One of the most fearsome things about getting published is the dreaded author bio. Even established authors with hundreds of stories and articles published struggle to get it right, so how can the rest of us mere mortals even try? Especially if we don’t even have a publication record?
Relax, friends! There’s an art to writing the perfect author bio, and if you can pull it off, no one will dare question your writerly authority.
Remember, if your author bio is being read, it’s likely that someone else has endorsed you. An editor has decided that your writing is perfect for their publication or website, or even if it’s on your own blog, it’s likely that someone has shared it. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you can write; you’ve already gotten at least one tick of approval.
What Do You Write?
First things first: your bio should make it absolutely clear what kind of writer you are. What topics or genres take your fancy? Do you write fiction or nonfiction? Longform or short? Is your ethnicity or culture important to your work? Are you a freelance writer, or do you only write what you want to, when you want to?
Often, when planning festivals and events, or sourcing people to write articles, planners rely on writer’s bios to tell them what they are. You don’t need to answer these questions one-by-one, but make it absolutely clear to anyone who has never heard of you exactly what kind of writer you are.
Where Are You From?
If you want opportunities to come to you—especially the speaking-at-events kind—it’s very important that you say upfront where you are located. As someone who has worked in arts programming, it can be a little frustrating not to be able to figure out where a writer lives (and even if they’re still in the country!). Make it as easy as possible for people to think of you for stuff.
You might think that you’re not experienced enough for these kinds of opportunities, but you never know. Often, a young or fresh voice can be great on a panel, or you could be in a particular niche where appropriate writers are hard to find.
Any Particular Achievements (Or Experiences)?
Mention any writing achievements, such as being featured in a publication, placing in an award, doing an internship or receiving a fellowship, straight up in your bio. If you can, include at least one specific, tangible achievement that people can be impressed by.
Be creative! If you don’t have a tangible achievement just yet (or this bio is for your first one), look to see if there’s anything relevant in your life, either to the writing piece itself, or to writing in general. For example, if you’re publishing a food article, you can mention the time you won a pie-eating contest, or how you grew up in a household made of chefs.
Another approach is to take a look at the audience of where your bio will be displayed, and try to relate to them somehow. If you’re writing to an audience who loves painting, mention how you’ve been fingerpainting since you were three, or if it’s a publication about your local town, talk about long you’ve lived there or your experience with a local landmark.
Read Other Bios
Take a look at the other bios being published in the same place yours are. Pick up a copy of the publication, or take a look at the website, and spend some time reading them to pick up any common themes or styles. Odds are, if you’re being published there, there will be other writers at a similar stage.
Also take a look at the bios in similar publications, on blogs, at the Emerging Writers Festival, and anywhere else where writers at a similar stage to you might be posting. This will also expose you to different structures and different types of bios.
This will help you to play with the structure of your bio. Copy a few other people’s, and play around until you find a fit that’s right for you. It’s also a good way to figure out how to adapt your bio so it’s appropriate for different audiences: chances are, you’re going to use it in places with totally different styles and audiences.
What’s Your Voice?
The author brand is an intimidating term, but really it’s quite simple. What kind of person do you want people to think you are? What kind of voice do you like writing in? Why should they read your stories?
Think about what people come to your writing for. Are you funny, do you make them think, or do you create wonderful worlds for them to escape to? Is your prose lyrical or sparse or something else entirely? Are you calm and professional, quirky and funny, or dreamy and full of wonderment?
Try to use this same voice in your bio—remember that your bio is an introduction to you, and if you can use your own voice while also matching the style of the publication, you’ve really succeeded.