How to Use Help a Reporter Out by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Help a Reporter Out Can Be a Boon for Your Career

Guest Post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Most everyone knows about Help a Reporter Out, also called HARO. The trouble is, many don’t know how to make it work very well for them.

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 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. Once I learned how to approach the people I contacted, I got better, more frequent results.

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) in the answer I sent. But I was also careful not to make that the major thrust of my query.

3.    At first I thought these were all real reporters who would actually call me for an interview or at least to check facts. 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, not once has someone called me.

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 ( 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 maybe even 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 (at) AOL (dot) com. I almost never say no! (-: In other words, I’m happy to Help a Reporter Out!)

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 is also an instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. Learn more at


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