No matter what you write – whether it’s romance, literary fiction, fantasy, or the increasingly popular genre of historical vampire chick-lit zombie western mystery – at some point each of you will be called upon to write about the same thing: yourself.
There’s no avoiding it. If you’re writing with the goal of publication, it’s going to happen to you. You’re going to be asked to write a bio of yourself. Repeatedly. Before, during, and after your book sells.
Most of us first encounter this chore when we’re crafting our queries. Or when building our websites. Those who are active in social media know that we’re expected to put our lives into some pithy nutshell for our Twitter profiles, our Facebook timelines, and who knows how many other online vehicles. And if you’re further along in your path to publication, you’ll be asked for a bio for the agent pitching your book, or your editor will need your bio for the book jacket.
Bottom line, you’re going to have to write a short bio blurb. And this is where many writers recoil in horror. Their biggest objection? “But my life is boring. I’ve been too busy writing, raising kids, working at my day job, etc. How am I supposed to make myself sound interesting? After all, it’s my characters readers care about, not me.”
First of all, that’s not true. Readers DO want to know about you, particularly after having been caught up in the lives of the characters you’ve developed. But so do agents, editors, and many other people who make up the ever-changing machinery of the publishing world. They need to know how to package and sell you. So you’ve got to give them something to work with.
Relax. I’m here to help.
I’m offering five simple things you can do to spice up your bio. Even if you’ve never hang-glided across the Alps while dodging AK-47 gunfire from evil robots on skis (or anything else Clive Cussler claims to have done). Let’s start with the most obvious.
1. Do something interesting.
This should be a no-brainer, yet I find many people seem to believe that interesting lives just happen to people – and always to other people – by accident or pure luck. Instead, I submit that the way to lead an interesting life is to do interesting stuff.
So what should you do? Anything. Go take salsa dancing lessons. Rescue a sea turtle. Go skydiving. Take a Tai Chi class. Then add it to your bio: “When Fiona isn’t busy writing, she can be found salsa dancing or rescuing sea turtles, yadda yadda…”
But wait, you say. I only took that salsa class for a couple of months. It doesn’t totally define me as a human being. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Adopt a “need to know” mindset.
When crafting your bio, be selective about what to include and what to leave out. Your readers don’t need to know everything about you. You get to choose what you want them to know, putting them on a “need to know” basis in terms of what you decide to reveal to them. They don’t necessarily need to know what happened in the copier room at that office holiday party where Ted from Marketing spiked the punch with tequila. They don’t need to know that you once had to fashion a diaper out of a t-shirt and some duct tape because all the stores were closed.
You choose what to reveal to your readers. Just like you do when you’re writing your book. Hey, wait a minute – this is stuff you already know how to do!
3. Publish a short story.
Many aspiring debut authors lament that they have no publishing credits. I see this sentiment all the time, particularly on writers’ forums where people are told to insert their publishing credentials in their bios. I can’t tell you how many variations I’ve seen of this complaint: “Gee, I wish I had something to put in there, but I don’t have any stories published.”
There’s one cure for not having any publishing credits: go get some.
Again, a no-brainer, but it’s a notion people tend to push back on pretty hard. But I don’t write short stories. It takes forever to get one published. I’d rather focus on writing my next book…
Here’s the thing about the publishing business: there’s no rush. If you’re an unpublished writer, there’s nobody waiting anxiously for you to hurry up and put a book out – other than maybe your spouse or your mom. In other words, you’ve got time. Particularly if your current manuscript is complete, and you’re either querying or out on submission to editors. You’ve got time. LOTS of time.
Publishing is a waiting game. So, do something while you’re waiting. Short story writing is a HUGE skill-builder, and racking up even a couple of publishing credits in some obscure online journals can help show agents and editors that you’re serious about the game, and that you’re writing stuff that somebody else has deemed worthy of publication. It’s a win-win. Seriously.
4. Become an expert.
Most of us have heard far more than we want to about the importance of the dreaded “platform.” For nonfiction writers, it’s pretty much essential, but it can also be a huge selling point for novelists. True expertise takes a long time to achieve, but once again, given the waiting game that is the publishing business, you’re going to have some time on your hands.
So, get a head start at developing your expertise. Join an organization or society that focuses on something you’re writing about. Participate in online forums about your subject matter, or submit an article to a publication geared at an audience familiar with your topic.
For some writers this may be a stretch, or simply not a fit. But even being able to state that you’re a member of a well-respected forum or association that focuses on something that is described in your book helps show you are serious and involved, even if not actually a total expert. Every little bit helps…
5. Show confidence.
There’s no two ways about it: confidence is attractive. That’s why a guy who looks like Jack Nicholson can be a movie star and major babe magnet. Likewise, confident writing is attractive and compelling – and not just in the stories we tell. A sharp, confident bio helps show an agent, editor or reader that you’re the sort of person whose writing may be worth investigating.
It’s also a chance to differentiate yourself from the pleading and obsequious tone that dominates so many writers’ queries and pitches: I would be eternally grateful if you would please please PLEASE read my humble little book, oh great and powerful agent, editor, or reader. We spend so much time trying to supplicate the many gatekeepers who regulate this business that it’s easy to become meek and submissive.
Do NOT let that tone infect your writing – not even a two-sentence bio in your query. They don’t need to know you have a miserable dead-end job in a cubicle and live in constant fear of being laid off. Instead, make them want to read the kind of story that only a vibrant, confident sea-turtle-rescuing salsa dancer like YOU could write!
I hope you find this helpful, and as always I welcome your feedback. Thanks for reading!
Image licensed from iStockphoto.com.