Author Bios: Concise, Relevant and Fascinating

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When you write an author bio, what you include depends on, well, you.

Bio for Query

Writing a query letter requires a compressed bio of just a couple sentences.
Here, you want to touch on the highlights of your career. I might write:
Published in eight languages, I have books with Greenwillow/Harpercollins, Philomel/Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Sylvan Dell. My website, www.darcypattison.com, has half a million visitors each year.

Just as you need a bio ready for multiple purposes, you should have author photos ready. I try to have a photo in 100x100 pixels, 250x250, 500x500 and at least one with a 300 dpi (high resolution) for print situations.

What if you have no publishing credits or background? Not to worry. Say nothing, unless it directly relates to the manuscript you are submitting. In this case, the manuscript will stand on it’s own, without the ever-so-slight prop of a bio.

Include work history? Probably not, unless it directly relates to your story.
I might write:
The main character is hearing impaired and I hold a Masters Degree in Audiology (doing hearing tests) and have worked for the Arkansas School for the Deaf.

Otherwise, your lips are sealed. Nothing about grandchildren who love your story; nothing about jobs that don’t directly relate; nothing about the newspaper who interviewed you about your invention that has nothing to do with this manuscript. Everything must relate to THIS manuscript. Otherwise–mums the word. Absolutely, no padding.

Expanded Bios

There are times for a longer bio, on your blog or when you send out press releases about your new book, that’s the place to list everything–if you like. For example, when my new picture book Desert Baths (a story about how desert animals take baths) comes out in late August, I’ll be ready with standard bios to send around with the press release.

I try to condense everything into a one-page document, because, really, who will read every word? I keep an updated bio that has a letterhead with all my contact info (email, phone, fax, mailing address), and just print this out and slip into an envelope or attach to an email. If appropriate, sometimes, I’ll take a yellow highlighter and make something jump out. For a picture book submission, I might emphasis that The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman was an honor book for the 2003 Irma S. and James H. Black Picture Book Award from Bank Street College.

Bios, in this sense, aren’t curriculum vitae, which are academic biographies which list all your publications, your speaking engagements, work history academic history, etc.. I keep one of those up to date, but rarely use it because it’s too long to send around easily; if any one asks, though, I’ve got it and don’t have to create it.

What you’re trying to do is establish specific credentials, highlight relevant information and hook an editor into reading the manuscript. In the end, the bio is important, but not crucial. In the end, there’s only one question: does this editor like this story? does this reader like this book?

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1 Comment
  • Angela
    July 7, 2012

    I do agree with including nothing if you have nothing to offer.
    However, I have seen several agents on Twitter complain that they wanted to know something about the person contacting them. Some agents prefer a more personable letter while others don’t.
    I’m completely torn, but leaning towards including nothing. Hopefully agents will understand and look past that.