Personal Ads

1. Give yourself props.

Put on lipstick. Or a cowboy hat. Or your coolest T-shirt and stilettos. Play your favorite CD. Props that make you feel soulful, frisky and fascinating help you make those claims for yourself in your ad.

2. Say cheese.

Post a terrific photo of yourself if you're using an Internet dating service. If he likes the photo, he'll read the ad.

3. Be descriptive.

If it's a print-only ad, avoid overselling your appearance with dubious claims like "Sharon Stone look-alike." I started my magazine personal with: "Curvy, almond-eyed writer, fit (good shoulders). " My husband says he was attracted to the soft sell of the description and the quirky confidence of the assertion. More to the point: I wanted to attract a man who appreciated subtlety.

4. Show your personality, don't tell it.

Create a persona and your ad stands out. Instead of saying you're funny or well-educated or caring, demonstrate that. What are your interests? Paintings? Which ones? Your garden? Why? Try an ad that consists entirely of your favorite movie dialogue or a list of beloved fictional characters. Your essence shines through the details. Be specific. Be surprising. A woman I know snagged a boyfriend when she described her ideal job as a combination of circus performer and archaeologist.

5. Avoid personal-ad speak.

Don't "like fine dining" when you can be passionate about Memphis barbecue, don't "enjoy movies" when you can declare your enthusiasm for Mel Brooks.

6. Include the basics.

List your age and occupation, whether or not you have children, whether you're looking for a date or a life partner.

7. Tell the truth.

Don't lie about your age—or anything else. If you're 42 but look 32, say so (or let your picture do the talking). "Mid-30s" or "early 40s" is fine, but assume he'll round up.

8. Step out of your box.

Unless you know for sure that you only want to meet, say, a nonsmoking Portuguese-speaking dentist, go easy on the list of qualities he must have. My ad requested a man "financially stable, kinda handsome, who can slow dance, make me laugh, read between the lines." Cast a wide net and edit out the responses. You never know.

9. Keep it in perspective.

It's love, not brain surgery. You can do it over. You can do it again.