Novelists like to tell stories about people who don’t exist, but they often hesitate to tell their own stories. The key to getting over this shyness is to understand that the author bio does not exist so we can tell everyone how great we are. Its purpose is to show others a little bit about ourselves so they’ll feel they could know and like us. This is true for nonfiction writers, and it’s true whether we’re approaching agents, editors, or readers.
Read the bios of writers in your genre to get a feel for how it’s done. In addition to the back-of-book bio, check out author web pages. Pay attention to the short one-paragraph bios that appear at the end of magazine articles and blog posts.
I’ve provided a worksheet to help you draw out this information and arrange it concisely.
There are three main kinds of author bio:
- Extra-short—goes at the bottom of articles or guest blog posts. This is one paragraph, written in the third person. Keep it to about 50 words.
- Short—Use this in query letters. It’s a longer paragraph written in the first person. Go up to about 80 words.
- Long—This is the bio that will go in your book proposal. It’s written in third person and can go up to a page, but don’t pad this with fluff. Include writing credits, awards, and work or volunteer experience that’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.
The long bio can also be used on the About page of your website. There, it can be either first or third person, whichever you prefer.
Although “bio” is short for biography, your author bio is not your life story. It’s not about where you were born and where you lived and how many times you moved—unless those things show up in your writing. More about that later.
Start with what you are doing now. If you have a day job, mention it here. If you don’t have a day job, don’t worry about it. You are a writer, so just say what you’re writing.
Then take a step back. What did you do before? If your work experience is related to what you’re writing, note that here. If it’s not related, don’t dwell on it. This is not the place for your whole resume. What you’re doing now, what you did immediately before, that’s all—unless your experience informs your writing. Things like adoption, blended families, and growing up as a military or missionary kid are good to include, but only if they apply to your writing.
If you have any awards or writing credits, note the most important in your short bio. Just one or two. You can include more in your long bio, but you don’t want to go on too long, or people start skimming. If you don’t have any writing credits, just skip this part. Don’t draw attention to it.
If you belong to writers groups, including critique groups, note that next. Include any professional association that’s relevant to your writing. For example, if you’re writing a book about gardening and you belong to a horticulture association, say so.
Add a line about one or two of your hobbies. That just personalizes it a bit, but you don’t want to go off on a sidebar about your hobby. You also want to avoid having a long list of hobbies: that comes off as either superhuman or short attention span.
You can put in one sentence about your family but don’t make it too mushy or unprofessional. Humor is good. The long bio could include two sentences if your family has some unusual quality, especially if that informs your writing.
In your long bio, you can also include your volunteer work. If this is particularly important to you or informs your writing, you might want to include it in your short bio instead of a hobby.
Leave out the kind of comments that are true of many writers. Someone on Facebook recently pointed out that every author bio seems to contain a comment about chocolate. Another common one is “I’ve been writing since I was a toddler.” It may be true, but it’s not unique, so leave it out in favor of something unusual.
Your author bio is about who you are and what you’re doing. It’s a benefit to readers, editors, and agents to have that information in a clear, concise format.
Download the author bio worksheet.