by Nate Hoffleder
If you Google author bios you will find a million different articles, each with their own recommendation. Be short and too the point. Use the third person. Simply say who you are, and give your publishing credits. Be formulaic.
A lot of this advice is good, but I also think it is incomplete.
Back in the fall of 2018 I attended a Meetup hosted by Robin Sullivan, wife and business manager of fantasy author Michael Sullivan, where she covered the topic of author branding (the following post draws heavily upon her presentation). One of the points she raised was how to write an author bio. Robin argues that authors need more than just the one bio because they are going to be used for more than one purpose.
I used what she said as the inspiration for a blog post which I published in October of that year, and in the two years since I have turned that blog post into a workbook and a presentation.
The post you are about to read has been revised and updated to include all I learned in the past couple years.
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Authors need not just one bio, but six (or more). They need a bio that can be used on social media profiles, on Goodreads and Amazon author pages, and on the web. Since we are looking at radically different lengths, this essentially means multiple different bios.
I have found that we need at least six different bios:
- Facebook intro bio: 101 characters
- Twitter bio: 160 characters
- Podcast intro: 20 words
- Speaker bio: 50 words
- Amazon/Goodreads profile bio: 250 to 400 words
- Membership bio (800 words or longer)
You might notice that LinkedIn is absent from this list. I am of the opinion that if you are using LinkedIn to get work, you should have your LinkedIn profile written and designed by a professional. (This is what I plan to do.)
With the exception of the membership bio, you should put all of your bios on the about or press page on your author site so that anyone who is writing about you can find them.
Of course, first you have to write them, but don’t stress too much on that point. This is one of those things where you can start with “pretty good” and improve over time. In fact, I have revised one or more of my bios at least ten times since I originally wrote this post in 2018,
When writing a bio, you don’t have to put your entire life out on display, but you do need to concentrate on the things you want to be known for. Your goal is to establish your brand, and consistently display it across all platforms (freelancers have the same issue, if that helps).
Also, you need to be aware of your tenses. While you might be in the habit of writing your bio in the first person, these bios need to be written in the third person. Remember, they are written to describe you; you are not speaking in them.
With the shorter bios, try to define yourself in a single word or phrase. For example, Joe Konrath could be described as a contentious self-pub evangelist, and anyone who knows Chuck Wendig would describe him as inventively foul-mouthed.
You should also try to answer the following questions.
- What’s your purpose, your cause, your belief?
- Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
- Why should anyone care?
Also, you should workshop your bios before you use them, or whenever you update them. I have found the FB group Create If Writing to be very useful in this regard.
I was sorely in need of better-written bios when i first wrote this post, so why don’t I go walk us through the process of rewriting my bios. Let’s start with my goal: I want to be known as the guy who can fix your website.
As a first step, let’s change that so it reflects why I do what I do: I want to be known as the guy who lives to fix your website. (That sounds a little obsessive, but it is okay.)
Not only is it too short, it’s out of date; I don’t maintain the second account anymore. The following bio might work better:
Speaker to websites. WordPress wizard. Slayer of bugs. Error code breaker. I know why tech goes thump in the night. Fixing your tech problem is my nirvana.
With its references to SF and fantasy, this Twitter bio is intriguing while at the same time explaining what I do and why. And according to LetterCount.com, it is 155 characters long. Add in 5 pound symbols to turn keywords into hashtags, and we reach exactly 160 characters allowed by Twitter.
While this might not be the perfect Twitter bio, it’s also not boring or stale. But I think I can do better. My new bio keeps a few of the tech references, and adds my memberships as well as my pronouns and a reference to one of my hobbies.
That is overkill when it comes to memberships, so I may end up trimming a few. But I think it’s good for now, so let’s move on to the podcast/speaker bio.
No, I am not skipping the two Facebook bios; the bios I use on Facebook are basically cut down versions of the Twitter bio.
Oh, and speaking of Twitter and FB bios, here’s a tip for you. When writing your bio, you should also be thinking about how you plan to use the banner. FB and Twitter both offer you the opportunity to personalize your profile with a banner image, and in fact, FB lets you have a banner on both your personal profile and on your author page.
