Writing the perfect bio to accompany your submissions is essential—and it can be tricky. After all, a bio offers insight into you as a person; it alerts the editors and your readers about other places you’ve published, and reveals some of your interests—points of connection that can humanize you. You are your words on the page, certainly, but you’re also more than that. Your bio accomplishes this work for you.
So you might wonder, “How do I summarize my background in a way that is intriguing, meaningful, and appropriate?” Maybe you think,“How do I balance astonishing people with my literary accomplishments while remaining down-to-earth and approachable?” Good questions, glad you asked.
Because altruism is second nature to me, I have developed the following list of bio-writing tips based on my many years (off-and-on) serving on editorial boards and as editorial assistants to a variety of journals. I guarantee that if you keep these suggestions in mind, you will craft a Bio to Amaze ™, one that will endear you to editors and readers alike. Fortunately, the list of tips is short, so you can implement them quickly:
1. Emphasize your credibility as a writer. Editors want to know that your work has been published in at least a hundred journals, so include the names of every last one of them in your bio, and hope that editors actually have to retype them from your cover letter, because it’s thrilling to see just how many places have published you. And hey, have you won literary prizes? Be sure to list all the prizes you’ve ever won, including the Blue Ribbon you got in your kindergarten class for your story about the kitten and the puppy who visited New York. We’re really impressed by that.
2. Make it personal. Editors feel connected to writers who share personal details. We love to know that you have a deep, abiding affection for the Dallas Cowboys, that you can’t make it through the day without a cup of Earl Grey, that in your off time, you like to read your poetry naked to the pigeons in your local park while doing yoga, and that, were you a tree, you’d be a live oak, reaching your knobby hundred-year-old limbs in prayer to God. We get a deeper sense of you as a person with this information, and it makes us feel really creepy close to you.
3. Name-drop. Have you studied with Famous Short Story Writer at a Really Hard to Get Into Summer Writers Workshop? Or attended a conference where the current Poet Laureate was reading and you bumped into her later on at the Overpriced Fancy Coffee Bar, getting the same Pumpkin Spice Mochaccino Latte Frappe that you ordered? Include this trivia, by all means. We too like to hobnob with greatness, even vicariously, and it’s a mark in your favor when you can list the celebrity writers you’ve met IRL who have influenced you. Bonus points if you make us editors jealous in the process.
4. Experiment with form. Why go with the conventional format of…
[Writer Name] has work published or forthcoming from [Journal A], [Journal B], and [Journal C]. She works as a [Job Title] in [City], and is the author of [Book Title] from [Press Name, Year]. You can read more of her work at [Blog Name.]
…when you could go with a racy picture of a woman that you’ve sketched in charcoal, adding a speech balloon to list your credentials? Or maybe an origami paper crane that you write the word “unfold here” on a wing, so the editor can open it up to see where you’ve scrawled your bio? Or, my personal favorite, record the bio as a YouTube video, and link to it? Not only will a video demonstrate you’re A Totally Creative Special Snowflake of the First Water, it could kick-start your whole YouTube career. You might decide to give up traditional publishing altogether and just record all your poems and stories on a channel, counting the precious thumbs-up “likes” from all your new fans. Instant gratification.
5. Be thorough, but to-the-point. Honestly, I can’t emphasize this enough. Six hundred words should suffice.
Bios are important, and they should enhance your submission, not detract from and thwart it. Remember, editors look for any excuse to reject your work—even if they say they read bios and cover letters last, can you really be sure that’s the case? Of course not. A bad bio can do real harm—and can negatively influence an editor as she reads. You might have sent an awesome story, but if your bio offends, sayonara journal publication.
Writing the perfect bio takes some time and thought. But it’s not difficult, once you’ve mastered the simple five-part process I’ve laid before you in this post. Give it a try, and let me know in the comments how everything works out!
*Please note, the author of this blog shall be held blameless if oblivious readers fail to recognize the snarky sarcasm contained herein.