The Author Bio Part 2: The Four W’s

Janet Grant

Blogger: Kathleen Y’Barbo

Janet here: Yes, I am back from my nomadic existence as a fire evacuee. Thanks to all of you for your prayers during the disastrous fires Northern California experienced earlier this month. While I’m safely ensconced in my house, which only sustained smoke damage, I am re-entering the work of our agency with a soft opening. I still have ash to clean up from my yard, windows and screens to wash the ash and smoke off of, several shelves of thawed freezer items to dump, and insurance claim papers to sift through. Not to mention catching up on my work for my clients!

I’m beyond measure thankful to Kathleen Y’Barbo for stepping in as my substitute blogger. Wendy pointed out to me that Kathleen’s super blog post on writing a single-sentence bio was the first segment of a three-part series on bios. I’ve asked her permission to post the two other blogs that comprised that series, and she has graciously agreed that I may.

Here is the second of that series, which helps you decide what to include in a longer bio. Next week she’ll give instructions on writing a snappy, lengthier bio.

After her series concludes, I’ll be ba-a-a-ck with my own blog posts. Now, on to Kathleen’s insights…

I read some fabulous one-sentence bios in response to last week’s challenge. If you missed the blog post, I highly suggest you go back and read it. Be sure to scan the comments for some clever bios.

For those of you who’ve risen to the challenge and completed a brief bio, bravo. While the one-sentence bio is a great calling card for potential editors, agents, and eventually readers, it doesn’t completely convey the Four W’s of You.

The Four W’s

1. Who are you?

A simple question, and yet oh so complicated. Answer this as it relates to your writing. “Wendy Writer is a professor of botany and purveyor of fine chocolates,” is a dandy statement, especially if you write murder mysteries featuring food and plants. Think of what aspects of who you will make the greatest impression on your readers and highlight those. Grab ’em with something that makes the reader respond, “Wow.”

2. What have you written?

For the published author, this would be either your most recognizable title, your most recent title, or the title most closely connected to the one you’re connecting your bio to. For those of you who haven’t yet seen your novel or nonfiction work in the bookstore, remember that most writers don’t begin by penning longer works. Generally their foray into the writing world starts with an article, a devotional, a vignette in a book, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, a short story or even a piece for their church newsletter. Guess what? That’s writing, and yes, it counts! Now, do NOT list everything you’ve ever put to paper including yesterday’s grocery list. (Unless you’re a clever mom writing books to other moms.) Be choosy. Select a few key pieces and let the rest be known as the remainder of the body of your work.

3. Why do you write?

This question isn’t always appropriate, but at least consider answering it in your bio. When added in just the right place, I believe this nugget of information will showcase not only the author’s voice but also answer questions in the minds of a reader/editor/agent as to the author’s heart. The response to this question should be somewhere between a phrase and a sentence and should reflect the type of writing you do. For example, an author of a nonfiction book on grace might say: “Andy Author has taken on the happy task of telling the world about the Lord’s ability to forgive repeatedly because of Andy’s first-hand knowledge on the topic.”

4. What else do you want them to know?

The answers to this question can be as varied as the books we write. Perhaps you have a one-sentence anecdote about yourself or your body of work that will fit here. Maybe this is the place to put the more mundane stuff of life such as education or day job, if those don’t fit elsewhere but will fill in more about who you are.

Your assignment?

Start answering these questions. As with the one-sentence bios, your voice should always shine through, even in the just-the-facts areas of the bio.

Next week we will talk about how to take these Four W’s of You and turn them into a three-hundred word bio that will make your publicist smile. In the meantime, start posting your answers. Try out some ideas on us. I can’t wait to read what you have to say!

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56 Responses

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  1. * Andrew Budek-Schmeisser, author of “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” and “Emerald Isle”, has worked in fields as diverse as college teaching and paramilitary contracting. A practicing Soto Zen Buddhist and Evangelical Christian, he brings to his work the marriage of East and West, and the meeting of cool academic elitism with the white-hot savagery of combat in the world’s unwashed armpits; his writing is aflame with the urgency of compassion, and with bitter contempt for those who theorize while the innocent exsanguinate.
    * Living in rural New Mexico with his stunning wife and a large group of extremely loyal Pit Bulls, his passionate practice of high-performance driving has informed his writing by bringing him into close and regular contact with many law enforcement jurisdictions.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    This post is super timely for me, Kathleen, since I’m writing the front and back matter for my next novel that’s coming out late next month. Time to update my 4-line bio that goes in the back and at Amazon. Here’s my draft update. I’d love constructive comments.

