29 December 2010

How Not to Write an Author Bio

by Carrie Bailey

I love writers. I really do. They write. Some aspiring writers are even more entertaining than the plethora of brightly colored online games. So I asked myself, while updating my own bio today, why does the short paragraph about an author whose work I love often make me cringe? I'm sure someone will tell you that it's all a matter of personal preference, but I believe attracting people to your work requires the right approach...or at least not the wrong one.

Here's my list of author bio pet peeves in no particular order:

The Resume

Including publications is important, but the better written bios don't air a laundry list of every time they've been in print or blogged or reviewed or looked at sideways. I can personally say that I never remember more than two sources or titles when I read an author's bio...of course, I don't need to. It only matters if I remember the one that holds meaning for me.

  • List the most circulated publications
  • List your work in progress
  • Link to your personal website
  • Specify the publications most likely of interest to the audience
  • Remember there's a lot of information online and reader's eyes glaze over after a while...
I.M. Published is the author of publication A and Aa revised and edited by Q. They have written short story B, C, Dh, and X for publications F, T, and Lt. They work for employer G and M is their their current work in progress to be published by F, which is if you remember, who published Dh.

The Super Cute Former Child 

I'm sorry if this is you. It's a lot of writers, so you're not alone...but no one should have written about how they have been writing since they were a child and some adult thought it was cute back then.


Even if you are still a child the story will not inspire confidence in your writing for two reasons: A) you couldn't think of anything less generic to say and B) you couldn't think of anything better to say about your work, which is what your bio is supposed to allude to.

The purpose of the bio is to interest readers in your work. It's not a resume, a mini-biography (ironic, I know), or a soul searching expression of why you exist on this dark damp spinning rock known as the world. The bio is an opportunity to present readers your persona, which also ought to be crafted to draw attention to your work. It is not a substitute for therapy or a glorified midnight chat message to an old friend. 

The only aspect of your childhood that should be included in your author's bio is that which attracts potential readers. In fact, where a person grew up or the environments that shaped the persona they are today matters, because it's something that will help people make a judgment about whether they'd enjoy the writer's work.

  • Give specific details about professions, locations, and associations that shaped your work.
  • Do not say "has been writing since she was ____ blank years old" unless it's over forty, the point at which it becomes interesting.
  • Reserve the bulk of your bio for events within the past two years.
  • Reserve your "who inspired me" blurb for the "dedicated to" page of your book (unless they are famous).
  • Give specific details about professions, locations, and associations that shaped your work (ought to be said twice, I think).
The Writer Who Loves Writing

I hope so, because you wrote a book... At least that's what I want to say to the authors whose bios suffocate their reader with enthusiasm (their enthusiasm) for writing.

It's not bad to say that you like to write, it's just bad for that to be the main theme of your author bio, because again like describing a childhood inspiration to write, it is a generic expression. Can I help it if I want insight into the author? Who are they really? Is it a secret? Should it be a secret?

Any statement which is generally true of the majority of writers published or not, should not be included in a author bio. Or they start to sound like this:

I. M. Author has been writing since she was six years old when her grandfather first gave her a pen. In the years since she has written all the time and finds she cannot stop. She loves writing with other writers, reading writer's work, and has been told that she truly has a way with the written word.
The Creep

I suspect that most poorly crafted bios are a result of the writer wanting to avoid sounding like a creep, but some people aren't afraid of that at all. Details are good and a certain degree of excentricity for an author can be even better, but then a little father in that direction...and you've started to sound like a creep. Chances are you are a creep. You're probably a delightful person with excellent work to share, but your ego was so tied up in writing your bio and you wanted to sound different, original, and dazzle the masses...

But you shouldn't have.

The Greatest Author of All Time

Probably the worst mistake that writers make with their bios is being arrogant, but there's a simple logical explanation for why otherwise likable writers come across as brazenly self aggrandizing: they modeled their bio after a favorite author. Only their favorite author's bio was written by marketing people.

Why doesn't that work? You aren't a famous author.  So you should probably read bios from people early in their career and model yours after someone you found intriguing. Ask yourself why it appealed to you...you might be surprised at the answer.



  1. Excellent advice - we will be working with these soon with our authors! Great article!

  2. Thanks Brandon :).

    Now that I've discussed what not to do... I think writing about what to do should be next on my list.

  3. Yeah...I don't know if my author bio fits into any of these, but I'm not entirely happy with it, I dunno why.

    Sigh...Guess I'll change it for the next book!

  4. Great points. It made me want to quickly go to my own bio and make sure I wasn't commiting any of the faux paus you mentioned!

  5. This is fantastic! I will definitely be bookmarking this and coming back to it when I'm ready to write my bio. Happy New Year!

  6. I have been working on a story about my Dad and need to get back to it. I appreciate all the advice I can accumulate. Suffering currently from fear of rejection and if this continues will never be published.

  7. There's a section on "fear of rejection" in The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society, which was written by twitter user @WritersBlockNZ and it basically has the most fool proof technique to approach the fear of rejection: actively seek it out and then keep writing. Of course, there's more to it than that, but that's the best summary I can do. Hope it helps :).

  8. Haha, I am so guilty of the super cute former child! I was so cute when I was scribbling in my dad's journal, the world should know! ;)

    Bios are hard! And this is seriously good advice! Will definitely take it into consideration for my next bio!

  9. Excellent post. Spot-on and enjoyable!