Letters of Introduction – A Profitable Alternatives to Queries By John K. Borchardt

Letters of introduction can be a powerful tool to increase freelancing income. Sometimes letters of introduction (LOIs) are an effective alternative to conventional query letters. One LOI, which I wrote last April to a custom publisher, resulted in four assignments for a total of $11,000.

A letter of introduction serves to introduce you to editors. The essential ingredients of a letter of introduction are:

  • a statement of your eagerness to write on assignment
  • a summary of your writing experience and accomplishments. Focus on those likely to be of most interest to the editor. You can determine which of your skills and what aspects of your experience are most relevant by studying the magazine, the magazine’s website and the publisher’s website.
  • your writer’s bio and clips

Don’t ask how much the publication pays. Wait until the editor asks you to write an article before raising this issue.

While these are called letters, all of my LOIs have been e-mailed without attachments. Some writers send out large numbers of a generic LOI to editors and publishers. This can produce some successes but the success percentage is low. I have used a different strategy and instead targeted publications and publishers needing articles in fields for which I already had substantial experience. I customized each letter for the magazine or publisher I was contacting. Also I produced customized subject lines for my e-mails. For example, I use the subject line “Experienced energy writer available for assignments” in e-mails sent to custom publishers and trade magazines in the energy industry. I believe this increases the percentage of my LOIs that produce assignments. Of course, it takes more time to customize an LOI than to send a generic one.

When should you consider sending a letter of introduction? The launch of a new magazine is a good time to submit LOIs and possibly queries. Be sure the magazine is being published by a reputable publisher – if possible one that already publishes a stable of other magazines. This will improve your chances of getting paid should the new magazine fold.

The arrival of a new editor at an existing magazine is another situation in which an LOI can be effective. The new editor may be planning to take the magazine in a new direction. So it could be premature to submit queries that might brand you as out of step with this new direction. If you have written for the magazine before, mention this in your LOI.

At some magazines, the editors generate subjects and assign them to writers. While they often use writers they already know and trust, an LOI that indicates your competence to write on particular subjects could earn you an assignment if none of their current freelancers has the necessary experience.

Trade magazines, particularly those without editorial calendars available online, are another good target. By emphasizing your relevant experience rather than focusing on a specific article idea, you can increase your chances of a positive response.

Custom publishers often publish a single issue of a magazine on a special subject, or annually publish just one or two issues of a magazine on a particular subject. These are often produced for corporate clients to aid in their marketing efforts. Often writers have no idea of the specific magazines a customer publisher is planning to produce (although their website can give you some clues.) So there is no way to query. The key in these situations is to get your name, contact information and writing experience in the editor’s files.

Editors will often save the LOI from a qualified writer while discarding the same writer’s query on a subject they have no interest in. Some LOIs can sit in an editor’s files for months unanswered until a custom publisher needs someone with your skills or until a trade magazine issue is scheduled for which your experience will be a real asset.

Personal Experience

My most successful LOI was sent to Hart Energy last March. This firm is both a trade magazine publisher and a custom publisher. I emphasized my oil industry and alternative energy writing experience. Within a week, I received a $5,000 assignment to write a supplement to the May issue of one of their trade magazines. Then, at the beginning of October, I received an assignment to write three chapters of a book Hart Energy is preparing for a client celebrating their tenth anniversary in business. Another $6,000!

Custom Publishers

Custom publishers, because of their low profile, receive relatively few queries or LOIs from freelancers. Thus they can be good targets for your LOIs. Pay rates vary from modest, perhaps $0.50 per word, to more than $1.00 per word. Most include titles of some of their publications on their websites.

Here are some custom publishers for you to consider approaching with your own LOI:

Boston Hannah International

Imagination Publishing

KI Lipton Custom Publishers

Ziff Davis Holdings, Inc.

John Borchardt is a full-time freelance writer living in Houston, Texas. He is the author of the book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers and has written more than 1,200 articles for magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias.