Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MUGSHOTS AND BIOS FOR WRITERS

BEACON FLASH #47 - October 2010 
I poked around websites of many writers this summer - not the household names, but mid-list authors and freelancers like me - getting a feel for bios and mugshots. What I found was disappointing for the most part and sold the writers short. My observations included:
   - bios that were buried or missing altogether (!)
   - bios that were poorly written, self-depreciating, or not about the author's writing life and books/articles
   - no photograph at all
   - images of the writer that were family snapshots, too dark, or worse still, out of date

Writers of all stripes have to promote themselves and their work more than ever before. Today, we do it online and in person, the former before the latter. This online presence demands visuals as well as text, whether it is a static bio on a website or it is in the social media.  So here are my distilled thoughts on bios and mugshots for writers.

BIOS:
Your website needs a bio page with a downloadable .pdf bio available as a link. All the pages in your website must have a link to the bio web page so it is always accessible wherever the visitor lands.
Bios are written about you, not for you. Bios are for editors and your readers. Their overarching purpose is to answer one question, "Why is this person a credible writer and knowledgeable about this subject?" A writer's bio is no place for your high school, yacht club memberships, or the number of grandkids you have. We are in the business of writing.
Websites use a long bio between 350 and 500 words. It is narrative and written in the first or third person. Do not use CV or resume style. Here are three bios showing different styles, all of which are suitable, and reassure the reader about the writer's expertise. They also provide clues about the person:
    - www.gramediting.com/about.htm (Joyce Gram, editor)
    - http://loispeterson.blog.com/who-she/  (Lois Peterson, children's author, writing instructor)
    - www.beaconlit.com/, then click on "About Julie" at the top (Me)

If you have no clue how to tackle the composition of your long bio, write a comment and, if there are enough, I'll blog more about how to do it.  

MUGSHOTS:
Please get rid of the standard head-shot - they're boring for this visual, connected world. Also get rid of the family snapshots, those of your pets, and all underexposed images on your site as these do not inspire confidence in editors or readers. Poor photos shout "Amateur!"
Yes, editors and readers want to know what you look like but, more than that, they want to get a feel for your personality from the image. Even more, they want to see you in action, as well as in the setting that reflects your brand of writing. For example: if you're a travel writer, let your readers see you on a camel or hiking in the Andes. If you write for children, have kids in your photo or perhaps put yourself in a classroom. Make sure your images provide two things for your editors and readers - a sense of who you are and what you do, and your professionalism as a writer.
If you have more than one brand of writing, you'll need an different image for each. I have lots of publicity photos - for my books, for kids, for submarines, for travel [right], and as an instructor and speaker, etc. If you change your appearance in any way (hairstyle, hair colour, start wearing glasses, etc), get new pix taken.
 
To writers who hate having their picture taken, get over it! AND, please, please, get a professional to take these photos - they're more important than you think.

QUESTIONS: Is your web bio accessible on your site? Is your photo suitable and interesting? If not, what are you going to do about it.  
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