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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, January 10, 2010


You’ve been sending out queries. Lots. And you’re getting rejections. Lots. Or worse, that slow disappointment of no response at all. It's getting to be routine.

But one day, you open your email and there it is: “I’m intrigued. Please send the first fifty pages and an author bio.”

OMG. Author bio? Is that like a resume? CV? A chronological history? A book jacket blurb?

You dash something off in 20 minutes so you can send your pages and show this agent what a great writer you are so she’ll offer representation and get this career on the road!

Whoa. You do NOT want to dash off a bio in 20 minutes. Every word you send is a writing sample, not just those well-honed pages.

So, write it now. Yes. Right now. Before you send off another query.

Here’s what you do:

Title it only with your name. Write in third person. Keep to 250 words: one page, double-spaced--or 1/2 page single-spaced, if you include a photo above it. (I advise against this unless it’s specifically requested or you have a great, up-to-date, professional photo that makes you look like a contestant on one of those Top Model shows.)

You’re aiming for a style similar to book jacket copy. Except you’re not selling yourself to a reader. You’re selling yourself to a marketing department. The purpose is to make yourself sound professional and INTERESTING.

A reader might like to know she can identify with you: “Mrs. H. O. Humm is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Middle America with her dentist husband, 2.4 children and a dog named Rex.”

But a marketer wants to know what makes you stand out. “Hermione Oz Humm was born in the Emerald City and is an expert balloonist, ventriloquist and voice-over performer.”

Things to consider including:

1) Whatever might make you newsworthy: OK, so you aren’t the baby who got rescued from that well forty years ago, and were never married to Britney Spears, but whatever is quirky or unusual about you, trot it out. Keep homing pigeons? Run marathons? Cook prize-winning chili? Put it in.

2) Work history/What you do for bux: Here’s where you say you’re a welder or a fourth grade teacher or whatever, even if it isn’t related to the subject matter of your book.

NB: Don’t call yourself a “novelist” if you haven’t published one.

If you’re seriously underemployed and want to keep it to yourself, you can call yourself a “freelance writer,” but consider saying what else you do, even if it’s less than impressive. I remember when Christopher Moore’s first book came out and all the Central Coast papers ran stories about how a “local waiter” had just sold a book to Disney. If he’d called himself a “writer” there would have been no story.

3) Where you live: Your hometown might make a good focus for marketing. Plus people like to be able to picture you in your native habitat.

4) Education: This includes workshops or conferences as well as formal education—especially if you worked with a high-profile teacher. If you took a playwriting workshop with Edward Albee, even if it was 30 years ago, go ahead and say so.

5) Life experience and hobbies that relate to the book, or fascinate on their own: If you collect vintage Frisbees, and the book is about angsty teen werewolves at a Frisbee contest, include it. If you invented the Frisbee, it doesn’t matter what your book is about: toot that horn!

6) Travel/exotic residences: “Rudy Kipling once took a two-week tour of Asia,” meh. But “Mr. Kipling was born in Bombay and spent a year as the assistant editor of a newspaper in Lahore,” is something you want them to know.

7) Writing credentials/prizes: Here’s where you can list some of those credits in small presses and prizes that didn’t fit in your query. Include any books you’ve published, even if they were in a different field. It’s still up in the air whether you want to list anything self-published. Some agents say it’s a liability unless you had huge sales, but I just read a recent interview with agent Ginger Clark, who says self-pub credits don’t hurt. Don’t include anything pubbed by scam outfits like PublishAmerica, however, or you’ll look clueless.

8) Family: Use discretion here. If you write for children and have some of your own, it would be useful to mention them. If your family has an interesting claim to fame (like your sister is Lady Gaga) or if family history has made you uniquely qualified to write this book (Your father worked for Siegfried and Roy and you’re writing about performance anxiety in tigers.)

9) Performing history: It’s helpful to show you’re not paralyzed by the thought of public speaking. You can mention you’re the president of your local Toastmasters, or host a jug band program on a public access station, or you played the Teapot in last year’s production of Beauty and the Beast at the little theater.

Think like a reporter. What would make good copy in a news release?

You can find more, wonderfully detailed information on the subject of bios in the archives of Anne Mini’s “Author! Author!” blog http://www.annemini.com/

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Blogger christineA said...

