4 Things to Know about Sidebars

Back when I was writing about the Ancient Maya, I had to work in a wide variety of information about their history, culture, and science. The problem was that with so much to cover, not everything could fit into each chapter. That’s how I ended up with this sidebar about jade.

Behold: The humble sidebar

Not familiar with sidebars? Read on and find out what they are and how to work them into your project.

What’s a Sidebar?

See the photo on the right? The text in the green text box is a sidebar. Generally it is located at the side of a page of text. Get it? Side bar. But sometimes it is at the bottom of the page.  It is essentially a mini-article about a topic that is related to the main text.

The sidebar in the graphic is in my Ancient Maya book. The main text included information about a jade artifact. The sidebar explained the importance of jade in Mayan culture.

Where to Locate It?

So where do you include the sidebars in your manuscript? That depends. When I write books with chapters, the sidebar goes at the end of the chapter in which is belongs. Then I include notes throughout the chapter to show where they belong. They have to be spaced throughout the chapter which means spacing out where you mention the sidebar topics. Then I paste in the insertion point.

So after the paragraph that mentioned the jade artifact, you would see something like this:

[insert SB 1.1]

That stands for “insert first sidebar in chapter one.”

What if I Can’t Mention It?

It depends. Ninety percent of the time my editors want a topic mentioned in the main text to be included in a sidebar. But that isn’t the case with every imprint and every publisher. Read books by your target publisher and see how they handle it.

Is it Part of the Word Count?

Most often, my editors want me to count the sidebars as part of the word count, so that’s what I do. But when I submit my own work to an agent, I generally include two word counts in the header on page 1 – one that counts the sidebar text nd one that does not.

Sidebars are a great way to include extra information in a manuscript. They provide bite-sized chunks to tempt reluctant readers. And they are a great way to practice writing short and tight. You don’t have to include them but if you are writing nonfiction you may want to give them a try.


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