Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Want My FOBs

Could you talk about FOB pitches and how you approach those? Samples (if not too much?)
Sure thing. I don't pitch FOBs that often anymore - really just because I don't have the time - but as I mentioned in a previous post, I used to tackle them all the time, and not only are they a great way to break into a new market, they're a great way to prove to a new-to-you editor that you're the real deal.

(Sidenote for newcomers to the blog: FOB stands for front-of-book, and an FOB is one of those shorter stories/blurbs that you'll read in the literal front of the magazine. Thus, the name.)

In the past, I often used new research, studies or books to develop FOB ideas. Since I cover health and lifestyle (and everything that falls underneath those vast umbrellas), I'd troll websites such as newswise, medlineplus, and intelihealth for the latest research. When I'd hit a study that I thought could be spun into a short piece, I'd whip up a fun little blurb and send it into a targeted editor. I'd usually aim to send about 4-5 at a time, knowing that most likely, 1-2 would hit. Another good place to look for ideas is the "upcoming release" section of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Keeping in mind that most major mags work about six months out, I could often find future books (and their authors) that could be profiled in 200 word FOBs.

Here are a few examples that I sent in a few years ago. I really don't save the published FOBs, so I can't remember which of these made the cut, but regardless, you'll get a good idea of how to write them up and grab an editor's attention.

1. If you can't pass on the ice cream, try the gym. The American Physiological Association reports that after exercise, athletes would rather indulge in salty, not sweet, treats, and that their perception of the sweetness of an item had diminished. You'll reap two benefits: one, you've burned calories and two, the Ben and Jerry's might not be as tempting!

2. Researchers state that volunteering or giving to charity is a great way to reduce stress and improve your happiness. Yet while many of us think it's a great idea in theory, few of us put it into practice. How about, just in time for the holidays, tips on becoming more involved in charity and websites where people can donate to their favorite organizations. (There are some great ones out there that list thousands of charities; you only have to enter a credit card number.) Both December and January are great times to get into the giving spirit and start the year off right.

3. Fast Food Nation: too good to be true? This week, McDonalds announced plans to launch a healthy happy meal, and KFC and other joints have already implemented supposedly "lite" items on their menus. But are they for real? I was shocked to read that the "low-fat" blueberry muffin at Dunkin' Donuts actually has 15 grams of fat. Sheesh, that's hardly good for me! So which items to experts give the thumbs up to, and which are only clever marketing tools? This could be done in the form of a chart.

4. Social Drinking isn't Fun After All: At least not for your brain. Vanderbilt University researchers report that heavy social drinkers, those who consume more than 100 drinks a month, 80 for women, (which given portion size at some bars, may not be that hard and can be deceiving), show the same brain impairments as alcoholics. Only because they're not drinking "heavily," they don't recognize the symptoms. I'd speak with the researchers and get their tips on curbing alcohol intake and recognizing signs of impairment and problems.


Trish said...

Thank you, Allison! Oh this is so helpful. I'm neck-deep in FOB ideas and got all lost over the weekend.

I was definitely overdoing it on my FOB ideas. Okay, off to tweak.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Allison!
For some reason, I was under the impression that you should usually just write the entire FOB you were proposing, since they are usually very short, and send it off. It looks like you may have only used this technique for idea #1. For writers without a lot of proven experience, would you recommend writing the whole thing, or only spending the time to write up FOBs that have a go-ahead from an editor?
For anyone else out there, what is your experience?

Thanks! Sandy

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Certainly, you can provide more detail than I did, but the truth of the matter is that you don't know how long the FOB is going to be. Or your editor will want you to fill in the FOB with an expert interview or two, which you're not really going to do before you get an assignment. (For a feature, I might toss in a quote or two, but I wouldn't waste my time on an FOB.) Or the editor might want a totally different angle than what you've proposed. For example, I believe for the volunteering one that I pitched (and again, this is a few years ago, so the deets are hazy), the editor liked the initial premise but wanted a different take on it. So we brainstormed and came up with something new. It's unlikely that an editor will flat-out BUY the FOB you've drafted - they simply don't do that.

But certainly, if this is a new-to-you editor, you can add in extra details such as WHOM you'd interview for the piece, but I wouldn't go to the trouble of doing the interview itself. Editors like to have a say over what you're going to write about, and if you've already decided what you're going to write about, they likely won't bite.

More on this later in the week.

And just my opinion, of course!

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you that I am so glad I found your blog! I can't wait to hear more...

Anonymous said...

um..read more:)

Anonymous said...

I do have a question though. What is the difference between FOBs and queries?

Anonymous said...

Hi Allison,
This is a great site, it's so informative. I have a question: Is a FOB the same as a filler? When submitting something that pertains to health, do you have cite the source under the written piece?