Dear Advice Adviser |

Dear Advice Adviser

Dear Advice Adviser,

I have the “carrot” or “stick” dilemma. When writing my advice columns, should I focus more on what the person asking the question is doing right, or what they are doing wrong?


Greta (aka “The Helpful Aunt”)

Dear Greta,

It all depends on the type of advice column you’re writing. If you’re of the gentle, non-sarcastic variety, which, with a name like “The Helpful Aunt,” I’m assuming you are, then you’ll want to stick with that. Different people respond to different techniques, and if they’re writing to you then they want some of what you’re known for. The only thing people hate more than unwarranted abuse is inconsistency, so stick with your schtick.

Hope this helps.

Dear Advice Adviser,

Recently a reader wrote in asking me about whether or not they should get a tattoo. I live in an urban area where tattoos are handed out like free samples at a bakery. There’s actually a drive-thru tattoo parlor opening next month. But I am not a fan. To me even the most ornate tattoos look like drunken forehead Sharpie scribblings. Do I let my personal ethos get in the way of my advice-giving? If I don’t keep up with the times, then I’ll be out of an advice columnist job.

Also, the reader is 6 years old.


Herman (aka “Ask a Coot”)

Dear Herman,

It certainly can be tough to keep up with our ever-changing world, and those in our field don’t always get it right. I’m remembering the brief period when Dear Abby was all about the benefits of inter-species dating. Or all the years Heloise spent singing the praises of asbestos as a cheap alternative to a commercial exfoliating facial scrub. Or when Miss Manners said it’s preferred that you stab an insubordinate domestic employee in the face with a salad fork, rather than a dinner fork. In our field, mistakes are common. However, unlike other professions, we can’t be held liable.

Still, we want to do our best. I’d think that a good rule of thumb is to not get a tattoo until you’ve lost at least one baby tooth.

Hope that helps.

Dear Advice Adviser,

When is the best time to fertilize my lawn? Spring or fall? I’ve heard so many different opinions and I really need to know, because it’s fall now and if the answer is fall then I need to get on it right away.



Dear Clarence,

Sorry, this is an advice column specifically for offering advice to advice columnists. I can’t really address home and garden questions in this space. Besides, it’s not an area that I’m very well versed in, so my advice would most likely do more harm than good.

Hope that helps.

Dear Advice Adviser,

Long time, first time…

I’ve been writing an advice column for a few years now and lately more and more people are writing me for advice about how to become an advice columnist. I tell them to forget it, the market is already over-saturated.

With that in mind, do you have any advice on how to become an advice columnist that advises advice columnists?


Pete (aka “The Principle Peter.”)

Dear Pete,

The advice columnist who advises advice columnists is an even more competitive field than the advice columnist. If you were to imagine a “pyramid of advice,” then you’d be able to envision how it gets pointier as it gets higher, which is one of the defining features of the pyramid shape.

There are only a small handful of us who advise advice columnists, and when we have questions we send them in to “Hildegard the Wise.” All she does is advise advice columnists who advise advice columnists. Her column only publishes once a year and is not widely syndicated. If there’s anyone above her, I don’t know about it. Legend has it that she seeks the advice of no one.

I’ll write for her advice regarding your question on advising advisers, and I’ll let you know what she advises.

Hope that helps.

Dear Advice Adviser,

I, uh, write a gardening column, I mean, a gardening advice column, and I have a reader who really needs to know whether it’s better to fertilize their lawn in the spring or fall. What should I tell him? Or her.


Clarence (aka “Clarence the Question Answering Guy”)

Dear Clarence,

Well, this is a bit outside of my wheelhouse, but I typically fertilize in the fall using a mixture of equal parts weed and feed, gasoline and salt.

Hope that helps.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays. More at