Monday, July 16, 2012

Bring on the Bio

by Jemi Fraser

(source)
A lot of aspiring authors struggle with writing the bio paragraph at the end of their query letters. Maybe 'struggle with' is too mild. Hate might be a better choice!

We worry about what to include, what to omit and how to make ourselves sound interesting. I don't think we have to worry that much.

First of all, agents are humans and when they're reading query letters, they're actually hoping to like us and our stories. They also know that most of the people who are querying them don't have publishing credentials. That's okay. Agents take on first time authors all the time. So, relax.

If you don't have any publishing credentials, it's okay to ignore that. You don't have to point it out. If the agent doesn't see credentials listed, he/she will assume you're a newbie. Again, that's okay.

If it makes you more comfortable, you can actually skip a bio completely. Agents are looking at the story. Not having a bio paragraph isn't going to turn them off. 'Thanks for your time and consideration' might be all you need.

On the other hand, we're writers. We work in words. So, why not have a sentence or two that highlights your personality - that gives the agent a glimpse of you on top of the glimpse you've given them of your book? A well worded bio might be the extra push needed to get that request.

I'm by no means an expert in this department, but I think a bio should be:
  • short—no more than a sentence or two
  • fun—keep it light, make the agent smile
  • in your voice—sarcastic, snarky, sweet, quick witted, silly ... Go for it. Show who you are. If you're depressing and gloomy, you might want to pretend otherwise... :)
  • interesting—not a list of things you've done—more a glimpse of who you are
Any other things you think should be in a bio? How do you feel about writing them?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

46 comments:

Melissa Bradley said...

I struggle completely when it comes to writing a bio. I love your guidelines here as I am currently working on a new bio. :)

Lynda R Young said...

I shudder at bios and would prefer to leave them out. I'll admit they are getting easier to write the more I get published, but still... ;)

JeffO said...

I've skipped them entirely to this point. Good decision? Bad decision? Who can say? At least I haven't gotten a rejection that says, "I loved your query but I have no idea who YOU are, so shove off. And don't ever query me again."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Short is right! And so is skipping it if you're not a happy or nice person.
Writing the bio for the book itself is no fun either!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I agree that short is okay, especially if you're a newbie. In that situation, I think it's okay to just mention that you belong to SCBWI (if you do) and your blog if you have one that is active.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Short is always good. :) As you mentioned, bios in queries are okay to skip if there's no relevant writing credit to stick in.

A short writing bio for a blog is nice, though. And, if the writer isn't published, it's still interesting for me to see what they write when I visit their blog. Something like: John Smith is a paranormal mystery writer from upstate New York.

Debra McKellan said...

The last agent I queried asked for a bio with the it, and I went -_- lol I mentioned my tiny publishing credentials, and the titles are quirky, so hopefully the agent will understand that I am, too.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

A lot of writers get caught up with the bio, forgetting the agent only really cares about the story. The only time it's important is when you're querying non fiction. Then you had been have a darn good bio.

Clarissa Draper said...

I remember when my publisher asked me to write a bio. It really freaked me out. I know how to write bios on my characters but when it comes to writing about myself... It was really hard!

Terry Odell said...

My bio makes me yawn. Definitely go for short, and I agree with others, that if you're querying, it needs to be relevant to writing. The place to have "fun" (if such a thing is possible) is when you're writing bios for blogs, for book blurbs, and all the other places that say, "And include an author bio."

Terry
Terry's Place

Jemi Fraser said...

Melissa - good luck with it! Glad I could help!

Lynda - they're not easy! But I think leaving it out is totally valid too :)

Jeff - too funny! I bet you'll never get one of those letters! :)

Alex - there are bios required everywhere! I like them short too! :)

Natalie - good points! I forgot about naming the organizations - those show we're committed to our craft!

Elizabeth - you're right! I like reading the short bios on blogs/twitter too. They really are everywhere!

Debra - that's a bit terrifying! But it sounds like yours is awesome. When the bio reflects the personality, I think you've hit it right! :)

Stina - so true! I should have mentioned I was talking about fiction... oops! Nonfiction bios are essential. Maybe Matt can tackle that one day!

Clarissa - I bet! A bio in that situation is a whole different kettle of fish. They're much more detailed. I bet yours was great!

Terry - great advice! Using our voice is tough when it's for a bio!

Lisa Gail Green said...

It's certainly tricky, and since agent preferences vary from one to another, it's tough to give a definitive answer. But I like the idea of a sentence or two. If you are a member of a group like SCBWI mention it. It shows you're serious. Also if you have life skills that may relate to writing, like acting, etc.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Less is always more they say!

Jemi Fraser said...

Lisa - I hadn't thought of the memberships to writer's groups - that definitely is a great idea to include. :)

Diane - and I tend to agree :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I always kept it short, especially since years ago I had no credentials. The short synopsis was what I always worried about.

Jemi Fraser said...

Medeia - me too. While the bio might make someone smile, it's the story that's going to snag an agent! :)

Jean Oram said...

Awesome, Jemi. Yes, the bio can stress a person out. I was just blogging about volunteering today and why writers should do it. Here's a perfect example why. I think if you volunteer in the writing community it is something you can add to your bio. It shows that you have staying power, you are willing to help and share and that you aren't in it for the momentarily gain. It doesn't have to be big.

