Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race Part 2

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.

OR

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.

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Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race! Part 1

“All runners (writers) in place!”

“Ready! Set! Go!”

The starting gun fires and the race begins!

Half the contestants stumble and turn, blindly running in the wrong direction. The other half run toward an imaginary finish line in the distance . . . somewhere?

Welcome to the world-cup championship race for the best Author Bio!* You, the writer (or hope-to-be writer), must tell the world who you are, and why they should listen to you, in a succinct 25 to 150 words. No solid guidelines exist to help you and there is no definitive formula for winning. Ready! Set! Go!

Does this scene sound familiar to you? Do you sit at the keyboard, palms sweating – trying to figure out who you are, what you have to say, why your work matters – trying to create the perfect Author Bio? If so, this article will help you understand and formulate a great Author Bio that works for you!

Warming Up: Defining Yourself as an Author!

I’ve been thinking about Author Bio’s for several weeks due to my blog getting more clicks on that page. It’s time to revise and update, and that decision, to re-work my own personal Bio, led to this article. Honestly, I never enjoy writing my Author Bio. It always seems a bit egotistical and pretentious – listing all my previous publication credits,talking about myself formally, introducing myself with all that pomp and grandeur – it’s not really a comfortable process even if you’re an old hand at it.

It’s even worse if you’re new to the writing profession. How do unpublished writers create credibility for their work and a professional sense of who they are in the Bio? After all, it’s not like you can say, “I’ve never written anything before, but I know my work is worth publishing. Trust me.” Right? Well, you can do that, but it never works out to your benefit!

The Author Bio is the starting point for any serious writer.**  Most editors read your Author Bio and your cover letter before even glancing at your submission. (I’ll talk about cover letters in another post.) The effort to write a good Author Bio is both necessary and worthwhile. A “good Author Bio” will help to define who you are as a writer and what your work says to the world. It is a source of clarity and purpose if done correctly. It is also, based on my years of experience as an editor, one of the most neglected parts of a submission package.

Starting Line: Understanding the Three Types of Author Bio’s

The Author Bio is the first impression an editor will have of you. It should contain the same level of writing expertise as your work. It should provide a glimpse into your philosophy on writing and the motivation behind your work. The first key to writing a good Author Bio is to understand that it is intricately linked to your work as a writer.

There are three main types of Author Bio’s:

1. Author Bio A: Educational credentials and previous publications in the small-press arena and/or winning or high placement in literary contests;

2. Author Bio B: Non-educational credentials, but combinations of publications in local or online arenas, mixed with small-press and literary publication credits;

3. Author Bio C: Non-educational and Non-published credentials, may have a blog or informal online publications or no publication history of any type.

These Bio Types are intentionally broad to allow for varying degrees of writing expertise and publication history.*** The Type label is an organized way for us to discuss “writers” as professionals, using their background, particular focus and interests, and their degree of publication experience in order to write an effective Author Bio.

It is important to remember that your Author Bio is actually your writer biography – not your mom biography, your I keep a perfectly clean house biography, or I love ice skating biography – your Bio should represent you as writer and your specific area of interest regarding a piece of work and it’s inclusion in a specific magazine or market. (The exception to this rule: Stephen King can say anything he wants in his bio!)

The Type A Bio will typically be a more experienced professional writer or an academic with numerous publication credits in their field of study. They often have a PhD or an MFA,  attend well-known workshops, are involved with writer colonies, and may be a full-time writer, professor, or editor. They often blog professionally for various media,win numerous prizes and grants via writing competitions, and may have published books one or more books.

The Type B Bio often holds a college degree and is a writer for local publications or literary magazines. They may own or edit a small-press magazine, have numerous literary publications, have won or placed in literary competitions, and may be a professional blogger with a medium to large following. They are usually less involved with national events/publications and more involved in local arts programs and cultural events or organizations in their area.

The Type C Bio is typically the beginning writer or a more mature person who has retired and is now pursuing a life-long dream. They may or may not have a college degree, may have written for local regional publications, may have some published credits or none at all. They often start writing as an emotional release, an escape from troubled lives, or because they are an avid reader and have always wanted to be a writer. They often have a blog with a small following and may or may not participate in community writing activities or reading groups.

The first step in writing a great Author Bio is to decide your Bio Type and then make an  honest assessment of self.  Nathaniel Hawthorne was right when he said:

“No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.”

Many people in the world wear masks on a daily basis, but the writer must to step from behind his mask and view himself with distance and perspective.

It is the element of distance that allows the writer to find truth in himself and the piece of work he’s creating. Again, Hawthorne makes a succinct point when he says, “Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” Good writing always flows from a place of emotional honesty and perspective cultivated and polished by the writer. instinctively, the reader understands this and backs away from the work of an overwrought, dishonest writer.

(E.g. Writing a story of Aunt Martha being fat because you hate her guts, and with no other intention or depth, will seem hostile, petty, and pointless to the reader. You’ll lose them before the end of the first paragraph. On the other hand, writing a story about Aunt Martha, from a place of honesty and compassion, detailing your journey to forgive her and move away from hatred, will gain a reader’s interest and involvement. They’ll want to know how the story – your journey – works out and will likely continue reading.)

Take a long, serious look in the mirror and then take a long, serious look at your writing from the position of observer. It’s time to start writing.

(Read Part 2 Here)

Photo courtesy of:training racing pigeonswebsite.

*The term Author Bio is used in its general, wider meaning throughout this article to include any writer, poet, author, etc. that would be formally submitting work for acceptance and publication.

**I realize that writing and publication has changed a great deal these past years. However, whether submitting work in a traditional snail-mail manner or via online submission tools or emails, I still believe a certain level of professionalism is required. Thus, the Author Bio and cover letters are treated as necessary to any submission process regardless of the format.

***I firmly believe that you can be a successful writer regardless of your particular Bio Type or level of experience. I also believe that no one type is better or worse than the other. These Types are used as a simple guideline to understanding the various levels of professional achievement, along with the slant or focus of particular writers. It is not intended to be in any way discriminatory, argumentative, or seen as support or rejection of any particular group or individual writer.