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.