Your author bio is an important book press kit element because it is pretty much the only tool you have to make the case that you are the best person to write this book and to write it well. It’s the media relations tool that tells reporters, producers, bloggers and other media gatekeepers that your personal history gives you the perfect credentials for this novel or that your professional background provides the knowledge depth needed for your nonfiction topic.
Writing a compelling author bio is not as intuitive as you might think. My experience teaching authors how to publicize their books has shown me that journalists do the best job because they know what they need to find in a bio when interviewing or profiling authors.
Here’s what an author bio isn’t: It isn’t your life history. I am discouraged by the number of authors who begin with something like:
Joseph Smith was born in Tulsa, Ok., in 1960, the youngest of John and Mary Smith’s three children. His family moved to St. Louis, Mo., when he was 4. There, he attended Catholic schools, receiving the “best hair” award in his senior yearbook. He attended Madison College, where he met his wife, Annie. It was love at first sight.
You get the point. Unless this is relevant to his book – if, for example, the book is about men’s hairstyles – not much of this tells us why he’s the right author for this story.
An author bio – whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction – should focus on why you’re the best person to write this book because that, in turn, will tell us that (a) you know what you’re talking about and (b) you’ve written a book that people will want to read.
Can it be entertaining? Sure – if that’s appropriate for your subject matter. Can it be boring? For a press kit, that’s okay too, as long as the relevant information is there. The emphasis on press kit elements is relevant facts. Press kits are about news, not entertainment.
So what should you include? Any information that demonstrates your credentials to write this book. For nonfiction authors, this could include relevant:
- Work experience
- Professional memberships
- Industry leadership roles
- Industry awards
For fiction writers, it might include:
- Where or how you grew up
- Work experience
- Writing awards or acclaim
- Fiction writing education or training you’ve given others
- Information that explains how you came to write this story
It will help to see examples that work from two of my students. Mark Harris, my nonfiction example, is the author of Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.
Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. His articles and essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Reader’s Digest, E: The Environmental Magazine, Hope, and Vegetarian Times. His profile of a foster care community for Chicago Parent won a journalism award for feature writing. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Mark lives with his family in eastern Pennsylvania. For Grave Matters, Mark has been interviewed by Fresh Air host Terry Gross and appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News and the CBC. His views on green burial and funeral matters have been reported on in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and People magazine, among others.
He speaks regularly to college students, church congregations, hospice workers, home funeral providers, consumer-friendly funeral advocates, and funeral directors about green burial and funeral issues.
Novelist Travis Heerman wrote Heart of the Ronin, an historical fantasy novel set in Japan. This is the bio from his Web site.
Travis Heermann has been a freelance writer since 1999. Publishing credits include dozens of magazine articles, role-playing game content for both table-top and online MMORPGs, short fiction. Travis’s next novel, Heart of the Ronin, is now available at online booksellers, select bookstores, and libraries. For more about his publishing credits, check out the Bibliography page. He has also been posting a series of (mostly) weekly interviews with authors of every genre and level of accomplishment on his blog, Blogging the Muse.
He attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering, and spent several years working as an electronic design engineer. In 2003, he shifted his career path from engineering to education, and moved to Japan for three years, where he taught English in public junior high and elementary schools. Nothing makes a person more aware of the structure and idiosyncracies of English than having to explain it to someone else. With intensive study, he also learned to speak and write Japanese. You can find more information about these experiences, including essays on Japanese history and culture, elsewhere on this web site. He recently received his Masters Degree in English from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, specializing in Advanced Writing.
He wrote his first novel at the tender age of 14, a dreadful but loving mishmash best described as a John Carter of Mars”homage.”. He grew up on the lonely plains of rural Nebraska reading about hobbits, vampires, Cimmerians, Tharks, and Jedi, forever twisting him into his current, occasionally warped persona (if you know what all those are, you’re as big a geek as he is). (Read the rest at http://www.travisheermann.com/about.htm.)
They use different approaches to communicate that their author credentials are excellent. You also get a sense of each author’s personality, which is helpful. When writing yours, focus on facts and relevance and skip the life history unless you have a solid reason to include it. Your author bio isn’t an encyclopedia entry. It’s a sales tool.
(Struggling to write yours? Build Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates includes a fill-in-the-blanks author bio template and a sample.)