Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How I survived the HARO deluge

When I was running the blog series for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to solicit stories from breast cancer survivors via Help A Reporter Out (HARO). After my query ran, I heard from a lot of people willing to share their stories. Unfortunately, I was not able to include everybody's stories, because the folks at HARO ran my query so late in the month and I could only use up so much of the following month to continue the series. In addition to this blogging thing, I also work on various writing projects, care for my two young children and keep house. So I was able to only devote so much of the month of November to continuing the series.

Still, that very first experience taught me something: When using HARO, give an early deadline. This is especially true since you might receive e-mails from responders even after your deadline has passed, as I did. They say the later your deadline is, the less priority your query will have. So, give an earlier date than your actual one.

So, the next time I used HARO, I set an early deadline. Thankfully, it was not so much time before my query ran.

My second query for HARO was for writers to share quotes and assorted revision advice for my Revisions book. I needed freelance writers, poets, authors, novelists, songwriters and scriptwriters to share their own revision experiences and advice.

Unlike my first experience using HARO, this time was different.

This time, I received a TON of e-mails from writers, publicists and agents willing to have work included in my book. If you picture me sitting at the desk one minute then being knocked out of my chair the next after being hit by a stream of e-mails, that's pretty accurate. It got to a point where I wanted to huddle in a corner, rocking back and forth and mumbling, "THERE'S SO MANY!"

I was definitely grateful that so many people took the time to share their revision advice for my book, but I was nervous about tackling ALL of those emails. I don't have an exact count as to how many e-mails I got; I stopped counting after I got to 100. Even halfway through the month of going through them, I still had like 80-something to go!

I knew I had to be able to answer ALL of them this time. I COULD NOT lose any of the responders like I had with my last HARO experience.

But how was I going to do that?

I came up with a plan. First, I took a deep breath. One at a time, I told myself. Just answer one e-mail at a time. Don't look at ALL of those e-mails; just deal with them one at a time.

So, I started to communicate with them. The first thing I did was zero in on what the writers specialized in. Some told me "I'm a freelance writer" and others told me they were authors of nonfiction books. However, some of them did not provide too much information about the kind of writing they did, so I had to check out their blogs and Web sites to guage just what they could offer the best revision advice on.

I also had to weed out the ones who expected to be compensated for their time. I'm sorry, but I am not able to pay everyone who contributes to this book. I even said that in my HARO query: There's NO financial compensation. I just could not afford it. Some of the writers opted out when I told them I could not pay them anything, some said "okay, well at least my name and books will be credited." Yes, I DO include everybody's bios, in full detail with links, etc. It's the best I can do in lieu of payment.

After that, I organized the e-mails. Since I was losing people on other pages of my e-mail account, I had to keep everyone on the same page. I'd read any new e-mails that came in that cluttered up the e-mails I had all together from the HARO responders, as well as others that were newer than the HARO e-mails, and kept all of them front and center. I left them unread (making them in bold) until I had the chance to get to them. Since I use G-mail, I labeled ALL of those e-mails, and it was easier for me to find them when a new response came in. When I downloaded a document they sent, I labeled that, as well.

I would also suggest keeping all of the e-mails related to your project in one folder on your e-mail account.
I have yet to do this with G-mail, but I have done it with other e-mail accounts, such as Hotmail and Mail2World. This was a HUGE mistake. Those e-mail accounts expire after a SHORT period of time and because I didn't log in there as often after my books were done, I ended up losing A LOT of e-mails, submissions and valuable information from publishers after those accounts expired. Yahoo! seems to be the best e-mail provider for me, for this kind of thing. But I will try G-mail, as well, and see how that works.

Also, I put together an "all-purpose form response" e-mail message. I copied and pasted the different sections of my book into this document (for example, "the chapters for poets" and "the chapters for freelance writers," etc.) so I could copy and paste that into the e-mails for the poets, the freelance writers, the scriptwriters, etc. This was A LOT easier than just typing the same thing again and again and again.

I also put together a brief description of what my book is about, including info on the publisher and the publication date. A lot of the responders requested this information, so, here again, instead of typing then retyping and retyping that information into my responses, I would just copy and paste.

I kept on hand a sample chapter of the book, because this, too, was what many responders requested.

Now, the method of actually answering all of those e-mails...

At first, I tried to answer as many as I could every day. Unfortunately, I fell behind on other things: Articles I had due, other books to work on, etc. (As it is, I had to quit one gig because I just could not keep up with it anymore and I felt really bad I was taking so long to get my articles turned in). So, in order to manage that and everything else I had going on, I just told myself, Okay, I'll spend one hour every day answering the e-mails. Just one hour. (Some people may be able to spend more than one hour a day answering a deluge of e-mails, and that's fine, but set a time limit and stick to it in order to avoid losing yourself in that.) Believe me, this time limit did wonders. I had my sanity back and my children had their mother back. It did slow things down in the rate I was able to answer all of the e-mails, but I had to enforce this time limit in order to balance everything else. It's just the system that worked best for me.

Most important of all, though, I had to remember one thing: THERE WAS A PERSON BEHIND EVERY E-MAIL. It was not just "another e-mail to answer." These e-mails came from real, actual people.
It would not be fair to send all of them some form response or thumb my nose at everyone who decided to walk away because I couldn't pay them. I understood where they were coming from, as writers and as authors, mothers, etc., and I made sure they knew I was not out to "steal" their work, or anything. With technology, it's so easy to forget that we are talking to a REAL HUMAN BEING on the other end of the communication method, be it e-mail, chat, online relay, etc. We tend to forget there's a real person there, a person with feelings and emotions, and sometimes people act all "high and mighty" or very rudely.

This brings me to another point: Always be professional. Even if someone says something in an e-mail that sets us off, step away, take a few deep breaths, rant privately and go...break something, if you have to. Just do not try to "get back" at them in your response. Be professional at all times, even when replying to people answering your HARO query.

I assured several of the HARO responders that they'd keep the rights to anything they shared and I made sure I ran by them any edits or changes I hoped to see in what they submitted.

I ended up having conversations with several of them about things outside of the book and it was like meeting new friends. It was a wonderful experience, even though it took me over a month to sort through all of the e-mails I received. My book is better for it, though. My network of fellow writers has grown and my knowledge of other writers and their work has been expanded.

To someone considering using HARO for their projects, my best advice is to be prepared. Keep everything organized and take it just one e-mail at a time. Your writing, and your sanity, will be better off in the end if you do so.

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  • At 4:03 AM , Blogger Lillie Ammann said...


    This is excellent advice for the specific situation of handling HARO (or other responses in huge quantity).

    But it's adaptable to many other situations as well, especially getting organized, allotting a specific amount of time to the project, and remembering that every e-mail comes from a real person.

  • At 6:37 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Hi, Lillie. Thank you so much. You're right, these pointers I have made work great in other situations, too. I'm glad you found them to be helpful and I hope they are helpful to others. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • At 1:56 PM , Blogger Tara McClendon said...

    What a process. If I ever decide to do something like this, I'll keep your experience in mind.

  • At 10:22 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Hi, Tara. Thank you. I'm glad this was useful to you.


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