Write an Author Bio that Works

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how difficult it can be to write about yourself in a bio—after all, you’re a writer! But I understand it’s not as simple as that, so here are a few tips to make it easier.

Write your bio in first person for query letters…

third person for most other purposes including proposals, book jackets, article bylines.

Make it professional…

but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don’t try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person.

What gives you credibility?

What makes you interesting? What helps people connect with you? (When you’re on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, what kinds of posts seem to get the most comments?) These are things you can briefly include.

Do you have a niche?

If your book centers on something specific—the Civil War, for example—are you a member of a Civil War society? Have you published any articles in historical journals? Include that.

Keep it interesting.

Try not to include too much “resumé” type information–education, job history, etc. because it tends to be boring. Only include what’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.

Who will read this bio?

Consider carefully the purpose of the bio – who is the audience? Is it agents and editors? Is it your blog readers? Tailor it to this audience.

How to write a bio if you have no publishing credits:

  • If you’re a member of a writers’ organization such as SCBWI, ACFW or ASJA, you can mention it.
  • You can mention if you’re a member of critique group or if you have a degree in literature or writing.
  • Don’t say something like “I’ve been writing stories since I was two years old.”
  • Keep it short and sweet, i.e. “Jane Smith is a fifth grade teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and is a member of RWA.”

A bio for a query letter:

  • For FICTION, if you’re unpublished, it should be one to two sentences—about 50 words or fewer.
  • For NON-FICTION, it should be longer, enough sentences to establish your credits, credentials, and/or platform in the subject matter of your book.

Some tips for the process of writing a bio:

  • Read author bios in a dozen different books. Note what you like and don’t like.
  • Make a list of things you MIGHT want to say about yourself. Try to list 20 to 30 things—don’t self-edit, because you don’t want to leave anything out. Later you can choose the best elements to include.
  • Write two or three bios of different lengths and keep them on file so that you have them ready when you need them.
  • Trade author bios with a writer friend and help each other make them interesting.

What has worked for you? Comment to this post and share!

49 Responses

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  1. Well, how about honesty…
    * Andrew ‘Mongo’ Budek-Schmeisser likes to write, and while some say that pursuing passion is a good thing, others, by this example, call it the road to perdition.
    * He has led an interesting life, in the sense of the Chinese curse, so be wary of inviting him over for tea. He doesn’t keep one pinkie raised when he’s drinking (and you can bet he’s fortified the tea with rum), he doesn’t shy from going Tourette-mode, and whatever you do DON’T tap him on the shoulder from behind, unless you want a really good relationship with an oral surgeon.
    * He’s been a member of several organizations known only by initials, and it’s better you don’t know what they are. Writing was an integral part of his duties, and if you have to ask, you haven’t got the clearance.
    * Mongo lives on a mesa in New Mexico with his wife Barbara, a woman pretty enough to feature in all twelve months of a calendar and tough enough to send Wonder Woman to hospice care. They share their hootch…er, home…with a large number of rescued pitbulls, whose fearsome mien belies a love of people that can make the expression ‘licked to death’ harrowingly real.
    * So, the truth…did it set me free?

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    I read several author bios for trad-published authors in my genre at one of their Amazon sales pages to get a feel for what the professionals include. That helped me figure out a short bio that I hope interests historical fiction readers.
    List 20-30 things? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even reach 10 that might catch the fancy of a reader of friction.

  3. Ugh. The bio. I have written it, reworked it, re-reworked it, and possibly re-re-reworked it. Probably need to do it yet again.
    Hey, have you actually been to Bellingham, WA? If not, you should get it on your bucket list. It is a stunningly beautiful place (all of Whatcom County is). If you make it up this way, it would be an honor for Alean and I to show you some of the highlights of the region.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      I have, and it is gorgeous. I’d love to meet any of the folks here if you get to the Albuquerque area. Hugs are much easier in person, and I know where to find great green chile and good coffee or tea.

      • Carol, about 25 years ago, I was in Las Cruces, and a guy took me out to dinner – ordered a “green-meat burrito.” I’d never heard of such a thing. But he insisted that it is what I wanted and needed. Lord have mercy!!! The sweat poured off of me like I’d just stepped out of the shower!