    Carol Ashby has been a professional writer for most of her life, but her articles and books were about lasers and compound semiconductors (the electronics that make cell phones, laser pointers, and LED displays work). She still writes about light, but her Light in the Empire series tells stories of difficult friendships and life-changing decisions in dangerous times, where forgiveness and love open hearts to discover their own faith in Christ. Her fascination with the Roman Empire was born during her first middle-school Latin class. A research career in New Mexico inspires her to get every historical detail right so she can spin stories that make her readers feel like they’re living under the Caesars themselves.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Well, maybe not 4-lines, but it is 4 sentences and only 116 words. Bound in a book, it’s more like 10 lines, but it would be 4 at Amazon viewed on an 11″ laptop. Is 100-word-ish the target length for this “brief bio?”

      • I’m answering both posts at once. I love the way you incorporated your previous writing with what you do now. For brevity’s sake, I think you can eliminate the sentence about your fascination with the Roman Empire. The next sentence says it so much better.

      • Hi Carol, you have such a capacity to remember numbers and processes. Wow. I have visited your website and was amazed at it and all the information on the Roman Empire. I am fascinated by it as well, since Christianity was birthed during that civilization. So, for me if I saw something about that first it would hook me more. The comment about the lasers, kind of loses me. Perhaps you could mention your series first and that is takes place in ancient Rome, and then write something about your first writing having taken you to the technology of today, but eventually your heart and writing came back to Rome, the place you fell in love with in middle school Latin class. Something like that. Perhaps…

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, Elizabeth!
        So glad you like the Roman site. I just picked up my 106th country to visit this week. Crime and punishment is the big favorite, with chariot racing, adoption, and slavery distant seconds.
        Hey, if you’re a kitchen artist, I’d love to get your modern cups-and-tsps version of some of the vague Roman recipes, and I’ll post them. They were for professional chefs, not kitchen technicians like me.
        *That request goes to everyone here. As a chemist, I can follow a recipe with the best of them, but creating something delicious where the quantities aren’t spelled out for me…well, let’s just say it might take a brave person to eat it.

      • Carol, you have made me curious about their foods and recipes. I am a lover of hospitality, and other than having a variety of serving dishes for whatever the occasion calls for, I follow the recipes for tasty fare, or create my own. Truth be told, making my own recipes was an act of necessity. My husband within the first year or two of marrying him changed over from a typical hearty northern diet of meat and potatoes to leafy greens, only a few select types of meat and making things by hand. Yep, I came home from working to find him in our kitchen with little brown bags from the local food co-op everywhere. He had thrown away several of my pots and pans saying they had an unhealthy coating. His hands were deep in what he said was homemade corn bread. I’ll never forget it! Anyway, my husband would eat cardboard if it was healthy, and believe me some of the things we tried tasted about as bad as cardboard. I remember the day he came home with another armful of various bags. I looked at him and said, “Honey, you may be able to eat things that taste like cardboard, but I can’t. ” Thus, began my goal to learn how to make healthy food taste good. I have finally achieved that after twenty plus years, but not without times of me looking at my man and saying, “Did you have to stop eating steak?”

        Anyway, you have put a bug in my ear, and I am going to your website or elsewhere to see if I can possibly help you with the Roman food.

    • I enjoyed this, Carol, because I often see the engineer (I’m the mother of one) in your approach to writing as you comment here. I wonder if it should be rearranged to start with the middle-school Latin class. Your readers are more interested in the Roman connection. Your bio could end with the Light of the Empire sentence.
      * Add my welcome back, Janet, to all the others here. You and Books & Such put real faces on the fires and added passion to my prayers.

    • I enjoyed this, especially the part about the lasers and compound semiconductors. I’d shorten that first part so you get right to the fun stuff. “Writing about lasers and compound semiconductors and taken her on an unexpected journey to the Roman empire as she stepped away from her day job and dedicated her pen to a childhood passion for Latin …” or something.

  3. Angela Carlisle is a pharmacy technician whose love for coffee and tea often reveals itself in the hands of her story characters. Her flash fiction pieces, both published and contracted, include the prize winning “Mansion Murderer” and the upcoming “Sweet Potato Pie” in Splickety Magazine. An avid mystery/suspense reader herself, Angela tackles fast-paced adventures that offer hope and restoration in the midst of difficult circumstances. She is a graduate of Ozark Bible Institute and College where she majored in Biblical Literature and Bible Studies.

    • I like your tea details and just seeing the word Ozark is fun. Makes me think of mysteries and mountains and adventures.

    • I love that you’ve included the Splickety Magazine information, but I wanted to know a little morme about the type of stories you write. You reference fast-paced adventures, but can you expand on that? I wanted to see a little more of the mystery/suspense element in this description of you. Think of what terms you would use in your books and see if you can incorporate them–or the feel of a mystery–into this bio. For example, instead of saying you’re a reader, maybe you could say: When she isn’t writing mysteries (or whatever words best describe your genre), Angela is reading them. Just a thought.

