Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Authors, Write a Good Bio

As someone who has spent the past couple of years working with other authors to help promote their work, I have noticed that bios seem to present a particular challenge.  I have yet to meet an author who loves to write them, but the reality is, a well-crafted bio is essential for publication and promotion. 

I thought I’d put together a little list of dos and don’ts when putting together your own little byline blurb. 

Start with your birthdate.  I’m always amazed when people start their bio with, “Jane Author was born in 1961.”  No one cares how old you are. 

Send your resume.  I’ve literally had authors send me pages of work history.  This isn’t a freakin’ job application.  Just give the readers a brief overview of who you are (emphasis on brief).

Include your family history.  I’ve had authors send me bios that include lengthy explanations about parents and grandparents.  Irrelevant.

TMI the audience.  Not to be prudish, but if it involves the bathroom or the bedroom, we probably don’t want to know.  Unless you write erotica and have worked as a dominatrix or something.

If you are submitting to a publication or website that has specific bio guidelines, read them.  Abide by them.  Nothing annoys editors and host bloggers like myself more than having to track down the author and ask them to resubmit something usable—or worse, having to cobble together something ourselves.  It means that you are unlikely to get invited back to that site or publication ever again. 

Keep it short.  Most literary magazines I’ve seen ask that you restrict your bio to a lean, mean 150 words or so.  Magazines mostly do it for spatial reasons, but really, it’s more than enough to hit the pertinent points.

Write in third-person.  Save first-person for your personal website or blog. 

Include information that is germane to your writing career: titles, publications, awards and education. This is the nitty-gritty-- the thing that readers and editors want to know about.  What have you done before?  This is your writerly street cred.  Don’t be afraid to flaunt it.  Everything else is just frills.  

Include a few personal touches, but don’t overdo it
.  Family, pets, city/country of origin, current city/country of residence—these are great humanizing details.  If you are a veteran, have a cool day job, or have a unique hobby like, I dunno, beekeeping, throw that in because it makes you memorable. 

Include other personal touches that are actually relevant to the work.  If you are a cancer survivor writing about cancer, that’s something readers want to know about. 

Be witty, if you can.  I always liked Amanda Hocking’s bio that includes stuff like, “Obsessive tweeter, John Hughes mourner, Batman devotee.”  A little originality goes a long way.          

If you can’t, keep it simple.  Simple is vastly underrated.  Don’t over-think it, just stick to the facts.  “John Writer is the author of This Title and That Title.  He earned his MFA from the University of Iowa.  A lifetime resident of Seattle, WA, he enjoys rugby and playing guitar.”  Boom.  Thirty-two words.  Think of what you can do with the remaining 118.

Read book jacket bios.  See how your favorite professional writers describe themselves.  Follow their example.


  1. Shall I put in how many cats own me? They compel me to feed them breakfasts... and elevensies... and lunches... and after-lunches and... (gets hit with the hardcover version of the Writer's Market)