Five Ways to Fix a Boring Bio

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.

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About Keith Cronin

Author of the novels ME AGAIN, published by Five Star/Gale; and TONY PARTLY CLOUDY (published under his pen name Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Comments

  1. Jeanne Kisacky says

    Great post, Keith! Writing biographies is incredibly hard and there are no instructions out there. I would reinforce the need to be confident (and positive) in tone. If trying to write about yourself just makes you feel too squishy inside to come across confident and positive, try having a friend ‘interview’ you. That interview then becomes the basis for the bio. Editing your life story is somehow easier than coming up with the first draft.

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  2. says

    Keith, a good bio, like a professional photo for your blog, is essential, but often overlooked. My bio stinks because it does not capture what I write about and why. It is a Joe Friday “just the facts, ma’am” bio. Thanks for sharing these tips. Updating my bio is next on my list.

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  3. says

    I’m glad people are finding this post helpful.

    One area where I sometimes see some pushback is regarding the “do something interesting” suggestion. Some argue that agents don’t want to know anything about you that is not directly relevant to your story or your writing career. But my experience has taught me otherwise, and the lesson has been extremely consistent.

    People – even overworked and jaded agents and editors – DO want to know unusual things about you, even if they don’t relate to your writing. It makes you more interesting and intriguing. It’s kinda like your fictional characters: the more dimensions you give them, the more compelling they become.

    For example, in EVERY single interview I’ve done with an agent, blogger or journalist, my music career comes up as a key topic, even though being a rock drummer has NOTHING to do with any of the fiction I’ve written.

    The sentiment I keep encountering is that people think it’s cool that you can do more than one thing. “Wow – you wrote a novel AND you’re a professional juggler? You teach French cooking classes AND you write murder mysteries? How cool is that?”

    So I stand by my advice: dare to be interesting!

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    • says

      Curious as to how “interesting” you think one should be…
      In my past life as a headhunter, I frequently advised candidates to take things that sounded too personal or too fringe off their resumes. And can having a hobby often stereotyped as elitist (sailing, horses, collecting rare cars, etc?) backfire?

      BUT that was the legal field. The stodgiest employment arena ever.

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  4. says

    Confidence is a key to life and crediting yourself where you can without letting it sound like a desperate cry of “Please, I’m doing everything I can and just getting nowhere, help me change that” is very important. I’ll keep all of this in mind when I go to write a query… and I might even go and consider a few things back on my own little bio on my website. :)

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  5. says

    Writing a bio reminds me of that dark high school assignment to write your obituary – very unpleasant, but it certainly helps you figure out your career goals. As in: here are 20 great things I wish I’d already been working on so I could write them in my current bio. But as you say, there’s lots of time to make them happen.

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  6. says

    Love this, Keith. So helpful and so true. Number 5 really spoke to me . . . many of us writers don’t have loads and loads of extra high self-esteem, (and if we do, the publishing industry beats that right out of us) but it’s so important!

    There’s a teacher at my daughter’s school who, at Open House night, introduces herself as, “I’m Ms. _____. The teacher that none of you wanted.”

    Awesome, huh? Right off the bat we know a lot of sad things about this woman.

    We cannot be authors until we do the hard work (applying for grants, writing and submitting articles or short fiction, blogging regularly) that will turn us into authors . . . and that hard work is often a great bio-builder!

    Thanks for another great one.

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  7. says

    I found another way to an interesting bio. I was doing an about-the-author page for my vampire kitty-cat novel, which is a first-person narrative by a tomcat who is turned into a vampire (it’s humor) and I found it was totally boring. Yadda yadda yadda . . .

    Then I had the thought of having my protagonist cat write it. So I channeled him, and the boring bio became a piece with a smile titled “About My Typist.” In it, Patch (the cat) not only gives my bio stuff, but he thanks me for the catnip and typing out his story. He even manages to include his admiration for my other novels.

    Sometimes it’s not the story but the storyteller who does the charming.

