Wednesday, February 24, 2016

THE LONG AND SHORT OF YOUR WRITER'S BIO

A writer's bio is the second most important piece of promotional writing you have to compose after getting short descriptors of your books or articles down on paper. Why? Like descriptors, bios form part of query letters to editors or agents, proposals, flyers and bookmarks, websites, conference programs, catalogue blurbs, bylines for articles/short stories you write for promotional purposes, and introductions, etc.
Bios are not resumés: they are usually in narrative style and the third person. A long one will be no more than a page (500 words max) and a short one is a paragraph or even one sentence. They have to be relevant to your writing career and your expertise on the subject of your book, short stories, or articles. For example, I would not include my degree in physiotherapy in my bio unless my writing topic was about “Geriatric Patients I Have Known!”
Make lists of your relevant:
  • Credentials (letters after your name and/or formal education)
  • Writing experience (type and years)
  • Expertise/experience in your area of interest
  • Special skills (e.g. promotion, sales, public speaking, etc)
  • Writing awards or contest placements 
  • Writing accomplishments (book chosen for school curricula or "Books for Everyone")
  • Publishing history, if any. If none, list your writing group(s), conferences attended, workshops, mentors, etc. here
  • Memberships relevant to writing and your expertise. E.g: Federation of BC Writers, Travel Media Association of Canada.
These lists take time to compile and you'll remember more and more to add over a month or so. So don't be tempted to rush this preparation. 
Once you can think of nothing more, prioritize each list in order of importance. Then highlight the top three on each list.
It is easier to write your one-page bio first. Read many examples of published authors' bios and note what you like about them. Then start writing with the top two or three items in each list. Use facts to promote yourself rather than lots of adjectives and adverbs, though a few judiciously placed can be effective. Brag a little but be 100% truthful. Now begin to tighten it up, cut out, and rewrite.  Show the draft long bio to your colleagues and ask for their comments. Rewrite and rewrite again. Then get a writer to edit it. Finally, comes the question of whether to include a picture on a long bio.In our visual connected world today, I strongly recommend using a small head shot at a minimum, professionally taken.
The bio in a query letter to an editor is usually a paragraph in the first person (about six lines), so you have a few more words to play with than, say, a byline for a periodical. The query letter bio must clearly tell an editor why you are the ideal person to write this book or article (expertise). Short bios need all the components of a long one, but choose only your best credential, best award, best two publication successes, etc. If you have lots to say and feel the editor needs to know all of it, it's best to include a long bio as a separate attachment to query letters if permitted.
However, although I have over forty years of writing experience, I choose not to attach a long bio to my query letters because I have never found I needed to do so – my letter proclaims my writing ability – but I always provide the editor the link to my long bio on my website. (See it here.) I find most take a look if they don't know me.
Very short bios (50 words or less) are demanding to write – what to include; what to cut? Think about who will be reading it – an interviewer, a conference delegate, a workshop attendee. Start trying to describe yourself in two words: Author, speaker or Travel writer/photographer. Then try to do it in a phrase that encompasses the expertise in the book or article: “Leader of creative writing workshops for aspiring authors, Julie…" Knowing who this short bio is for helps you to choose the key items to include. I often find myself tweaking my basic short bio to suit the “client” and I have several different basics, including those as an author, as a speaker, as a travel writer, etc.
Bylines often need to include the means to contact you: “Julie H. ...coaches aspiring authors towards publication and can be reached at….”
One thing is certain, writing good promotional material takes time and effort but it is always worthwhile. When your bio is so good people start asking you to help them write theirs, you know you have achieved success.
© Julie H. Ferguson 2015