How to create a freelance writer cover letter that works (with examples)

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June 9, 2021
5 minute read

A cover letter is like a handshake: it tells your clients everything they need to know about you as a person. It hints at work ethic, fairness, talent, and even enthusiasm. For freelance writers in particular, a good cover letter can make a huge difference when trying to secure a freelance writer job.

In this mini-guide, we’re covering everything freelance writers need to know about writing a great cover letter.

What does a cover letter do?

As a freelance writer, a cover letter brings a certain level of humanity into the freelance hiring process. Particularly when hiring from marketplaces like Upwork, freelance writing jobs can feel faceless. You submit a form and hope for the best. Meanwhile, a company hiring freelancers has nothing but a bunch of form submissions to judge people by. The cover letter breaks through that noise to (hopefully) build a human connection.

For a freelance writer particularly, a cover letter also does a few extra things and shares additional information:

Showcase your writing ability: A well-written cover letter is a work sample unto itself.

Build excitement: As a freelance writer, use your language and storytelling writing ability to entice the reader down the cover letter.

Encourage conversation: Share a lot of information, but leave just a bit unsaid in your cover letter so a hiring manager wants to reach out. Ideally, write your cover letter in a way that entices a recruiter to want to learn more about your writing, your experience, your resume, and see if you might be a good freelance writer for them.

4 elements of a strong cover letter

A cover letter as a freelance writer is meant to do one thing: get you to the next step, whether that’s an interview, resume review, or landing the freelance writer job. With that in mind, the strongest cover letters will have the following elements:

1. Awareness of who you’re talking to

As a freelance writer, ideally you’re addressing your cover letters to the person reviewing applications. In most companies that will be the head of the department (for freelance writers, that usually means marketing or editorial), though occasionally HR will step in to support.

Once you’ve figured out who the person is, check out their LinkedIn profile (and updates) to see how they speak and interact with people - then tailor your cover letter to that person. Who knows, you might even find they used to be a freelance writer too!

If you can’t find a specific person, check out the company’s existing content to get cues for tone, style, and topic. And if you’re applying for an anonymous freelance writer job where the company is only named if you get a call back, read the posting carefully then mimic its tone and style in your cover letter.

2. Succinctness

Get to the point in your cover letter. Avoid passive voice (especially when discussing your accomplishments), and don’t make the cover letter longer than it needs to be. Remember: a cover letter is meant to get you to the next step, not give them your life’s story.

You will need to self-edit your cover letter after it’s written, removing any areas you’ve been repetitive or offered too many examples (when one would clarify the point perfectly). This is especially true as a freelance writer, since you need to demonstrate your writing chops in your cover letter.

3. Relevant tone

Whenever possible, research the company’s media kit to understand its vision and the words it uses to describe itself. Use this information as an editorial cue in order to match their tone as best you can in your cover letter (or at least get close to the brand’s tone while staying true to your personal style). If you can’t find a media kit, read interviews with the company’s execs or read the company’s about page. Think about the cover letter writing process almost like an interview you'd do as a freelance writer. Instead of asking questions, you're reading the company's website.

This tip is especially critical for freelance writers, since your cover letter is the first piece of writing a potential client will see. If a brand prides itself on its casual tone and you write a highly-structured, ultra-professional cover letter, you’ll come off as out of touch.

4. Keyword optimization

Write your initial cover letter draft ignoring all keywords, but add them into your cover letter during your self-editing round. First, look for obvious switches where you can sub in your word (e.g. “hard-working”) for their word (e.g. “hard worker”). Then look for context switches where you can reorient an example to better showcase what they are looking for (for example: switching up a client story to highlight your time management skills versus your editorial ability). After that, look for any opportunities to naturally insert a keyword (if you see one that you have a story for, but you hadn’t included in your original cover letter writing).

What to include

When writing your cover letter, here are the key things to include:

An introduction and clear statement of intent: Unless instructed otherwise by the job posting, start your cover letter with a clear introduction and statement of intent (which position you’re applying for). You should also address the cover letter to the hiring manager, if you can identify that person's name.

Demonstrative examples: Use your cover letter to highlight client capabilities—time management, project management, etc.—that aren’t immediately apparent with a writing sample. Tailor these examples to what’s asked or highlighted in the job posting.

Your experience: Explain in your cover letter how your experience sets you up perfectly to be a freelance writer for this company. You can pull example language from the job application and job description, highlighting how you fit that description perfectly.

Link to a relevant portfolio: While your cover letter can be a work sample, you should also include a link to your freelance writing portfolio. Just make sure it’s only relevant samples, not a long web page with dozens of links. This is a great way to show off your writing experience, including both articles and other forms of writing you've done.

Achievements or awards, if relevant: Sometimes the job will require subject matter expertise or demonstrated knowledge in a certain style of writing. On top of work samples, you might want to include any achievements or awards that prove your knowledge in your cover letter. This can be particularly helpful if you have an achievement in a subject but don’t have a specific writing sample for it. This is also something you can bring up in the job interview, if that's a part of the application.

Any additional asks from the job posting: Different jobs will ask for different things, but make sure you include anything that’s asked. Some asks are job-relevant, such as credentials, while others are tasks to assess if you’re paying attention, for example something like “to prove you read this job posting, include the word ‘potato’ in your cover letter somewhere.”

Connection to your resume: Make sure you reference your resume, but don't give away all the details. Instead, use your cover letter to tease what a hiring manager might see in your resume, enticing them to check it out. Note: You should always tailor your resume to each job application process.

Contact information: You will likely include this elsewhere in the application as well, but for good measure you can also include your email address (or marketplace profile URL for direct messages) under your name at the end of the letter.

Pitfalls to avoid

If you want your cover letter to stand out in a good way, avoid these pitfalls:

More than one page: Never write a cover letter that's more than one page unless the job description explicitly requests it. Most of the time, people don't read cover letters if they are longer than one page, which means you risk a client missing out on an important example or quality copywriting skills.

Passive voice: If you naturally write in passive voice as a writer, stomp it out in your cover letter (and resume).

You can usually find passive voice with one of two tests: if there’s no person doing the action (“usually created…”) or when you use two verbs (“mistakes were made”). In all cases, revise. Either edit the sentence to put yourself in the action or, if you didn’t do the action, remove the sentence (see: filler content).

Filler content: Additional segues, “talkative language” (e.g. “as well as” versus simply “and), or explaining what everyone else did in a project are prime examples of cover letter filler content.

Paying another writer to write your cover letter for you: As a freelance writer, paying someone else to write your cover letter is dangerous. It’s either going to be low quality and you won’t get the job, or it will be high quality and your client will expect you to produce that style of writing throughout the project.

Since a lot of freelance writing involves employing your own style, displaying someone else’s style for your cover letter is a huge potential problem that hides your experience.

Examples to take inspiration from

Not sure what your cover letter should look like? Here are three cover letters we like from Great Sample Resume, LiveCareer, and The Balance SMB.

Check out this cover letter example on Great Sample Resume.

Check out this cover letter example on LiveCareer.

Check out this example on The Balance SMB.

Remember to be human in your cover letters

As a freelance writer, the term “cover letter” can spark fear, but you're really just writing an introductory letter to share your experience and work you've done with past clients. Treat it like a conversation with your prospective client about the position instead of a big deal. From there, send it off and hope for the best. In the meantime, work on any existing client work you have or sourcing more deals—then you won’t have time to worry about whether they liked your letter.