Even new writers need to keep an author bio on hand.
By Anne R. Allen
The author bio on your social media, blog or website is one of the most important things you’ll ever write, so you want to put some thought into it. It’s what’s going to define you for agents, readers, editors, journalists, bloggers, reviewers and anybody else who may (or may not) want to do business with you.
If you’re a beginner, you may still be afraid to tell more than a handful of people you’re a writer. And maybe you feel pretentious calling yourself an “author.”
But you still need an author bio.
Yes. Even if you’ve never published anything but the haiku that won second prize in your high school newspaper.
You never know when one of your poems or blog entries or even a Facebook post will be picked up by an editor or website who wants to publish it. Or you win a story contest you totally forgot you entered last spring. The first thing they’ll ask for is an author bio. You want to be ready.
Actually, you want to prepare several bios:
- A one or two sentence author bio for Twitter and and/or a magazine byline.
- A short paragraph suitable for a query and those online profiles at Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, etc.
- A longer one-page author bio for posting on your website “About Me” page (and sending to agents and editors who still ask for a separate bio.)
The One or Two-Line Author Bio
Short bios always end up being harder to write than we think. But we need to know how to write them. For Twitter you have to describe yourself in 280 characters–easier than the former 140–but still a challenge.
You also often need a super short-and-sweet one for a magazine byline. You know–those understated ones that go: “Tom Hanks is a short story author and actor.”
The Byline Bio
A one- or two-line bio for a journal article or short story is easy enough if you’re a published author. All you have to do is mention your latest or best-selling book and, if you get a second line, one more thing that might interest the readers of the article or story.
“Susie Scrivener is the author of 12 works of Oz fanfiction, including The Mean Streets of the Emerald City.
Sometimes you get a second line, so you can write something like:
“Susie lives in Kansas, where she has a very secure tornado cellar.”
But what if this is your first publication?
- You can talk about what inspired the story: Dorothy Gale is a transplanted Kansan, now living in Oz. This story is based on her walking tour of the local countryside with a zany hiking club.
- Or you can come out and say this is your first: Oscar Zoroaster Diggs is an alternate-transportation worker from Omaha. When he’s not ballooning to Oz or hiding behind curtains, he writes fiction. This is his first published story.
The Twitter Profile
The Twitter bio or “profile” seems to puzzle a lot of people. I see a lot of people don’t post a profile at all. Or they throw it away with something generic like “loves life and my dear husband” or indecipherable like “Dr. Johnson was right about patriotism.” Maybe now that we have double the number of characters, those profiles will be easier to write.
You do want to write something, because people are not going to follow you back if even you don’t think you’re interesting.
You’re also not going to get a lot of real people (as opposed to bots) following you if your profile is full of jargony hashtags that say nothing.
Note: Whether in a profile or a Tweet, limit your hashtags to three. Any more makes your Tweet unreadable. It also makes you look kind of pathetic and needy. I’ve learned to never follow back somebody with nothing but hashtags for a profile. They will always respond with a demanding DM.
A Twitter author bio like these will not entice a lot of readers:
- Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, WattPad & Tumblr and subscribe to my newsletter. #Blogger #Writer #Ebooks #Kindle.
- #GrowthHacking #Conversion #Optimization #Digital #Marketing #FunnelStrategy #BuyTwitterFollowers #author
Offer information instead of jargon, hashtags, and demands:
- Lover of Romance. Also lions, scarecrows, guys in shining armor, and bright red shoes. Here’s my blog. Love visitors to drop
onby my place!
- When I’m not tending my flying monkeys, growing poppies or peering into my crystal ball, I’m casting spells or writing witchy cozies.
The One-Paragraph Author Bio
This is the one to include with your guest posts, queries, and post for your online profiles. And do keep a note of the urls of all the places you’ve posted it, so you can keep it updated. (Thanks to Kathy Steinemann for that tip!)
Write in third person. For the first sentence, this format works pretty well:
- “[Your Name] is a ______ who lives in ______ and does ______.”
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, Sisters in Crime, or SCBWI)
- Has won_____ (writing awards—yes, you can mention the high school haiku.)
- Was published in _____ .
- Has a degree in _____ from_______.
Then add something interesting and unique about yourself, preferably something related to the piece, like: “S/he played Glinda the Good Witch in a Middle School production of The Wizard of Oz.”
When writing an author bio, think like a reporter. What would make good copy in a news release? Think unique, quirky, or funny.
You can also include your website and social media links.
The One-Page Author Bio
This will often need a picture. Use a professional photo of yourself here. Preferably the same one you use in your online profile.
Title the bio only with your name. It may seem clever to write “Who the #%@& is this Guy?” Or “Who is this Moron?” As I’ve seen with several newbie writers, but professionalism is what you want here.
Again write in third person. Keep to about 250 words. You can use this bio to give to people introducing you in public speaking and signing events, so make sure it’s lively and will sound good read aloud. (thanks to Gay Yellen for that tip)
You’re aiming for a style similar to book jacket copy. The purpose is to make yourself sound professional as well as interesting.
This may be perfectly accurate:
“Mrs. H. O. Humm is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Middle America with her dentist husband, 2.4 children and a dog named Rex.”
But a bio is all about making yourself stand out. So say something more like:
“Hermione Oz Humm was born in the Emerald City and is an expert balloonist, ventriloquist and voice-over performer.”
