On Tuesday, Sept. 1, we hosted our latest #ConnectChat, "Queries & LOIs That Sell," with our guest Linda Formichelli.
Formichelli has written for over 150 magazines since 1997, from Pizza Today and The Federal Credit Union to Redbook and Health. Linda runs the Renegade Writer blog, where you can sign up for free writer goodies, and co-owns UsefulWritingCourses.com.
She explained the differences between queries and letters of introduction, when to use them, how to write them and much more.
Linda, please tell us about yourself and your career as a writer.
Since 1997 have written for 150+ mags including Redbook, USA Weekend, Health, Writer's Digest and Family Circle. Also copywriting clients like Sprint, OnStar, Pizzeria Uno and TripAdvisor and blogs like Copyblogger, Write to Done and Tiny Buddha. And am author of many books like The Renegade Writer and Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race...And Step Into a Career You Love. Finally, run the Renegade Writer blog at www.therenegadewriter.com and co-own www.usefulwritingcourses.com.
You’re focusing more on teaching these days instead of writing for clients – why did you decide to switch?
I bounce back and forth to keep burnout at bay. After 18 years mag writing I was ready for a change!
Writers need to diversify not only to avoid burnout, but to smooth out the ups and downs of freelance income. And I LOVE freelance life and am passionate about helping others get it. More stable career, you control your income, WAY more fun.
What are the differences between letters of introduction (LOIs) and query letters?
LOIs introduce yourself to an editor or prospect and are best for trade mags and copywriting clients.
Query letters are expected by consumer (newsstand pubs) and pitch ONE idea with research, quotes and examples. You can also use shortened version of a query letter to pitch guest posts to blogs. Bloggers are impressed with good query! Big-name bloggers like guest post queries because they usually get crappy pitches and queries are so much more pro.
New writers often confuse queries and letters of introduction (LOI) – why is that?
LOIs are easier so writers tend to want to use them but they're not too effective for big mags who are getting lots of pitches.
When should you use a query?
Queries work for all mags, but you NEED them for big consumer/newsstand pubs. They don't respond well to LOIs.
When should you use a letter of introduction?
LOIs work for trade mags, custom publications (like those you get from your bank or a local store) and businesses.
What are the basics to include in a query?
Query basics 1. Article idea that is TIMELY, NARROW and UNIQUE, and a headline that grabs the editor's attention.
Query basics 2. Intro like you would see in the magazine: Anecdote, surprising stat, etc.
Query basics 3. "Nut graf" - paragraph that sums up what is the article you're suggesting.
Query basics 3.2. A typical nut graf could end, "In my article X I'll tell readers Y. For example:"
Query basics 4. Examples of what you're offering. Like in a tip article, provide 3 of the tips with subheds and expert quotes.
Query basics 5. A creds paragraph about what makes YOU the perfect writer for this. Previous pubs, topic experience.
Query basics 6. ASK for the sale: "May I write this for you?" "What do you think of this idea for mag X?" etc. (Be creative!)
Is pitching an assignment to a pub at all similar to what a proper PR pitch to a journalist should look like?
And kinda...would have quotes, yes, but more examples. Constructed more like article.
But what if a writer has no clips (writing samples)?
Start with topic where you have personal experience, education or exclusive access to a source and write the HELL out of the query.
Can you send the same query to multiple publications?
Yes, with caveats. Have whole post on that here: www.therenegadewriter.com/2012/03/12/the...
What if you end up selling the same idea to two magazines then?
So rare! But first, do happy dance. Then, offer second pub different idea if competing, or different angle if non-competing pub.
What are the basics to include in a letter of introduction?
Info about you, what the prospect is missing (up-to-date blog posts, articles on X) and how you can provide that, IDEAS.
IDEAS are important - prospects get lots of "Here I am, hire me!" LOIs with no value or benefit to the prospect.
So for example, include 3 quick blog post/article ideas, or suggestions for how you'll improve their About Us page.
Then ASK for what you want: "May I send you some clips?" is example of a non-threatening way to get prospect to say YES.
But BE CREATIVE! Now EVERYONE is saying "May I send you some clips?" and it gets old. You're a writer! Say it fun!
What are some of your favorite writer forums?
Freelance Writers Den: freelancewritersden.com/dap/a/?a=1003&nb.... Also Freelance Success was good when I used it.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when writing queries and LOIs?
For LOIs, quick, lazy emails with no value or benefit. They say, "I'm great, hire me!" Well, EVERY pro writer is great. Trick is to think, how can u make the prospect's life easier and earn them more money? Why do they need YOU and not someone else?
Another LOI snafu is following template. You’re a writer-be creative! Use your personal style! Customize your LOI for the prospect.
With queries, BIG mistake is writing in professional, stilted style. Mag style is typically conversational and fun.
And biggest mistake is thinking LOIs/queries are too time consuming if you do them right. If you DON'T give your best effort in queries/LOIs, you won't get gigs. That's the REAL waste of time.
How long should a query be?
As long as it needs to be! Too many books/mags tell you a query needs to be no longer than one page. I call B.S.! A 3-page query got me into Woman's Day, Family Circle & Redbook..because they like DETAILS. But sometimes, especially if you know the editor, you can write a one-paragraph pitch.
Should you mention how long the article you’re pitching is in the query?
I say number one, editors know their mag better than you and two, what if you pitch a 200-word short and they see it as a feature, or vice versa? Let the editor decide how long they'd like it to be - don't give her a reason to say no!
How can you find the best editor to send your pitch to?
First, know that EIC or editorial director usually is not the person to pitch. Deputy, managing, associate editors are better. Also features editors or editors of the department you want to pitch: Health ed, Technology ed, Travel ed, etc. Check masthead in print mag, or Contact Us page on website. Try LinkedIn, Twitter. CALL the mag if all else fails. If you're afraid, call after hours to see if editor you want to pitch is still there. Even leave message! And of course, try Writer's Market, though it goes out of date quickly and you'll need to double check.
Will an editor give a writer a second or third chance if they don’t send good queries or LOIs the first few tries?
Yes! I sent some doozies to Family Circle early in career but ended up writing for them 12x and became their highest-paid writer. But take a hint. If you keep getting no response or canned rejections, move on.
Please tell us about the mentoring work you do.
Just brought back hourly phone mentoring for writers! I help with marketing plans, article ideas, writing problems, time managment and more: therenegadewriter.com/mentoring/
Can you tell us about “Pitch Clinic”?
Pitch Clinic is a class I co-teach that shows writers how to write queries/LOIs that get gigs. buff.ly/1VhSKLJ
We have 3 big-name mag editors on board to co-teach and critique homework: Forbes, Redbook and Writer's Digest - buff.ly/1VhSKLJ
AND have crazy money-back offer: You do all work and complete pitch challenge and get FULL REFUND buff.ly/1VhSKLJ
Last class, 2/3 of challenge participants got gigs DURING the challenge. Two were offered fulltime jobs! buff.ly/1VhSKLJ
Whether you're a reporter, blogger, author or other content creator, ProfNet can help you with your search for expert sources. Send a query to tens of thousands of experts and PR agents to find an expert you can quote on virtually any topic. The best part? It’s free! Start your search now: Send a query