Thursday, August 13, 2009


In the throes of my first couple of weeks as a freelancer, I sent out a flurry of letters of introduction (LOIs) to potential clients.

LOIs are a means of contacting editors, business owners, and the like to let them know who you are and that you’re interested in working with them. Think of it as cold-calling, only by email.

It’s a less time-intensive method of drumming up business than sending out query letters, and it can be successful if you do it right. Here’s what I’ve learned about crafting and sending LOIs that get results:

Know when to use an LOI.
If you’re pitching a major consumer publication, sending an LOI is probably a waste of time. Unless you’re pitching very specific article ideas that are a perfect fit for their publication, busy editors (or their assistants) are going to toss your letter without a second glance.

Who will take heed? If you’re finding work possibilities on freelance writing job boards, odds are those employers are looking for general letters of intro rather than specific queries. Smaller publications, b-to-b pubs that focus on very specific content areas, trade publications, custom publishers, web design companies that might be in the market for writers to assist their clients, and businesses that can benefit from your copywriting abilities are all possible targets for your letter.

Show some personality. Writing a formal letter that provides a basic rundown of who you are and what you do—and nothing else—won’t get you anywhere. This is your one shot, your first impression. You have to convince the person you’re sending this letter to that you’re interesting, that you’re reliable, that you’re a talented writer, that you’re everything they’ve ever wanted in a freelancer and more. But you can't just say that. You have to prove it.

Think of your LOI like you do an article you’re writing. What are you going to say in the lede that’s witty, that’s intriguing, that will convince your reader that they have to keep going to learn more? Is there a turn of phrase or an aside you can insert into your second paragraph to give the person you’re writing to a glimpse of what you’re like or what you’re capable of? How will you close your letter to leave the reader wanting more?

This isn’t to say you should go over the top. But a well-crafted letter should leave a lasting (positive) impression on the reader. When you read back over your letter, does it bore you? Does your attention wander? Then odds are, it’s going to bore the person you’re sending it to too.

Customize it.
Sending the same form letter to everyone on your LOI list might seem like a great time-saving move, but it’s not going to yield results. When I was an editor for a custom-publishing company, I could spot canned letters a mile away—and didn’t give them the time of day. Why would I consider hiring a writer who doesn’t even bother to demonstrate they know my company and what we do?

This doesn’t mean you have to write every LOI from scratch. I created a basic template that goes into a lot of detail on who I am and what I do. Then I customize that template depending on where I am sending it. If I’m introducing myself to a “green” magazine, for instance, I’ll pen a new introduction about my passion for the environment. Then I’ll move up my experience working on other green publications, my educational background in environmental studies, and any other relevant info. Other experience that isn’t as relevant in this instance—such as small business writing—is barely mentioned or removed altogether.

Finally, I add a couple of sentences here and there to make it clear I am familiar with who they are and what they do. (This means, of course, that I make certain I truly am up to speed on who they are and what they do.)

Include an offer.
An LOI won’t do much good if it isn’t actionable. Close your letter by stating that you’d love to discuss possibilities with the editor or business owner you are writing to. Or say that you’d be happy to send story ideas their way or provide additional information about yourself if they’d like to learn more. Then be prepared to do exactly that.

Proofread. Then proofread again. You’ve heard me say this before, but I can’t repeat it enough. Once you’ve penned that letter, set it aside for a while—a day or two is ideal. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and read it closely. Set it aside. Repeat. Have a friend proofread it too if possible to catch errors you might have missed. That attention to detail matters, because rest assured that if you let a typo sneak in, it will jump out at the person reading your letter immediately.

Be smart about sending. Root around online, place a call to an editorial assistant. Do what you have to in order to find out how your letter would best be received. Some folks still like a snail mail introduction with clips. But most prefer an email message, with a link to your work online. (Watch out for sending clips attached as large digital files—they might not make it to the person you’re emailing, and they may be a nuisance if they do.)

If you send by email, paste the LOI in the body of the email. Proofread it again. Check formatting.

And don’t forget to write an engaging subject line. Make clear why you’re emailing or what you're offering. “Introduction” or “(No Subject)” won’t cut it. But something like “Looking for a stellar writer?” may be enough to compel the editor to read your email before deleting.

Follow up.
Your job isn’t finished just because you hit send or slapped a stamp on the envelope. Keep track of your queries, and when a reasonable amount of time has passed—say, a month—be prepared to follow up with a brief email or phone call. That follow up works—really, it does. I’ll explain just how well soon.

In the meantime, start researching companies and publications you’re interested in writing for and get to work on those letters. The best way to drum up business is to be proactive.

Learn More
Introduce Yourself to Land Work: Why Freelance LOIs Matter (WordCount)
You Ask, We Answer: LOI or Query Letter? (The Renegade Writer)
Letter of Introduction: A Profitable Alternative to Queries (WritersWeekly)

Photo: Miky Jpeg

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