Sometimes the shortest things can unexpectedly be the hardest to write. And that’s the case with author biographies, or bios for short. Bios aren’t like CVs. They’re not as formal. They are more like mini-stories. They give a flavour of the person behind them. And like query letters and blurbs, they function as ‘hooks.’
Over the course of a writing career, you’ll discover you need more than one bio. In fact, you might find that you need quite a few. Each of them will be written for particular purposes, whether that be pitching for genre-specific projects, for festivals and conferences, or for book proposals and blurbs. Each of them will have a slightly different angle, though they encapsulate the same basic biographical and bibliographical information. And though they may fall into ‘types’ of bios—ie, for publication, presentation or industry purposes—each bio is also slightly different, even within each type.
The Case of Valerie May
For a bit of fun, let’s take the (imaginary) case of Valerie May, author of romantic suspense novels who also writes the occasional non-fiction authorship book. Here are a couple of her pitch bios, one for a non-fiction book called Roses have Thorns, a practical guide to maintaining a writing career, and the other for her new novel, The Jade Peacock.
Bio A: Valerie May is the award-winning author of fifteen novels, including the internationally bestselling The Black Rose. She is the founder of Delicious Shivers, a popular blog specialising in the romantic suspense genre, and with fellow author Jenna Sims initiated the first Delicious Shivers seminar, now an annual event. Over the course of her career, Valerie May has been a bookseller, served on several literary industry committees, and been a popular speaker at conferences and festivals.
Bio B: Born in London of an Irish father and French-Vietnamese mother, Valerie May was brought up between languages and cultures and now lives in Sydney, Australia, with her family. The award-winning author of fifteen novels of romantic suspense, including the bestseller The Black Rose and its popular sequel, By Any Other Name, as well as three works of non-fiction, she also blogs regularly, and features as a speaker at literary events. Her Vietnamese grandmother’s dramatic story was the inspiration for The Jade Peacock.
These two bios have a similar structure, but a different emphasis, with each aimed at establishing Valerie’s credentials in a particular context . For Roses have Thorns, the emphasis is on Valerie’s professional experience in the book industry; but for The Jade Peacock, the bio takes in not only her track record as a writer, but also a great deal more personal information, including her cultural background which is relevant in this case. In both, the fact that she is a successful professional author is front and centre, but in the novel bio, there is a more private angle as well, allowing the reader to relate to the author as a person. Meanwhile, for the non-fiction book, her experience of the industry from different professional points of view–author, blogger and bookseller–is highlighted, and more personal information is omitted.
By the way, it’s my opinion that it’s best to write bios in third person, and to stay away from quirky bios. I mean the kind that tell you the author has a pet python, likes drinking wine while waltzing in the rain, never met a vampire they didn’t like—or whatever other random detail might come to mind! They are really hard to pull off successfully outside of social media, and often just sound try-hard or out of place. What works for Twitter or Facebook doesn’t usually translate well to the pitching environment.
That also goes for bios for school and festival presentations–unless you are pitching to present at a comedy festival, in which case your quirky bio had better be actually entertaining, not just groan-inducing!
A brief note here on bios as part of a pitch for conferences, festivals, seminars and other public speaking events. Of course, you know that you need to target your pitch to the particular type and theme of the event, the expected audience, and your particular suitability as a presenter. So my advice is this: Do your research, and craft your bio so that they will be falling over themselves to offer you the gig.
Over to you: What challenges and pleasures have you encountered in crafting bios? And what’s your view on the quirky bio?