Write It Sideways

‘Help A Reporter Out’: A Valuable Research Tool for Writers

John Peragine is a freelance writer and author of ten non-fiction books, through Atlantic Publishing. When he offered to tell us about his experiences with an awesome resource for writers, I couldn’t refuse. Thanks, John!

When I was writing 101 Recipes for Making Wild Wines at Home: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers and The Complete Guide to Making Your Own Wine at Home: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply, I decided to contact some winemakers to add some professional expertise to my books.

I make my own wine, but I wanted to include some really credible people in the book, and needed to find winemakers to interview.

I used Help A Reporter Out (HARO), a website that connects writers with expert sources, so they can conduct research for books, newspapers, magazines and blogs.

I posted a request for assistance from winemakers, and immediately received replies from all over the world.

Based on my experience, here are some tips to consider if you decide to use HARO:

  1. Select the most appropriate sources for your project. I went through my email and focused on the responses from wineries that I was really interested in, and sent back replies.
  2. Be specific about your needs. Many of the larger winemakers had publicists I had to go through. I threw them the pitch for my book and let them know what I would need from their clients. The results were outstanding. I was able to secure 1-2 hour interviews with some of the most influential winemakers on the planet.
  3. Be prepared. I wrote 20 questions ahead of time for each of the interviews so I was prepared. During the interview, I allowed the winemakers to talk about their winery and their impressive credentials, but I always brought them back to the questions I needed for the book.
  4. Remember legal concerns. I made sure they signed a release so I could use the interviews and photos in my book.
  5. Keep helpful records. I recorded each of these sessions with their permission so I could have a conversation with them, and really concentrate on what they were saying, instead of being restricted by my own framework.

One of the best contacts and the highlight of my interviews was the opportunity I had to speak with John Langley, the creator of the television show COPS. He owns and operates a small winery in Argentina called Urraca Wines, with his children. I could have talked to him all day.

I was so nervous before speaking with him, which was complicated by the fact that I had to reschedule the interview with his publicist three times because of his production schedule. When we finally did connect, it was like talking to an old friend.

The biggest perk of these connections was that the publicists all sent cases of wine and champagne for me to sample.

This was a writer’s dream!

Editor’s note: What topics have you needed to research for your writing? Would you consider using a service like HARO?  Are there other great research tools you can recommend?

Check out John Peragine‘s books 101 Recipes for Making Wild Wines at Home: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Herbs, Fruits, and FlowersThe Complete Guide to Making Your Own Wine at Home: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply, and others at his website.