Saturday, June 7, 2008

How to Write a Bio

Writers need lots of bios – for query letters, book proposals, book-jackets, blogs, and if they’re lucky, the end of a published article.

There are really two types of bios: ones you would use to pitch an idea to an editor (query letter, book proposal,) and ones you’d use to tell people about yourself (blog, book-jacket, end of article.) It’s easy to mess up a type 1 bio, but because type 2’s are naturally casual, they’re easier to play around with.

A type 1 bio…

A) Should be written in first person. “I’ve been published at…”

B) Should highlight what makes you fit to write this piece, and minimize things like your personal life

C) Should sound professional

D) Is generally the length of a single, medium-sized paragraph

E) Is NOT a list of attributes, talents, or credits

F) May exclude where you live, because the address should be in the rest of your pitch. However, if you live in the area related to your manuscript, you can mention it.

A type 2 bio…

A) Can be written in first person or third person, but tends to be written in third person. “Zack lives in…”

B) Can talk a little more about where you live, your family, or what you’re doing now to further your writing career. “Is currently taking a Gotham Writers class…”

C) Is much more casual than a type 1 bio: think personable instead of professional

D) May be either the length of a short paragraph or a long paragraph

E) Can mention a few of your hobbies or interests

F) Should list some of your recent published works or your upcoming published works

How do I write one?

Type 1 bios should aim for simplicity and coherency. Avoid terms like “aspiring writer,” or “new author” because that signals BEGINNER, and you don’t want that. Try to get a humble tone going. If you can, show some of your personality. Never, ever lie. It’s just not worth it.

Also, “expertise” can mean a few different things. If your manuscript is based on Roman History, and you studied that in college, mention it. If your main character is a skydiving instructor and you took skydiving lessons, say so. If you recently took a creative writing course, cite it. Remember: you don’t want to list your attributes.

Example of a type 1 bio:

I’m a student at LEE University, a columnist in LEE Living, and a freelance writer for publications such as The Surfer’s Guide and Los Gatos Weekly. My major is in journalism and my unofficial minor is surfing. Thank you for considering my article.

Example of a type 2 bio:

Mary is a part-time writer and full-time mother. After graduating with honors from Bennington College class of ’82, she got a job at the community library and has been working there ever since. Publication in ’88 opened her eyes to the joy of writing. Since then her work has been published, or is forthcoming, in The Glimmer Train, the Writer’s Digest Best Short Stories of 2008 anthology, and Welcome to Bennington magazine. She lives in Bennington, VT, with her husband Marcus and their three boys, Marcus Jr., Paul, and Devon.

For more on type 1 bios, just check out my entry on Query Letters. For more on type 2 bios, well, go read a book jacket. Or a book review. Or the “about me” section on someone’s blog. Study what you think works, and compare it to what doesn’t work. Then go write your own. If you'd like feedback, just post your bio in the comments.

-Creative A

1 comment:

Barbra Sundquist, Bio Writer said...

This is a great article on how to write a bio - I've bookmarked it. I have a website called that has fill-in-the-blank templates for various types of professional bios. Your readers might find it helpful.

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