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.


One Response

  1. Thanks for the info. This is a part that probably gets forgotten or saved until the last minute more often than not.

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