What to do When it Just Won't Fit

The Golden Thread: It's more than just the name of this weekly letter I write to you.

The Golden Thread is the flow of your copy from beginning to end. It’s weaving your Big Idea, your strong, bold promise, and the benefits of your product throughout your entire letter.

When the Golden Thread runs through your copy, your reader is drawn irresistibly from your headline … to your lead … through the copy … to the close, where you ask him to take action.

But what do you do when you’ve got things you want to say but there’s no place to put them without cutting the Golden Thread? For instance, what if you want to give information about the product’s creator, but it just doesn’t fit?

This is where sidebars come in.

A quick review: A sidebar is a physically and graphically separate element in your copy. It contains that “where does it go?” information … information you feel will boost response but including it in the main copy (called “flow-through” copy) will break the Golden Thread.

You’ve seen sidebars in newspapers and magazines all your life. They’ve also been used for 20 years in magalogs — sales letters that look like magazines. They’re now being used successfully in websites as well. AWAI’s website is a good example of well-designed, well-placed sidebars.

What belongs in sidebars …

Let’s think about the Dr. Martin Smith nutritional supplement exercise in the Accelerated Program. Dr. Smith has an impressive biography. But over the years of reading members’ exercises for the supplement, I've seen how his biography just breaks the flow of the copy. It seems like the copywriter felt he had to put it in but didn’t know where it belonged. This type of information is ideal for sidebars.

In the COS Leads Intensive we look at a promotion by Kent Komae. It’s written in the voice of Dr. David Williams. Even if Dr. Williams’ impressive bio information fit in the flow-through copy, it would sound like he was bragging there since it’s in Dr. Williams’ voice. By putting it in a sidebar, you can change the voice of the writer and have whoever’s “writing” the sidebar brag about Dr. Williams’ many accomplishments.

Sidebars are also great places to put information that doesn’t relate directly to the one idea that drives your promotion. (Remember, you want to adhere to the Rule of One from Mark Ford — aka Michael Masterson.)

Looking at the Dr. Smith exercise once again: Let’s say you have decided to focus on the energy-boosting aspect of the supplement. But there’s a component made from an aquatic plant. When fed to cattle, this plant caused them to lose fat and gain muscle. This could be a tremendous benefit for the supplement. But since you’re concentrating on energy, it doesn’t fit into the Rule of One treatment. This would work really well in the sidebar.

Percentages, numbers, dates — all of these things can be vital to proving the effectiveness of your product. A few numbers, certainly. But too many in your main copy, and you slow down reading. If they’re important, put them in a sidebar.

Sidebars are also good places to put quotes, lists, polls, or other small bits of information that can add to the effectiveness of your sale.

An easy way to show sidebars in the copy you submit …

Generally, you want sidebars near copy they’re related to. Or, if that’s not important, you might want them in a particular order or showing up on a particular page.

How do you do that if you’re using a word processor like Microsoft Word? Here’s the problem. Word is an excellent word processing program. But, while it’s gotten better, it’s still only a barely-adequate layout program. Sometimes when you use Word, placed objects like sidebars and pictures don’t stay exactly where you want them.

Leave the exact placement of these elements to the graphic designer (who won’t be using Word, but instead a professional graphic design program). What you want to do in your copy is specify where you want sidebars to go for your client and the graphic designer.

There are two common ways to do this. My favorite is to specify where you want the sidebar to go without putting it there. If you adopt this method, you’d want to put something like this in your copy where you want the sidebar:

{Sidebar 1 goes near here: "How riboflavin builds your body"}

This notice makes it clear for the graphic designer where you want the sidebar. I include the sidebar itself at the end of the letter or in a separate file, depending on what the client prefers.

You could also put the sidebar right in your copy, inline with the text you want it near. In this case, you would do something like:

[Headline, Centered: Arial 18 point]
How riboflavin builds your body

Riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, is one of several B vitamins you need in your daily diet. You should get enough riboflavin from food sources, but you may also get it from a daily multivitamin. Riboflavin is water soluble, so your body excretes any excess through urine.


Here’s the reason I prefer the first way. You want your client to read your copy straight through without distractions. Inline sidebars done the second way can be distracting.

However, different copywriters have different styles, so choose the one that you — and your client — like best.

Here’s the important point about trying to format sidebars in the copy you send your client: You need to spend your time writing. Make sure you're not spending valuable time and making extra work for yourself struggling with things like getting your sidebars to stick where you place them. Your time is better spent on writing, revising, editing, and writing some more.

Getting a clearer picture of all parts of your promo …

I mentioned the Dr. Smith supplement exercise in this letter, but I just had two bits of good news.

That exercise was a bear … a real challenge regardless of where you are in copywriting. The first bit of good news is that AWAI is replacing the Dr. Smith exercise with three other exercises. These are exciting, very current in their focus, and look like a lot of fun to do. Having done the original Dr. Smith exercise about a million years ago, I’m jealous.

The second chunk of good news is this:

AWAI is opening enrollment for a new round of the Accelerated Live Companion Series — but only until this Friday.

If you’re not familiar with the Companion Series, it’s made up of weekly live calls with Katie and Rebecca. They spend an hour (at least) each week guiding you through each section of the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

This interactive series also features guest presenters who bring their own perspective to copywriting … and to all the strategies and secrets you learn in the Accelerated Program. I’ve been one of those guest presenters several times. I’ve always enjoyed the lively, clear, and informative discussions that go on.

Once again, I’m a little jealous that the Companion Series wasn’t available when I was working my way through the Accelerated Program. If it had been, you can be sure I would have signed up. It gives insights into the Accelerated Program — and copywriting in general — you can’t get anywhere else.

Click here to learn more about this unique opportunity. Because it’s a live series, admission is strictly limited. And so is the time you can sign up. Enrollment closes on Friday, so do it now!

One last thing: Remember the one most important thing you can do to make yourself a better copywriter …


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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 7, 2013

1 Response to “What to do When it Just Won't Fit”

  1. Thanks for making a complicated issue so easy to understand.

    Keeping the content of an article flowing and squeezing in everything you want to say isn't as simple as it sounds. But I now see how using sidebars solves this problem quite nicely.

    Keep up the great work, Will!!!


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