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6 HARO response essentials

HARO – “Help a Reporter Out” – is a free service that links journalists with sources. It’s a helpful resource for authors looking for book publicity. (That’s a portion of a typical HARO e-mail message on the right.)

HARO’s publisher batches source requests from journalists and sends them to subscribers via e-mail three times a day. The queries are grouped by categories that include biotech and healthcare, education, general, lifestyle and fitness, and several others. The query titles are listed at the top of each HARO e-mail; click on the one that interests you and you’ll jump down to the full query.

All replies to queries go through HARO’s internal system rather than to a reporter’s e-mail address, which isn’t provided.

Don’t make these 3 mistakes

As someone who uses HARO to find sources on a regular basis, I’m sharing here the six elements I look for in a HARO response to help me decide if a source is a good fit for my article. Before I do that, though, I want to make sure you don’t use these three surprisingly common (and inappropriate) responses. They will guarantee that you won’t be interviewed or mentioned:

  1. “You should call me. I know a lot about this.”
  2. “I saw your HARO ad. If you’re ever looking for a source about (insert random topic unrelated to query here), call me.”
  3. “Read the article at this link for my opinion about this. Feel free to use anything from my article in yours.”

Respond with this information

Here are the six elements you do want to include in your response:

  1. The title of the “query” you’re responding to in your e-mail subject line. Every query has a title – for example, “Cheap, healthy holiday fare” or “How to keep employee morale up.” Copying and pasting the query title into the subject line of your message helps the busy journalist organize and track responses.
  2. Your credentials. What makes you qualified to contribute to this article or segment? Why should the reporter interview you? In addition to summarizing your relevant expertise in one or two sentences, include a link to your bio on your website.
  3. One or two sentences to offer your perspective. Maybe it’s your opinion, something counter-intuitive, or information that validates the article or segment premise. Try to offer a few thoughts that the journalist won’t get from the many others who are responding. Be as specific as possible.
  4. Tips or advice when appropriate. If the journalist seeks an expert and there’s enough information in the request to offer tips, use bullets to present three or four.
  5. Brief anecdote when requested. Sometimes, reporters are looking for anecdotes, not advice from experts. If you’ve got one to share, keep it brief and to the point.
  6. Contact information. This one is so obvious that it’s often overlooked. Make sure you include your full signature with name, e-mail, telephone number,  URL, and book title.

Finally, don’t include attachments. While HARO responders can attach files to their e-mail responses, HARO doesn’t pass those attachments along in the e-mail responses sent to  journalists. (Odd, isn’t it?) If it’s important to include the information, copy and paste it into the message.

What’s your best tip for making sure your HARO response gets you and your book included in an article, segment, or blog post?

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  1. I use HARO from the reporter side at least once a month. I ask responders to include their whole response in the email, so I can use it directly without even having to interview them if possible. It makes life easier and quicker.

    I don’t mind a long response if I can tell from the beginning it’s going to be useful.

    I get about twenty responses to each request, even on short notice. I get more responses if there is more time.

    What I don’t like is getting a response that addresses my need then switches right back to an unrelated topic that the responder wants to get publicity on.

    Generally for business stories I want to know what you did, and what the tangible result was in terms of sales, etc.

    For dating stories, I don’t want just advice. I want tales I can tell that show why you believe what you believe.

    One tip that canmake it easier to get into a piece: Every reporter is looking to show both sides of the story, so if you can take the opposite of the expected response, you will be quoted. (But this doesn’t work for book requests.)

    For example, USA Today was looking for responses for an article about American Idol, called “What if Sanjaya Wins.” I knew I had a better shot of being quoted if I was positive about Sanjaya, since most Idol fans didn’t want him to win. I was quoted in the article and not only am I able to say I’ve been in USA Today, I can also claim that I comment on pop culture as well as book publishing.

    1. Great advice, Mahesh! Thanks! I mention being counter-intuitive with your response in point 3, and I’m glad you’ve expanded on that here. Taking a stand that is unexpected or opposite the mainstream view is a great way to get TV interviews, too.

      Congrats on the USA Today hit! Did you respond to a HARO query for that?


  2. Actually, I was a big Idol fan and read a blog on USA Today that posted a request for the article. So I’m pretty sure there were dozens of responses and only five or six were used. I also make it a point to say something that can be used as a quote at the very end of the article, which I love to receive when I’m requesting material, because it makes it easy to tie things up. They didn’t use that, but it’s another chance that separates you from the pack.

  3. Thanks for the useful tips. Having been on some of their webcasts I know they offer a service that gives buyers of that service first dibs on stories. I forgot what they call it but if you are interested I am sure you can find it on their site or in a search.

    1. Thanks, Ali. Yes, they offer a paid service that sends queries in advance to the paying customers before they go out to the “masses.” The reality is, if you don’t know how to respond to queries effectively, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first or the fifth to respond. So…paying to see the queries first won’t help you if you don’t respond appropriately.

      Is your topic highly competitive? If it is, the paid service might be worth it.


  4. Someone I know replied recently to a HARO request and during the subsequent phone interview, the interviewer asked the source for $$! My friend backed off and is now wary about HARO. Has anyone encountered this? It’s not typical, right?

    1. It’s definitely not typical, Kayleen. HARO says they screen queries to make sure they’re appropriate, but some odd ones do come through. I responded to one that turned out to be a business owner looking for free marketing advice, not a journalist looking for sources. I reported him to HARO, and your colleague should do the same. They’ll want to know about this.

      Thank you for asking!


  5. I have a question about HARO, when I send an emailed response via Gmail does the formatting of the email go through to the reporter (i.e. paragraph spacing?)

    Thanks, Chris

    1. Chris, the HARO responses I receive via e-mail are text only with no formatting and no attachments.


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