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Bob Nailor

Writing A Bio

Like the overseas tourist with a passport, every author is required to have a bio whether it be a one-liner, a tidy paragraph or even a full page!

You've finished your article, short story, great American novel and now it is time to submit. One little tidbit they want a short bio, one or two lines, no more than a full paragraph. OR it has been accepted for publication, the publisher is looking for a multi-paragraph biography not to exceed one page.

Everyone considers editing to be the worst part of writing. Wrong!

Most people don't like to brag about themselves. Writing a biography to be included with your manuscript becomes a nightmare. So, exactly how does one go about getting beyond this nemesis?

1. You must decide who your audience is. Usually you will write your bio in 3rd person for article and story bylines, book jackets, and proposals. If you are writing a query letter, most authors fall back to 1st person. Yes, 1st person does come across as bragging with its "I did this and I did that" but you are selling yourself. Now is not the time to be humble.

2. Make it professional. This is not the moment to be cute or funny. You are a business person attempting to convey a professional image of a writer, especially in your query letter and proposals. One might be able to slip into light humor with a byline or book jacket with "harried housewife" included, but definitely NOT in a query!

3. Your stats. Writing an article about child psychology without having attended any psych college course is going to be a hard sell. You need to be able to vouch for your knowledge. Today, with all the social media, if you can validate associations via Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, that back up your claims, you have a chance. Of course, if you've never published before, stats are going to be a difficult item.

What type of stats are needed? If your article is about knitting, do you belong to a knitting club? I wrote an article about Civil War reenactments. I'd attended about four battles and thought I knew what was going on but my friend who is an active member of reenactments had me join him for a weekend as a member. It was a completely different view. Consider the difference like watching a fire from across the street and being a fireman in the building.

What if I've never been published? We all started at the same place even Steven King and Anne Rice had to admit they'd never been published. If you belong to a critique club or writing group, that gives you credibility. Have you taken a writing course? List them.

What NOT to do!

"I've been writing since third grade." Really? Are you in fifth grade now? Retired? It gives no credence to your skills.
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"This is a story you'll want to read." If you are sending in a query, trust me, the publisher will decide if the work has merit. You telling him or her will just get you off to a bad start.
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"I'm married with two children, ages 11 and 7, plus a dog and two cats." Unless those children, the spouse, dog or cats have something to do with your ability to write, they are of no use.
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"By day I'm a computer programmer but by night, I write exciting prose." Again, unless your job description is somehow related back to the story, do we really care? Think of it this way The article "PHP Programming To Quicken Sort Algorithms" relates back but the short story "The Firestar of Hasbrack" doesn't.
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This is not a resume. List what is important to this particular article or story to give you an "up" in your readers' eyes.

As you grow in your writing, you will alter your bio to include the bodies of work which have been published. Unfortunately, with luck, at some point you will only be able to list the most popular or important works. Again, think King or Rice.

How To! You want to make sure your bio is great. Take a few minutes and visit a book store or go through your shelf of dusty books and read the bio of the different authors. Be sure to have pen and paper in hand so you can write down those items you found that caught your attention and of course, those that seemed out of place and not quite right.

Yes, we all hate to brag but consider this your mini-introduction to the world and who better to write this than you? In fact, write three different biographies — a one-liner, a short paragraph and a full page. At some point you're going to need them so you might as well get them ready. The world awaits you.

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Elyse Salpeter
Ugh, now you're making me think - I DO the "married with two kids and a ferret." And some other "dont's" on this list. Now i need to go find every one of them and fix them! Great points.
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@Elyse: There is no issue with the "married with two kids and a ferret" for the full bio. I've use "married and resides on a quaint country acre in NW Ohio" for some of my medium and longer biographies. After all, you don't want it to read like a bibliography, a dull resume or worse yet, an epitat!
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