pitches you the writer, not the idea. Barb Nefer says, “I send an LOI when I am scoping out a regional publication or something in a very small niche. I also like to use LOIs for start-ups. Often the editors of new publications are very open to LOIs because they haven't started getting hammered with submissions yet.”

Small and regional publications are good candidates for letters of introduction. Barb says, “For smaller publications, especially when you cannot find guidelines, I think an LOI is appropriate. You don't waste your time with a query if the magazine doesn't buy from freelancers. If you discover that they do through your LOI, you've already made a valuable and positive contact with the editor.” My experience reinforces this. There are two magazines I would like to write for; one is small and local while the other is larger and regional. I sent LOIs to each of them and currently have a pitch pending with the local magazine.

The format for a letter of introduction is similar to a query. It uses the standard business letter layout. Instead of describing a specific article idea, outline your expertise, qualifications, and any relevant publication history. Depending on the market, the last of the letter asks if the editor works with freelance writers, if queries are preferred, or if assignments are made in-house.

No one key is more important than another. Barb also says, “I believe that LOIs and queries are equal, depending on the circumstances.” Rebecca Chappell disagrees. “I think they're totally different animals. A query can serve the dual purpose of introducing an editor to a new writer as long as a well-executed story pitch is involved. I believe an LOI should be brief in nature and shouldn’t contain a story pitch. It’s simply a way to sum up your qualifications in a few sentences and inquire as to whether or not there’s room in the pool for another writer. If you get the thumbs up, then you can worry about sending ideas.”

Regardless, each has their place. It is up to you to decide which is more appropriate for your particular situation. Now that you know you have the keys to the kingdom, which door will you unlock?

© Copyright 2008, Jenifer Nipps

Jen Nipps is a freelance writer in south-central Oklahoma, where she splits her time between reading, writing, beading, and with family. She welcomes visitors to her blog at http://jensorganizedwriter.wordpress.com or to her website at www.jenifernipps.com.

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