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Whether you enjoy or loathe writing them, an appropriate author bio is essential when presenting yourself to your audience as it orients you within the writing canon, and educates others on your particulars. Some authors use their bio to denote what genre or format they work in (e.g. poetry, essays, etc. exploring feminism, pop culture, themes of isolation, family, place, and so on), to align themselves with particular cultural and sub-cultural groups (e.g. they’re from such and such a place, their sexual orientation is thus, their cultural group is so and so), and to mention their previously published works or publications they have appeared in.
One of the most common problems when first writing an author bio is that you may feel you have nothing to include in it. The best way through this is to make a list of all writing-related activities that you’ve ever participated in and what your interests and ambitions in writing are. An interesting bio does not need to contain a long list of well-known publications or internationally best-selling novels. Your bio can focus on the niche that you’re most interested in; it can talk about goals you’re working towards, like finishing your first novel or chapbook; it can mention other opportunities you’ve had such as writing retreats or hot desks; it can even mention activities that are unrelated to writing, like what your day-time job is or how many pets you have.
If you are writing a bio for a particular publication you will generally find that it comes with its own limitations and guidelines. For example, writers published in the Underground Writers zine are asked to supply a biography of no more than 100 words to allow enough space for everyone’s bio on our ‘Contributors’ page. Most journals and magazines will have a word-limit for a bio; some may specifically ask for a website or social media links; and some may even specify if the bio should be written in first or third person. If no guidelines are supplied, the best course of action is to ask the editor, or to check the bios in past issues. Bios in past issues will also indicate the preferred tone: scholarly, fact-filled, humorous, publication-exhaustive, etc. You may want your bio to stand out by being particularly abstract, offbeat or funny, but remember that if it’s too offbeat it may be inaccessible and alienating to readers. The point here is to present a snapshot of yourself for readers who want to know more about you and your work. You don’t want to overload them with information but you want them to be able to find your other work (if you have any). This is where author sites and social media can be very important. Author bios can be the breadcrumb trail by which readers can find your online portfolio.
It’s important to talk yourself up in your bio. Several years ago the fabulous Elizabeth Flux wrote a post for Writers Bloc entitled ‘We Need To Talk About Your Writer Bio’. It contains excellent advice, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so, as hopefully from Ms. Flux’s sage post you’ll gleaned the number one most important factor in writing your author bio: don’t self-deprecate. It is extremely easy to do because imposter syndrome is a thorn in the side of most creatives, so don’t take your own word on it. Once you’ve written your author bio give it to someone you trust who knows you and your work and can point out any self-deprecation that needs removing. Remember: it’s much easier to say lovely things about a writerly friend than about yourself so consider that when putting together an application/updating your website/supplying a bio for publication. If you’re absolutely stuck and can’t imagine writing anything good about yourself and your work maybe even ask a friend to write it for you.
If getting someone else to write your bio is not an option, consider a similar exercise to get those words on the page: copy someone else’s bio and substitute the facts for your own. For example, J. K. Rowling’s Wikipedia bio reads:
Joanne Rowling, writing under the pen names J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith, is a British novelist, philanthropist, film producer, television producer and screenwriter, best known for writing the Harry Potter fantasy series. The books have won multiple awards, and sold more than 500 million copies, becoming the best-selling book series in history. They have also been the basis for a film series, over which Rowling had overall approval on the scripts and was a producer on the final films in the series.
If I adapt that to make it my own, it would read something like this:
Jemimah Halbert Brewster, occasionally writing under the pen name Penelope Rosebottom, is a freelance Australian poet, editor, and aspiring novelist, best known for her work as Editor in Chief of Underground Writers and author of a chapter in the sci-fi anthology Planet Bastard, Vol I. Each chapter of this book is written by a different author, and it can be purchased online.
A similar method for writing your bio is to take that list of everything writing-related you’ve ever done, arrange it into a paragraph, set it aside and review it again after a day or so. Leaving it for some time, much like all writing, gives enough distance to separate yourself from it and makes it easier to edit more objectively. This method takes a little longer so it’s best to have a version of your bio on-hand for when you may need it and then update the content and adjust the word-length as you need to.
When it comes to writing an author bio, there are many ways to get those words on the page. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an extensive list of published works. The important thing is that you don’t self-deprecate in presenting yourself to your audience. So be kind and generous, and remember that no one will judge you as harshly as yourself so another set of eyes might be best.