Does your author bio induce snoring?

Your book is riveting, but your author bio is a snooze.

If you’re afraid the above sentence may describe you, well — don’t be too hard on yourself; plenty of brilliant authors freeze up when it comes to writing about themselves in sound-bites. They’re more comfortable creating lush fictions, not highlighting their own career achievements and personal anecdotes in (as Morpheus from The Matrix says) “the desert of the real.”

But comfy or no, you need to create a brief and compelling author bio for use on your website, book jacket, press releases, and more. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the key elements of an interesting bio, and also figure out which details should be omitted.

How to write an author bio: 101

1. Keep your bio short

Your author bio isn’t the place to tell your whole life story. 250 words is a good starting place. Once you’ve got that version firmed up, you can create a slightly longer version for PR purposes, or cut it down to 50 or 100 words for other uses such as contributor pages in a print publications, social media profiles, etc. Many poetry journals have asked me to send them a bio as short as 25 words, which is the same length as this very sentence.

2. Write in the 3rd person

Telling your story in the 3rd person may seem a little pretentious at first, but it does make it easier to talk confidently about your achievements. Give it a try.

3. A little history goes a long way

Ask yourself, “does anyone care where I’m from?”

If you’re writing a series of detective stories set in San Francisco and you were born and raised in the Bay Area, sure — that detail could be crucial to your bio. But if your book is a paranormal romance set in Russia, do we really need to know you were born in Iowa and now live in Maryland? (I’m guilty of this myself; just look at my author bio below!)

Mentioning your birthplace, your year of birth, your parents’ occupation, they’re just some of the  default things we put in bios: Mary was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1953.

We begin at the beginning by habit. Boring! Cut to the good stuff that really matters to your audience. Maybe your parents’ occupations are crucial to your own story. Just be sure of that before taking up any extra words in what should be a succinct bio.

4. Your older books may not matter

Again, this isn’t a dictum, merely a consideration — but mentioning the books you’ve already published MIGHT BE a waste of words.

Think about it: if you’re Stephen King, everyone already knows what you’ve written; if you’re a relatively unknown author, no one cares what you’ve written.

If you’re in the later camp, the only thing that matters is that the details of your life which you choose to include in your bio make the reader want to crack open your book.

5. List SOME of your literary achievements

It’s usually wise to mention any big literary prizes or awards you’ve won, plus the most impressive moments from your publication history. This sort of stuff establishes credibility.

If you’re a highly celebrated writer, no need to be exhaustive (and probably no need to read this article further, since I’m assuming your author bio is already killer).

One thing that is common in the poetry world is to mention where you currently teach, since many poets are also academics. While this does establish credibility, that detail is so ubiquitous in bios that it’s rendered somewhat meaningless. Plus, the way things are going in higher education, you might be adjunct-ing at a new school in a new city every 12 months anyway.

6. Mention the most relevant professional, educational, travel, or personal experiences

Once again, it’s about pulling in the details which will resonate with your readers and which fit snuggly with the topics you’re writing about. If you’re a crime novelist, your background as a NYC arson detective is going to interest people. If you’re a cancer survivor writing about healthy attitudes towards aging, mentioning your personal medical history is crucial. Writing a Mediterranean cookbook? Talk about how you spent a year going back and forth between  Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.

7. Get some outside perspective

It’s tough to see your own life and career objectively. So ask your friends, family, and fans what they consider to be the most important or interesting aspects of your life story. Get the advice of your editor, agent, or writing group. And be sure to take good notes on what they suggest!

8. Write multiple bio versions

 I always recommend writing a few different versions of your bio. Pass them around and ask for feedback. Then combine the most compelling sections from each version to create an unbeatable Voltron of an author bio!

9. Don’t forget the human touch

Whether you write fiction, essays, self-help, or instruction manuals, you’re hoping to make a connection with your reader. Your bio is also a chance to make a connection, so be sure the thing doesn’t read like a Wikipedia entry. Give it some quirk and character. Make the vibe match your aesthetic. Light and chatty. Dark and brooding. Urbane, but with a weak spot for Wendy’s hamburgers. Remind us that you’re human.

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What does your author bio look like? What difficulties did you have writing it? How has your author bio changed as you grow in your writing career? Let me know in the comments section below.

