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/