How To Brag

Brag With the Bio Bash coming up (tentatively set for Feb 22), I’ve been kicking around the idea of what to put in my bio. Leisurely. Calmly. And then I realized that this would be an actual thing that people would really be reading about me. And then I thought about actually sending one of these to an agent/publisher/other human. *cue panic*

Bios are a funny thing. Writers gonna write, but we tend to like a little leeway in the things we put to page. I’ve been making up fiction pretty much since birth and dearly wish I could apply that well-honed skill to my bio as well. Boy, that’d be a great bio. (Why of course I know the Dali Lama! And I’m a wizard, too! Ask me about my pet plesiosaur!) Unfortunately, I’ve been told that bios should be true. And not boring. And when it comes to my life, those two things are hard to combine.

So what does go into a good author bio? How can you talk about yourself in a way that is both professional and interesting?

Third Person It may seem backward, especially if the work you are querying with is in the first person, but give the reader a little psychic distance on this one, especially for things like the dust jacket bio. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it is a pretty safe standard to fall back on if you aren’t sure. (It also makes it marginally easier to talk about your achievements.)

Length Your bio will be pretty brief. Most writers only need between fifty and a hundred words about themselves for queries or to append onto short stories in magazines, and less is most often more. It’s probably a good idea to have a few different lengths: a longer, more casual one of a couple hundred words for your website; a midsized one (~75); and a mini one-liner.

Pro Tags Awards (whether for writing, or for the things you’re writing about), publications, degrees, credentials, applicable career, etc. Anything that makes it seem like you have any idea what the heck you’re doing, trot it out there. If you’ve got more than you know what to do with, stick with the most impressive achievements.

Contact Make sure interested readers have a way of finding you again. Blog address? Twitter handle? Facebook page? Make it easy for your readers to find more of your work.

Relevance Keep everything on topic. This might mean that your usual bio gets tweaked a little depending on the publication it’s being sent to. For longer bios, you can stray a little further into not-strictly-applicable-but-newsworthy territory, but the short ones have to be tight. (Part of keeping your bio relevant is keeping it updated! The minute you unlock some new achievement in writerhood, adjust your bio.) Similarly:

Matching Tone An author bio for JoJo’s Pretty Pretty Puppy Parade is probably going to be a bit different from the one for The Bloodmoon Chronicles 2: Sleeping with the Enemy. Even if they’re both written by the same person. Make sure your bio matches the tone of the work you’re presenting. (This will probably mean that you will have different bios for appending to different genres.) Writing a light-hearted romantic comedy? A brooding WWII Germany coming-of-age? Match that in your query.

Solid Editing Don’t dash off something in five minutes and send it out. Your bio is just as much a reflection of your writing abilities as the rest of your submission. Find that sweet spot between encyclopedia entry and meandering chitchat. Clean it up, get some feedback, read it out loud. Use all the tricks you use for editing the rest of your writing.

Remember: professional and interesting. Sell yourself just as well as you sell your work! How about you fine folks? What elements do you think are necessary to a finely tuned author bio?

Writer’s Conscience (and an Announcement!)

Sorry we’re up a bit late today. (And what a day! Hardly nine in the morning and I’ve been super busy- no spoilers for now, but more on that later.)

I have a pair of quick announcements for you!

Since Pitch Party was so popular, I thought it might be fun to try a similar fête from a different angle: Bio Bash! Although arguably less important than a pitch, your author bio can nevertheless take a query letter from interesting to I’ve-gotta-get-this-person-on-the-phone lickety split! But for me at least, bios are probably harder to writer than the pitch- probably because I can’t just make things up and bragging feels so… blech. So get your friends to help you brag effectively! Like the original Pitch Party, Bio Bash will have a short version and a long. Short versions take place on twitter (Date and time TBA shortly), and long versions will be posted here on the blog by February 16th. All participants will help critique one another’s bios, with happy happy postcards sent out for the best short bio, best long bio, and most helpful critiques. Come join the fun and spiff up your query letter!

Any fellow writing bloggers, this one’s for you! I’m putting together a collaboration/idea-generator/get-to-know-each-other’s-blogs/get-more-people-to-your-own-blog thing that can be found here. If you’re interested in participating, dust off the archives and find your most popular post (or posts- the more the merrier!) to share.

It’s All About Me: The Author Bio

Author bios. Ugh. If there’s one thing in this world that I just might find more painful to write than pitches, it’s author bios. I don’t have a whole lot of writing credentials under my belt just yet, so writing an author bio feels like mixing up one part I-have-no-life with two parts I-have-no-experience. Add a dash of I’m-a-sarcastic-ne’er-do-well and we’re done!

