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Letters of Introduction and How to Use Them
by Kelly James-Enger
If you freelance for magazines, you're already familiar with pitching via a query letter. Ideally a query letter catches the editor's attention, describes why her readers will be interested in the story, provides details about your approach to the piece, and convinces the editor to give you the assignment.
But there's another way to get your foot in the door with editors—by sending a letter of introduction, or LOI. LOIs offer another method of snagging assignments from a variety of publications, and can be used to pitch your writing skills to corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations which hire writers.
Query Versus LOI
While most consumer magazine editors request queries from writers who are new to them, there are plenty of editors who want to receive the latter. Many editors at custom publications and trade magazines prefer LOIs over queries; they already know what they’re going to assign and are looking for writers who can handle their subject matter. A LOI lets you spend more time describing your unique qualifications to report and write about one or more areas rather than using the letter to describe how you'll approach one specific story idea. A strong LOI showcases your background, knowledge of a particular subject, and reporting skills.
Write your own LOI
When approaching a custom or trade magazine editor with an LOI, tailor your letter for that person. What sets you apart from other writers? Do you have inside knowledge of the subject matter of her publication, or have you worked in a related field? A one-size-all approach won’t work here. With an LOI, you get your foot in the door not through an intriguing article idea, but with your unique background, skills, and ability to give the editor what she wants. And make sure you let the editor know you’ve studied her magazine—tell her what sections of the publication you’d like to write for, for example, or compliment a recent story.
If you have an "in" with an editor, use it. [See below for an example.] You may send an LOI via snail mail or email, but if you choose the former, send clips separately or direct the editor to your website for samples. (As with other correspondence, don't send attachments with your LOI.) Follow up a few weeks later by email or phone, and you may find that LOIs are just as effective as queries.
A Sample LOI, Deconstructed
Ready to write your own LOI? Here’s a sample that netted me numerous assignments, along with a brief explanation of each paragraph and its purpose:
Dear Ms. Alley:
I’m a friend and colleague of Kristin Baird Rattini, a fellow freelancer, and am writing to express my interest in writing for IGA Grocergram. (Kris and I recently had lunch—she’s here in the States for the holidays.) [The first paragraph of your LOI should catch the editor’s attention—if you have an “in,” use it here.]
I’ve been a fulltime freelance journalist for the past seven years. Since then, my work has appeared in more than fifty national magazines including Redbook, Parents, Business99, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Continental, Fitness, Shape, and Good Housekeeping. I’m also the author of two books, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003) and the novel, Did you Get the Vibe? (Strapless, 2003) and have two more coming out in the next year. [This paragraph includes an overview of my writing background.]
I’ve also written for trade magazines including Chamber Executive, where I wrote profiles, news stories, and business articles, and I also draft marketing pieces, newsletters, brochures, and other pieces for companies including The Pampered Chef. [Here I showcase the fact that I’ve written for other trade magazines, as that’s the type of magazine I’m pitching.]
A little more about me: I received my bachelor’s degree in rhetoric before attending law school. I also practiced law for five years before changing careers to write full-time, and my legal training has given me a unique perspective on the importance of accuracy and clarity in written communication. [My background is unique, and this will hopefully help me stand out in the editor’s mind.]
If you’re looking for writers, I’d love to discuss your publication’s needs with you, and send you some clips via snail mail. I’ll follow up on this letter after the holidays, but please let me know if you have any questions about my background or experience. [Here I let her know that I’m happy to send clips, and that I’ll follow up on my pitch soon.]
Thank you very much, and have a wonderful holiday season.
Very truly yours,
© Copyright 2008, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
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