You need to create a brief and compelling author bio for use on your website, book jacket, and press releases. But do you know how to write an author bio? We take a look at the key elements of an interesting bio (and which details should be omitted).
Updated February 2020.
Your book is riveting, but your author bio is a snooze.
If you’re afraid the above sentence describes 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.”
Comfortable or not, you need to create a brief and compelling author bio for use on your website, book jacket, press releases, etc., so let’s take a closer look at the key elements of an interesting bio — while determining which details should be omitted.
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 third person
Telling your story in the third 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. Maybe a recent accident or current event sparked your latest creative effort. If so, try starting with that. Just be sure of its importance 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 latter 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 that will resonate with your readers and fit snugly 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.
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.
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