Fiction writers are born liars. Truth is boring and we like to play god anyway. I think this is why I have such a hard time writing my author bios. I mean, I’d love to tell them that I’ve played golf on the moon and published 30 best sellers and that every Friday I get together with Terry Brooks and Brandon Sanderson and Dumbledore for peach schnaps and canasta. But… I probably shouldn’t. Author bios are not the places for our fiction. Which makes me pout.

I’ve written a few bios in my career so far, and each time I have stuck religiously to the truth. They’re not bad, but I don’t think they’re quite query quality just yet. Plus, they’re all a bit different. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all bio that I use. Every time I need one, I cook up a fresh batch to fit the situation.

For a short story being published in the upcoming Halloween issue of a horror-themed e-zine, Blood Moon Rising, I wrote the following:

Jill Marcotte is a freelance writer from Fairbanks Alaska. She participates in a local writing group and has writing buddies throughout the continent. Her favorite holiday is Halloween and she is, according to her husband, disturbingly fascinated by death.

For the acceptance of the Dearborn Scholarship to attend the Alaska Writers Guild Conference, I wrote the following (which was kind of a long author bio plus aspirations sort of thing):

Jill Marcotte moved to the Fairbanks area when she was fourteen and thought it was the end of the world. After narrowly surviving her first winter with all appendages intact, she learned to love the wildlife, the boggy woods, and the stars at midday. She currently lives in Fairbanks with her husband and two sons, who she religiously guards against frostbite and cabin fever. She enjoys volunteering in high school classes to share her love of writing, and has illustrated and coauthored many delightfully stupid tales with the throngs of preschoolers who regularly invade her home. In her personal writing, she explores many different genre of many different lengths, but her heart belongs to fantasy, and she hopes to publish a series of epic fantasy novels.

And for a sci-fi short story being published in the Winter 2013 issue of GlassFire Magazine, I wrote the following:

Jill Marcotte is a nerdy turd who lives in Squarebanks and eats lots of kale and junk ’cause she’s a hippie. Jill writes stuff ’cause she likes to, and she does stuff ’cause you ain’t her boss. Pretty much think of the awesomest coolest creativest awesomest thing you can possibly think of and multiply it by six- that’s Jill.

Okay, so that’s not actually what I sent them. I ended up producing a condensed mash-up of the two preceeding bios. But that monstrosity definitely clawed its way up out of the drafts pile before I ended up pressing send. What makes this so hard?

For fiction at least, an author bio will be the shortest part of your query to an agent or publisher, and little more than an afterthought tacked onto the end of a short story sent in for consideration at a magazine. It shouldn’t be the source of this much woe. The ideal bio will list interesting facts about the author, particularly as they qualify him or her to write this piece. For nonfiction writers, the bio is hugely important. I have been told that an author can leave it out of a fiction query altogether, but it’s better to have one if you have anything at all to say. So… I like to say a few things.

I mention my location in my bios. It doesn’t make me a better writer to live in a cabin in the woods outside of town, but Alaska is strangely exotic to the rest of the world. It grabs attention and gives a bit of my background.

Next, I list my involvement in the writing community. This shows that I’m an active writer- I’m a current member of a writing group, I have writing buds hither and yon, etc.

And finally, I put anything that might point to my being something of an expert. In the case of the first bio, it is to a horror themed magazine- thus I like Halloween and am interested in death. In the case of the second, I mention teaching and mentoring young writers. Teachers wouldn’t let me in their classrooms if I was an awful writer who didn’t know where to put her Oxford commas, right? I also mention that I write a lot and that I’m comfortable navigating through the varied seas of different genres and lengths. Granted, none of this makes me an expert, but they lend me weight.

If I had other writing credentials, I would put them here. Theoretically, each bio I write would have a little more to say about this. I’ve been published in multiple online magazines. I won a scholarship. I was an honorable mention in a writing competition. (Maybe that last one is too much of a stretch.) I could put these things in. And I probably ought to. But I’m kind of a weenie and I hate talking about myself. So I’m still working out how to say that gracefully. That said, as always, tips and ideas are welcome in the comments.

Jill Marcotte is a freelance writer and editor from Fairbanks Alaska.  She teaches writing to high school students throughout the state, and participates in writing groups locally and internationally.  She likes to explore many different genres of many different lengths, but her heart belongs to fantasy. And to Spiderman. Definitely Spiderman.