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Named to "Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites," this #SharingwithWriters blog is a way to connect with my readers and fellow writers, a way to give the teaching genes that populate my DNA free rein. Please feel free to add to the conversation using the very tiny "comment" link. For those interested in editing and grammar, go to http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.

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Monday, March 04, 2013

Getting Smart About Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

Getting You, Your Book, Your Expertise  Mentioned

Help a Reporter Out Can Be a Boon for Your Career

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

When I speak at writers’ groups, I am always amazed at how many writers don’t seem to know about Help a Reporter Out, also called HARO. Or they don’t know how to make it work very well for them. I know because the pencils come out and hands go up.

Here’s what it is. It’s a listing of reporters, bloggers, and other media folks who need your help or the help of someone else out there. It’s a little like a list of classified ads from media folk. Often they want opinion. They may want expertise. They may even want to cast you in a reality show. All you have to do to get these targeted (and carefully categorized) calls for help in your e-mail box is sign up at http://helpareporter.com. But then, of course, like anything else, you have to “work it.”

Some consider it a bit of a problem that these HARO notices come to them several times a day. I did. I signed up and eventually thought I didn’t have time to fool with the extensive lists. I was discouraged because I didn’t get the immediate results I thought I should. So I unsubscribed. But here’s the thing. I wasn’t getting results I wanted because I wasn’t using it right and—of course—because I wasn’t willing to be persistent. Then I tried it again. I changed my tactics. I didn’t frame myself as an author, but as an expert.  And I cut down on the time I spent with it by keeping my answers (really query letters) that matched topics I know something about on file.

I call it “recycling” in my The Frugal Book Promoter, and it can be used to cut time needed in lots of ways. There is also information in that book on how to determine the angles that are related to you, your writing career and your book or books.  Once I learned how to approach the people I contacted, I got better, more frequent results—in less time.

I had to learn the hard way. You don’t because I'm sharing some of my hard-won tips:

1.    Sign up.
2.    Try to look at every e-mail HARO sends out and quickly pick out the calls that might directly apply to you or the ones you can skew toward you. Example: I answered one that wanted people who had suffered some kind of stroke so I shared my little story about a TIA I had while I was in Tibet. I was there for inspiration for a novel and my poetry. I was careful to include that reference to my creative work (along with links to some buy pages for those books) in the answer I sent. But I was also careful not to make that the major thrust of my query.

Note: For this kind of query I adapt parts of several first-person essays I have on file, too. The healing aspect of writing can often be shown to relate to health issues you have overcome—and that is just one example of unlikely connections between HARO calls for help and your writing career. If you would like a copy of one of my first-person essays—perhaps one connecting my fiction to triumph over cancer—send me an e-mail at HoJoNews@aol.com.

3.     At first I thought these were all real reporters who would actually call me for an interview or at least to check facts. Some are. Some aren’t. The world is a different place since I was a reporter. Writers are in a bigger hurry. That means you need to be complete with your answer. Use anecdotes. Use soundbites. This is great training, by the way, for learning what intrigues media people and what doesn’t. Give them contact information and permission to call you if they wish right in the pitch you send them. Note: Though I have received lots of publicity using HARO, only once has someone called me. E-mails are a big time-saver.
4.    Always include a little bio. You can copy and paste it but it should include the kind of information about your background that applies to the kind of question your contact wanted answered. Include links to your Web site, blog, or online bookstores buy page. Sometimes the writers use that bio exactly as you gave it to them. At the risk of being redundant, media folks are busy. If your note to them requires tons of work to corral details you didn’t include, they’ll just use someone else who did a better job of giving them what they need.
5.    Keep at it. As with all marketing, persistence pays.
6.    Don’t get discouraged. Expect that you may hit gold on about one of every ten or twenty calls you answer. But one of those can reach a ton of new readers.
7.    When you learn that your answer has been used, go online, comment, and send a thank you to the writer. If you don’t know how you could possibly know if your helpful piece gets used, you need to refer again to your Frugal Book Promoter (http://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromo) and find “alerts” in the index. Note: Sometimes the blogger or reporter (the smartest ones!) will let you know you were mentioned and even give you a permalink to use in your own marketing.
8.    If you are featured on a relatively big site, add the coup to your media kit, your Web site, and blog about it.

Remember, you’re not just selling books here. You’re building a writing career. You’re building name recognition. You’re networking, too!

~To reprint this article in your own blog, Web site, or elsewhere, send me a quickie query to HoJoNews@AOL.com. I almost never say no! (-: In other words, I’m happy to Help a Reporter Out! And if you share your permalink with me, I help you network the post! 

~Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a multi award-winning author of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Her HowToDoItFrugally series of books has helped writers and retailers worldwide. She is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, the Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of 14 women of “San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen.” She was an instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program for nearly a decade. She recently updated the second edition of her Frugal Book Promoter and added a new book to her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically was launched as an e-book giveaway by Bookbaby.com and to highest acclaim by Midwest Book Review.


Howard-Johnson is the author of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She is also a marketing consultant, editor, and author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the award-winning second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter (where she talks more about choosing and the advantages of winning contests and how to use those honors)  and The Frugal Editor. Her latest is in the series is  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. Learn more on her Amazon profile page, http://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfileGreat Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers is one of her booklets--perfect for inexpensive gift giving--and, another booklet, The Great First Impression Book Proposal helps writers who want to be traditionally published. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including one she encourages authors to read because it will help them convince retailers to host their workshops, presentations, and signings. It is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. In addition to this blog, she helps writers extend the exposure of their favorite reviews at TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com. She also blogs at all things editing--grammar, formatting and more--at The Frugal, Smart, and Tuned-In Editor (http://TheFrugalEditor.blogspot.com )


  1. I used to watch the emails more closely but just been too busy lately. I have answered several calls and met with success though.

  2. It is a bit of a job keeping up, Diane. I sometimes take a hiatus. (-:

  3. Carolyn, thanks for the article. I'm on the HARO list, but have failed to follow your advice. Thanks.

  4. Margaret, it took me a while to figure out some of the secrets. As I got more active, I also used a lot of copy and paste (but tailored) to reach people on different topics. (-:

  5. These tips would sure help when starting out on this list. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Carolyn, I joined HARO a while ago, but like many others didn't take advantage of it. I tried once or twice, but then stopped. Thanks for the helpful tips and reminder. I'll be sharing this post.

    Also, will send you an email to ask to use it on my site!

  7. It does sound like a good source for connections, but it also sounds like you pay a price in time and effort. sigh

  8. Oh, yeah. Heidi. Even free publicity isn't free. (-: Karen, glad you liked the article. Hope your Web site readers like it, too.

  9. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for the shout out! We appreciate you mentioning HARO to your readers and hope they will find our service as valuable as you have. Thanks again!

    HARO's Social Media Community Manager

  10. Thanks for the information. I'm just getting started with HARO.


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