It would be great if you designed banners to go along with your bios. A simple option would be to have your book covers in the banner, but you might also display a scene from one of your books, or perhaps a wider and more detailed version of one of your book covers (sans text)? Or, what about a quote from a review?
Podcast / Speaker bio
If you are on a podcast or speak at a conference/workshop/book fair, you are going to need a bio that can be read as an introduction. Or at least that was what I thought in 2018; two years later your bio is more likely to be used when you are invited to give a webinar than for a conference.
I’ve always held that the podcast (or webinar) bio should be shorter, about 20 words, while the speaker bio should be about 50 words long. You can actually use the same bio for both, although I would trim the bio for a podcast.
Oh, and when you write this bio, you really do have to plan for it to be read aloud. This means that you will need to trim acronyms, complex words, and anything else that might trip someone up when they recite your bio. (I actually saw this happening at a webinar; the speaker was ex-military, and his bio was about 60% acronyms.)
Here’s the speaker bio I provided to Bookbaby for the Indie Author Con in 2018. At 54 words, it is perfectly workable but still rather bland.
Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group. You can find him over at The Digital Reader.
One problem with the above bio is that it is little more than a Dragnet-esque recital of the facts. That is not necessarily a bad thing (in fact, I think I’ll save this bio just in case I can use it again), but it doesn’t really tell you why I do what I do.
Let’s try again:
Nate Hoffelder is here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns at The Digital Reader.
The bold text is the podcast bio, while the full text is the speaker bio.
That second bio drew a fair amount of critique, leading me to write a new one which combined the old and new bios, and added a new sentence:
Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. You may have heard his site, The Digital Reader, mentioned on podcasts such as The Creative Penn, Wordslinger, or Sell More Books Show. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.
That’s not bad, but in 2020 I now use the following:
Nate has been helping people fix broken tech since 2010. He repairs and maintains WordPress sites, and acts as a virtual IT department for authors. He also blogs about the Kindle and indie publishing. You may have heard his site, The Digital Reader, mentioned on news sites such as the NYTimes and Forbes.
The new one is shorter, more to the point, and cites two major publications (name-dropping is never a bad idea).
Amazon/Goodreads profile bio
The thing you should know about the profile bio is that it is long enough that you can use the one bio for a couple different purposes. Also, you will probably want to tailor your bio to each site you use it on.
I won’t link to my profile bio; it was written to serve a very different purpose. Instead, I want to show you a couple examples.
On Amazon the bio is going to be displayed in a sidebar on the left side of the screen next to a column of books. That’s why in this situation Michael Sullivan’s bio focuses first on the author’s origin story before listing his bibliography, current projects, and contact info.
Over on Goodreads, however, an author’s bio is displayed at the top of the page, followed by the FAQ and a lit of the author’s books. That’s why Sullivan’s bio on Goodreads focuses first on the works he is currently promoting and second on the author.
You should read both, and compare/contrast.
The “membership bio” is the name I gave to the bio I use when I set up my profile on professional membership organizations. This might not be of value at first glance, but the simple truth is you never know where you are going to make a connection with an agent, a co-author, or an event organizer who is looking for guest speakers.
My membership bio is actually a compound bio, with two parts. The first part is the speaker bio posted above, and the second part is an edited version of the bio I use on my website. (I changed the tenses from first person to third.) That website bio is written in the style I would call “origin story”, and it covers everything from how I got here to how I work and what I can do. At 800 words, it is detailed without being verbose.
The reason my membership bio has two parts is that I see the first part as a summary of the second. Potential clients can get the jist of what I do in 50 words, and if they are interested they can read the other 800 words.
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by Nate Hoffelder (@TheDigitalReader) January 17, 2021
So tell me, when was the last time you worked on your online bios? Do you know of one I should add to this list?
Let me know in the comments!
About Nate Hoffelder
Nate has been helping people fix broken tech since 2010. He repairs and maintains WordPress sites, and acts as a virtual IT department for authors. He also blogs about the Kindle and indie publishing. You may have heard his site, The Digital Reader, mentioned on news sites such as the New York Times and Forbes.
And check out Nate’s Resources for Writers. It’s a goldmine of info for authors.
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