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Getting Your Freelance Writing Out There

If you’re a freelance writer, you’ve probably heard of HARO – the free press release distribution service that hooks up journalists and bloggers with people willing to provide them with stories.

Here’s a quick demonstration of how it works:

You post a listing on HARO describing your expertise. News outlets in need of a story covering your area will reply to your posting via email, asking for more details. You supply the information requested by the journalist, and when published, count yourself as “HARO Success Story” or some other title assigned to you by the editor who called upon you for help in his/her story.

In this article I’ll show you why HARO isn’t going away any time soon, and how understanding the reasons why journalists use it can help you better prepare for HARO queries, give better answers in your replies, and increase the chances of being asked to participate in a story.

Why is HARO still around?

HARO has helped thousands of people land media placements on national TV shows (NBC’s TODAY Show among them), on radio talk shows, newspapers, popular blogs and more.

The real secret to harnessing HARO’s potential however is knowing how to make yourself stand out amongst the other freelancers who are also using it. The following article will show you how to do just that – with 5 simple rules to improve your results with every query you answer.

1) Keep it short and sweet

If no specific guidelines are provided, strive to keep your answers under a single paragraph.

Any links included should be relevant and kept to the point, only mentioning the most important points of interest about any piece of work you’ve done without going overboard with useless information. Inappropriate links will mark you as spammy in the eyes of the journalists receiving your reply, so it’s best to stick to “no follow” links unless otherwise requested by the journalist. Look below for an example of what not to do when adding links:

This one here is a perfect example of a HARO response gone wrong. This freelancer thought it would be a great idea to add lots and lots of external links that lead nowhere in particular – which prompted this HARO query to be declined.

2) Don’t tell the journalist how to do his/her job

Every HARO response should include a disclaimer that reads something along the lines of “Please note, this is merely my opinion and not a fact…” followed by your actual answer. If you put yourself in the journalists’ shoes for a moment, it’s easy to see why mentioning such caveats would be important: You don’t want someone else telling you what to write about – you’ll find your own stories!

Don’t say:  “Writers like you need to focus on xyz….bla bla bla” instead try saying: “I feel that writers like yourself can benefit from checking out abc….etc.”

3) Be yourself

One of the great things about HARO is that you’re allowed to be as creative as you like with your answers, provided that they do not include anything inappropriate (see rule #1). Your personality will shine through in your answers, which will make it all the more easy for journalists to see if your replies are a good match for their story ideas. The caveat here is that you should never use abbreviations or slang when adding links to your HARO reply – take a look at this example:

Although I’m sure the intended meaning was “iBlogs”, what this particular freelancer wrote was incomprehensible and caused the journalist receiving her response to decline it. Remember, spell check does not equal proofread! This goes for every piece of writing you put out there, no matter what form it takes.

4) Don’t be afraid to use templates!

Templates are a fantastic way to make sure that your most important information is always available at a glance – and can be used with just about any type of HARO query you come across. They’re especially helpful if you find yourself responding to the same types of inquiries over and over again (like I do). Just look below:

As you can see here, my freelancer friend was able to provide an answer for this particular inquiry in less than 30 seconds by adapting her template to fit the given topic. This saved her time, but more importantly made sure she didn’t forget anything important as well.

5) Don’t be afraid to back off

If you’re unsure about whether or not your reply would be appropriate for the journalist to use (see rule #1), don’t submit it! It’s better to have no response than a declined response because one of your links was inappropriate…or worse yet, there’s inappropriate language being used in the body of your answer. Journalists are professional, so if you feel uncomfortable with their request try googling them or looking at other articles they’ve written for reputable sources before sending an email – just to make sure that everything is on the up and up.

This article here marks the perfect example of how NOT to respond when querying journalists via HARO. Here my friend tried his hand at replying to a request for health advice, but was not comfortable with the tone used by the journalist. He went so far as to call his response “nonsense”. Needless to say, this got declined pretty quickly.

6) Proofread before sending

This is probably common sense for most people, but it’s worth noting that every HARO request has one or several journalists looking over them – meaning they’ll be reading every single reply sent in. It only takes a moment to type out your reply and run spell check/grammar check before hitting send – so why not do yourself (and the reporter you’re replying to) a favour and do so? Sometimes even just one tiny mistake can cause your entire response to be refused.

The following was a response to a request looking for “indispensable tech tools”:

As you can see, by losing her grasp on the difference between “your” and “you’re”, my poor friend completely changed the meaning of what she was trying to say! As it turns out, this was an inquiry regarding tech tools in general rather than exclusive to tools that help with cooking – which is why the journalist declined it.

7) Always thank your HARO contacts!

Believe it or not but journalists actually take time out of their day to respond to your queries – so don’t forget that they deserve appreciation if you get something published! An easy way to do this is send a quick follow-up message after you’ve sent your query.

8) Don’t spam journalists with follow-up messages!

Once you’ve sent your HARO inquiry, it’s done its job and the journalist is on his/her way to getting back to you with a reply. Don’t try contacting them again – not even if they didn’t respond within 24 hours (unless of course they specifically ask you to do so). Even worse, don’t send out mass messages asking journalists EVERYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF just because you think that might increase your chances of getting published. If the journalist wasn’t interested in what you had before, he or she probably isn’t going to be now…at least not unless there’s something extremely appealing about your response. Remember: you’re not the only one sending HARO requests – and if it seems like your response is of more value than others (see rule #5), then they’ll be inclined to reply.

These were all declined for various reasons, but none of them had anything to do with their subject matter! The first example here was declined because “I saw no point in publishing her story” (she got upset and accused him of plagiarism). The second and third examples here were both declined without an explanation…until we found out that the journalist was looking for tips on how to get rid of lice and STDs, respectively. Since neither my friend nor I could provide helpful advice within those parameters, we declined as well. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore follow-up messages – especially if the journalist already declined your previous inquiry.

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