Many writers think that in order to write for magazines you have to write great query letters outlining a catchy idea. But if you want to land assignments without having to query, using letters of introduction (LOI) is something that you can easily add to your marketing plan today.
So what exactly is a LOI and how can writers use it to land assignments with magazines? A LOI is a simple letter introducing yourself, your expertise, and your writing availability to editors. Now, before you get overly excited about sending your LOI to an editor at a top glossy publication like Glamour or The New Yorker, I must point out that LOIs work best with industry trade publications (publications targeted to readers in certain industries). Perhaps there are a few writers who have broken into the majors without querying the editor with a specific idea, but those cases are just as rare as winning the lottery. The competition is too steep, and those editors are bombarded with too many query letters to throw assignments to writers who submit a LOI.
I realize that trade pubs aren't as glamorous as the glossies. But, if you're looking to build clips and make money, they are great in many ways. A lot of trades offer decent pay and don't require as much legwork on your part. I once sent an e-mail LOI to an editor at a trade, and a couple of weeks later she offered me two assignments with her publication, each paying several hundred dollars. Not bad for a writer who didn't have any major credits, and up until then had made a whopping $25 per article! I took the assignments and collected my first big check.
On the flip side, I once spent many hours crafting the perfect query letter for a nutrition article for a major news-stand glossy. The editor expressed interest in the pitch, but wanted some revisions to the idea. I was so excited to have the attention of a New York City editor that I went to work perfecting the query. I spent hours revising it to meet her specifications and sent it off to her, certain that I'd land the assignment. You can imagine my disappointment when she ultimately rejected the pitch. What did I get for the hours I spent working on that pitch? Nothing, zero, nada! (To make for a happier ending, I eventually sold the idea to another newsstand magazine, so all wasn't wasted. But my story does illustrate the relative ease that a LOI can bring a writer.)
When I first started with trades, I focused on industries where I had relevant work experience. Since I only had a couple of clips from my college reporting days to show to trade editors, I relied on my experience in the workforce to get my foot in the door. The logical place for me to start was with trades that focused on financial services. Having worked in the retail banking industry for five years, I played up my experience in banking -- and landed a few assignments.
Below is an example of how I used a LOI to break into financial publications:
Dear Mr. Editor (Remember to always find out the editor's name),
My name is Denene Brox and I'm a freelance writer based in the Kansas City area. I am writing to inquire about freelance writing opportunities with Financial Trade Magazine. I've written for numerous publications including Kansas City Magazine and Transitions Abroad. I am available for work-for-hire assignments, and I'd also be happy to come up with a few article ideas if you prefer to receive pitches from writers.
In addition to my writing experience, I have five years of experience working in the retail banking industry.
Can I e-mail you some clips? I'd be happy to send you PDF attachments of my work.
Mr. Editor, I look forward to working with you. Thank you for your consideration.
Notice how I said that I've written for "numerous" publications. I didn't mention the fact that I only had a few clips. I also played up my industry experience to show that I have background knowledge in banking. I got several editor responses to this e-mail and eventually landed assignments with a banking trade publication.
You can use a similar approach to break into trades. What industries do you have work experience in? You can play up everything from working in fast food to manufacturing. What was your major in college? Whether you majored in engineering, business, or basket weaving, there are trade magazines that focus on just about every industry. Mine your life and get creative. If you have no clips, don't mention clips at all. Just state your relevant work, or other experience.
My experience in banking ultimately helped me launch my writing business! If you don't have any clips, don't worry. Remember to play up your related experience. If you're pitching a trade devoted to elementary school teachers, be sure to mention your work with your child's PTA.
Here are some tips and resources for locating and contacting editors at trade publications:
Sending LOIs can help you get a steady roster of clients for your writing business while you focus on sending queries to editors at the majors.
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