The short bio; an art, not a science

Let’s say, Gentle Reader, that Apex Magazine has bought your poem or essay or short story. Or maybe it’s Strange Horizons, or Beneath Ceaseless Skies, or Someone liked your work! Enough to buy it! What do you need to do next?

Right after you call your grandma, text your best friend, and tell your partner to take you out for dinner, I mean.

Whoever has purchased your work will likely ask you for a bio, a short bio, or a bio paragraph. You know what these are. You’ve seen them in anthologies, in convention program guides. You probably haven’t given a great deal of thought as to how those things are made or who makes them.

Well, Gentle Reader, you make them. You write your own. Unless you have a publicist, you write your own author bio. Here, then, First-Sales-Author, are a few pointers on writing your short bio.

1. The purpose of the biographical paragraph is twofold. First, to establish your credentials and sell your other work. Second, to dispose the audience favorably towards you. It is not, despite the misleading name, to give a biography to the reader.

2. Your bio is written in the third person. Not “I live in Saint Paul, MN,” but “Sigrid lives in Saint Paul, MN.” Don’t write it in first person and presume that the editor will notice and fix it for you. Nope.

3. As to the first purpose, you want to do two contradictory things. You want to remind readers who you are by mentioning your most popular works and biggest awards. At the same time you want to draw attention to your newest or forthcoming work. These are often not the same thing. You may also want to mention facts unrelated to writing if they are relevant, such as your ten years with JPL if your story is about rocketry.

4. As to the second purpose, here you want to know your audience. Is your piece comedic? Then a slightly wry bio might be in order. Do all the bios of your favorite authors mention their pets? Possibly you could mention your cat. Does your story have a somewhat political tone? You might could mention your membership in the NRA or your volunteer work for Planned Parenthood. Personally speaking, I always mention my family structure because I stubbornly insist on raising awareness of queer, poly families. Could I employ that sentence to some other use? Sure. But I have a point to make and I will likely continue to make it. Ponder what you really, really want the reader to know about you. Mention that.

5. Make it short. Three-to-ten sentences. And you should only be hitting ten sentences if you have a lot of accomplishments.

Here is the bio paragraph I am currently using:

“Sigrid Ellis is editor-in-chief of Apex Magazine. She is co-editor of Queers Dig Time Lords and the Hugo-nominated Chicks Dig Comics anthologies. She is editor of the best-selling Pretty Deadly from Image Comics. She lives with her partner, their two homeschooled children, her partner’s boyfriend, and a host of vertebrate and invertebrate pets in Saint Paul, MN.”

Four sentences. Major works. Award nomination. Personal note. Did I leave off my single published short story credit? Yes. I am very proud of that work, but it’s a few years old. Moreover, I am working more now on editing, not writing. My editing credits are more relevant.

If you are writing the bio paragraph for your first sale, don’t despair. And, for the love of all that is holy, do not talk yourself down or apologise for anything. Just, no. No. Make the audience like you. Be charming. Here are examples of a first sale bio paragraph for imaginary people.

A. Daenerys Targaryen is a recent graduate of the University of California at San Diego. Dani is committed to social justice and works for immigration reform with various non-profits in the area. She lives in a housing co-op she helped establish, and dotes on her three iguanas. This is her first sale.

B. Cersei Lannister is a mother, homemaker, and community volunteer. She will happily tell you all about her children over a glass of wine. In addition to this story, Cersei has work forthcoming from Strange Horizons.

C. Varys Arana has lived on four continents but is pleased to call Washington, D.C., his home. He has been a professional activist, a political fundraiser, a private detective, and a translator of non-fiction. He hopes the publication of his poems will draw attention to the ongoing human rights crisis in Sudan.

(My apologies to GRRM and Game of Thrones … )

Think, therefore, about what you want to say. Think about how you want to be recognized and remembered. Don’t apologise. Don’t talk yourself down. Don’t equivocate. And keep it short! Let your work speak for you.

Let the work speak. That is, after all, what you want readers to remember.


The rewards do not come fast enough

Over the last month I reorganized some of my finances. I set up some more savings accounts, I changed some of my allotments. Over time, the money will build up.

However, checking those accounts every single day doesn’t make the IRA grow any faster.

I ordered seeds for the garden this year. They arrived in the mail, and I am excited for them.

However, it is nowhere near time to plant in Minnesota, yet. This weekend, in fact, the temperature dropped again. Brr.

There are a lot of rewards to the whole adulthood business. Sadly, many of those rewards do not come particularly quickly.


Lion in Winter, or Pretty Little Liars?

Yesterday I told my daughter that she could watch the movie A Lion in Winter (Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, etc.) for school.

Fifteen minutes in I paused the film to make sure she was following the plot.

“Okay, so, Alais? Was engaged to Henry the Young King, but was having an affair with his father, Henry II. So then the Young King died, and Alais is still sleeping with her dead fiance’s father. So now Henry II wants her to marry his other son, John. And Alais’s brother, Philip, may or may not be in love with the OTHER son, Richard. Oh, and their mother Eleanor has been let out of jail just for Christmas. Henry put her in jail because she was inciting a rebellion against him. Oh, and she raised Alais as a child.”

J walked by. “What are you telling her? It sounds like an episode of Pretty Little Liars.”

I thought for less than a second.

“Yes,” I said, nodding. “Yes it does. European royal history is a LOT like a plot from Pretty Little Liars.”


