by Janet Kobobel Grant
Lately I’ve been preparing a lot of proposals to send to editors, which has sent my mind spinning around the areas I see where authors tend not to strut their best stuff. Part of the proposal prep that needs extra attention is your bio.
I know, it’s so hard to figure out what to say about yourself, right? Let’s look at a few case studies and see if we can bring some light into this dark corner of proposal prep.
Highlight the high notes
But first, here are a few principles.
Figure out what your strengths are and start your bio with them. Don’t tuck them in at the end. If you have a degree in psychology, and you’re writing a self-help book, mention your degree at the beginning. Let’s say you’ve been a counselor for ten years, that’s even better. Or what if you’ve written previous books that relied on both your degree and your counseling for material, that’s the best. Feel free to mention all three upfront.
Writing credentials also should show up near the beginning.
If you speak regularly, especially to large groups, that’s something to highlight.
Should you have a significant following on social media, don’t tuck that light under a bushel basket.
Slip in the personal stuff
When writing for the Christian market, some publishers want to know your church affiliation, size of your church if it’s large, and what ways you’re involved in church life.
And they want to have a sense of who you are–marital status (years married might be something to mention), number of children and their ages (“two adult children” would suffice, if they’ve flown the nest), and hobbies (yes, coffee addictions may be mentioned at this point).
Tuck the lowlights in a corner
If you’ve never had a book published but have contributed to anthologies or collections, written magazine articles, or even been a guest blogger on a number of blogs, do mention these achievements, but slip them in–unless you’re writing a novel. Then they become of greater importance. For nonfiction, I’d suggest putting them in the middle of your bio so they aren’t the first thing you mention but also not the last. You don’t want to end on a note that points out a lowlight.
Proposal prep: your bio, case study #1
Below I’ve pasted the bio of one of my most prolific authors, Tricia Goyer. Because she has published so much, this version of her proposal bio is slanted toward the nonfiction side. She is proposing to write a book about her family.
“Tricia Goyer is a busy mom of ten, grandmother of two, and wife to John. Somewhere around the hustle and bustle of family life, she manages to find the time to write novels and nonfiction. A USA Today best-selling author, Tricia has published seventy books to date and has written more than 500 articles. She is a two-time Carol Award winner, as well as a Christy and ECPA Award Finalist. Tricia won the Retailer’s Best Award in 2015 and has received numerous starred reviews from publications such as Romantic Times and Publishers Weekly. Tricia is also on the blogging team at TheBetterMom.com and other homeschooling and Christian sites.
“In addition to her roles as mom, wife, and author, Tricia volunteers around her community and mentors teen moms. She is the founder of Hope Pregnancy Ministries in Northwestern Montana, and she currently leads a Teen MOPS Group in Little Rock, AR. Learn more about Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com.”
What she did right
Tricia, you’ll note, didn’t talk much about her online presence because, on the first page of the proposal, I had highlighted those. They’re impressive, and I made sure the editor and publishing committee saw those numbers before they even knew what the project was about.
She also didn’t mention anything about her church. She attends a good-sized church and is involved in various ways. Instead, she highlighted her work ministering to teen moms, which is something unique and personal about her.
Proposal prep: your bio, case study #2
Now, let’s look at an unpublished author’s bio. I signed on to rep Chase Replogle more than a year ago. Over the year, he and I have been fine-tuning the focus of his project while he’s built-up a listenership for his podcast, which he started about one year ago. His proposed project is a nonfiction book centered around men’s issues.
“Chase Replogle is the pastor of Bent Oak Church in Springfield, Missouri (bentoakchurch.org), a web designer, and a marketing consultant. He has a degree in Biblical Studies from Central Bible College and an M.A. in New Testament from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He hosts the Pastor Writer Podcast (pastorwriter.com), interviewing pastors and authors on the calling and craft of writing. Guests have included: Tim Challies, Barnabas Piper, Dick Foth, Os Guinness, Pete Scazzero, and Scott Sauls. The podcast was recently featured by The Gospel Coalition. The site chronicles Chase’s ongoing writing projects, attracting many new listeners each month.
