Friday, May 8, 2015

What to leave out of your author bio

Change of plans. Sickness abounds in west central Texas so my headshots are rescheduled for next week. So, I thought this would be a good time to talk about another aspect of your author platform. The author bio. You know, that paragraph all about you that makes you break out in a cold sweat and sends you into a tailspin.

It's not that writing a bio is hard. It's writing one that captures who you are when most of the time you feel like your most interesting feature is your batman sweatpants...that you've worn for the past three days.
If you're batman, you should put that in your bio!

I read a lot of author bios and the result is that I tend to see the same bits of info pumped out over and over again. The problem with most of these bios is that they sound just like everyone else's. The end result is that I don't really know anything about the author and can't distinguish them from others.

So here are a few topics I see over and over again that you should consider leaving out of your bio.

1. Early reader/writer
I wish a had a dollar for every bio I've read that starts off with the author writing or reading at a young age. I'd have a large stack of dollar bills. Here's the deal, most of us in this business were early readers/writers. It's been a lifelong passion for most of us. So this tidbit doesn't make you stand out. Instead, it sounds like a not so humble brag and throws you in a bag with everyone else. A more interesting bio line would be that you struggled and didn't start reading until you were ten. Why? Because it's different and speaks to the author's perserverance.

2. Where you were born/raised
This isn't a deal breaker, but is often irrelevant. Author X grew up in random city, random state. And I've already forgotten this and moved on. Where you grew up should only be included if you a) grew up somewhere exotic that makes you stand out or b) gives you insider info relevant to your books. So for example, if you grew up on a tiny island off the coast of Bali, that's interesting and will likely stick in a reader's head. Or, if you grew up in a hotel and your books show the behind the scenes of the hospitality industry. Remember that the info in your bio should be relevant to you and your books.

3. Where you went to school/Your major
This is similar to the early reader issue. You'll find that most authors majored in English. Wow, a shocker, I know. So adding that into your bio is like saying "I have a name and breathe oxygen." This is a space filler. Now, let's say you majored in meteorology. You traded studying clouds for, keeping your head in them. A detail like this would instantly set your bio apart.

4. Listing your kids/pets
I'm as proud of my kids as the next gal, but does anyone really care that I have two of the world's most adorable little girls? Probably not. Again, this is an issue of the information not setting you apart. Lots of people have kids. Lots of people have pets. Now, do you have 8 kids? Bless you, that's a lot. And it's interesting. Is your pet a potbellied pig named Lucy? Tell me all about it.

5. Old accomplishments
Oh, you won an essay contest in 7th grade? Your mom must be so proud. Or she was, back when you were in 7th grade. She probably expects that you've moved on from that momentous accomplishment back when you were 13. The exception here is major awards. If you won a biggie, there is no expiration date. Feel free to include your status as a Newberry medal winner until the end of time.

If there was a central theme to what to leave out of your bio, it would be leave out the boring parts. Your bio should be a reflection of your personality and give readers a bit more insight into who you are as a person. To be effective a good bio should be interesting and memorable.

9 comments:

  1. My bio starts okay but fails at the end when I mention my family and my education... but they are at the end after the interesting bits. Do I cut them out, or just let the bored readers stop?

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    1. My question is why do you think that needs to be there. No judgement, just something to ask yourself about everything you put in your bio. I did a quick peek at yours and I think you are trying to put way too much into one bio. I think you would be better served with a brief one paragraph bio and then a link at the bottom that allows readers to view your full bio with all the other background info in it. When you need to give someone your bio for a guest post, event flyer, or conference listing, they won't have enough room for that full bio. You need something short and sweet that doesn't take up a full page, but let's readers know who you are. I hope that helps!

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  2. Thanks Sarah. That makes so much sense. In fact I have a short bio that I use in other places - like on my publisher's website - and that links back to my website. Will consider having the short version on the site, and longer one somewhere else - like a hidden file or page/sub-page.

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    1. Glad that helped. I've seen lots of authors do this. Libba Bray does it wonderfully if you want to see a nice example in action. :)

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  3. Welp, looks like a bio revision. Luckily I only fell victim to number one (though thankfully not in a query letter, I try to leave them out in those.) This is really helpful!:D

    Get well soon.

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    1. Yeah, that one is sneaky because it is something that makes you unique in the general population so it sounds great...until you read 50 other bios that all have it in there. :) Glad I could help.

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  4. This was interesting, Sarah. I was writing a bio for a class I'm teaching this summer tonight and found it's very different than my book/blog bio. For workshops, I do like to include my studies, because I feel like it impacts what I know.

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    1. I think that's absolutely relevant to your teaching/instructor bio. That would be one that you could include in your media room/press kit in a special area with details about hiring you for workshops, etc.
      I have a slightly different bio that I use on our agency site because it is for a slightly different audience. Audience is important in everything we write.

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  5. Your post hit the nail on the head. I'm always preaching at my fellow indie authors to have a more engaging Bio and leave out the boring stuff. Truthfully, I've revised mine numerous times over the years, and now I think my Amazon Bio rocks! I have different versions depending on the social media site, but they all have fun tidbits about me and my books.

    I'm going to tweet this URL and hope it helps other writers to revise their Bios. ;-)

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