Many magazines distribute writer’s guidelines because they believe that the more precise they are in outlining what material they want, the more appropriate stuff they’ll get. Other than the fact that this strategy rarely works, there’s a more serious flaw with this method. They rarely tell you what they don’t want.

Here’s what writer’s guidelines should really say. Believe me, I learned the hard way.

AARP the Magazine

  • Don’t assume we would appreciate a review of the newest colostomy bags.
  • Don’t pitch “The 10 Most Romantic Elderhostels.”
  • Don’t submit your personal recollection of Pickett’s Charge.
  • Don’t send a query of great epitaph ideas.
  • Don’t suggest it’s high time we do a centerfold.

Air Line Pilot

  • Don’t insert the words “black” or “box” in the same sentence.
  • Don’t assume eye chart humor will leave us rolling in the aisles.
  • Don’t propose a photo essay on “The Wonders of Fog.”
  • Don’t expect the editors are waiting for a Hindenburg anniversary story.
  • Don’t use the word “mayday” in a title.
  • Don’t assume readers want to be reminded how heavy airliners are, how light air is, and how powerful gravity can be.
  • Don’t presume the use of “barrel roll” in any context will be appreciated.

Architectural Digest

  • Don’t insert “fixer upper” anywhere in your manuscript.
  • Don’t question why people spend so much money restoring Victorian homes when they’re so old to begin with.
  • Don’t P.S. that your article was fact-checked by Vern at Home Depot.

Black Belt

  • Don’t attempt to list all the reasons why mauve belts should replace black belts.
  • Don’t say how similar kata is to mime.
  • Don’t threaten to kick the editor’s ass if your idea is rejected.

Bon Appetit

  • Don’t use “E. Coli” as a pseudonym.
  • Don’t say you’ve got some great ideas if we ever do a Road Kill issue.
  • Don’t suggest a scratch-and-sniff article on durian.
  • Don’t start your interview with Anthony Hopkins by asking what goes best with Chianti and fava beans.

Car and Driver

  • Don’t assume that “gasoline” and “impact” would work in a sentence.
  • Don’t address the editor as “Dear Crash Test Dummy.”
  • Don’t offer to investigate how deer know they’re supposed to cross only near yellow signs with their pictures on them.
  • Don’t write an essay demanding freedom for the Indy 500.
  • Don’t offer to test-drive a Jeep Cherokee through Indian territory. Don’t ask directions to our office.

Cat Fancy

  • Don’t think you can fool anyone by slipping doggerel, dogged, dogma, or dogmatic into your copy.
  • Don’t offer catapults or cat-o’-nine tails in any gift guide.
  • Don’t mention CAT scans in any veterinary story.
  • Don’t say Old Yeller is your favorite movie. Don’t ask why Disney never made 1,001 Abyssinians.

Cruising World

  • Don’t think a humor piece about icebergs will get a laugh.
  • Don’t say the best place to cruise is Sunset Strip on a Saturday night.
  • Don’t expect a story about the Andria Doria will reach anyone important.
  • Don’t address the editor as “Cap’n.”
  • Don’t ask if we’ve ever done a piece on the high incidence of STDs among cruise-ship staff.
  • Don’t propose a list of ways to save money on single supplements.

Ebony Magazine

  • Don’t ask why HBO’s Taxicab Confessions rarely had black passengers.
  • Don’t dispute the claim that few African-Americans appear on TV by saying you saw lots of them on Cops.
  • Don’t try to impress the editor by saying you know the real number of Wayans Brothers.

Men’s Journal

  • Don’t propose a Mt. Everest story in which everyone survives.
  • Don’t offer your chilling account of how you staved off a hungry opossum.
  • Don’t offer to rank the Tour de France competitors’ Lycra outfits.
  • Don’t suggest ballet is the next Zumba.

Modern Bride

  • Don’t offer an insider’s look at bachelor parties.
  • Don’t propose “The 10 Best Weight-Loss Wedding Gifts.”
  • Don’t suggest an article on why pre-nups are good for you.


  • Don’t ask what we pay for an article treatment.
  • Don’t write that a star’s net salary was “gross.”
  • Don’t offer to rate the top 10 malpractice lawyers for script doctors.
  • Don’t think you’ll impress anyone by closing with “I look forward to your people getting in touch with my people.”

Parenting Magazine

  • Don’t offer a piece entitled “Bullies Are People, Too.”
  • Don’t suggest a teen point-counterpoint on the best age for breast implants.
  • Don’t ask if anyone’s done a piece on Terrible Twos-related PTSD.
  • Don’t try to persuade us that you know for a fact that pit bulls are great around infants.
  • Don’t offer to explain why spanking is not an acceptable disciplinary measure but head-butting is.


  • Don’t address the editor as “Mac” even if that’s his name.
  • Don’t ask how many carbon copies of your manuscript you should send.
  • Don’t get upset if we say your proposal contained a “fatal error.”


  • Don’t propose a list of “The 100 Most Beautiful Publicists.”
  • Don’t caption your photo of Camilla Parker Bowles at a horse show by identifying which one is the horse.
  • Don’t offer details of Oprah’s new weight-gain plan.


  • Don’t propose an interview with a eunuch.
  • Don’t suggest an erector set as a holiday gift item.
  • Don’t presume readers want to know the health benefits of abstinence.
  • Don’t offer a “Sex Guide to Saskatchewan.”
  • Don’t claim that what every Playboy pad needs is a cat.

Smart Money

  • Don’t submit your idea on pyramid schemes by requesting we send it to ten other publications.
  • Don’t say your financial credentials are impeccable because although you were indicted, you were never convicted.
  • Don’t offer a bail bondsman’s guide to financial planning.

Travel & Leisure

  • Don’t say how lovely Hiroshima is in August.
  • Don’t offer to investigate why it’s impossible to rent a car in Mexico with an Alamo credit card.
  • Don’t ask why we’ve never done a “jogging through Serengeti” story.