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How to write an effective personal ad

Learn how to become a romance writer. And I don't mean Jackie Collins.


Divorced Hispanic male seeks single female: Short, a tad-above-poverty-level reporter seeks sympathetic female who's much less concerned with looks than I will ever be. Must enjoy awkward moments, feeling ignored and consoling men about past failures. If you're attracted to men who have trouble showing their emotions, then we should meet.

OK, I realize that most people wouldn't run a personal ad as pathetic as the one that I wrote for myself. But there are plenty of single people who are not getting their money's worth from their personal ads because they're poorly written or just too bland. Knowing what to say and what not to say in your ad can determine whether you're really investing in your love life or just gambling it away.

The economics of personal ads
In financial terms, personal ads are the penny stocks of the dating world. Both are cheap to buy, the odds of achieving good results quickly are low, but they can also result in a huge payoff if things go just right.

How well do romance ads work? Not too badly, according to research cited by Emily Thornton Calvo and Laurence Minsky, authors of 25 Words or Less: How to Write Like a Pro to Find That Special Someone Through Personal Ads. Researchers found that ad responses were equally divided between potential mates, "nice person but no spark" and the "not if you were the last male/female on earth" category.

"One of the biggest advantages to personal ads is that you have an opportunity to see other areas and meet people in other parts of the city that you don't normally visit," says Calvo.

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The two Chicago-based advertising copywriters believe that personals give you complete control over how you choose to present yourself while still allowing you to retain your anonymity. Placing a personal ad is also much cheaper than joining a video dating service. Where personal ads in the paper cost a few bucks, video dating services can run into the thousands.

Hiring a writing coach
If you're having trouble writing an ad yourself then consider hiring a professional personals writer such as Susan Fox, founder of Personals Work, a Boston ad-writing service for singles. Fox's clients normally pay a minimum of $400 for her help, but she also does phone consultations for a lower fee.

Fox, also a family therapist, claims that many of her clients have found a spouse through the personals. Of course, even the best written ads can get mixed results. She tells the story of a client whose ad received a response from her ex-husband. Another woman ended up going out with a man with whom she had met on a blind date 10 years earlier.

"Finding the right person through the personals can take some time," says Fox. "I had one woman who married a man who was the first person to answer her ad. With others, it took two to three years. Results really vary."

Personals do's and don'ts
Here are some basic guidelines to follow when you're looking for love in the classifieds section:

1. Show your personality. "One of the things that you want to convey is your attitude. Who are you? What do you feel like?" suggests Minsky.

2. Honesty is the best policy. "It's important that a person represents themselves accurately," notes Fox. "If a woman claims that she's slender and great looking when she's really a tub, then that's really going to backfire. It's really not worth it to lie." She adds that roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of the ad space should be spent describing yourself.

3. Uniqueness is good, but don't overdo it. "If an ad is too weird or too unique that can really backfire," says Fox. "An ad that says something like, 'Hot number seeks hot man' will bring out all the weird sexual responses."

Fox helped me put together a new personal ad using all of these newly gained writing tips. Will this ad save my love life? You be the judge.

Easygoing, witty, honest, photographs well, articulate, writer/reporter, 30, divorced Hispanic man, fit, community oriented, churchgoing, enjoys spectator sports, quiet elegant dinners, movies, softball, tennis, the outdoors. Seeks SF, 21-31, under 5' 6", trim, health conscious, nonsmoker, college educated, good self-esteem.

But even if this ad fails I still have other options left. Now where did I leave that catalog of Russian mail-order brides?

-- Updated: May 13, 2003

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See Also
Love on the job: The new rules of office romance
Date expectations for gifts
Are you dating a weirdo?
Financial advice glossary
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