        That said, my wife and I have very dear friends in Los Alamos, just north of there, that we really need to get down to visit. If it worked, I’d love to meet you in person. Otherwise, we’ll just have to keep a sharp eye out at writer conferences. 🙂

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Damon, Los Alamos is only 110 miles. We have to meet if you get down this way. I promise to only feed you mild or medium green. Might make your nose run but not your eyes or your sweat glands.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Have spent a great deal of time up there over the last 22 years, and yes, it’s beautiful!

    • Linda Long says:

      Damon, I’m a regular reader of this blog (and an aspiring author), and I live on Orcas Island, WA. I can see Bellingham from the summit of Mt Consttution.

  4. Angela Arndt says:

    * All those lessons on humility we’ve had through the years really get in the way of writing bios, don’t they? I think I may take your idea on trading bios a step further and get my “brainstormers” to help me make and choose my list of things to include.
    * Great tips, Rachelle!

  5. Rachelle, when I wrote my bios a few years ago, I agonized over them. I so appreciate your suggestions for writing author bios. It’s probably time to update mine (though not a lot has changed since I wrote the other ones). I’m taking your suggestions to help me craft a new bio.
    *When I wrote my first ones, I read lots of other author bios, wrote out a draft, and then I sent it to friends to ask for improvements. I found that to be very helpful for coming up with a good (hopefully) sounding bio.

  6. Jaxon M King says:

    Thank you, Rachelle, for the tips. I like how you included the query letter bio. I have received positive feedback for the part of my bio that mentions I was never good at school, particularly in the attention/daydreaming department, but that as an adult and a writer, the daydreaming is my most valuable tool. I loathed writing assignments, but writing is now something I sacrifice other activities for. And to to top it off, I grew up to become a teacher. Oh, the irony of life.

  7. Kristi Woods says:

    Great tips, Rachelle. I’ll be sharing these with my critique group. Thank you!

  8. Beth K Vogt says:

    At this point, I have a Dropbox file with 47 different bios. 47. I started in nonfiction and switched to fiction. Every time I’m asked to write a bio for a blog post or by a publisher, I add it to the file, often riffing off a previous bio but adjusting my word count as needed. I always note my word count at the end in parenthesis to help me keep track. Along the way, I became known for a certain quote: “God’s best often waits behind the doors marked ‘Never.'” Whenever possible, I use that in a bio — and it is also on my bookmarks. Could I delete some of those bios? Sure. But it’s fun to see where I started and where I am now as a writer.

  9. What to include that makes me sound real, worth taking a chance on, and not simply pulling unrelated achievements from my hat? Oh, the joy.
    As new author, the advice to “keep it short and sweet” can be a relief. A seemingly random reference to tea is a distinguishing trait that I go ahead and throw in because anywhere I spend much time, I usually become known for my addiction -er, love- of tea. I’ll decline to say how often TSA has searched my luggage to find bags of loose-leaf tea instead of whatever drug they thought the scanner was picking up, lol. I do include tea reviews in each of my blog posts though, so it is a way that I connect with my readers. *Now to go make another cup…

  10. Such helpful info, Rachelle! I have about 10 different versions of my bio, and I often help authors and business owners write their bios. We usually start with one long first-person bio, which we use as a template.

    Then we massage it and create a third-person long bio, first-person letter to family and friends, a website bio, social media bio (including a short version for Twitter) speaking bio and media bio. It’s nice to have all these different versions, because then you just pull up the appropriate bio and edit as necessary.

  11. Thank you, Rachelle. I always assumed that I needed to write the query bio in third person, too. So I appreciate that information.

  12. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Heartfelt thanks for these tips, Rachelle. The query & proposal feel overwhelming ~ like learning ancient languages and then trying to translate The Bible! Appreciate your tips & delineating between types. Blessing!

  13. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Great bio, Andrew. Somehow I knew to be wary of the tap on the shoulder. 🙂

  14. Thank you Rachelle for your pertinent information, and especially for clarifying when to write the bio in first person and when to write it in third person. I’ve wondered about that. Thanks to my writing partner we used third person for our bios in our proposals we worked on this past summer.

    I must say, for me, it is so much easier to read the blog and write comments using my laptop instead of my cell phone which I had been using. For a person who was once a perfectionist and still insists on doing excellent work, it was mortifying to see the typos on my post AFTER I hit the post button. I was so embarrassed and had thought I was better, but yesterday, I saw some things I would have changed. I have trouble sometimes with my eyes, and had surgery in 2012 because I felt like I was going blind with loss of vision at night, double vision, loss of near vision, and when I left my thick hair down it felt like my head was in a old fashion diving bell with a blurry face glass. It was horrible. I was doing fine but lately I definitely have to have good light and my reader glasses on to see. You have all been so gracious to me. After my disappointment last night seeing the post I created, I felt like what is the use. I have made so many typos, and no one will even think I care or that I can write well. I was mortified beyond measure, because of not being able to edit the errors out.

