Kind of like kids knowing they need to eat their veggies, authors know the importance of a well-crafted bio, but that still doesn't mean they like writing one.
Several years ago when I taught writing workshops through Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville, VA, the first exercise I had students do was write their author bio. The cringing, seat shifting, pen-tapping task gets them every time, and every single one of them groaned in unison. And yet, by the end of that first class, they proudly took home a well-crafted bio to stick on their refrigerator. To my surprise, each one returned the next week to see what hoops I'd make them jump through next.
That teaching experience taught me that authors really, truly despise writing their own bios. To help the medicine go down a little easier, I came up with my top 10 tips for writing a quality author bio:
1. You will need up to three versions of your bio. (Yes, I thought you'd love to hear that!) Write an extended bio for your website, proposals, interview sheets and media kits; a medium length bio for queries, guest spots on other websites and shorter marketing material; and a brief bio as a byline or for limited character social media websites.
2. Go ahead -- brag! Start with your greatest writing achievement. As an aspiring author, even one published article in the local paper counts and should be highlighted.
3. Leave your demographics for the end and keep it brief. Though the mere fact that you were born is awesome, as a new author, it's more important to establish yourself as a writer first.
4. When listing book publications, should you have any, italicize the title and do not put in quotation marks. Include the publisher and year published in parentheses after the title: i.e. Title of Your Book (Publisher, 20_ _)
5. Refer to yourself in the third person. On the longer bios, I personally like to interject "Heather" a few more times rather than using the pronoun.
6. The credibility an award gives a book can change the life of it! However, note only awards that are relevant to your writing. For example, if you write nonfiction gardening books and you won an award for your outstanding garden, then brag about it. Alternatively, if you won a blue ribbon for your brownies, but you write science fiction, leave out the blue ribbon (but feel free to send me the brownies!). Be sure to update your bio as the awards come in. When two of my books won awards within the same month, I immediately updated my author bios on my website and other places.
7. BS? BA? BIS? MBA? Ph.D.? When it comes to education, much like awards, if your degree is relevant, then note it. If you have a Ph.D. in psychology and are writing a book on teenage bullying, then certainly note it -- it's a credential. Alternatively, if your degree is in architecture and you changed careers to write children's books, unless your book is about how to build the coolest Lincoln Log cabin on your block, you can leave the degree out (especially in the short bio). I have a BIS degree in English and Secondary Education from the University of Virginia. These credentials support me as a writer, writing coach and workshop instructor, so I use it in my long bio.
Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
8. Your bio will change dramatically as your career advances. In that same Barnes & Noble class, I showed student my 2007 bio and my then 2010 bio. It's amazing what a difference three years can make. I started my 2007 bio with the fact that I "reside in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains" because I thought it sounded really cool and literary at the time. I learned that where you live isn't so important. It was my publishing credits that advanced my career and changed my bio. Think of it like this -- it's not where you write, it's what you write!
9. If you can, have a professional (or at least a really good) photographer take a quality author photo of you. I used a photographer in Colorado and it took more shots than words on a page to capture the perfect shot. Once you have it, use it shamelessly. Most authors are not recognized by what they look like unless they're John Grisham (who resides here in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains). But, an author photo is needed for your book's jacket, your website, social media and press kit (at the very least). Take the time to do it right. (You can read my previous article titled "The Relevance of a Professional Author Photo")
10. Browse the Internet and look in the books on your bookshelves for ideas. Especially read the bios of authors who write in your genre.
11. Bonus tip: Read your bio aloud when you finish writing it. You'll know immediately if something doesn't sound right.