“A native of the Ozark woods, he enjoys being outdoors with his wife and two kids: fly-fishing, playing the mandolin (badly), and quail hunting with his bird dog Millie.”
What he did right
Because Chase’s project not only is written to men but also focuses on a male Bible character, Chase needed to establish his credentials to write such a book. He does so by highlighting his ministry and his education.
Next, as an unpublished author, Chase honed in on his podcast. The actual numbers for Pastor Writer were mentioned earlier in the proposal.
He then closes out with the personal side of his bio in a way that shows his spare-time pursuits are ones that guys would relate to. (And also connect to the opening scene in the manuscript.)
Proposal prep: your bio, the newbie novelist
“Carrie Padgett has been writing since she discovered story in kindergarten. She provides work-for-hire for an agriculture media company as well as freelance writing and editing services.
“Her articles have appeared on or in:
- The Madera Tribune
- Salt magazine
- Alive Now magazine
- Short selections in AAA Via magazine
“She has selections in:
- Short Attention Span Mysteries (published by Kerlak Enterprises)
- Why Fret That God Stuff (compiled by Kathy Collard Miller, published by Starburst Publishers)
- Family Fiction Anthology, 2014 edition
“Contests and Awards:
- American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis winner
- 2007, ‘Lits category, Oh, Shop It
- 2017, Contemporary category, Harley Taps Out
- Two-time Genesis semi-finalist (2012 & 2014)
- RWA® Golden Heart® finalist, 2014, Inspirational category, Against the Peace“
What she did right
Carrie turns the spotlight on the ways she’s been working on her writing career. She’s taken advantage of opportunities to publish in other writers’ books, and she’s entered contests. After reading her bio, an editor is likely to think, “Carrie takes her writing seriously and works hard at crafting a good story.”
We didn’t mention her social media numbers because we didn’t want the editor to focus on them; they’re mentioned elsewhere in the proposal. Carrie could have mentioned her hobbies or her family, but we wanted the editor to think about Carrie as someone serious about her writing.
What would you change about your proposal bio after reading this blog post?
Stymied about what to say in your book proposal bio? This blog post can help. Click to tweet.
How to create the most effective bio in your book proposal. Click to tweet.
No matter what defined me,
it really doesn’t matter.
Not warfighting nor poetry,
nor all the love and laughter.
I’m caught upon a burning plain,
under Satan’s hellfire sun,
that seeks to drive me quite insane
but I will not be undone.
The details are not pertinent;
indeed, they’re in the way
of the germane sentiment
of what biography should say:
“He was just a man who tried
to spread some Son-shine ere he died.”
And succeed he did. Good to hear from you, Andrew. I’m sorry about the pain. Father God, we ask for some balm of Gilead for this precious son. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Judith, thank you so much. Really rough day; prayers are treasured.
Thank you, Janet (and Tricia, Chase and Carrie), for this helpful peek into your proposals. I’m going to rework my bio, keeping in mind “what is a publisher or agent likely to think after reading this?” I want them to think, “She’s passionate about living in a continual conversation with God–presented in a format that welcomes reluctant readers to the Bible study table.” Now, to craft the right words to make it happen . . .
I love how you defined what you want those who read your proposal to take away from it, Shirlee. Great way to approach it!
Shirlee, I’m pleased that the post gave you enough direction to start revising. It’s hard work to put together a great bio. Keep at it!
Thank you, Janet! It’s nice to be reminded that the hard work does have dividends.
Indeed it does!
I’ve been so used to using a more casual bio (as in my blogger bio), so reading what needs to be in a proposal bio is really helpful. I have some re-shaping to do before my bio is ready for a proposal. This has been helpful, Janet. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Jeanne.
Thank you, Janet. The examples and explanations are quite helpful. BTW, I’m a friend of Tricia Goyer’s mom. It’s been fun to watch Tricia’s successes and accomplishments over the years.
Norma, how great that you know Tricia’s mom! I agree it’s fun to see all the good things coming Tricia’s way. She’s worked hard and diligently to get where she is.