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Looking for Travel Sidebars
by Jack Adler

Return to Travel Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

A sidebar is a supplemental piece to your article. It's considerably shorter in length, and it has to feature material that relates to the main article but isn't needed or possibly is too long for inclusion (such as a listing or roster). Sidebars can be confusing but they can generate extra income. Many articles lend themselves to sidebars, but you have to be careful about what you use. Generally, information on prices, how to instructions, and like nuts and bolts material belongs to the basic article. Some publications may use such information in the body of the article, at the end of the article, or in some box-like area. However, this material is usually considered part of the article regardless of its placement.

Look for material on historical and developmental aspects, anecdotal items, incidents, mini-profiles of relevant personalities, a rundown of extra terminology, historical aspects, or any human interest angle, etc.

Writers have even sold jokes that related to the subject matter. I sold an article on ways Americans could meet foreigners abroad, such as through home visits and various people-to-people programs. The roster of outfits working in this area was too long for inclusion in the main article and I was able to sell a sidebar that listed the various organizations where one could write for information including their addresses and contact information.

You can provide additional coverage and interpretation of one part of your main article. Or it might be a case history that's too lengthy for the article. Say it was an article about getting emergency medical care abroad. You could do one case history or even parlay a couple of representative cases together. Check lists on do's and don'ts are frequently used in sidebars; such sidebars are probably the most clipped for future reference by readers.

Suppose you're writing an article on how to protect your home from burglary while you're traveling. You could possibly do a sidebar listing stores selling pertinent safeguards, or neighborhood watch programs, case histories, etc. Sidebars can also be graphs, maps, parts of poems or songs or all of the particular work.

If you find you have material from your research that doesn't fit into your article, but is nevertheless both related and interesting, look for ways to present it as sidebars. Chances are that if you've done a good deal of research, you'll have left over material to possibly develop and utilize as sidebars.

Sidebars can be anywhere from 50 words up to perhaps 300 or more; but figure on no more than one/two double-spaced pages. A sidebar, of course, is always much shorter than the main article. As a rule, words in a sidebar are counted separately from the main article, which is important if you're paid by the word. Sidebars also lend themselves to tight writing; you can often use bullets (enlarged periods) to cover basic information.

Some other examples:

  • A mini-glossary of culinary selections in the gastronomy of a nation.
  • Extra information/history on the architecture of a distinctive museum/building; and/or the architect.
  • Legends of ghosts or paranormal occurrences at a hotel.
  • Tips on care and preservation of suitcases after returning from a trip.
  • Four key pointers on security while traveling.
  • A roster of Internet web sites on a particular subject.
  • Unusual fruits and vegetables in a region or country/where esoteric foreign food items are sold in your city.
  • Recipes of foreign dishes/a profile of a famous chef.
  • Components of a travel first-aid kit.
  • Possible games and diversions for traveling with young children.
  • Quizzes on any subject including currency, language, etiquette et al. of a foreign country.
  • Locations for famous and not so famous movies/television shows.
  • A rundown of jogging routes in a city.
  • Key definitions about a subject and its terminology.
  • A rundown of books about a particular subject/city/nation.

Think about possible sidebars before writing a query. It helps to check if a target publication uses sidebars. Include your suggestion of a sidebar or sidebars in your query after covering what you'll do in the main article. It's quite possible that while you're writing the article that other potential sidebar ideas may crop up. You can always bounce these ideas off editors as well. But don't submit more than a couple of sidebars per query.

A well-researched article is evident quickly to editors, regardless if the subject interests them or not. The key to giving this impression is your presentation of facts and how they are woven into your article. Most importantly, the facts have to be accurate. The first hint of an inaccuracy can throw everything else in the article into doubt. Many magazines have fact checkers, and most editors go over stories with considerable diligence. There are few things editors like less than letters from readers pointing out factual mistakes in articles that have run. While it may have been the writer's initial fault, editors generally feel they should have caught the error.

Therefore, it behooves you in your research to make sure what you use in your articles is reliable. Be especially careful with web sites and phone numbers as it's relatively easy to use the wrong letter or number, and these items are often checked.

Copyright © 2009 Jack Adler
Excerpted from Make Steady Money as a Travel Writer

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Jack Adler is an author, playwright and screenwriter in North Hollywood, California. He is the author of several books, including "The Consumer's Guide to Travel, Southern India, Exploring Historic California, "Travel Safet" (co-authored), and There's a Bullet Hole in Your Window. Adler is currently a columnist for Travel World International, an electronic magazine, and an instructor in nonfiction writing for the UCLA Extension and Writer's Digest School. He has been the board leader for Internet travel forums for Prodigy and Excite, and currently runs the travel forum on the Antares bulletin board. He was a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times Travel section for almost 15 years, and has also written columns for Westways magazine. For more information, visit http://www.pearlsong.com/jack_adler.htm.


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