The End

Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 571 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

40 thoughts on “How to write a great author bio that will connect with readers

  1. If you guys are like me, and agree with Chris about ‘freezing up’, I highly recommend Odesk or Elance. Post the job and what you’re willing to pay. You’ll receive tons of replies, which you then need to sort through. I usually pay $25.00 for a 250 word write up.

    Hire two or three writers to sum it up for you, then edit, or combine the best parts if need be.

    Cheating? Sort of.

    Guilty as charged.

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Hi Johnny,

      Thanks for the suggestions. Will check ’em out.

      @ChrisRobley

  2. Nicholas Bingham says:

    is it alright to use the phrase ‘is a poet and wordsmith’, in my author bio

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Well, if space is limited, I think it’d be better to say those things while also pointing out something you’ve written. Like, “… is the author of …” That way you’re getting at the accomplishment AND the skill in the same sentence.

      @ChrisRobley

  3. Andy says:

    Thanks for this awesome guidance chris Robley. I am a new author and was looking for this type of stuff.

    1. Eileen says:

      Hi All,

      I thought the achievements go from newest first, and oldest last. It that correct?
      Thank you so much!

      Eileen

      1. BookBaby BookBaby says:

        Typically, yes, your most recent work/awards should go first, unless there are others in your history that make you more recognizable. If you have a bestseller in your catalog, or a prestigious award – you might want to lead with that info.

  4. Bob Sugar says:

    During the Korean War, I was an assassin for the United States Government. 65 years later I cover three live missions in a full length account during that time. No one, from the top down, would ever admit to what my story covers.

  5. Sally M. Chetwynd says:

    Something else to consider for the short-short version of one’s author bio, the version which will accompany your author photo on the back of your next book: If the themes of your books differ significantly from each other, you may find it better to custom-design a separate bio for each book. For my novel “Bead of Sand,” in which Civil War reenactors figure largely, I mentioned my lengthy experience as a living history reenactor in my bio blurb, and my author photo showed me in uniform playing the fife. Neither this photo nor this bio blurb will be appropriate for the story I’m currently writing, which is completely unrelated.

    I think we might call this kind of maintenance of author bios, adjusting the blurbs to suit their purpose, sort of “keeping it green” – live and lively.

  6. Hank Isaac says:

    Great advice!

    The only element I should except would be the speak-in-the-third-person one. Having read tons of resumes, knowing that a third-person voice is likely being written by the person whose name is on the resume makes him seem as if he’s trying to artificially elevate his stature by subtly suggesting someone else feels this way about him, too.

    I think it’s not an ego trip to present one’s accomplishments with a personal thrust. It does, however, require a delicate touch to not appear overly self-effacing.

    A resume in a collection could (50/50 here, IMHO) be delivered in a third-person voice, as it then represents one in a list of others who are involved with [whatever]. It would be there at the behest of whomever is running the show and not the individual whose bio material we’re reading.

    As always, just IMHO, of course.

    1. Jordy Leigh says:

      I very purposefully wrote my website in the first-person, because I wanted to brand myself as relatable and I thought that writing in the first-person was a very practical way to do that. My author bio seemed like it belonged somewhere else when it was the only page written in third-person; so I changed it. I do, however, keep an updated third-person copy of my bio in case it ever comes in handy some place else.

  7. T. B. Pawels says:

    My current e-book is a character drama about three troubled women in an international modelling contest. With no promotion whatsoever, it went viral for a few months, downloaded 2000 times.

    I cannot see any relationship between my life and my story.
    I am a man to begin with.
    My first success was as a headline hero racing bike in Mexico.
    My book about engineering won first prize in an international literary contest, got included in reading at high schools and universities, and got fan clubs at OxBridge, Harvard, and UBC, that I know of, as well as other awards.
    I got six years of school. Expelled five times for writing what the schools did not want to read. The second expulsion became a series in MACLEANS that sparked the interest in alternative schooling.
    Why would any woman wanting to read a story about competing women be interested in this CV?

