Guest Post: The Letter of Introduction

When I put the call out for guest posts, there was one person I contacted directly. Paula Hendrickson, better known for her ongoing knitting extravaganza over on Paton’s Blog is a work horse. Okay, more than I think she should be, but hey, if she has the energy, who am I to say? She’s a successful freelancer and a fun person to have as part of this community and as a friend.

Paula’s been teasing me without even knowing it. In her comments here, she’s talked about LOIs – letters of introduction – for some time now. Since I rarely send them, I wanted her to tell us about LOIs and how to use them as a way into a company or magazine. As I fully expected, she’s delivered.

A Positive Impression
By Paula Hendrickson

While the term “letters of introduction” sounds like something that (even when carried by the most loathsome of individuals) would impress the likes of Jane Austen’s infamous Mrs. Bennett, the fact is a simple, well-written letter of introduction (LOI) can help land a long-term client.

How do LOIs differ from query letters?

They’re easier because you’re selling editors, publishers or potential clients on your abilities, not your ideas. Since you’re not trying to convince them to let you write a great article their readers are sure to love, the only research you need to do is on the company or publisher you’re approaching (something you should be doing when preparing a query letter, anyway).

Several years ago, a publicist I knew sent me the contact information for “special reports” editors at the top two daily trades of an industry I cover. She warned me that freelancers can work for one or the other, but not both, due to the publications’ long rivalry. I sent nearly identical LOIs to the editors she’d told me to try. A quick glance at their editorial calendars gave me enough information to add a line to each LOI highlighting my experience with subjects that fit well with their upcoming reports. Along with each letter I sent my resume, a list of where my work had been published, and several clips.

The result? Both editors responded within days. One offered me an assignment on the spot. When the other called with an offer, I was already working for the competition (and still am).

Why did they both reply so fast? I had plenty of experience covering that industry and had great clips, but I’d also demonstrated my potential value to them by alluding to contacts who might prove useful for one or more of their upcoming reports.

LOI 101: Be brief. Try to keep your LOI to three short paragraphs, tops.

1. Who I am – Tell them your name, what kind of writing you do, and list a couple of credits. If someone referred you and said to mention them, say so.

2. How I can help you – Keep the focus on their needs, not your own.
If the editorial guidelines note an upcoming wildlife issue and you have experience covering migratory habits of waterfowl, tell them. Even if your experience isn’t an ideal match, look for similarities. If you’re contacting a construction trade magazine but don’t have much knowledge about plumbing or construction, mention trade publications you’ve written for: “One thing I loved about writing for Commercial Smelting Magazine was speaking with industry experts and learning about advancements in their field.”

3. Appreciation / Contact Information – Thank the editor, publisher or potential clients for allowing you a chance to introduce yourself and say you look forward to discussing how you may be able to help them meet their editorial needs. Be sure to include your contact information.

Do LOIs really work? For me, LOIs often work better than queries, especially when approaching trade publications which often assign their own ideas. Case in point: A friend recently suggested I contact the publisher of a trade she writes for. I hadn’t covered that particular industry, but it overlaps a bit with another trade I once contributed to. I e-mailed the publisher an LOI including links to some of my older trade articles. Within 24 hours he called to assign a 1,600-word article. And yes, we discussed additional ways I can help meet the editorial needs of several of his various publications.

When was the last time you sent an LOI, and what was the result?

You can reach Paula at phendrickson AT sbcglobal DOT net.

About the author

Related

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Comments

  • Ashley October 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I've never sent an LOI and often wondered what you meant by LOI in your comments here. Thanks for the excellent explanation. These letters sound like something I will definitely try.

    Reply
  • Cathy October 20, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Paula-great, simple suggestions.

    In fact, I just sent a couple of LOIs last week. I heard immediately from both potential customers. Nothing solid yet, but both definitely left the door open. They are both local (which is the 1st time I reached out-I recently moved here) and one wants to meet. So hope springs eternal.

    I agree it is a much softer approach that can actually work.

    Reply
  • Paula October 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I hope Lori's enjoying her vacation, and am extra glad that her readers are still here.

    Ashley – Once you write your first LOI, keep us posted on how well it works for you. Chances are you'll start sending as many LOIs as queries.

    Cathy – you're living proof that I'm not kidding about how effective LOIs can be. If nothing else, it puts you on the radar at places you'd like to work.

    Reply
  • Jake P October 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Paula, interesting post. I've been in this game for over a decade and never sent something like that, but it's a great idea. (Perhaps b/c I don't send out many queries, either, but that's another topic for a different day.) Will give it a spin sometime in the near future.

    Reply
  • Susan Johnston October 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I've had mixed results with LOIs. It's really a numbers game, because these days many trade magazines don't have the budget to buy freelance articles. Or sometimes it can take awhile to get a response, because editors are stretched so thin. But when LOIs pay off, they can lead to a lucrative, ongoing relationship! I can think of a few examples where I've made thousands of dollars from assignments that resulted from LOIs.

    Reply
  • Wendy October 20, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Wow. I didn't realize that there was a difference between an LOI and a query. I just learned something new today. I love it when that happens!

    Thanks for the post. I think I have some brainstorming to do now.

    Reply
  • Paula October 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Jake – I used to say, "What can it hurt? It costs little more than the postage." Today, it doesn't even cost that in most cases.

    Susan – You raise a good point. A lot of publications have slashed freelance budgets. This year several of my LOIs elicited responses along the lines of, "We don't have a freelance budget now, but we'll keep you in mind if anything changes." Like you said, it's a numbers game, so if you send enough LOIs, eventually something should click.

    Wendy – Glad you learned something that I hope will prove useful!

    Reply
  • Sal October 21, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Paula,

    My very first LOI (and only for that matter) was to a local magazine. It was the first time I had ever even attempted to write for print. Within a couple hours of hitting send on my LOI (it was by email, with a few clips of articles I had done for other clients) I received a call and 1,500 words between two different articles.

    It was a lot of fun and I will have to get more LOIs out on the street soon. My biggest issue is trying to find a better way to see if a topic has already been covered by a magazine if they do not have content online…talk about a lot of skimming at the library 😉

    Reply
  • Paula October 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Sal, your assignments (plural, no less) came within hours?

    That kind of result should motivate everyone here to send off some LOIs by week's end. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Anne Wayman October 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Paula, what a great idea. I'm totally new to the idea of a LOI… and yet I suggest new writers pick up the phone and do roughly that to their free local newspaper… you've moved that theory to the next step.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Paula October 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I wish I could take some tiny degree of credit, Anne, but LOIs probably go back to the days of Austen (or beyond). It's amazing how far a simple introduction can take you – even when you're introducing yourself.

    Using Lori terms, LOIs are a fairly informal form of marketing.

    Reply
  • Sal October 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    @Anne, LOIs are a bunch of fun because you are not restricted to same terms as a query. I think they are fun because you get a chance to introduce yourself in your natural light – since you don't have a project riding on the balance.

    They also help you connect with your editor because it gives them a chance to understand who you are as a person, rather than just some words on a page.

    @Paula – I am not a big fan of submitting queries, although I will if I need to. I am a relationship person and I like to develop a relationship with the editor before I begin working with them. I am not sure if this is WAY unusual or if more people prefer to work this way. With a LOI, I feel I can ask the editor "What can I do to help you?" rather than piling more work on their desk.

    Reply
  • Paula October 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    That's it, exactly Sal. You're contacting editors and showing you can help them, not giving them yet one more query to read.

    Reply