You hear people say that if you had newspaper experience 15 years ago not to include it in your bio. Personally, I think you should. Why? It shows that you have experience writing, you can work with an editor and meet deadlines. How can that not be a boost in your favour?

;)

Jemi Fraser said...

Jean - I just came from your blog :) Excellent point. Volunteering can help in so many ways - the bio just being a small part of that! :)

Munir said...

I wrote and self published a book through Lulu. I forgot my password and now am not able to get into my account. Any suggestions?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I hate those little bios and they can go out of dare really quick. Short is great advice.

Shannon Lawrence said...

That's all very reassuring. I hate bios of myself. Yet I read other people's bios. I do try to include the writer's groups I'm involved in, and my blog (Look! Sometimes a handful of people like what I have to say, haha!) It's always so hard to know what to put in it.

Jemi Fraser said...

Munir - sorry. I don't know anything about the site, but I imagine they have a 'contact us' section on there somewhere. Good luck!

Susan - I don't imagine most agents do more than glance at them - so I wouldn't worry too much!

Shannon - I agree - it's hard to know. But for queries, I really think agents are going to be focusing more on the story anyway! :)

DL Hammons said...

One of the reasons I started writing short stories was so I could submit to contests or publications that featured them, specifically so I could have something to put it my bio.

And it worked! :)

Great post!!

Jemi Fraser said...

DL - it really did - that's so awesome! I really should try writing some shorts one of these days... :)

Stephsco said...

Like a few mentioned already, noting SCBWI affiliation, or RWA etc, it shows agents you've committed time and money to a national writing organization. I actually joined these groups so I could attain credentials (and of course, network with other writers and learn the craft).

RWA (Romance Writers of America - which you can join even if you write with "romantic elements" rather than straight up romance) has tons of contests hosted by chapters. Finaling in a chapter contest, which is judged by a published author, publisher or agent, can also be a great credential.

I've yet to query and plan to keep my bio section brief, but hopefully I can add some of this in.

Jemi Fraser said...

Steph - great advice! Adding in those professional organizations is a really good idea! :) Thanks - and good luck when you query!

DeniseCovey _L_Aussie said...

Writing pitches, synopses, bios. Grr, seem much harder than actually writing the book. I've found The Writer's Knowledge Base helpful for all of these! Most advice says no more than 100 words. D.

Kimberly Gabriel said...

My bio is the "voiceless" part of my query. That's a great idea to have a "little" fun with it.

Jemi Fraser said...

Denise - I know!! The WKB is terrific! They've done a great job compiling links for us!

Kimberly - it can be hard to infuse those few words with some voice, but I think it's worth the effort! :)

Theresa Milstein said...

I have to write bios when I have a short story coming out, so I've gotten better about writing them. I think infusing voice is important.

Great you're giving advice on writing bios, which I've never seen covered before.

Jemi Fraser said...

Theresa - thanks! The topic came up in an AQC chat a few weeks ago so I thought it would make a good topic here too. I agree - voice is what it's really all about :)

Rosalind Adam said...

I too hate writing them but I try to keep it to a short paragraph and I also include a link to the About Me page on my blog.

Jemi Fraser said...

Rosalind - I don't think I know a single author who likes writing them! Linking to your blog is a great idea too - thanks :)

nutschell said...

great post Jemi! Super helpful, especially since I'm about to query soon:)
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Jemi Fraser said...

Nutschell - yay! Glad I could help! And good luck when you query! I'll be crossing fingers and toes for you :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree about short. And catchy. Keep searching for those HEA's :)

Shelley Sly said...

Thanks for this post, Jemi! I agree that a brief and interesting bio can't hurt. Wish it was easier to write, though!

DEZMOND said...

I know most of the ladies won't agree with me, but what I hate seeing in bios, both in books and in other fields, is when someone puts being a mom as a reference in it. Being a parent is not an achievement, everybody can have kids, so keep it out of your bios. We see that in bios at different blogs too, and being a parent really cannot be the defining thing, because it means you didn't do anything else beside having sex and having a baby.

Jemi Fraser said...

Carol - I will! :) Short and snappy work best, I think!

Shelley - no kidding! It's so much easier to analyze than to do sometimes :)

Dezzy - love it! I actually agree with you. Although some folks use it effectively if they're writing picture books or books that target the same age as their kids. But it's not something I would include either :)

Lydia Kang said...

Agreed! I'd also try not to include dubious achievements..."I won a poetry award in high school 20 years ago."

Jemi Fraser said...

Lydia - exaclty! :) In 6th grade, I won a .... doesn't exactly come off as professional! :)

Leslie S. Rose said...

I'm all about the short and sweet. I just include enough to prove I'm not a nutcase.

Talli Roland said...

Oh, the writing bio! I always find it sooooo hard to do, and it appears I'm not the only one. Great tips, Jemi!

Jemi Fraser said...

Leslie - too funny! Proving we're not nutcases is pretty dang important!! :)

Talli - they are hard, aren't they Talli? But we're writers - we will persevere! :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I always put a bit about my career as a teacher and that I am a member of SCBWI in it. That way they know a bit about my education and that I belong to a professional writing organization.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sharon - those are good! I mention the teacher bit too. Hadn't thought of the organizations before - I will now! :)