The Dreaded Author Bio

More mail!

Dear Rachelle, an agent I’m interested in querying requires “a brief bio or résumé.” For published authors, this has got to be a leg-up, and I completely understand why an agent would want this, but for those of us with no prior publishing experience it’s a nightmare. How do we stay professional and still market ourselves effectively? I could write something like, “John Smith is a high school English teacher. He lives in Independence, Oregon. He’s never been published before, possibly because he can’t write a flattering bio.” Please rescue me from myself. Signed, A Teacher, But Who Cares?

Dear Teacher,

I care, I care! I love teachers. Teachers are the bedrock of society. Anyone who teaches high school English should be sainted and of course, really, really rich. Where would we be without teachers? You, sir, are my hero… and if you can teach my teenagers to write anything besides “omg” or “brb” then you’re also a major over-achiever and I salute you.

Ahem. So where were we?

Right, the author bio. A bit of a challenge isn’t it, if you’ve been living life all these years, just raisin’ your kids and goin’ to work and payin’ your taxes, and then boom, suddenly someone wants your life story in two sentences and it had better be brilliant or your publishing dreams are over.

Here’s the thing, Teach. Stop stressing about it. Your bio in a query should be brief. You don’t have to include the time you won Most Valuable Player in Little League or the fact that you got all A’s in Freshman composition. If you’re a novelist, then the relevant things are:

…if you’ve ever published fiction in any form
…if you have any awards or accolades related to novel-writing
…if you  have a job related to writing
…if you have a unique job or life experience directly related to the topic of your novel

If so, include the info in a general way, still keeping your bio to a paragraph. If you have none of the above, then a simple one- to two-sentence bio covering the basics will do. Career, family, where you live, etc. Maybe an interesting fact. If you can inject a bit of humor and/or personality into the brief bio, so much the better… but it’s not crucial.

Non-fiction writers, it’s different for you! Depending on the topic of your book, your bio may be just as important as the pitch because it will establish you as the exact right person to write this book. Maybe you’re an expert or an authority, or you have a giant platform, or you’ve been knighted by the Queen or whatever. You still have to keep your bio relatively brief (one to two paragraphs) but you’ll need to sell yourself as the author.

Back to my novelist friends… you’ve got nothing to prove in that bio. Hear me? Nothing. If you’re unpublished, then everything we care about comes between “Chapter 1″ and “The End.”

So don’t sweat the bio.

Writer friends, what’s your query bio say?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Stephanie McGee

    >In the drafts I put around for critique, the bio says "[Insert witty but true bio info here.]" No joke. I think this is the hardest part for me to write ever. Mostly because I've learned that people really don't care that much or pay as much attention as we like to sometimes think. Which makes me wonder what to write that might actually break through that barrier and reach someone.

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    >You never run out of ways to comfort us writers, do you?

    I include the fact that I've written professionally (and as a volunteer for charitable organizations) for nearly 30 years, even if it was all non-fiction and my pitch is for my fiction. For a long time it didn't occur to me to mention that because I didn't think it was relevant.

  • Melissa K Norris

    >I put in my bio that I was born and raised on a small cattle ranch. My husband and I raise organic beef cattle. I also have trained horses and amatuer barrel raced.
    All of this relates to my historical romance novel that is set on one of the first cattle drives to the California gold fields.
    Would you include guest posts on blogs? Not individually, but name the blog if it is for an orginization or has a large following?

  • Tana Adams

    >During my perilous attempt at queries, the bio portion of my one page ‘disasterpiece’ shrunk decidedly over the years. I began to understand, as an agent once tweeted, I was not all that. (That was a blanket statement put out to specifically reduce the bio section in queries. Not directed at me personally although the theory still applied.) Nevertheless, in what’s left of my bio I include my professional work, simple facts about my personal life, and any achievements that appear remotely related to my ability to manipulate the King’s English.

  • Melissa (ATX)

    >I listed the literary journals in which my short stories placed — I felt that important. I mentioned that I'm a full time freelance writer (did not mention that this makes me highly introverted, terminally caffeinated and vastly underpaid). And, because my protagonist works in politics, I mentioned my policy experience. I'm not sure if I should have listed my university degree and have heard that this is a big N-O for some agents.

  • john

    >Here's mine.(It might be a bit of a silly idea. I've only used it in the University anthology, so far.) What do you think Rachel guru?

    Morecambe Bay. Lakeland. Bird watching. Climbing. Foundation Art. Stonehenge Free
    Festival. India. West Cork. Coppicing. Thatching. History. Writing. Parenting. Walking. France. Dorset Master Thatcher’s Association. Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Icelandic Sagas. First novel. More thatching. Falconry. Backpacking. MA Ceative Writing from BathSpa University.

