Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sidebar Solutions

When you send an article query, do you also pitch an idea for the sidebar(s) that accompanies the final article, or does the editing team handle that themselves? Because what would happen if the editor likes the article pitch but doesn't see the sidebar as a fit, would that rule you out completely? Is it better to leave that open-ended?

Great question - one I wouldn't have thought of.

The answer is that it never hurts to include sidebar ideas. It demonstrates to the editor that you've really thought the pitch through and are taking the extra step to really deliver a bang-up query. Which means that you'll likely also deliver a bang-up article.

Of course, not all of these ideas will be used. Yes, some editors will assign sidebar ideas after you've landed the pitch or some stories might not even require sidebars. But still, they can be icing on the cake for a query. Another bonus: sometimes, an editor will read through your sidebar ideas and decide that one of them has the makings of a bigger story. Bam! You've landed another assignment without even trying.

Will an editor ax a query simply because he didn't like the sidebars? Not likely. Instead, he'd come back to you and ask you for new sidebars - this has happened to me a lot. Sidebars are like condiments: an editor isn't going to send back an entry simply because he doesn't like the ketchup that it comes with. Instead, he'll ask if you have mustard or relish or bbq sauce.

I generally include 2-3 sidebar ideas for each feature idea. But take a look at the column you're pitching for (for example, the As They Grow articles I write for Parents always have 2 sidebars, so I know to pitch at least that many), and tailor your query accordingly.

The toughest thing about sidebars, at least for me, is coming up with new and fresh ideas. Anyone out there have surefire methods to develop good sidebars? Or anyone have anything else to add on my advice?


Alison Ashley Formento said...

This is a good question. I usually come up with sidebar ideas after I've written a piece and suggest them to the editor. Sometimes they been used or just shortened as a caption with a photo. I never thought of pitching sidebar ideas—yes, more to think about, but seems like it would really help sell an idea.

Anonymous said...

I usually cull sidebar ideas during the research phase. There may be something of real interest--some unique nugget--that just doesn't quite fit into one of the sections I've created for the main body of the article, and that's where I'll suggest a sidebar or box. These asides often end up being my favorite bits to write!