by Anne R. Allen
No matter how great a book’s cover and blurb, one thing can stop me from buying yet another ebook for my Kindle: an author bio on the buy page that screams “amateur.”
I spent some time as an editor, so when I pick up a book for relaxation, I want to know it’s going to be a professional work and not something that makes me want to run for my red pencil.
If you start your bio “I’ve always wanted to write a book, ever since I won a penmanship prize in third grade, and now that I’ve self-published, “If My Cats Could Talk” my wish has come true…,” all you’ve told me is you’re a beginner.
Is that really what you want your customers to know?
Your buy page at Amazon or any online retail store is like your own personal storefront. It can be a sleek boutique or a homemade lemonade stand.
A funky lemonade stand might get a few passersby to spring for a glass because they think you’re cute or feel sorry for you. With Mom paying for lemons, sugar, glasses, and the card table—and hey, you might “earn” enough to buy yourself an ice cream when the truck comes by.
But you’re trying to be a professional writer here, right?
So before you publish that book, learn to write a professional author bio.
An author bio should not be a chronological report of your whole life. And you don’t want a list of dry facts, like a resume. But it’s also not a personal essay about your hopes and dreams. Readers don’t care about that stuff when they’re deciding whether to buy a book.
What readers do care about is an author’s competence. We want to know if you’re qualified to:
- Teach me something.
- Entertain me.
- Make me laugh.
If your author bio doesn’t convey your qualifications to do those things, the reader is going to move on.
How to Write an Author Bio
An author bio isn’t really about you at all. It’s about your expertise. It’s a way of letting your readers know they’ll be in good hands.
This is where so many self-pubbed authors sabotage themselves. Either they have no bio at all, or they have one so amateurish it’s like wearing pajamas to a job interview.
As a writer, whether you have a published book or not, you should keep at least three standard bios on hand.
1) A Standard Author Bio
This is the one for your author page on Amazon and other retailers. It’s also the one you send to accompany a guest blogpost or interview with a blogger or a magazine.
Always write it in THIRD person. Aim for 80-100 words, unless they ask for a “one page author bio.” “One page” means about 240 words. For more on the dreaded 240-word author bio, see my post on How to Write an Author Bio When you Don’t Feel like an Author…Yet.
Here’s my handy-dandy formula for a standard author bio:
1) “______ is a ______ who lives in ______ and does ______. ”
Or, if you’re multi-published,
“_______ is the author of _______ and______.”
2) Then you can add one or two of the following:
- Is a member of _____ (if you’re a member of any writing organizations like RWA or SCBWI, Sisters in Crime, etc.)
- Has won_____ (Writing awards only. And don’t go too far back. If you haven’t won a writing award since that third grade penmanship award, better leave this out.)
- Has been published in _____ . (Pick two or three of the best. Quality not quantity is what stands out here.)
- Has a degree in _____ from_______.
3) Write about something that makes you stand out, preferably something that makes you qualified to write this book.
4) Add something personal about where you live or who you live with that allows readers to see you as a human being they can relate to.
You want to sound knowledgeable, professional, and interesting.
- If you write nonfiction, stress the knowledge.
- If you write fiction, stress the interesting bits.
- You can even throw in some humor.
Example of debut author bio:
Susie Scrivener is a retired medical receptionist who lives Buttonwillow, CA, where she volunteers at the local animal rescue shelter. She’s the vice president of her regional chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her work has been published in the Taft Midway Driller and the Buttonwillow Times. Her poem, “Cats and Trees” won second place in the Kitty Feast poetry contest in 2015. She’s the servant of two calico kittens and a Tuxedo cat named Baxter.
Example of a multi-published author bio:
Susie Scrivener is the author of the Kitty’s Corner Mystery series. Her latest, “Catawampus“, Kitty’s Corner Mystery #8, won Cat Lover Magazine’s Best Cat Cozy award for 2017. Susie lives in Buttonwillow California, where she volunteers at the local animal rescue shelter. She’s the vice president of her regional chapter of Sisters in Crime. Susie is the servant of two calico kittens and a Tuxedo cat named Baxter.
