Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Author Bios

Everybody wants one, from your publisher to the local newspaper to the school librarian. And for many of us who can pound out a 30,000 word manuscript with abandon, the 100 word bio sends us into a severe case of writer’s block. But a great bio can really establish a connection between an author and the reader. And sometimes, a cleverly written bio can motivate an indecisive reader to give the author’s book a try.

After stumbling through many versions of bios, from lackluster to somewhat satisfactory, here are some tips I’ve learned.

~Every author should have a complete wardrobe of bios, the 50 word bio, the 100 word bio, and the 300 word bio. These word lengths seem to be the industry standards. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea.

~There is some basic info you need to get in there, your name, your gender, a general sense of where you live (note: This doesn’t have to be so specific that someone could look you up in a phone book, it can be general like, southern California.)

~Also list your book titles, it can be the most recent one or the most recent two or three. If your books have been nominated for or received any awards or been placed on state reading lists, include that as well.

~Then it’s time for the entertainment factor. If you have a funny, quirky bit of information that you acquired while writing the book, or a funny tidbit about you as a writer, or just a funny incident that gave you 15 minutes of fame, use it. A friend of mine who writes humorous women’s fiction talks about the time she once touched Michael Landon’s pants.

~Know your audience. In my website bio, which was directed at kids, I tried to make it very kid-friendly, answering the sorts of questions they might have, about siblings, pets, etc. On the jacket flap bio (when I’ve had input) I tried to show the connection between me and my characters or story. Bios for a workshops you want to give would skew one way, while a bio for the Junior Library Guild skews another.

Mary Hershey is a master of bios. Here’s her current 100 word one that I just love:

Mary Hershey is the author of the middle grade novel, MY BIG SISTER IS SO BOSSY SHE SAYS YOU CAN'T READ THIS BOOK, Wendy Lamb Books, 2005. Her second novel entitled THE ONE WHERE THE KID NEARLY JUMPS TO HIS DEATH AND LANDS IN CALIFORNIA was released by Razorbill/Penguin in March 2007. Publisher's Weekly describes it as a "...poignant novel populated with complex, memorable characters." She is currently completing her third novel for Random House, which will be out in Spring 2008. Mary holds a Master's degree in Counseling & Guidance and is a certified Personal and Executive Coach. She works part-time for the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the rest of her hours are spent chasing down a recalcitrant muse who is moonlighting in North Hollywood.

See how she gets her titles in there, and also a bit about her credentials, and then a great quirky humorous bit that leaves them laughing.

Here is the one I used for my recent jacket flap. Tying it into the book gave me something to focus on.

R. L. LaFevers (Robin Lorraine when she’s in really big trouble) has been fascinated by libraries and museums ever since she first set foot in one. She’s pretty sure it’s because of all the ancient mysteries, sitting there on the shelves, just waiting to be discovered. She has also spent a large portion of her life being told she was making up things that weren’t there, which only proves she was destined to write fiction. When she’s not gazing longingly at ancient artifacts or wallowing in old forgotten texts, she’s busy trying to keep one step ahead of her two teenaged sons. She lives with the aforementioned sons, her husband, and a demonic cat in Southern California. This is her first book with Houghton Mifflin Company.

Mary, do you want to share some of your tips for creating bios?

And is anyone out there struggling with their author bio? Have any questions? Is there any interest in workshopping your bios, trying to find ways to beef them up or make them more entertaining? We’re game if you are….


Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, Robin! I love this post, especially the picture.

Author bios can be hard-- I think for introverts, especially. It's common to think we aren't as interesting or exciting as our extraverted peers. I beg to differ! Our lives are extremely rich, complex and full of adventure. You just need to suspend judgement, and took another looks.

The other thing about Author Bios that I discovered is that I've tended to leave them to the last minute, spending more time on the proposal, or the book, or whatever it is I'm attaching the bio to. But the bio is really your calling card, the first step in the seduction of your reader. It needs your full attention and all your best tools.

As a coach, I often talk about clients stepping into the frame, even before they have realized the goal, landed the job, sold the book. Do something that cleary states-- "This is where you'll see me soon!"

I'd challenge any of you waiting for a reason to write an Author Bio to write it NOW. Create your whole bookflap... front flap and backflap. Step into the frame.
For both books that I've had published, I got a email from the editor asking me to write both on a very short turnaround. Now I'm always prepared!

I loved Robin's idea of workshopping some bios. Count me in!

Mary Hershey

Anonymous said...

Writing bios is like writing a synopsis for a book. It's hard for me to condense, and when I do, I think somehow I lose personality. Not sure exactly what it is I'm doing wrong, or maybe it's just because I don't like doing it. Ha! Ha!

I really enjoyed reading your bios, Mary and Robin. Thanks for sharing it and all the wonderful advice. I've been busy lately so I'm just now catching up on the additional articles you've posted. I love Miss Viola!

Kimberly Lynn

Mary Hershey said...

Hi, Kimberly Lynn--

I really think it helps to have another pair of eyes or two when you do your author bio. Are you in a writing group? If so, maybe you could have them take a look at it. Condensing is hard! I think we all have things about ourselves that we feel are essential to include, when in fact, it only serves to add clutter. Some of those accomplishments are really our own "back story"-- they've made us who we are, but they don't necessarily need to left in for the reader to get a picture of us.

If you'd like to workshop your bio with us, we're game!