OK, so you’ve decided to begin using letters to editors to promote your work. (I’m using “work" here to mean your practice, consulting, website, or whatever). So how do you begin? This article is going to deal with the practice, nuts-and-bolts aspects of this writing. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about how to incorporate information into the letter. But there are certain tricks you need to know about writing these letters, and that’s what we’re going to deal with now.
The most important thing you can do is read what the publication says about writing letters. This is the easiest part, but the one that people often ignore. And if you ignore their rules, the publication may ignore your letter. The rules are usually not complicated, and not hard to comply with. And considering that the publication is going to be giving you free publicity, help yourself - and them - out by listening to what they ask you to do. And after listening to their rules, here are mine.
1. Use no more than 350 words in your letter. Some publications will specify less - perhaps 250 - but 350 is a good average. And for the type of letters we’re writing, 350 is plenty of words. Even if the publication doesn’t specify a number, keep your letters under 350. In the first place, shorter letters stand more of a chance of getting printed, and that’s your goal here. And shorter letters stand a greater chance of being read. And again, that’s your goal. Because you’re probably like me. If you see a long piece of print, you may very likely pass by, and read something else. Don’t give readers an excuse to not read your letters. Most readers are lazy these days. Be aware of that, and use a shorter letter to your advantage.
2. It goes without saying that your letter should be typed. (I mean, done on a word processor, of course).
3. Be wary of emailing letters. Most editors will accept emailed letters, but I’ve found that they get lost in the cracks of the email programs sometimes. So, whenever possible, I fax a copy, or actually mail it to them, if need be. If a publication doesn’t list a fax number for letters, call them and ask. If you call in a friendly way, and explain that you are wanting to fax a letter to the editor, someone will usually give you the number.
4. Always provide contact information. Most publications will call to confirm that you are the actual writer of the letter, to avoid liability problems. Give them your name, address, phone numbers, email, and web addresses. The last one is particularly important, because if the editor is intrigued by your piece, he may want to follow up and read more on your site, and that could lead to an article in the publication.
5. Write your letter in one sitting. Doing this allows you to keep your train of thought, and isn’t that difficult if you are keeping to my 350 word rule. (Rule of thumb: 350 words is a single 8 ½ x 11 page, double spaced, in a normal font). Don’t agonize over your letter. Write it up, and it will probably be better than you think it is. And you will get better with practice.
6. After writing your letter in one shot, give it 24 hours to gel. Unless your letter is of crashing importance (in which case you still need to give yourself at least a few hours) giving yourself 24 hours to read it over again before submitting may prevent you from making errors in judgment, logic, or whatever.
7. Ruthlessly check your facts. If you say that Topeka, KS has a population of 171,716 (it does; I checked) make sure you’ve got it right. Almost any number should be checked against a reliable source, unless you are 100%, totally, without a doubt sure of it. And even if you are, it’s still a good idea to check information.
8. Finally, let someone else read your letter before submitting it. Husband, wife, friend, child, anyone will do, but we seldom see the big mistakes in something we ourselves have written. So let them read it, and ask if it makes sense, and if they see mistakes in your letter. Assuming your letter gets published, thousands of people will see it. Better to have your mistake pointed out by one person, than to have thousands wonder if you really know what you are talking about.
Jim Huffman, RN specializes in natural and alternative healing therapies. His first book is ‘Dare to Be Free: How to Get Control of Your Time, Your Life, and Your Nursing Career, ’ and is aimed at helping other nurses find satisfying, dynamic careers. His website is http://www.NetworkForNurses.com and his health blog is at http://www.shababa.blogspot.com