Running Down the Track: Creating an Image of You as Writer
You’ve selected your Type from the list in Part 1 (go here to read part 1) – this alone should help you narrow your focus and describe the intent of the work. Now, once you’ve reached a place of honesty and distance toward yourself and your work, it’s time to start the actual work of writing your Author Bio.
The writing process takes time. This is why most writing advice suggests that you write something and then put it away for awhile before coming back to re-read and edit. Good writing is even better writing when you return to it later. Bad writing will scream for edits and fixes when you go back to it (a crippled animal needing help before it goes off on its own)! Allow yourself the time you need to focus, write, and revise your Bio. The goal is to write an excellent Author Bio, not to write one faster than everyone else.
Here are some examples of how a not-so-great Bio becomes a better one:
Example One: Type A
Type A Indistinct: Jane Doe received her BA degree from Blank University, her Master’s degree from Blank University, and her MFA at Blank University. She graduated last month and took a course at Blank Blank Writer Retreat. She has always loved to read and is an aspiring writer of fiction. She has had work published in ABC Journal and One Journal.
Type A Specific & Individual: Jane Doe is a graduate of the MFA program at Blank University. She attended the Blank Area Writer’s Retreat last June with specialized study in the art of fiction. Her short story, “From Here to There,” recently appeared in Blank Journal. Other writing has appeared in Blank 3 Magazine and We Are Journal. Her fiction seeks to explore the connections between childhood myth and adult neurosis.
We get a much stronger sense of who the writer is and what she cares about in the second example. Remember to be concise but thorough. If you’ve earned degrees and attended retreats please let the editor know (you probably spent a fair amount of money to do so) as it allows them to understand your training and quality of writing they can expect.
However, be careful not rattle-off a litany of schools and accomplishments without tying them to your work, or explaining their relevance to your writing. I love butterflies, but would not include that in an Author Bio unless it was pertinent to the article I’d written.
Example Two: Type B
Type B Indistinct: John Doe is a writer and has a BA degree in architecture from Blank University. His wife and children are his greatest inspiration. He loves music, opera, and Frank Sinatra. He writes for his local paper, the daily news. He also won a poetry contest when he was younger.
Type B Specific & Individual: John Doe has been writing since childhood. He is the author of “Today’s Best Music,” a weekly column for the Any Town Newspaper. John enjoys all music, but Frank Sinatra is his favorite vocalist. He is working on a short-story collection about the changes in the music scene over the past decade. This essay is an adapted version from that project.
There is a temptation to include any professional or educational accomplishments in your Author Bio. This usually comes from a fear of not mentioning educational levels when sending work to literary magazines. However, information just for the sake of information, without relevance to the topic, is a wasteful use of your limited word-count. Try to avoid this!
In John’s case, the BA degree in architecture is irrelevant information for this piece. His mention of his wife and kids is sweet, but it is also unimportant to the piece and more about sentimentality than relevance. John’s love of music and prior writing about music is more relevant and provides a deeper, stronger vision of who he is and why he’s writing the essay we’re going to read.
Example Three: Type C
Type C Indistinct: My name is Jane Doe and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have written in journals all my life. I read a lot and have over 100 books on my shelves. I live in the west and hate the hail storms, but I love the snow. I should have started writing before. I’m glad my husband talked me into it.(And, yes, I have received Bio’s like this!)
Type C Specific & Individual: Jane Doe is an avid reader and lives in Oklahoma. She has always been fascinated with journal-keeping and is researching the history of journal-keeping in the prairie states during the 1800’s. The essay, “Life of Prairie Storms,” is her first published work and evolved from her journal-keeping research.
Type C Specific & Individual: Jane Doe moved to Oklahoma from New York in 1974. She soon discovered that the hail storms in that area were more violent and damaging than the Northeasters she had faced back home. Jane told her husband that people in New York would never believe the ferocity of the storms. He encouraged her to write about them. The resulting essay, “Ice Battering at Tulsa,” included in this issue of Blank magazine is her first published work.
It’s always difficult being new at something. As a new writer, there is much to absorb and many new skills to polish when seeking publication. A new writer often has a Bio filled with sentimental, personal things that are irrelevant to their new career effort, or they have a “one liner” Bio with no content or warmth. It’s is essential to find a middle ground.
The examples for Jane above show two opposite tactics based on the content of the submitted work. Either option takes for granted that she is writing about something in which she has personal experience or direct knowledge. I advise all new writers to start in that way. Hobbies and passions are wonderful places to find and build stories, family and regional history are also filled with possible story ideas.
There is a key difference between being a new writer and an unprofessional one. Take yourself and your writing seriously and approach submissions in a professional way. Write an Author Bio that exemplifies your desire, talent, and humility. Submit material appropriate for the specific market you’ve targeted with a professional Bio and a good Cover Letter. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed due to a lack of publishing credits. Instead, be proud of the new voice and career path opening before you. Remember that being new to the writing profession doesn’t mean that your stories aren’t valid. Believe in who you are and what you have to say!
Into the Home Stretch: A Word of Caution
Every writer has a distinct voice that shows in their work, helps shape and define it, but that is not necessarily the voice or personhood of the writer as an individual. Writing, much like the arts of music or painting, should speak for itself. Be careful not to provide a voice stronger than your writing-voice in your Author Bio.
The voice within your writing may be the voice the reader will enjoy most or want to hear. After all, haven’t we all watched that in-depth interview with a lead singer we once loved turn into an episode of TMI (Too Much Information) or a whine-fest that makes us decide we’ll never buy another one of their CD’s? Or, there’s the movie star interview (think about Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen here) that starts out okay and quickly disintegrates into a hellishly bad episode that makes us wonder why we ever liked them.
We may love the voice and tone in a writer’s work and still, as with Gibson or Sheen, be insulted and turned off by the true, unrestrained, everything-exposed personality. Much like the wizard from The Wizard of Oz – there’s a reason and a purpose for the curtain covering a writer’s magic.
Crossing the Finish Line: Flexibility & Revision
Wow! Congratulations! You did it! You wrote an articulate, professional Author’s Bio! That’s it, you’ve won the race and we’re finished, right? Well, almost. There are a few final things you should know…
An Author’s Bio is constantly evolving and changing. I recommend a basic Bio like the examples above as a starting point. If you’re putting your Author Bio on a blog or book it will be more permanent. However, for general submissions over time, and as you establish new credentials and published credits, you’ll need to tweak it and edit often. Consider your submission content and adjust your Bio accordingly.
Remember, your Author Bio is like your business card or resume – it is the biographical information on you as a writer. It will continue to change and grow with you on this wonderful journey.
- Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race! Part 1 (marissamullins.com)
- Five tips to help you with your Author Bio (via Haley is Soldiering through the Writing World ) (gabrielletheauthoress.wordpress.com)
- Dual lives (thewhollysee.wordpress.com)
- Writer’s Block (sarahsfate.wordpress.com)