  • Stella Deleuze

    >Good advice and suits me fine. I hate reading author bios that describe their life-story.

    Here's mine:
    I am a freelance editor, specialising in synopses and plot-development and am a member of Authors on Show, a website for writers and readers.
    Completed manuscripts: a supernatural romantic comedy, an unusual contemporary fiction novel. I've contributed a story to a charity-project, a published anthology. I'm currently working on a cook book.

  • Neezes

    >Thanks, that is helpful and encouraging! I must admit to being impressed when people include something witty in a 2-line bio :)

  • Benjamin Gorman

    >Rachelle, thanks again for the inspiration. Maybe everybody here can help me if I'm just being too neurotic. A particular agency directs writers to "Please submit a query letter in the body of the e-mail, and the following as Word attachments: the first three chapters of the manuscript (for fiction), a book proposal (for nonfiction), a synopsis of the work, and a brief bio or résumé." Doesn't that sound like the bio should be distinct from the query and more substantive? I don't want to send them two sentences as a separate attachment. What do I do? This is me continuing to freak out!

  • Keli Gwyn

    >The bio paragraph of my query letter included:

    1) My membership in a national writing organization and double final in its annual contest
    2) My bachelor's degree in Mass Communication/Journalism, since it's writing related
    3) My former job as an assistant editor at a small publishing company
    4) The fact that I've had some magazine articles published
    5) My website URL as a place to learn more about about me and my writing

    Sadly, there wasn't any personality or humor in the bio since I one of those who was kinda freaked out about pressing "send," but I can be funny. Honest. =)

  • Rosemary Gemmell

    >Thanks, Rachelle, valuable information again! The witty bit is probably missing from mine.

  • jongibbs

    >Here's the one I use for personal appearances:

    Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of several writers' groups, including SCBWI (www.scbwi.org) and The Garden State Horror Writers.(www.gshw.net). He is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and FindAWritingGroup.com.

    Jon's debut novel, Fur-Face (a Middle Grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in), was published in eBook form by Echelon Press in 2010.

    Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

    In a query letter, I change it to first person and lose the last paragraph.

  • Sue Harrison

    >Thank you, Rachelle, I really need this info. Witty? Oh,oh. Time for a ghost writer.

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Love this post! Especially that first paragraph. :)

    My bio…yeah, I stressed about this because I didn't have much to put in there. So I started writing short stories so I could have some sort of credentials. Not sure if it helped or not, but it did make me happy and it was a cool accomplishment to see my short stories published. I also finaled in a very small contest, but despite its smallness, I could put in my bio: contest finalist.

    Rachelle is right. Your biggest credential is going to be your story!

  • Crystal Jigsaw

    >Another wonderfully informative post. Something I have been thinking about, summing oneself up in a few sentences. Forty-one years in only a few words is quite a challenge.

    CJ xx

  • Rick Barry

    >Ironically, the more interesting things that I've done in life (learning the Russian language, over 40 trips to the former USSR and other unusual places, jumping from perfectly good airplanes, etc.) have little to do with most of the fiction I've had published. But when I got started with short stories, no editor asked about my life experiences. They only wanted one thing–cool stories for their readers.

  • Kathleen A. Ryan

    >Awesome response, Rachelle. Thanks for your words of wisdom ~ as always!

  • Patsy

    >Thanks. I found this reassuring.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >Yeah for teachers!

    In my query bio I’ve included my publication credits for four short stories. I add my BA in English with a concentration in creative writing and my memberships to multiple organizations. I feel torn about adding my work in anthologies and a contest final. Not sure about including either. (My work in the anthologies was non-fiction and I didn’t win the contest.) Finally, I incorporate one sentence that evokes my voice and a taste of who I am.

    Then I wait for the story to be read (and loved, of course). ;)

    ~ Wendy

  • Rachelle

    >Benjamin: Here's another example of how there's no "typical" in publishing — each agent is an individual with their own requirements and preferences. The advice I gave here was for the majority of queries – hardly any agents take attachments with queries.

    In any case, still, stop stressing! Just do exactly what it says. Attach a single page resume with the highlights of your career and life. It's your choice whether to make it resume format, or bio format, or your own unique hybrid. Just put it together so that it shows "at a glance" who you are, and send it off!

    That bio shouldn't be a factor in keeping you from hitting "send" – the agent just wants a feel for who you are.

  • Timothy Fish

    >My Bio:

    Timothy has never killed anyone. He is the author of five novels and two non-fiction books. He is a software engineer by day, but his real passion is his church. He is a co-teacher of an adult Sunday school class, he works with children in Awana, and he maintains the church’s website. He is also active in church associational work, serving as the clerk/treasurer for both the Tarrant County BMA and for the Baptist Music Fellowship of America (an auxiliary of the BMA of America).

