Kris Bock has lived in 10 states and one foreign country – Saudi Arabia, where she spent five idyllic years in an American camp as a child. She now lives in New Mexico with her husband and two ferrets. Kris enjoys hiking, rock climbing, good food, and of course books.
I discovered something while coordinating writing conferences: Even published authors often do not know how to write a good bio. This should be the easiest thing in the world – if we can write at all, surely we can write about ourselves. And yet, whether through modesty, carelessness or overwriting, many author bios fail. The bio above contains specific details, some of which may even be interesting, but it doesn’t do its job.
What is the job? To sell yourself and your books. Keep that focus in mind and the rest will follow.
Content: List your books. You’d be surprised at how many authors skip this part. This is your chance to advertise! If you have lots of books, stick to the three or four that are most popular and currently in print, or series titles/first books in a series. You can also consider which books are of most interest to that audience, or which you most want to promote. For example, I write fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. When targeting adult mystery or romance readers, I won't usually mention the children's books. For a children's book bio, I won't list the nonfiction titles, since I don't get royalties for those. However, if I were writing a bio for a workshop on children's nonfiction, I'd focus more on the nonfiction titles.
People are more likely to look for your book if they know it fits a genre they like. Titles aren’t always clear by themselves. Death in Russia could be a mystery, biography, history, historical fiction, or political analysis. Specify the genre.
List awards, but don’t get carried away. If each book has four or five minor awards mentioned, the reader bogs down in dull details. List the most prestigious, or combine them – “Ms. Inkslinger’s books have received 11 Readers’ Choice Awards from various states.”
Relevancy: In general, stick to writing-related information. If someone is considering buying your book or coming to hear you speak, they want to know your success as a writer or speaker. They’re probably not interested in the names of your pets. And since most children write or tell stories, the fact that you’ve been writing since age 7 isn’t terribly impressive.
If you do include personal data, put your professional information first. Don’t start with your hobbies or childhood, unless it directly relates to your book. (For example, you’re a nurse and you wrote a hospital drama.) This is also not the place to thank your parents or spouse for their support. Save that for your book dedications.
It's fine to include a few fun facts that make you seem like an interesting person. That might even be preferable in some cases. But if you're going to include personal info, try to think of unusual, fascinating, and/or funny items. The fact that you have a cat is not, in itself, particularly interesting. If you can make a funny comment about how your cat inspires or interferes with your writing, that gives you (and your pet) more personality. Best case scenario, tie the tidbit to your work. For example, if you write humorous cozy mysteries about cooking, a lighthearted comment about your cooking or eating habits is appropriate.
Style: Focus on the information. Humor and lively writing are fine, but don’t get so wrapped up in sounding “literary” that important facts get buried or forgotten. Think of the action you want the reader to take. What will convince them to do that?
If you’re releasing your own PR, you can be as zany as you feel fits your author persona. However, if you write dark thrillers, a humorous bio may not be best. If possible, try to catch a bit of the flavor of your writing style.
If your bio will be one of many in a conference brochure, the designer probably wants some consistency of style. A touch of formality may be appropriate, since you’re trying to portray yourself as a professional. Pretend you’re someone else writing about you. Write in the third person. “Bard Wordsmith is an award-winning author….”
You may need different bios for different uses – playful on a book flap; professional for a newspaper article; focused on your teaching experience for a conference catalog; praising your writing success for a book signing.
Length: Unless you’re asked for a certain length of bio, keep it short and to the point. An editor may shorten your writing to save space, so put the most important information in the first sentence. This may include the topic of your presentation and/or the name of one book (the most recent, the most popular, or the one you’ll be presenting).
If your bio will stand alone, on an individual brochure or press release, you might use 100-200 words. If your bio will appear along with others, 50-100 words is usually plenty. Any more and some people will skip ahead. (You’ll also annoy the person designing the material, who may make arbitrary cuts). Include your website for people who want more information.
To get started, make a list of the facts that you want to share – the items that are most impressive and relevant to your career, the things that will convince someone to take the action you want them to take. Then write a simple, straightforward paragraph that includes those facts. After that, you can play with style and perhaps add a few personal notes. But as in all good writing, communication comes first.
Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page.