Recently I’ve been doing some work for a literary organization which will feature 29 readings over seven weeks, with several authors at each reading. Imagine my delight when getting materials ready for the media when I found that many of the bios in the document I was handed were full of formatting, way too long, and had embedded links.
People, people. Okay, I know, if you are sending a bio to someone you might think, well, they can just customize for their use. One person said to me “Why can’t you just right click and delete the links?” But that’s not the point. The point is, I was going through many bios, and I had to go through all these pieces separately, carefully, and it was more time-consuming than it needed to be. And this is not my first rodeo.
When you are providing an author bio, or if you are writing one for your Facebook page or website, here are a few tips I recommend:
Keep it brief. You can have a long version, and this might be appropriate for your website, but know that media will often go there for a bio if they need one, and they would be more appreciative of a short bio. You could provide both. Cook up both versions, as it’s better to have them and not need them, than… you know. Oh, and a one or two-liner for those article bylines is helpful, too.
Focus on your writing. Don’t go into your hobbies, unless they are relevant. Don’t talk about your career as an accountant. Very little said in a bio is going to impress anyone. Take this opportunity to connect.
Make it interesting. Okay, I know I said ease up on the hobbies. But what I hate to see is a two-line bio that says you live in Eastern Shropshire with your dogs and cats. That’s just not very personable, is it? I understand the need for privacy, but also think of those clamoring fans. Give them a little bit of personal insight. Here is an example from mystery novelist Julie Kramer:
“Julie grew up along the Minnesota-Iowa state line, fourth generation of a family who raised cattle and farmed corn for 130 years. Her favorite childhood days were spent waiting for the bookmobile to bring her another Phyllis A. Whitney novel. An avid reader, she tired of fictional TV reporters always being portrayed as obnoxious secondary characters who could be killed off whenever the plot started dragging, so her series features reporter Riley Spartz as heroine.”
You could use just one of these items in a short bio. This is paragraph three of a four paragraph bio on her website. But see how it gives you something to hang on to? A reporter could cull from here what they need. It gives you an idea of her family’s farming background (which sometimes plays in the books), a nice little childhood tidbit, showing her as an avid reader, and then the reason why she picked a TV reporter as her heroine (aside from the fact that she was a TV reporter and producer in her work). The rest of the bio is about the books (which could really go elsewhere, since they are already on her website) and her TV career. So it is complete and brief.
Think about the audience for which the bio will be displayed. Think about what that audience might want to know. Think about whether or not it will be read aloud. A lot of website addresses will be kind of awkward read aloud. Test it out loud to make sure it all flows well. But if it is for a website (such as for a bookstore where you will be appearing), do send a link to your own website. Just don’t embed it in the text. You may actually need several versions of your bio.
And finally, when submitting your bio to a specific person, whether it’s for a publication or an event, submit a clean copy. Keep it bereft of formatting. They will likely be copying it into a different program, so all the formatting will be stripped out as they do that anyway. I am pasting this into WordPress, which, even though I use the little Word icon, will strip out any formatting, including bolding and italics (you may still want to italicize book titles for clarity, as they will then have your document for reference when they do the final typesetting). But embedded links are the worst. As I said last week on Facebook, showing the links to all your books and awards will not impress an editor when they have to spend time stripping it all out.
I have seen I bet you hundreds of author bios in my career. I like the ones that give me an idea of the person, why they do their work, and where they come from. I don’t care much about college degrees or what kind of flowers you grow (unless you are an award-winning gardener writing a series about a gardening sleuth). I do care why you write, how you came to write what you do, and what your purpose is in doing so.
Here’s a really good checklist on how to write an author bio. I agree with all of this, so I’m not going to just parrot it here. Note that you will need a headshot, too, and there is a link in this article to an article about that (I know, sending you down the rabbit hole, aren’t I?). I especially agree with tip #10 here: yes, steal. Beg, borrow and look at all else. Great excuse for a field trip to your local indie bookseller, or hey, even a big box store if that’s all ya got.