  • MJR

    >I've reduced my bio to one line–I'm not sure if helps that I've worked in book publishing or not, but I mention it briefly (I wish I could say I grew up on a cattle ranch like person above–unfortunately I grew up in NYC area–boring!). I've been published in nonfiction, but don't mention that anymore because I'm afraid of being "typecast" (I'm writing fiction now). I used to write a longer bio, but looking back, my bio part sounded a bit self-indulgent and chatty. I think it's better to keep it brief. I do mention that I grew up in my mother's bookstore.

  • D.L. Diener

    >Ooh, ooh, ooh! I'm saving this one for my file of useful tidbits. I dread the ol' bio thing. I'm getting better at it, but I think many of us get it drummed into us that we aren't supposed to brag about ourselves- and for me, that makes it hard to do a bio. I like the idea of listing those things that tell the reader why it makes sense that your writing is being printed in that publication.

    Always full of good advice, Ms. Gardner!

  • Jaime

    >I tried to include my writing experience and organizations I am a part of. Hoping to show my involvement in the writing community shows my seriousness for the craft. I also included a few brief lines of what I do "on the side" to reveal some of my personality and interests. All in all, I still probably spent several hours writing the paragraph! LOL

  • Sean

    >My bio is one line as well:

    "Like Paul(my MC), I also have a minor in religion from The University of Iowa, have written for radio shows across the country and am my girlfriend's best chance of surviving a zombie outbreak."

    It's pretty much the only part an agent ever likes, which is nice.

  • Casey

    >I quit worrying about writing a "winning bio" sometime back. Because I had nothing good to give! LOL. :) It is encouraging to know I can work on my craft and perfect that at the moment and leave the "bio building" for an appropriate time. But here is my bio for those strictly curious. :)

    Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. Taking the words and stories God has placed on her heart and putting them on paper is one of her highest passions in life. Casey is a member of ACFW. You can connect with her through her personal blog, Writing for Christ and her writing related group blog, The Writer's Alley

  • Joylene Butler

    >Wonderful post. No wonder I adore you. Rachelle, you're so generous with your time and your knowledge. What a precious gift.

    My bio:

    Joylene Nowell Butler self-published her first novel Dead Witness in 2008 for family and friends, and subsequently had her second novel Broken But Not Dead accepted by the award-winning Aboriginal publishers Theytus Books in May 2011. MuseItUp Publishing released Dead Witness as an ebook in December 2011. Joylene lives with her husband and their 4 cats and their Siberian Husky in a home they built themselves on Cluculz Lake in central BC. When she's not applying the final touches to her 4 other manuscripts, she teaches T'Chi.

  • Benjamin Gorman

    >Rachelle, thanks for the encouragement. You say hit "send", so I'll hit send.

    Everybody else, thank you so much for the great examples. My favorite so far: "…and am my girlfriend's best chance of surviving a zombie outbreak." I'm inspired and humbled, but far less freaked-out. After all, when the zombie outbreak hits this whole query process will be moot since I don't have Sean to protect me. It's good to keep these things in perspective.

  • lauradroege

    >@ Timothy Fish-That first line cracked me up!

    Here's a question. I do have a "life experience" which has direct bearing on my novel. I'm medication-responsive bipolar and my novel involves a young woman who is bipolar. So really, this should add some credibility to my ability to write on this subject. I've already come out on my blog and stated this fact; I'm very comfortable talking about this, and I work very hard on staying mentally stable.

    Okay, but is this something that can be added to an author bio? It's one thing to talk about it on my blog; it's another thing to mention it to a publishing company. Your thoughts?

  • David A. Todd

    >I change it regularly. Here's the current one:

    David A. Todd is a civil engineer (B.S., M.S.), currently working as corporate trainer for engineering for CEI Engineering Associates, Inc. in Bentonville, Arkansas. He has been a consulting engineer for 37 years, and is a registered engineer in four states. He has been writing creatively for fourteen years. His works have appeared in these print publications: Arkansas Professional Engineer, The Construction Specifier, The Zweig-White Letter, the Benton County Daily Record, the Weekly Vista, Internet Genealogy, Poesia, and Safe Highway Matters; and in these on-line publications: Suite101.com and Buildipedia.com. His blog is An Arrow Through the Air, davidatodd.blogspot.com.

  • Beth

    >Mine is really brief. I don't include writing curriculum for our church as a volunteer for a couple of years. I do include two published short stories for kids and one published article. I also include that I'm an Examiner.com writer for children's literature. (That sounds nice, but I don't know if it means much to them.)