Excellent advice, again! Is there leeway to be "creative" in an author's bio? Does doing voiceover for radio commercials for your husband's business make one a Voiceover Artist? I just wrote "The End" yesterday so, I guess it's time to write the bio! Then I'll dive into the editing nightmare.

January 10, 2010 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger Clare C. Greenstreet said...

That's some great advice. Think I should start writing my author bio now.

January 11, 2010 at 2:27 AM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

excellent post Anne!! Very Helpful. I've read that querying in the states and UK/ireland is very different. Would the author bio be different too or would uk agents/pubs ask for one?

January 11, 2010 at 4:29 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Excellent. Was curious about POD since it seems like it may be more common for a lot of people? Maybe? Is that still frowned upon and so you'd keep it quiet on a bio? Or do you think as more people POD it'll be considered "published?" I'm not in the Biz, so to speak, so don't know what the latest is on POD, just know a friend who's gone that route and think maybe there's a LOT of other writers out there doing the same?

January 11, 2010 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Genie of the Shell said...

Wow, thanks for the advice! I had no idea that this additional piece of writing was generally required. Will work on mine...

January 11, 2010 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger annerallen said...

Christine--congrats on reaching "the end" of your first draft. That's a high that never gets old. A certain amount of creativity is good in terms of tone in your bio--especially if your work is humorous--but I don't think it's a good idea to play around with actual facts.

Emily--the first thing my UK publisher asked for with the acceptance letter was a bio with a list of my awards and other claims to fame. I didn't have a lot, so it threw me into a tizzy. I assume it's the same in Ireland.

Mz. Dawgs--When I talk about "self-pub" books above, I'm speaking of what most people mean when they say POD--outfits like Authorhouse, iUniverse and Lulu. These used to be the kiss of death for a career in mainstream publishing (for novelists)unless you were able to generate major sales (Like Legally Blonde, which was originally self-pubbed.) But according to Ginger Clark, those rules are loosening up.

POD technology is also used by small indie presses, and those do not have the same stigma, which is why I make a distinction between POD and Self-publishing.

For non-fic, self-publishing is becoming a very good choice, especially for regional books. I'll deal with that in another post.

January 11, 2010 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger laikhra said...

Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,
A definite great read…
anti keylogger

January 11, 2010 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger annerallen said...

Thanks for the day-brightener, laikhra!

January 11, 2010 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Well, I guess I should introduce myself, seeing as I've been haunting your blog for a while. That, and I've listed and linked you as an "inspiration" on the recommends page of my website. So...hello, my name is Mary, and I'm enjoying your postings! :-) This one in particular was timely to a current project I'm on. So, thank you. ;-)

January 12, 2010 at 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Rrrandy Wurst said...

Do you think a bio about a Nebraska pig running for president in his spare time while he writes novels, short stories, and snarky stuff about other politicians and corpo types would attract interest in the fractured world of publishing? Huh? BTW you give great info and insight.

January 12, 2010 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger annerallen said...

Mary--many, many thanks. Another day-brightener. I appreciate the de-lurking. It means so much to know I'm reaching people. What's your website url?

Mr Wurst--go for it! Obviously it would help if you'd been married to Britney Spears, but don't give up your dream that an ordinary sort of talking pig might be able to find a niche in publishing. Perhaps you could add a few were-pigs or an angsty tween piglet to your storyline to make yourself interesting to the current market?

January 13, 2010 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

Good post and good idea. It's also a good idea to write a few versions of it - short and longer ones. Now that I'm published I get asked for bios of different lengths and content for different purposes. Just like the submission process - everyone seems to want something different!

January 13, 2010 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger mary said...

Sorry...website url is mchristineweber.com. Thanks for asking :-).

January 13, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...


Thank you so much for your helpful ideas on my query pitch. You are officially my hero!

This post has been hugely informative too.


January 16, 2010 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Rrrrandy Wurst (above) should check out the Freddy The Pig series. Believe it or not, they're back in print (well, some of them) and they even have a Freddy the Pig convention somewhere. Maybe we need a Freddy The Pig And Tranformers, or Preddy The Pig and Borgs or something. Hey, if Jane Austin can hang out with Vampires, Freddy can do 'droids.

January 19, 2010 at 5:44 AM  

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