If you freelance for magazines, you're already familiar with pitching via a query letter. Ideally a query letter catches the editor's attention, describes why her readers will be interested in the story, provides details about your approach to the piece, and convinces the editor to give you the assignment.
But there's another way to get your foot in the door with editors—by sending a letter of introduction, or LOI. LOIs offer another method of snagging assignments from a variety of publications, and can be used to pitch your writing skills to corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations which hire writers. I've used LOIs to break in with trade magazines, custom publishers, corporations, and book packagers, so I can tell you they work.
Query Versus LOI
It's true that most consumer magazine editors want to receive queries from freelancers, especially those who are new to them. But many editors at custom publications and trade magazines prefer LOIs over queries. They're not necessarily looking for story ideas--they probably already know what they’re going to assign and are looking for writers who can handle their subject matter. Rather than using your letter to describe one story idea and how you'll approach it, an LOI gives you more space to describe your unique qualifications to report and write about the publication's subject area.
Write your own LOI
When approaching a custom or trade magazine editor with an LOI, tailor your letter for that person. What sets you apart from other writers? Do you have inside knowledge of the subject matter of her publication, or have you worked in a related field? With an LOI, you get your foot in the door not through an intriguing article idea, but with your unique background, skills, and ability to give the editor what she wants. And make sure you let the editor know you’ve studied her magazine—tell her what sections of the publication you’d like to write for, for example, or compliment a recent story. (Hey, who doesn't like to hear some genuine praise?)
If you have an "in" with an editor (say, you know a writer who's worked with him), use it. I typically send an LOI via email unless I know the editor prefers snail mail. If you do choose the former, direct the editor to online clips or offer to send hard copies of your clips by snail mail. (Don't send attachments with any email unless an editor specifically requests them.) Follow up a few weeks later by email or phone, and you may find that LOIs are just as effective as queries.
Ready to write your own LOI? Excellent. Next post, I'll give you a template to help get you started.