    : ) Beth

  • CraftyMama

    >That's interesting. I never realized this before, but whenever I read anything nonfiction, I automatically check their bio to see what makes them qualified. Apparently, it's more important to me than I realized. :)

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >Keep it brief, relevant, and interesting, and be sure to proof for grammar, spelling and typos. That's my approach. I dislike focusing on myself so writing a bio is painful. It would be so much easier to introduce my main character instead. After all, it's his story. :)

  • Jessie at Blog Schmog

    >Oh boy, mine looks so drab now but here's what I've got…

    Jessie Gunderson is a women’s Bible study leader, aspiring author and mother of five from Post Falls, Idaho. She studied Biblical theology, music and literature at North Idaho College, Prairie Bible College and Cal State Fullerton. She is a Member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has been published on several popular author blogs.

    I did win a short story contest on one of those blogs but didn't know how to word that appropriately. I'm also not sure how much my education adds to any of this. It sounds so podunk!

    I'm need to work on a little humor or intrigue…

    From the backwoods of Idaho, writing from the confines of her closet, while attempting to sneak in the words between her 5 kids' naps, fights and chicken tending.

    Haha, I don't know but this is definitely going to get some creative juices flowing again!

    Thanks for continuing to teach us newbies.

  • Timothy Fish

    >Carol J. Garvin said, “It would be so much easier to introduce my main character instead.”

    Good point. Here’s mine:
    Amber has experience as a con artist and as a waitress. Don’t bother to ask for references. She worked at one restaurant until the owner was arrested on drug charges. She worked at another until it burned to the ground. Most recently she has been employed as a church janitor.

  • Robin

    >MInes says:

    Robin O'Bryant is a stay-at-home-mother to three daughters born within four years, she has recently learned where babies come from and gotten herself under control. Robin survives the drama and hilarity of motherhood by making fun of herself in her self-syndicated family humor column, Robin's Chicks, which runs 8 newspapers in three states across the Southeast and in on her blog by the same name. (www.robinschicks.com)
    Her essays have been published widely online on such websites as Aiming Low, Moms of Faith, Yummy Mummy and Confessions of a Mom; and in print in The Petigru Review, literary journal of the South Carolina Writer's Workshop. Robin's food essays are featured regularly online & in print in The Jackson Free Press, and her column, “Modern Motherhood” is a monthly feature in the popular Jackson, Mississippi lifestyles magazine Metro Christian Living."

    Two years ago (when I signed with my agent!!) I only had the blog and one newspaper column. I was seriously scared because I write non-fiction and I knew I needed a bigger platform but I think it should be encouraging to people still searching for an agent. If you have a great book, the right agent may still be willing to work with you! Also goes to show that if you are looking for opportunities to build a platform, they ARE everywhere!

  • Transparent Mama

    >Thank you for saying you love high school English teachers and telling me not to sweat my bio. Ahhhh, better.

  • Ruth A. Taylor

    >I'm happy to hear that agents enjoy reading something humorous in biography paragraphs. It's very fitting for my personality, but I have no way of including it in the pitch due to the subject of my story. I imagine it’s also beneficial for agents and their assistants to enjoy a little light-heartedness amidst the stress of trying to consider every query they receive. Thanks for the insight!

  • Marleen Gagnon

    >My bio is a short paragraph:
    Born and raised in southern Indiana, I have lived in the Catskill Mountains in New York for the past 20 years. I have; completed two historical/romance novels, have two h/r novels in the first draft, one h/r novel in outline and I have one in my mind and many other ideas. I am a member of the RWA, CR RWA, Writers In The Mountains (WIM) and Writer’s Digest Community.

  • Kathryn Magendie

    >I sent out short stories, essays, poetry to publications so that I'd have something to add to my bio, and I joined the Rose & Thorn staff (now I am a publishing editor there!) so I could have that on my resume. I joined some writer's associations, as well. All those things helped to plump up the resume.

    But, in the end, it was my writing and my VK character that attracted my publishers.

  • Lunar Hine

    >Lunar Hine has been writing forever and reading for longer than that. She has had short fiction and poetry published and is working on her debut novel. In her spare time she potters about Dartmoor singing to her daughter who will soon be old enough to ask her to stop.

    What do you wise people think? Suggestions welcome.

  • Cally Jackson

    >Thanks for this reassuring post. It's good to hear the first chapter counts more than 'who we are' – for us fiction writers anyway!

  • Keshawn Durant

    >I enjoyed this post very much. It's always helpful to see and share ideas with others about our experiences.

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    >Great information! I haven't seen suggestions for how to write a bio before–and it's so helpful. Thank you so much for providing an inside look at a perplexing task.

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