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  8. says

    Do interesting stuff, “need to know”, pub credits, be an expert, show confidence…okay let’s try it…

    Donald Maass wore neckties in high school but chucked them upon entering the working world. A self-recognized authority on funk-jazz, he has downloaded close to three thousand tracks to his iPod. His first published essay, the satiric “Down, Down with People!” has been reprinted once in Nihilist Quarterly. He lives on Planet Earth with his cat’s ashes and a lot of books with brown covers.

    Something like that?

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    • says

      Donald – it’s great stuff, but brown book covers are so “last week.” Seriously, you’re going to want to pump up your bio with some red book covers. Preferably in sans-serif fonts.

      Oh, and that long weekend you spent in a Turkish prison might be worth mentioning, if it doesn’t dredge up too many awkward memories. Your call.

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  9. says

    Great thoughts about bios. I have, of course, a longer ‘official’ bio, but the short one often the one that catches the attention.

    ~~author and lunch lady~~what a combination!

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  10. says

    Great tips, Keith! I always struggle with this because different occasions require different types of bios. For example, I recently did a podcast for a woman’s magazine that needed my bio, but I didn’t want to use my Twitter one or one that lists my school/publishing credentials, because the tone of the publication was more fun and laid back. So I had fun with it, but it took me an hour or so to come up with three little lines.

    I’d also suggest asking family and friends how they’d describe you, what qualities and skills come up first in their minds when they think of you, what they consider the most interesting things about you, etc. You might be surprised what they notice that you don’t.

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  11. says

    *Snort – laughing at Donald Maass’ post*

    Excellent advice! Too bad, so sad I just turned my bio in last week. I could have added that interesting stuff. I better go email them, maybe there’s still tilme!

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  12. says

    In the early years of my career as a playwright I was often discouraged by my bio – I always felt that there were never enough production credits on it. Until a very wise friend told me to read last year’s bio as a way to see the progress I was making.
    Having a way to chronicle my actual progress gave me greater confidence and made it easier to write the next bio.

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  13. says

    YES!!!! Ok, this really helps me alot- just to show you how blind I am to what I do- I HAVE been skydiving! Did I put in in any of my bios? NO. Now, granted I’ve only been once- but like you mention, I control what I post. I think I may be far more interesting that I think I am ;).

    Thank you for changing my way of thinking about my boring bio :)

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  14. says

    Thanks for making me feel better about my “couple of publishing credits in some obscure online journals.” I’ve always felt kind of silly mentioning them as my (only) credits, so it’s nice to know they give me some type of credibilty, even if it’s just to show I’m serious about writing!

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  15. says

    I keep a bio for every occasion. Long, short, formal, informal depending on where I’m sending it. I also have several names so it can get confusing. But Keith, you bring up a point I’ve noticed, too. People on the receiving end of that bio sometimes are snagged by the the thing least related to the pitch. Probably after a day of seeing publishing credits they might be ready to walk on the wild side say with a quilting award or the Turkish prison.

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    • says

      Shelley, this is a great point. I also have numerous versions of my bio, including ones of different lengths (you often get asked for a a specific word-count), as well as ones that play up different angles.

      For example, my debut novel was marketed primarily to public libraries. As a young man in my late teens and early 20s, I was a librarian, before plunging full-tilt into my music career. So my bio in the marketing materials sent to these libraries presented me as a “former librarian who went on to become a rock drummer,” playing up the contrast between those two professions.

      But in each version of my bio, I tried to include some of the humor/irreverence that readers will also find in my written fiction. I’m a firm believer that the tone of your writing – whether it’s a query, a bio, or a bookjacket blurb – should reflect the kind of experience the reader can expect. In other words, it should show how YOU write.

      Remember, EVERYTHING you write is an example of your writing. Whether it’s a business letter, or a post in a literary blog – or even just a comment in a literary blog.

      Everything you write tells people how you write. If you’re serious about writing, don’t miss out on the opportunities this represents.