      • Thanks for the advice. I’ll admit I was mainly trying to avoid using the word “suspense” again in this sentence. Perhaps “Angela’s suspense novels tackle themes of hope and restoration in the midst of difficulty and fast-paced action – just the type of book you might find her reading.” Or something to that effect.

  4. Glad to have you back, Janet! And thankful to hear that your home only sustained minor damage.

  5. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    Good to see you back, Janet!
    Question: what if something an author has written (a short story) has been published, but it’s in a different genre than the full-length novel being presented? Does it still count and should it be mentioned with a word or two of explanation? Thanks Kathleen–and everyone!

    • Pat, that’s a good question. You can always write your bio as I’ve described above and then add this line at the end: Pat Iacuzzi is also the author of, TILE OF SHORT STORY. If you’re posting this online, you can always add a live link to the title so that a reader can click on the title and be taken to your website to read more about that story.

  6. Ok, I rewrote my bio for this and THANK YOU! I like the new one much better.

    Kristen Joy Wilks lives in the beautiful Cascade Mountains with her camp director husband, three fierce sons, and a large and slobbery Newfoundland dog. As a mother of boys she has blow-dried a chicken, nursed a baby while sitting on a log in the forest, and stared dumbfounded into a pair of sparkling eyes as her youngest expressed this heartfelt advice: “I don’t think you should try so hard not to swear, Momma.” Her stories and articles have appeared in Nature Friend, Clubhouse, Thriving Family, Splickety, and Havok Magazines. Pelican Book Group published her debut novella Copenhagen Cozenage, as well as The Volk Advent, and Athens Ambuscade. When Kristen is not refraining from profanity or helping pet chickens out of tree forts, she loves to write about the humor and Grace that can be found hidden amidst the garbage of life. Much like the shiny quarter one of her sons swallowed and then found in the pot five days later. If God is good enough to grant us these gems, she figures that someone should be putting them to the page.

    I might just go and change my bio on my website … so fun!

  7. Kathleen, pursuant to your example in #3 above, “Why I Write”, I actually reserved http://www.andy-the-author.com several moths ago!
    * Don’t know if I’ll be able to get a site designed and running, but you did give me a much-needed smile.

    • I’m so glad, Andrew!

    • Andrew, good for you. Because after last weeks typo where my first line comment was about you stinking, which really was to be about “Andrew that stinks,” regarding what happened to you by the now defunct publishing house. I HAD to search for your blog to alert you to my most mortifying typo EVER. I have never told someone other than my siblings, husband or son that they stink! My deepest apologies with some virtual groveling at yours and Barb’s feet. Please don’t sic your pit bulls on me.

      Anyway, as God does, he used that typo to your blog where I left a note and was able to read and see physically, emotionally, a spiritually where you are in your cancer journey. What hit me most was your comment about finding new things to live for. I tucked that comment in my heart, and journey over to Bronwyn Lea’s blog, and your guest post on June 22, 2017, titled, “Terminal and Loving Every Minute of it.” Andrew, I believe it is some of the best writing I have seen on suffering. I felt like I had found a glorious treasure. Dear Andrew, in your cancer diagnosis and suffering you have found more life than many will every find in this world or the next. My dear brother in the Lord, is this writing and your blog on what it is like to be going through your experience with your sweetheart Barb not your opus?

      I cried for you and Barb this past Saturday morning, as I was taking you to the Father in prayer. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so strong. You see, I have since I was a child walked so close to curtain of death, losing all my grandparents by the age of ten, my father at 21 from a heart attach the day before Valentines Day in 1981, and my mother in 2007 after a short battle with metastatic colon cancer. To top it off, my nursing has been so varied from the hills and hollers of West Virginia, to the inner city of Camden, NJ. and various other places. I have been at every age from those less than 40 weeks gestation in neonatal intensive care to the aging in their homes. But, in all these years never has anyone voiced or written so wonderfully about suffering and death. I urge you all to go and read Andrew’s writing from that guest blog.

      Andrew in my heart if I was to suggest a title for your work, it might be one of these two: Andrew’s Opus:Words of Life and Love from a Dying Man (course for me only your physical is wearing out, you are growing ever more glorious day by day as the Bible says, we go from glory to glory. Andrew, you haven’t even hit your prime. I tell everyone, and I’ll be 60 in January, I haven’t hit my prime yet. That’s not going to happen until I’m in heaven, and then I’m going to be at my prime for the rest of eternity

      Okay, sorry for rambling, but the second possible title would be,” God’s Contradiction; Words of Life From a Dying Man.” Andrew you love to play on words and concepts. This reminds me of you, as well as , “Andrew’s Opus.”