Steles of the Sky

Steles of the Sky concludes Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. In this we find out the fate of Re Temur, Samarkar, and the host of characters that form the incredibly diverse cast of these books.

If you’ve read the first two, I expect you are already in possession of the third. If you have not read them, may I recommend you pick up a copy of the first book, Range of Ghosts? In brief, The Eternal Sky is epic fantasy as you have never seen it. It’s a fantasyland Central Asia which doesn’t have a fantasyland Europe to bounce off. (Bear mentioned on Twitter that, at some point, she might explain what happened to Europe in this world. Something about there only being scattered islands west of Russia, or something.) The Eternal Sky posits a highly complex world of shifting empires and faiths, and shows us a moment in which everything hangs in the balance, for everyone.

It’s very, very good.

What struck me most about Steles of the Sky, though, was not the complexity of the world-building (which, I swear to you, is a fucking delight unto mine eyes. I grew up on Map Books, and this is a Map Book for the records. For the ages. For all the damn awards.) but the complexity of the characters.

Every point of view character — and there are many, in this trilogy — has their own point of view.

This book is a masterclass unto itself in how to do such a thing right. How it is DONE. How it is done WELL. Every character has a reason for being where they are, doing what they are doing. They have their own, internally-generated motivations and goals. Each character is a human being and the plot never forgets that, not for a moment.

This is made even more delightful by the fact that half the main characters are women. And all of them are non-Europeans. (Hitting Europe with an asteroid, or whatever happened, will do that.) This book never forgets that it is not in fantasyland Europe. Its analogies and metaphors are generated from its myriad cultures. Its values and gods are generated in the same way. There is no Zeus-Analogy-God here.

And yet none of this is hard on the reader. Do you have any idea how wonderous that is? To make something so different from the reflexive, easy, Tolkein-riff and yet make it comprehensible? I reveled in these new cultures and worlds. I rolled in them, luxuriating in this thing that was just like the things I am conditioned to love, but so much better. Different. Greater. More.

The Eternal Sky makes the world wider, not smaller. It gives us as humans more room to become, more room to grow. These books are part of what makes us better people, more empathetic, more understanding, smarter, more compassionate. And these books make us enjoy the experience.

I want to point out one trope that I particularly enjoyed seeing punctured. There is a moment, near the end, when a character is granted their full and entire agency at long last. And said character uses that agency to try and kill a Good Character.

I loved that moment.

I loved that agency does not equal Good According to Me. I loved that evil was not made up entirely of enslavement, but also stemmed from selfish choices. I loved that the moment of truth and autonomy meant a doubling-down on Things I As a Reader Did Not Want. At least, for that particular character.

Good for them, doing what they wanted and not what a more conventional narrative would have demanded. Good for them, being a fully-realized character with their own motivations. And good for Bear to know how to do such a thing.

Thank you, Bear. Thank you for these books. I love them. I am so very pleased to hear that another trilogy in the same world is in the works. I look forward to it with all my heart.


Operation Fourth Story

Apex Magazine wants YOU to subscribe!

We at Apex Magazine (you did know I’m the editor-in-chief of Apex, right?) are doing a subscriber drive for the next two weeks. We’re calling it Operation Fourth Story. We hope that enough of you subscribe that we might sustain a fourth piece of original fiction in each issue.

Apex Magazine is a semiprozine, according to SFWA. We PAY our writers and artists. We pay SFWA-qualifying rates. A few of us involved in the production of the magazine get paid. But the vast majority of those who make Apex? Are not paid for their work. They volunteer because they believe in the importance of magazines like Apex. They volunteer to be a part of this Hugo-Award-nominated magazine. They volunteer for the love of the work.

The finances involved in Apex, or any similar semipro magazine, are tight. We want, VERY much, to give you more content. More stories, more interviews, more poetry. But to do that, we need the income with which to pay our contributors.

I want to give you more stories each month. You should see the stuff I have waiting! But I cannot, nor do I want to, publish without paying.

Help pay these amazing writers. Help us get more fantastic short fiction out into the world. Subscribe to Apex Magazine.

Thank you.


Apex Magazine: Operation Fourth Story

Apex Magazine wants to add a fourth original short story to the magazine each month. To pay for this, we are hoping for 250 new subscribers to the magazine.

Over the next two weeks (April 3rd to April 17th) we’re going to be showcasing Apex Magazine – and short fiction in general – here on the Apex blog and across the web. Every day we’ll have guest posts from authors, editors, and bloggers about the importance of short fiction. Several bloggers will be reviewing issues of Apex Magazine, and there will be guest posts and interviews with the Apex Magazine crew popping up everywhere.

Our goal is to get 250 new subscribers. If we meet this goal, then we’ll have the revenue to add a fourth piece of original short fiction to every issue. That means more stories from the authors we love, more new talent being found amid the slush piles. It means Apex Magazine will bigger and better than ever.

Go, look at the blog!

Subscribers get their choice of free ebooks from Apex Magazine. In addition, we are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite. The blog post details the many ways you can support and subscribe to Apex, including Weightless Books, Kindle, and Patreon, to name a few.

Check it out. Apex is going strong, and we hope to make it stronger. We’d like your help to do that.

Thank you.


Did I mention it’s spring?

Yes, we had an ice storm Monday night.


It melted.

This is no thaw; thing is Spring.



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