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  16. says

    One of the delicious things about WU is the comment trail. Funny, revealing, insightful. The brown-cover/red-cover riff between Donald and Keith broke me up. Pros at play.

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  17. says

    I appreciate this post, Keith, especially since I’m about to edit my bio again. Like me and my writing, my bio keeps evolving and becoming more interesting (implementing #5 right now.) Funny you mentioned salsa lessons. I did mention that in my bio and someone suggested I take it out!

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  18. Denise Willson says

    I apologize to roadkill.
    Embrace your quirks.

    I’ve been following the WU site for a long time, but being an observer, I never write in. This chicken would just like to say thanks for all the great advice traded in this forum. I’ve printed and stashed dozens of articles filed “Best Free Advice Ever,” and refer to these notes often. I’ve amassed a great amount of respect for you all.

    Maybe I’ll add “WU Junkie” to my bio.

    Sincerely,
    Denise Willson
    Author of A KEEEPER’S TRUTH

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  19. says

    Keith, I’m not so sure about the salsa dancing, but I like these suggestions for the bio. I’m constantly re-working mine, which indicates to me that it’s just not right, or it’s just not me yet. I know I need different bios for different purposes/audiences, but I have not figured out how to make it really reflect my personality. Loved Donald’s playfulness; writing a bio like that would loosen mine up considerably!

    It’s good to know that my short story publication credits DO matter; I’ve been concerned about that.

    Any thoughts on how an older writer should present herself?

    Thanks! Great post.

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    • says

      Gerry – you asked how an older writer should present herself?

      As a writer.

      I don’t think one’s age is relevant, unless it helps give you a platform (e.g., as an expert on what it was like growing up in the 60s, on how to survive on Social Security benefits, etc.). My age never came up in any of my dealings with agents or publishers, and I’m not exactly a young man anymore (despite the fact that I am constantly being mistaken for that guy who played the glittery vampire in Twilight).

      Seriously, to me that sort of thing is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue, unless you see an angle by which your age is actually an advantage.

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  20. says

    One more thing: I so agree with Denise Willson’s comments!

    WU has become my go-to place for advice and encouragement. So many days, these posts seem written just for me! I’m also keeping a file that I revisit often.

    Thanks, Therese and Kathleen and all your terrific contributors!

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  21. says

    Thank you for this piece. I have always struggled with what is “okay” to include in my bio, and you have really helped me put it in perspective. I think I may have shared a little too much, and am going to edit it this instant. Thanks again.

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  22. says

    Hi Keith,

    Great post and very helpful suggestions!

    I am an intern at a small PR firm for independent publishers and I use author bios EVERY DAY. The bio you use in your query is used everywhere. The publisher uses it in internal websites for marketing information, on “microsites” (simple websites for single books that press people have access to with a shared link), in email pitches to journalists and bloggers, and on cover letters inside advance review copies. A good bio makes a difference and the ones that I don’t like I usually edit (with a publicist’s approval, of course). Saving the publicist the task of editing makes the job much easier, which means we get more done when doing publicity for a book. It also eliminates errors if a publicist shares information that isn’t supposed to be public knowledge. Rare, but it happens.

    I suggest one more tip that you didn’t mention: ask friends to read your bio and offer edits or even bring it to a writing group.

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  23. says

    As a writer who is just starting out social networking and setting up a website and blog, I definitely needed this information. Thank you so much! Updating my bio (and my photo) is next on my “to do” list.

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  24. says

    Thanks for the advice and the laugh!

    I’m about to rewrite my bio- third time in four years.

    First time, deadly dull drone-like bio, totally devoid of humour or voice. Second go, quite a bit better. Third time, hopefully on fire as I take your suggestions on board!

    Now do I leave out the fact I screamed all the way down on my first skydive and forgot to pull the rip cord?
    Autumn´s last blog post ..Fear of beginning a big scary story- or fear of subbing?

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