Unless you’re criminally insane, or Donald Trump, you’re probably not in the habit of talking about yourself in the third person. So it’s no surprise that many writers hate penning an author bio. When I polled Twitter about bio writing recently, the following response seemed to sum up everybody’s feelings perfectly:
“I’d rather chew on a box of nails.” – Cheryl S.Hoggins @MoosieMusings
Sadly, if you’re going to have any kind of career as a writer, you’re going to have to write not just one, but several bios of varying length and tone. Not only that, but these will all have to be updated as your career progresses. So where to start? Personally I think the best way to begin is with Twitter, because even if you’re hoping to go the traditional publishing route, most agents these days will expect you to at least have an account. And while Twitter is all about building a platform to boost sales, most good Twitter bios are playful and fun.
My favourite things
John Scalzi is an award winning sci-fi writer who has had an extremely prestigious career, but you won’t find this information out from his Twitter bio. Instead you will discover the simple fact that he likes pies. That’s it:
“I like pies.” John Scalzi @scalzi
So if you’re stuck for ideas and don’t have half as impressive credentials as Scalzi, this is great place to begin. What do you like? What are you passionate about? Raindrops on roses? Whiskers on kittens? Brown paper packages tied up with string? People are more likely to follow someone who has something in common with you, so even if you’re not being witty like Scalzi, a quick Julie Andrewseque list will do in a pinch.
Personally, I’m a cat lady, so my Twitter profile reads: Writer, editor and cat stalker. Short and sweet, because most people are only going to glance at your bio before deciding whether to follow or not. I focused on cats partly because the middle grade novel I’ve just completed is all about cats, but also because I post a hell of a lot of pictures of cats!
A bit of humour
Obviously, if you can think of something funny, people are going to enjoy a bit of humour. If it’s self deprecating, all the better. I love this one from Adam Buxton, who is admittedly an actual comedian:
“Adam Buxton identifies as short.”
Or this one from Neil Gaiman:
“Will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, he will keep making things up and writing them down.”
Which brings me to my next point…
Odd jobs I have done
Writing is perhaps the only profession in which any job, no matter how humble, counts as great experience. Charles Bukowski famously mined his time working in a Post Office to create his much lauded first novel, whilst William S. Burroughs‘ time as an exterminator undoubtedly helped populate Naked Lunch with all kinds of creepy crawlies. Here you’re not looking to impress with your business acumen because lets face it, nobody wants wants to read a novel about Excel spreadsheets. Rather you want to show that you’ve taken a little walk on the wilder, or at least more surreal, side of the street and have a few interesting tales to tell. Have you been a dog walker, a video game tester, a fry cook even? Readers want to find out about the world beyond their everyday experience, so anything a little bit unusual will spark their interest.
As for me, I spent several years working as a journalist in Japan where I reported on giant insect battles, augmented reality, and host cafes among many other weird and wonderful things. I don’t bother to mention any of this in my Twitter bio, but you can be damn sure it comes up time and again elsewhere.
If you haven’t won any awards or published any work yet, jobs are still a good way to impress an agent, as long as it’s a trade that is relevant to the novel you’ve written. For instance, if you’re writing a novel about the wine industry and have worked in a wine shop, then do mention it.
While Twitter bios tend to be quirky and endearing, many other kinds of bios demand that you brag about yourself. Of course this is the part that makes all us non sociopaths squirm, but is absolutely vital. If you’ve won awards for your writing or published stories in literary magazines, your author page on Facebook or Amazon should proudly state this fact. However, don’t get too carried away. Nobody is going to read a book by someone who claims to be the next Stephen King. Remember, there are no shortcuts: the best way to show that you are an excellent writer is to write well, so if you can show this in your bio, all the better.
Reflect your genre in your prose
I’m about to publish a suspense, so my Facebook bio has been tweaked to reflect this:
“Felicity Hughes is a writer and editor. As a journalist, she’s delved into the seedier side of Japan for publications including The Guardian and Japan Times. Now based in sunny Spain, she continues to write about darker forces that lurk beneath the surface of polite society.”
Obviously if you’re writing sci fi, then perhaps demonstrate an interest in or expert knowledge of science and tech, while with romance, your prose should be more evocative.
If in doubt, copy and tweak
If your pen is still hovering over the blank page, or perhaps even gouging holes in it in frustration, my advise is to steal from the bios of other authors. The key to not getting caught is pinching a little snippet from here or there and tweaking it to fit your needs. And if you’re tempted to completely plagiarize the entirety of another writer’s work, don’t sell yourself short: you’re probably already in possession of the requisite sociopathic tendencies to be absolutely excellent at singing your own praises in a bio. As for the rest of you, chain yourself to your desk and tuck into that bag of nails!
Have you written a bio you’re proud of or do you have any advice on the subject? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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