    1. G. R. Arsenault says:

      Um, off the top of my head –
      If your female characters come across to your female readers as believable, you being a male author sets you apart. Many male authors create female characters who display behaviour more typical of men than of women. (For example: stress response – fight or flight, or tend and befriend?) Obviously, typical “male” and “female” behaviours show up only when we look at large groups of people; any given individual is most unlikely to be average or typical in everything in all situations. But if all your female characters display male-type behaviour on all fronts all the time, I’d be wondering if there was a new type of exogenous androgen leaching into the drinking water.
      Your racing bike background suggests that whether you were making bikes or racing bikes or both, you should have a good understanding of the nature of competition, of how to balance risk vs. reward, of when you get better results from cooperating than opposing, etc. – all principles that could apply to other competitive situations such as modelling contests.
      Getting expelled from school for writing that which your schools thought should not be written might say things about you that would make you interesting to a thoughtful reader – for example, was your being expelled related to characteristics such as being observant, analytic, accurate, not bound by political correctness, thinking outside the box, refusing to comply with directives you saw as stupid/dangerous, a tendency to relay unpopular messages impolitely (now that could make for fun reading), and/or . . . . ?
      As for engineering background/knowledge, it’s totally relevant if your target audience is female or male nerds and things like wardrobe engineering, social engineering, gaming theory, AI, neuroperceptual engineering, or any other kind of engineering is involved in your story. (As Wikipedia says, “Engineering is the application of mathematics and scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to invent, innovate, design, build, maintain, research, and improve structures, machines, tools, systems, components, materials, processes, solutions, and organizations.” Any of that going on in your story?)
      In the spirit of full disclosure – I’m a female, motorcycle-riding, risk-averse science fiction reading mother of an engineer –

  8. sree reddy says:

    good information for how write their bio for blog’s. Thanks

  9. Linda DuBose says:

    Catch you later. Gotta go re-do my bio! Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  10. Ani says:

    As well the useful info, I really enjoyed the humor in your piece, Chris. There is such a deluge of advice about the right way to do things (such as write an author bio), that it’s very refreshing to have humor woven in! Thanks!

    Also want to add that as I was tackling writing an “about the author” page for the back of my novel, I found myself really favoring first person as a way to connect more directly with those who had just read my 500+ page historical novel. (I wanted to say thank you–but didn’t.)

  11. Good advice Chris…
    However, the important question to ask yourself, before you commence writing a bio: “Why do you do, what you do?”… it is more important than – “Who you are?”. The Bio are also assisting potential readers to choose your work. To connect readers to your work, one needs to tell them as to why have I written that book?

  12. James says:

    Third person or first i think depends on the person writing it; but both can be done well. Always get someone to check it for you also, so it sounds natural and to the point – i believe this is most important.

    1. Alex Koolaev says:

      Yeah, for me writing in third person is odd, I prefer telling the story about me from my own, not someone else.

  13. Alex Koolaev says:

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for these tips! I just needed some of them for inspiration to create my own About page. Check it out here:

    http://playingwriter.com/about/

    What do you think? 🙂 I tried to make it short, human, and funny.

    1. Sandra says:

      Ok, well done.

  14. Pradap says:

    Great Suggestions and will follow them!!!

  15. Such great advice here. Last one is so important–don’t forget the human touch. I infuse what I hope is some humor into mine. I’m going to check the rest of my bio and compare it to this list. Thanks!

  16. Ashok says:

    I go for self-deprecating: I know just five languages, have edited just five orthopaedics books and just twelve engineering- and computer-related theses.

  17. Gary zenker says:

    Good article.

    The point that is kind of insinuated but not said directly is this: your bio should help sell the book. Start there and some of the resulting sections become easier. 3rd person has more credibility than first person statements (the exception might be a memoir). Facts about you as an author that either lend credibility in writing on the topic or just plain make you an interesting person win over boring lists of other traits. For example, where you live only matters somewhat if that is that is a predominant element in the book or your market wants to read stories by local writers.

    Sure, you can include statements in your bio just because they are important to you but put that inside the book. Use the published bio for the facts about yourself that qualify you as an expert, or tip people’s interest in you which tips them into reading the book.

  18. Thank you for this, I really needed this for my website!

  19. DealGyan says:

    …And we thought it doesn’t matter.
    Added a perfect author bio now. 🙂
    Thanks

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