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Friday, September 21, 2012

Guest Post: 5 Things Your Letter of Introduction Needs to Make it Work


I've written before about the power of a compelling LOI, or letter of introduction and why it's an invaluable tool in your freelance arsenal (here's a template). So I'm delighted to host today's guest post from successful freelancer Mridu Khullar Relph, who talks about how to improve your own LOI: 

5 Things Your Letter of Introduction Needs to Make it Work

by 
Mridu Khullar Relph

Of the questions I receive from writers on my blog, LOIs or Letters of Introduction seem to generate the most interest. Can you really get work from them? What if I don't have credits? What if I don't have expertise in the publication's area of focus? Do they ever actually work?

In my experience, Letters of Introduction not only work, they're a great way of initiating a conversation with an editor on a level-playing field so that they know more about you and you can find out a bit more about their publication--what they pay, what kind of stories they prefer, whether they have needs that require filling--BEFORE you've actually put in hours of work. In fact, a good LOI can bring in thousands of dollars worth of assignments, not to mention relationships with editors on an ongoing basis. My own LOI has netted me over $20,000 worth of assignments in the last two years alone and that's not even counting the ongoing assignments that I get as a result of it.

Here then are the elements that determine whether your Letter of Introduction will bring you long-term relationships with clients or immediately get tossed in the trash.

1. Credits
The thing with LOIs, and I hate to say this, is that if you have no credits or credits from only smaller publications, you're unlikely to get work (or even responses) as a result of them. LOIs aren't necessarily meant to get you ready-made assignments (though sometimes they do), but to tell the editor that you--a really established in-demand writer--are available to work for them, and that now that the connection has been made, if they're interested, you can discuss it further. A successful response to an LOI is typically a chat with an editor, which could result in one assignment, several, a column, or something else. The LOI is meant to convince them that it's worth their while to talk to you and if you have no credits or are very new to freelancing, it's a much better strategy to pitch ideas instead.

2. Style
You know when you're putting together a query letter and you make sure to write it in the voice of the publication you're submitting to? Same deal with an LOI. While the basics of your LOI will remain the same, it's important to match the tone of the publication you're targeting because it immediately lets your editor know that you understand the publication and its audience. If you're pitching a parenting website, for instance, the tone of your LOI will be different from if you're pitching a trade magazine. For one, you'll highlight different strengths and feature different credits, but also, you might want to make it fun and informal for the parenting market, whereas a business-like tone might work better for a magazine for executives in the construction business.

3. Humility
You may have some of the best credits in the world-- and if you're sending LOIs on a regular basis, you probably do-- but an editor will immediately have an aversion to you and your work if he or she suspects that you're just a hotshot expecting ready-made work. Remember that no matter how well-published you may be, and no matter how obscure the publication you're writing to, you're essentially asking someone to take time from their busy day to look through your portfolio and see where you could fit in with their publication. LOIs in a way, are asking an editor to do some of the work for you, and while this is why freelancers (including me) love them so much, it will work against you if you're just banging on about your accomplishments without mentioning what you bring to the table for the  
person you're pitching.

4. Service
Which brings me to the most important part of your introduction letter. What do you have to offer? Sure, you're a widely-published writer with experience in thirty countries, but what can you do for THIS editor and THIS publication? No amount of credits will help if you don't understand the business of a trade magazine (and are unwilling to learn) or the audience of a consumer website. In all business relationships, both parties are asking one question: What's in it for me? When your editor reads your LOI and asks that question, will he or she find an answer?

5. Passion
Finally, does your LOI demonstrate an interest or expertise in this topic or does it look like you've just plucked the editor's name from a listing of writing markets? Look, we all know that we do the plucking, because it's really difficult to be passionate about construction and data analysis and jewelry manufacturing all at the same time, but writing about these things helps fund the things we're really passionate about, such as that unfinished novel or that reporting on outsourcing of medical trials to the third world. But your LOI needs to demonstrate a certain interest and understanding of the topic because to the editor of that publication, that is the passion. Good writers are valuable, but good writers who actually care about the subject they're writing about, no matter how mundane, now those are the ones who're priceless. And the ones that keep on getting regular work. Be the writer they want to hire because you bring to them a lot more than just good writing.

**

Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Time magazine, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, Marie Claire, Ms., Elle,  and hundreds of other national and international publications. Check out her tips for writers on her blog (http://www.mridukhullar.com/journaland connect with her on Twitter (@mridukhullar) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MriduKhullarRelphShe'd love to hear from you.

***Thanks, Mridu, for an excellent and helpful post! If you're a seasoned freelancer who'd like to guest-post for me, please let me know via email--kelly at becomebodywise dot com. And don't forget about the latest giveaway!