Kris Bock on Bios Made Easy
Louie Scribbler grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He currently lives in Seattle and works at the University of Washington. He has paid the bills with jobs such as loan officer, furniture mover and fry cook while waiting for his big break as a writer. Louie enjoys hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and baseball. The father of three grown children, he lives with his lovely wife Rachel and over 5,000 books.
I discovered something while coordinating writing conferences: Even published authors often do not know how to write a good bio. This should be the easiest thing in the world—if we can write at all, surely we can write about ourselves. And yet, whether through modesty, carelessness or overwriting, many author bios fail. The bio above is full of information and may even be entertaining, but it doesn’t do its job.
What is the job? To sell yourself and your books. Keep that focus in mind and the rest will follow.
Content: List your books. You’d be surprised at how many authors skip this part. This is your chance to advertise! If you have lots of books, stick to the three or four that are most popular and currently in print, or first books in a series.
People are more likely to look for your book if they know it fits a genre they like. Titles aren’t always clear by themselves. “Death in Russia” could be a mystery, biography, history, historical fiction, or political analysis. Specify the genre.
List awards, but don’t get carried away. If each book has four or five minor awards mentioned, the reader bogs down in dull details. List the most prestigious, or combine them – “Ms. Inkslinger’s books have received 11 Readers’ Choice Awards from various states.”
Relevancy: In general, stick to writing-related information. If someone is considering buying your book or coming to hear you speak, they want to know your success as a writer or speaker. They’re probably not interested in the names of your pets. And since most children write or tell stories, the fact that you’ve been writing since age 7 isn’t terribly impressive.
If you do include personal data, put your professional information first. Don’t start with your hobbies or childhood, unless it directly relates to your book. (For example, you’re a nurse and you wrote a hospital drama.) This is also not the place to thank your parents or spouse for their support. Save that for your book dedications.
Style: Focus on the information. Humor and lively writing are fine, but don’t get so wrapped up in sounding “literary” that important facts get buried or forgotten. A touch of formality may be appropriate here—you’re trying to portray yourself as a professional. Pretend you’re someone else writing about you. Write in the third person. “Bard Wordsmith is an award-winning author….”
If you’re releasing your own PR, you can be as zany as you like. If your bio will be one of many in a conference brochure, the designer probably wants some consistency of style. You may need different bios for different uses—playful on a book flap; professional for a newspaper article; focused on your teaching experience for a conference catalog; praising your writing success for a booksigning.
Length: Unless you’re asked for a certain length of bio, keep it short and to the point. An editor may shorten your writing to save space, so put the most important information in the first sentence. This may include the topic of your presentation and/or the name of one book (the most recent, the most popular, or the one you’ll be presenting).
If your bio will stand alone, on an individual brochure or flyer, you might use 100-200 words. If your bio will appear along with others, 50-100 words is plenty. Any more and some people will skip ahead (you’ll also annoy the person designing the material, who may make arbitrary cuts). Include your website for people who want more information.
To get started, make a list of the facts that you want to share—the items that are most impressive and relevant to your career. Then write a simple, straightforward paragraph that includes them. As in all good writing, communication comes first.
What We Found: When Audra stumbles on a murdered woman in the woods, more than one person isn’t happy about her bringing the crime to light. She’ll have to stand up for herself in order to stand up for the murder victim. It’s a risk, and so is reaching out to the mysterious young man who works with deadly birds of prey. But with danger all around, some risks are worth taking.
Whispers in the Dark: Kylie Hafford craves adventure when she heads to the remote Puebloan ruins of Lost Valley, Colorado, to excavate. Romance isn’t in her plans, but she soon meets two sexy men: Danesh looks like a warrior from the Pueblo’s ancient past, and Sean is a charming, playful tourist. The summer heats up as Kylie uncovers mysteries, secrets, and terrors in the dark. She’ll need all her strength and wits to survive—and to save the man she’s come to love.