2) A “Byline” Bio
This is the one or two sentences that go at the end of an article or short piece in a magazine or an online venue like Medium.
It’s also written in THIRD person. You want to include your biggest achievements as a writer.
Susie Scrivener is the author of the Kitty’s Corner mystery series, including Catawampus, Kitty’s Corner mystery #8, the 2017 winner of Cat Lover Magazine’s “Best Cat Cozy” award.
3) A Query Bio
This is the personal information you include in a query letter to an agent, publisher, reviewer, blogger, etc.
It should be written in the FIRST person and only needs to be about 50 words. (Maybe a little longer for nonfiction where credentials are essential.) List two or three of your most significant accomplishments that relate to the query.
Lead with your strength.
So if you’re querying Cat Lover magazine with an article on “how to wash your cat,” you might include this bio.
I’m the author of the award-winning Kitty’s Corner mystery series and I volunteer at the animal rescue shelter in my hometown of Buttonwillow CA. I’ve had articles on cat dander allergies published in the Taft Midway Driller and the Buttonwillow Times.
Or, for the less widely published:
I volunteer at the animal rescue shelter in my hometown. I’m a retired medical receptionist and have had articles on cat dander allergies published in the Buttonwillow Times and the Taft Midway Driller. My poem, “Cats and Trees” won second place in the Kitty Feast poetry contest in 2016.
The second sentence can be altered to target agents, reviewers, bloggers, etc. when you’re asking for reviews and guest spots, or looking for representation.
Remember to keep your Author Bio Updated
Many authors (including this one) forget to alter their bios when they come out with a new book or win a new prize. Which is what prompted this post. Do what I say, not what I do. 🙂 Don’t forget retailers other than Amazon if you have wider distribution.
If you’re with a small or mid-sized press, don’t expect them to keep up with this. It’s generally up to you.
In the rush to launch a new book it’s easy to forget your bio, so put it on your “To Do” list for you next launch.
Updating other details of your bio will keep it fresh. Tell fans interesting facts about yourself or add a different humorous line.
Author Central is Your Best Route to Your Amazon Buy Page
So how do you do access your bio? Author Central is an author’s best friend when dealing with anything on your Amazon buy page. Lots of things can be fixed or changed through Author Central rather than going through KDP. This is especially important for authors with small presses.
Both indies and trad pub authors alike need to set up their own Author Central account. It’s easy and you just use your Amazon email address and password.
Author Central is where you can track your sales, author rank, new reviews, and also update your bio, blurbs, etc., and anything else on your buy page.
If one of your books doesn’t appear on your buy page, make sure to “claim” it through Author Central. There’s a message at the top of your “Books” page that says. “Are we missing a book?” with a big button for adding your book using an AISN or title.
Author Central is also the best route for contacting Amazon for problems with review removal–whether it’s an obscene or trollish review or the mysterious disappearance of a review. For more on restoring disappearing Amazon reviews, see Penny Sansevieri’s article at Bowker’s The Self-Published Author.
What about you, scriveners? Do you have a professional author bio? Have you updated it recently? Have you ever decided not to buy a book because of an amateurish bio?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, Food of Love and The Gatsby Game, now available in one boxed set.
“Canny cultural observation that brings to mind two of my favorite British authors, Barbara Pym and Penelope Fitzgerald. Yes, the humor is there and sometimes spew-your-cocktail funny, but the character depth and plot fulfillment go so far beyond the humor. I felt I knew these people. I felt I was there.”…Debra Eve at The Later Bloomer
“I applaud Allen’s consistently genuine voice, with accuracy that spells ‘that could have been me’. Behind the humor, she is gracefully revolutionary.”…Kathleen Keena author of The Play’s The Thing.