Things to consider including:
1) Whatever Might Make You Newsworthy
OK, so you aren’t published, never won a major prize, and don’t know any celebrities, but whatever is quirky or unusual about you, trot it out. Keep homing pigeons? Run marathons? Cook prize-winning chili? Put it in. That’s newsy.
2) Work History
Here’s where you say you’re a welder or a fourth grade teacher or whatever, even if it isn’t related to the subject matter of your book.
NOTE: Don’t call yourself “novelist” or “author” if you aren’t published yet. “Writer” is better.
If you’re seriously under-employed and want to keep it to yourself, you can call yourself a “freelance writer,” but consider saying what else you do, even if it’s less than impressive. I remember when Christopher Moore’s first book, Practical Demonkeeping, came out and all our newspapers ran stories about how a “local waiter” had just sold a book to Disney. If he’d called himself a “writer” there would have been no story.
3) Where You Live
Your hometown might make a good focus for marketing. Every area has its quirks and fun stories. Plus people like to be able to picture you in your native habitat.
“Susie Scrivener is not a fan of broccoli, although she lives in Santa Maria, California, the broccoli capital of the world” is a fun fact that could make good copy.
This includes workshops or writers’ conferences as well as formal education—especially if you worked with a high-profile teacher. If you took a playwriting workshop with Edward Albee, even if it was 30 years ago, go ahead and say so.
5) Life Experience and Hobbies
Especially if they relate to the book. But anything’s good that can fascinate on its own: If you collect vintage Frisbees, and the book is about angsty teen werewolves at a Frisbee contest, include it.
If you invented the Frisbee, it doesn’t matter what your book is about: toot that horn!
6) Travel/Exotic Residences
“Rudy Kipling once took a two-week tour of Asia,” meh. But “Mr. Kipling was born in Bombay and spent a year as the assistant editor of a newspaper in Lahore,” is something people will want to know.
7) Writing Credentials/Prizes
Here’s where you can list some of those credits in small presses and prizes that people say will clutter up a query.
Also include any books you’ve published, plays you’ve had produced, poetry slams you’ve won, whatever. It doesn’t matter if they’re not in the genre you’re writing in now.
8) Family: Use Discretion Here.
If you write for children and have some of your own, it would be useful to mention them. If your family has an interesting claim to fame (like your brother owns the world’s ugliest dog or your mom is a decorated fighter pilot) do tell us about it. And if family history has made you uniquely qualified to write this book (Your grandfather was Dwight Eisenhower’s valet and you’re writing about the Eisenhower/Kay Summersby affair) that’s golden.
But don’t invade your family’s privacy any more than you have to. Especially your children’s privacy. Don’t post their photos or let people know where they go to school unless it’s absolutely necessary. Remember the Web is full of predators and trolls. You may be physically in the privacy of your own home, but everything you post to the Internet is “in public.”
9) Performing History
It’s helpful to show you’re not paralyzed by the thought of public speaking. You can mention you’re the vice president of your local Toastmasters, or host a jug band program on a public access station, or you played the teapot in last year’s production of Beauty and the Beast at the local community theater.
These are fun things that make you relatable, plus they might get you some invitations to guest on podcasts, writer’s conferences, or other speaking engagements.
10) Your Online Presence
Don’t forget to include your social media links so people can follow and friend you.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) November 19, 2017
What about you, scriveners? Do you have an author bio on hand for all occasions? Have you ever had to dash off an author bio and wished you’d taken more time with it?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Roxanna Britton: A Biographical Novel
by Shirley S. Allen
“Jane Austen meets Laura Ingalls Wilder”
This novel, by my mother, the late Dr. Shirley S. Allen, is a rip-roaring tale of how the west was won. It also happens to be all true. It’s the story of my great, great grandmother, Roxanna Britton, who pioneered the Old West as a young widow with two small children.
It’s got romance, action, cowboys (not always the good guys) Indians (some very helpful ones) the real Buffalo Bill Cody, and a whole lot more!
Widowed as a young mother in 1855, Roxanna breaks through traditional barriers by finding a husband of her own choice, developing her own small business, and in 1865, becoming one of the first married women to own property. We follow her through the hard times of the Civil War to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to a homestead in Nebraska to her final home in Elsinore, California.
Nowhere Magazine Travel Writing Contest. $1000 prize and publication. They’re looking for Fiction or Nonfiction with a powerful sense of place. 800-5000 words. And previously published work is okay. Entry fee $20 Deadline January 1, 2018
EVERYTHING CHANGE CLIMATE FICTION CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one piece of fiction up to 5,000 words using the impact of climate change. The winning story will receive a $1000 prize, and nine finalists will receive $50 prizes. Selected work will be published in an anthology by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University. Deadline February 28, 2018.
Virginia Woolf Prize for short fiction. $3500 first prize, $1000 second prize. 3000-8000 words. Also winners get a read from the Sobel Weber Literary Agency. Plus publication in LitMag. Fee $20, Deadline December 15th.
The LDM Literary Bookmark Contest. Write a 250 word story and you can win $1000 to $100 and the chance to participate in a “Literary Death Match”. Entry fee $15 ($20 for two) Judged by Roxane Gay. Deadline November 20th.
10 Major book publishers that read unagented manuscripts. and 20 Literary Journals that publish new writers. Both lists compiled by the good folks at Authors Publish magazine.
Angry Robot the SciFi publisher is taking unagented SciFi and Fantasy novels for a limited time. The want completed novels between 70K-130K words. Guidelines and submission forms are here. Submissions open 1st November, close 31st December 2017