Many writers get in front of editors by pitching story ideas in formal, meticulously crafted query letters. But that’s not the only way to secure assignments. Letters of introduction, or LOIs, can also help to build that all-important rapport with editors, particularly those at trade or specialty publications. A well-written, straightforward LOI can often lead to repeat assignments and a steady stream of income from a variety of markets.
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What is an LOI?
A letter of introduction is just that – a short, three- to four-paragraph letter or email to an editor that outlines your credentials, your reasons for wanting to write for that publication, and previously published clips. LOIs are particularly useful in two scenarios: If you’re unsure whether or not a publication uses freelancers, or if you want to write for a publication but don’t have a specific article idea in mind.
Freelance writer Paula Hendrickson says she’s had great success breaking into new markets with LOIs. “I kind of consider them an ongoing effort. Occasionally the first LOI will land a new client, but it often takes a few follow-ups before anything happens. One time I followed up every three or six months for a couple of years before I nabbed an assignment,” she says. “That said, I probably have a higher success rate with LOIs than with queries – possibly because they’re more about cultivating relationships than making a sale.”
Hendrickson also notes she’s had more success sending LOIs to trade publications than to consumer ones. “I don’t know if it’s because consumer magazines tend to be better known and have more writers approaching them, or if trade editors are just more open to freelancers,” she says.
Do your homework
As with any new-to-you market, do some research before putting together an LOI. Familiarize yourself with the types of articles published and the overall writing style so you can determine if it’s potentially a mutual fit before you even contact the editor. Freelance writer Lori Widmer says that this due diligence is essential. Because every editor is different, she says she uses a different “formula” for each person she contacts. After the basic introduction, “I’ll show them I know their publication by mentioning something they’ve published recently. If I’m feeling comfortable with the content research I’ve done (and I always make sure to read a few issues before getting in touch), I’ll include some article ideas. Then I invite them to have a conversation about what their needs are and how I might be able to help,” she says. Unlike a query, which is focusing on an idea, an LOI focuses more on you as the writer and how your skills can meet an editor’s needs, thus laying the foundation for a long-term working relationship.
If your writing (or non-writing) background includes experience in a certain field, be sure to mention how that knowledge applies to the publication you wish to write for. Unlike a consumer title, trade or specialty publications have a much narrower readership. Editors of these markets like working with writers who already have some knowledge about their target industry. Hendrickson, for example, has a background in the entertainment industry, so she sent an LOI that highlighted her past experience along with her clips to two editors of rival publications. “I mailed the LOIs on the same day. Maybe two weeks later I emailed the editors to follow up and see if they’d received my information. I think I pasted in a copy of the LOI into the email ‘for quick reference,’” she recalls. One editor replied right away and assigned Hendrickson an article. (That editor has since moved on, but Hendrickson still writes for the publication.) The second editor also contacted her as well, but Hendrickson had already started working for the competitor and didn’t want to jeopardize the opportunity.
Have patience and perseverance
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a response immediately. Dan Fazio, editor of G.I. Jobs, a publication for military veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce, says that although he tries to respond to every LOI that he receives, a few inevitably fall through the cracks because he is just too busy to respond to them at the time. “The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to follow up,” he says, adding that a wait time of two to three weeks after sending the original LOI is acceptable. “They may be in the middle of an intense production cycle. If they don’t respond to the second pitch, I’d move on. It’s either stuck in a spam filter or they’re just not that into you,” he explains. The follow-up message should contain a brief opening paragraph that references your first message (“I’m following up on my July 3, 2016, email”), restates your interest in writing for that publication, and has the original LOI and links to your clips pasted into the body or attached to the message.
Your success rate may vary (not every letter will lead to work, or even a response), but if done well, LOIs can bring a freelancer extremely lucrative results. As Hendrickson says, “I think a well-written LOI is perhaps the most underutilized tool in most freelance writers’ arsenal. Use it often but wisely. LOIs require a very targeted approach and need to be tailored to each specific publication or business.”
Sara Hodon has written for G.I. Jobs; Tourist Attractions and Parks; Souvenirs, Gifts, and Novelties; and a number of other print and online consumer, trade, and custom publications.