Do I need more than one bio?
Writing an author bio is a daunting task. How do I do it? What goes in it? How long should it be? That all depends. They are widely different, but a writer actually needs three versions of their author bio. A long, or extended, version for your website, media kit and publisher. A medium length for queries and use for being a guest on a website. And a brief bio, fit for bylines and social media. Let’s dig in.
The query bio:
A query letter is comprised of three parts: the intro paragraph, a couple of summary “hook” paragraphs, and one bio paragraph. If you have nothing and a query needs to go, rather than spending 2 minutes on your bio and clicking “send,” Writer’s Digest suggests you list your writing as part-time or full time and add that the manuscript is complete.
What do agents want to know in a query bio? It goes without saying, the “brief” bio should be, you guessed it, brief.
Do’s versus Do Not’s for query bio inclusion:
- Include writing credits- any time you are paid to write, this includes your job only if your job pays you to write or you work in a bookstore or literary capacity. Short stories, and articles would go here by their publications, NOT the titles of each article you’ve written. Italicize titles of works, do not add quotations. Poetry generally does not impress in a query bio.
- Do write in first person.
- Add contests and awards especially those relevant to the literature you are presenting.
- Include education if you have an MFA or something that adds credibility to your book. i.e. “I studied psychology of Rwandan women, and my book is about Rwanda’s women and their cultural taboos.”
- Let us know if you are part of a National writer’s organization. You do NOT need to include your Mommy & Me classes, even if the theme is literature. And online writing groups need only be added if they are well known, such as SCBWII.
- If you have had an experience which lends authenticity to your book. For example, “I lived with a strictly Mormon family for a year, because my book is a Mormon romance.”
- Be professional!
- Do NOT include random subjects like what you ate for breakfast (don’t laugh, it happens), or the names of all your pets, or your favorite location for writing.
- We don’t need to know your Nana was your greatest influence for writing, how long it took you to write the novel, whether this is your twenty-fifth publication (including whether your book is a debut), or which draft the manuscript is on.
- All work is copyrighted as soon as it’s written, so we don’t need to know that your manuscript is copyrighted or what the number is. (If your book has a copyright because it has been previously published somewhere else, that is of note; but not in the author section.)
- Your personal history “in a nutshell” is not necessary, or how you feel about querying itself. We don’t need to know the entire list of pen names you’ve come up with (that is either done before the query, or comes later), or that you think that may be why you’ve been rejected before.
- I know your friends and family loved your story, of course they do, but the query is not the place to talk about it. Even if your fiction is based off your real-life family. All fiction is based loosely on real-life, so we don’t need to know all the connections, or who little Suzie is in your life. As queries are made to “hook” your potential agent, you don’t need to include quotes from others about how great your book is. Save that for the book jacket.
*Tip: These suggestions listed are for a fiction manuscript. However, in a non-fiction proposal, the bio is the most important part. This is where you give credibility to your work and list ways in which your non-fiction is authentic. That type of bio includes more technical information than fiction.
For extended bios:
Your long bio is going to be one page of double-spaced type, about 250 words. You also want it to sound professional, but this is the document where you want to sound interesting, exciting even. Gasp! Is that allowed? Yes. Write your long bio in 3rd person.
Your long bio will include the items above, but here you may expand a bit on them. After these items, you may add your experiences and hobbies; work history, where you live, education, other things that might make you newsworthy (Are you a sword swallower? While tap-dancing to the National Anthem?), list your online presence, anything that gives you writing cred, but only include your family if it adds authenticity to your story (example, “My grandfather suffered for a year with brain cancer before he passed, so I’m writing a cancer grieving memoir/devotional.”). Remember, make it sound interesting, or entertaining, with professionalism.
You can include a photo with your long bio, but only do so if it has been professionally taken and represents you well. You do not want to over-filter your photo to look beautiful, and then be unrecognizable in person. Or worse, disappoint people who “don’t think you look like your picture at all.” It’s a fine line, but you will eventually need to have a good, professional author photo taken for use in your book jacket, on your website, as your avatar for social media, and for your press kit (which is used to announce the release of your book to the public and/or media).
Finally, as time goes by, you will become a member of more groups, and your career will advance. Don’t forget to change your bio to update your new accomplishments.
Have you written your bio yet? What did you struggle with? What was easy? Have any fresh tips? Tell us in the comments…