      Because you are in the midst of this, as all of us, sometimes we can’t see what others see, BUT I SEE IT.

      Also, on the website, I built my own using WIX for free. Not sure if that’s of interest to you, but you do have your http://www.andy-the-author.com dominion reserved.

  8. Stacy Voss says:

    This is so timely for me! I just told someone this morning that if I ever wanted to be anorexic, I’d resort to writing my bio non-stop since its so nauseating. Thanks for the great tips! I’m off to rewrite my bio again (and possibly gag, too).

  9. David Todd says:

    Here’s my current Amazon author bio. It used to be longer, but I recently shortened it.
    .
    David A. Todd is a civil engineer by profession, and a writer by passion. His interests include history (especially American history), politics, and genealogy. He writes novels in multiple genres, non-fiction books in USA history, poetry, and Bible studies. A native Rhode Islander, he has lived in Kansas City, Saudi Arabia, North Carolina, Kuwait, and Arkansas since 1991.
    .
    His engineering career has been in consulting civil engineering, primarily in public infrastructure. He had written articles for six different print publications and three on line publications on the subject of infrastructure, flood control, and construction contracting.

    • David,

      Fabulous first sentence! This is a great bio if you’re writing nonfiction in the fields you’ve mentioned in your last sentence. However, it doesn’t give the reader much idea of what sort of novels you write.

      I suggest taking the second sentence out and making the next sentence more specific to what you write. Instead of saying novels in multiple genres and nonfiction books in…, I suggest saying something like this : David is the author of novels on such varied topics as XYZ. In addition, he has written books on XYZ.

      Think like a reporter when putting together a bio. Most important info up front then everything else in cascading order of importance. So first, grab the reader with a great first line, which you have done. Then talk about your writing credentials in specific and using action words that evoke a response (aka sizzling suspense and heart-melting romance instead of multiple genres). Use the remainder of your bio to give a sentence about your interests, your life story, etc. Make sure that sentence is written in your voice and is either pertinent to what you write or again evokes a reader response.

      Finally, You don’t need the last paragraph unless you’re trying to sell a piece to a professional journal. The exception to this would be if your protagonist was an engineer and you wanted to highlight your own experience. Even then, I would cut those two sentences into one and make that one as brief as possible.

  10. This is so helpful! Thank you. I’ve been needing to add a unique bit of fun and personality to my bio.

    Amelia Rhodes is a wife, mom, magician’s daughter and former ventriloquist. She is the author of Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community, and her writing has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul and the international devotional The Upper Room. Amelia has a growing speaking ministry and loves to write and speak on topics of spiritual growth, friendship, and community, offering practical tools for living our faith in the everyday. Amelia lives near a great coffee shop in West Michigan with her husband, two tweens, and two wild puppies.
    Connect with her online at http://www.ameliarhodes.com

  11. Janet, so happy you are back in the offices and your home. Sounds like quite a bit of work, but it will get done, and you will be back full time. Meanwhile, you will continue to be in my prayers.

    Thank you Kathleen for another great post that helps us work through crafting a great bio. I like having to put it to use by practicing on the blog. Here goes:

    ej bohan is a woman with her mind made up. A 1993 graduate in Christian Studies from North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a registered nurse of over thirty years she has worked and volunteered in a wide variety of healthcare and ministry settings. This has made for a deep well from which she draws her stories and information. Whatever her writing format, her words reflect her heart of compassion for the suffering. And, her mind is made up–made up that there is a power in and through God and His love as expressed through Jesus, and this power is able to transform lives in the most amazing and often unexpected ways. She is a weaver of hope and healing, and knows how to apply the healing balm of the Great Physician. Surrounded by her most ardent fans and supporters she is called Sweet Love, mom, Momma B, Auntie Betsy and Great Aunt Lizzie. Lest you think her always serious and somber, those who know her can tell endless stories about her sense of joy and laughter which lights up the lives around her.

  12. I was so busy yesterday and couldn’t get this turned in. If anyone is reading this page today, I’d love any help …
    *Shelli Littleton lives in a little house on a Texas county road. LifeWay’s HomeLife magazine published her first article in 2007, and since then, she has interviewed international and North American missionaries, such as renowned Christ-followers Melissa Moore and Ron Hall, and has written over seventy articles for Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), including cover stories for Missions Mosaic magazine. Because her two daughters are adopted and her youngest is a cancer survivor, she intertwines adoption and hope through her mission stories. When she isn’t writing, reading, or helping her girls with school, Shelli can usually be found somewhere on their five acres photographing their three cats and two sheep.