You know that you need an author bio for your book cover and online retail sales pages, but did you realize that you need one in your author press kit, too?
Your author bio is an important online press room element because it’s the only tool you have to make the case that you are the best person to write this book and to write it well.
This information is just as important for reporters, producers, bloggers, and meeting planners as it is for readers. They all need to know that your professional and personal history offer excellent credentials for your novel or nonfiction book.
A press kit bio is longer
While your book cover and sales page bio should be only two or three sentences, a good press kit bio can be longer if it makes sense. (I generally recommend that you write a long bio for your press kit first, then pull a short version for your cover and sales pages from that.)
But just because longer is okay doesn’t mean it should represent your life story. I’m often discouraged by the number of authors who write 1,000 words or more, beginning with something like this:
Joseph Smith was born in Tulsa, Ok., in 1970, 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.
Unless these details are relevant to his book – if, for example, the book is set in St. Louis or about parochial education or men’s hairstyles – not much of this tells us why he’s the right author for this story.
Why are you qualified to write this book?
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, your author bio should focus on why you’re the best person to write this book because that, in turn, will tell us that:
- You know what you’re talking about.
- 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.
What to include
What should you include? Present any information that demonstrates your credentials to write this book. For nonfiction authors, that’s usually:
- Work experience
- Professional memberships
- Industry leadership roles
- Industry awards
For fiction writers, consider:
- Information that explains how you came to write this story – perhaps where or how you grew up, or your work experience
- Writing awards or acclaim
- Previously published works, including short stories and anthologies
- Fiction workshops or training programs you’ve presented to other writers
What to omit
What should you leave out?
Here’s a little tough love: We don’t care that you’ve dreamed about writing a book all your life.
Most authors have always wanted to write a book. That’s not unusual or special. In fact, as the self-publishing industry has grown, it’s become something of a cliché in bios.
And, really, as readers, we’re less interested in your dreams and more interested in how your book will contribute to ours.
With that in mind, keep the focus on why you’re qualified to write the book. Omit random details that don’t add to your credentials. (You might find a home for them on your website “About” page, though.)With author bios, keep the focus on why you’re qualified to write the book. Omit random details that don't add to your credentials.Click to tweet
Examples help, don’t they?
Here’s one for nonfiction writer Mark Harris, 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 Bethlehem, 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. Working with the board of the Fountain Hill Cemetery in eastern Pennsylvania, he established the first natural burial ground in the Lehigh Valley, Green Meadow.
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.
A graduate of Stetson University and the University of Chicago, Mark is an adjunct instructor at Moravian College and a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. His current book project focuses on green homebuilding.
You can see why Mark’s bio works well for his subject matter. It’s straightforward and professional, as it should be.
Novelists are often better able to have a little fun with their bios, providing that a lighter tone is a good fit for the book and its subject matter. You can see novelist Travis Heerman’s personality peeking out of his bio:
Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Tokyo Blood Magic, The Hammer Falls, The Ronin Trilogy, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Straight Outta Deadwood, Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.
He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Master of Arts in English, and teaches science fiction literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He has presented workshops on writing and publishing at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Pike’s Peak Writers Conference, and Colorado Gold Writers Conference, and regularly appears at conventions across the U.S.
He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and monsters of every flavor, especially those with a soft, creamy center. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.
Mark and Travis 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.
Before writing yours, be sure to also read “Avoid these 4 author bio mistakes” on this site.
Need more help? Build Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates has a template and author bio example. It includes templates and samples for all other author press kit materials, too.
Proud of your press kit bio? Link to it in a comment!
(Editor’s note: This article was first published in July 2011. It has been updated and expanded.)
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