Selling yourself is a big part of being a writer. It’s also one of the most uncomfortable parts of being a writer for most of us; I’m much more comfortable sitting here at my desk, secreted away from the world, letting my words speak for me. Anti-social? No, not really … I just feel happier here. So when asked to come up with an author’s bio, I tend to panic for a few minutes before I actually sit down to get any real work done.
The last time that I was asked to create an author’s bio, I decided that I really wanted this one to be “perfect”. It’s easy to go through and jot down a couple of lines that kinda-sorta describe who you are as a writer, but when it’s a bio that counts it has to be great. It has to show why you’re someone to read. You have to sell yourself in three lines, shout to the world that you are qualified in some way to write what you write.
So, as I usually do when I’m stuck and need information, I hit the Internet. I browsed the search results for “how to write author bio”, “writing author’s bio”, and a variety of other phrases that generally turned up … well, an author’s bio – but not how to do it. After adding to my general panic with a good dose of frustration, I decided to come up with my own way of going about it – after all, regardless of whether we write fiction, non-fiction, or any other type of writing we are at our cores writers. An author’s bio should come right under that heading, right? Right.
Consult the Experts
If you write, there’s no doubt that you read – and if you’re anything like me, you read a lot. I have the typical book-a-holic’s collection of bookshelves; random groupings of books that I’ve read on a variety of topics, hardbacks neatly filed and paperbacks squeezed in where nothing else will fit. When that doesn’t work, I just lay the smaller books haphazardly on top of the rest of the books … it’s a mess.
Within this mess is a valuable resource: bios of published authors.
For my little experiment, I took inspiration from three of my favorite authors – L.A. Banks, Jacqueline Carey, and Karen Marie Moning. Grabbing a book from each author at random, I found a sort of pattern to what was contained in the bios.
Moning’s bio reads, “Karen Marie Moning, a New York Times bestselling author, graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in Society & Law. In addition to appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, her novels have been USA Today bestsellers. They have won numerous awards, including the prestigious RITA Award.”
Banks’ bio reads, “L.A. Banks is the author of the Vampire Huntress Legends series. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a master’s in fine arts from Temple University. Banks considers herself a shape-shifter. She lives with her husband, four children, and her dog in an undisclosed lair somewhere in Philadelphia.”
Carey’s bio reads, “Jacqueline Carey was born in 1964. After recieving B.A. degrees in psychology and English literature from Lake Forest College, she embarked on a writing career. Her previous publications include various short stories, essays, and a nonfiction book.”
Yeah, it can be kind of disheartening to the non-published author. By the time that I reached Carey’s bio, I was starting to feel pretty inadequate; I’ve been published, often – but have yet to write anything bestselling or award-worthy. I don’t feel that I can describe my home as anything resembling a “lair”, and I don’t have a full series of books to my name.
The pattern, though, goes a bit deeper.
You are an Expert
Being a writer, you start constructing layers around your writing and the full “package”. At its core is your work, the pieces you write and produce. Outside of that layer are the places you write for. Another layer away is the submissions you make to places you hope to write for. I could keep going on, but the point is that by the time you reach the outside layer, you have a general “theme” to your writing.
L.A. Banks writes Vampire Huntress novels. Her words are steeped with superstition and sensuality; is it any real surprise that her bio would be peppered with hints at the same? Jacqueline Carey was a largely unknown author before her Kushiel series fired the interest of thousands of fans, which is probably why her bio is more simple; if re-written now, it might take on the tone of her fantasy works.
The point I’m trying to make is that you are an expert, you just have to figure out how to make that apparent. Even if you don’t have multiple degrees or dozens of writing credits to your name, you’re qualified to write what you’re writing. For instance, let’s say that you’re writing a book on balancing a career and motherhood. You don’t have a degree, and you’re not previously published. So go deeper – are you a mother of 3 children who works full time at a law office? Play that experience up!
Writing the Bio
So here’s where we actually get down to it, step-by-step.
1. Your Theme – What is the theme of the work that you’re writing the bio for? If it’s your body of AC articles, you’ll want to look for what your overriding subject matter tends to be. If it’s for a novel that you’re submitting, brainstorm the individual pieces that make up the plot.
2. Your Expertise – Speaking to the theme of your work, what expertise do you have? A non-fiction writer who is creating books for teachers would be much more effective concentrating on experience they’ve had working with teachers, degrees and certifications that they’ve obtained, and success that they’ve had than listing who they live with and how many pets they have. You want to let people know why your work is worthy of their attention.
3. Line One – Looking at your lists, you’ll want to construct the first of 3 sentences for your bio. Line one usually highlights what degrees and certifications the author has (speaking to the theme, if possible). If you don’t have a degree, show off the experience you have.
4. Line Two – The second of the 3 sentences in your bio should tell why you are writing the book/articles you’re writing, or what prompted you to start writing in the first place. In other words, if you’re writing that book on career and motherhood, you might have your second line read, “She is inspired to write for other women, to share her experiences and offer insight.”
5. Line Three – Most author’s bios are not more than 3 sentences in length. If they’re more, it doesn’t run past 4 sentences. Seriously, go count for yourself if you want to check. This last sentence is your spot to tell something more personal and/or professional than you have in the previous two. Many, many authors use this line to share the number of children, pets, and whatnot that they write around. The rest of the authors usually use this line to tell what other kinds of writing they’ve published.
6. Re-read – Go back through your bio and look at what you’ve jotted down. You might find it useful to go to the last page of a few books in your own shelves and see how it compares to the way your favorite author’s bios are written. Then, make sure that the entire piece is written in 3rd person. Yeah, you’re tooting your own horn here but you want it to look like someone else is tooting it for you.
Finally, here’s a thought if you’re not happy with what you’re able to factually put into your bio: Write a fantasy one. Not for submitting, of course, but something that you can pin above your desk and look at. What would you like your bio to read eventually? Include the awards, the best-sellers, the degrees and certifications. Then, use this as your daily inspiration; how can you work toward achieving that dream bio today?