    Today, I dusted myself off, picked myself up, and did what I needed to do. I got back on the bike, rode on up to Books and Such, parked my bike, went in, and sat my behind resolutely on a chair in front of my laptop, read Rachelle’s blog post, and wrote this comment. I am praying I don’t have any typos as I can see better, but if I do, please continue to be gracious, and know I’m on the other end mortified and wishing I could edit and do a final revision.

    I am just a newbie, but I love learning from this blog, and enjoy the comments and camaraderie.

    Andrew, you crack me up sometimes. With the bio you wrote, I would definitely want to read what you wrote or speak on. You remind me a very dear friend in our ACFW group, Joe C. who was in the military and has a similar sense of humor. He teases some of us that if he ever told us some of the information he knew, he would then have to kill us…He is a great guy with a wonderful wife and dog they both love. It sounds as if you too have been in the military or special services or some occupation that required an awful lot of you..your whole you. Thank you.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      You don’t ever need to be mortified, Elizabeth. We all try for no typos, but no one sweats it if they read a post containing them. We’ve all done it, me especially when I’m trying to post from the seat of a bouncing 4×4 pickup on a rough road before I get out of cell range. (My husband is driving, not me. I never text or tap while I’m driving.)
      It’s good to have you here, typos and all.

      • Thank you so much Carol. You have encouraged me. I was beginning to feel like hiding under a rock…okay, not really, but definitely figuratively. En-courage, to put courage in someone. That’s what you did for me. Thanks again, now I don’t have to look for a rock to crawl under. I appreciate your comment more than you could know. Blessings.

    • Elizabeth, thank you! Yes, I did work in an occupation that asked for my whole heart…and rightly so, because there were innocents who needed hard men who would go where governments dared not tread. My favourite poem, by Housman, addresses this:

      These, in the day that heaven was falling,
      the hour when earth’s foundations fled
      followed their mercenary calling
      and took their wages, and are dead.

      Their shoulders held the sky suspended,
      they stood, and Earth’s foundations stay.
      What God abandoned, these defended
      and saved the sum of things for pay.

      • I knew you did. Thank you for that. I can understand why the poem by Housman is your favorite poem. It is absolutely beautiful in telling of what you and others like you have had to do. Andrew, since I only began to enjoy this Books and Such blog, I am not sure what illness you have, my guess is cancer that has metastasized, but I could be wrong. And you don’t have to share if you don’t want, but I want to know when I pull out my battle board from behind our couch, and go to praying and warring in the heavenlies, I shall remember you and your wife Barb and your multitude of animals, because they count too. Blessings on you.

      • Elizabeth, your prayers are so appreciated…by all of us.
        * It’s pancreatic cancer, with metastases along with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
        * The prognosis is fatal to the Nth degree for anyone but me, because I am simply too mean to die, according to my doctor. But every day I do have to refresh my reasons to go on, and to live.

      • Hi Andrew, thanks for letting me know. I have another dear friend that has pancreatic cancer as well, and your doctor confirms what his doctor has said as well. It is a cancer that does take those who have it pretty quickly, except for those who are as feisty as you and my friend Chris, who has a sweet wife as well, and 3 children all at home, the youngest a nine year old boy. But, you know that Chris has outlived his prognosis as well. God is able to hold you here at the curtain’s edge of eternity making a difference even in the midst of your pain. Thank you for sharing and being feisty enough to stay as long as you can, and as long as God says, “It’s not time To come home yet Andrew. You still have work.” Have an amazing day.

      • Good grief, could I use the words, “as well” anymore in one post/ That’s a first. Oh well,( There I go again, a “well.” Certainly a deep subject. Ha,ha, ha!) I will have to watch for that in the future. One thing this scrolling little box does is make me more aware of my writing before it slips off the screen of this little box into the vast unknown of technology only to reappear once I hit post. I will do what the Bible instructs me and keep growing, learning, and not despising the days of small beginnings.

  15. Thank you for these specific and practical tips.