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Writing & Media

How to Write a Professional Bio for a WriterWriters are good at writing, but they aren’t always good at marketing. But there’s one piece of marketing that no author can ignore: a good short professional bio.

You’d think that writing a bio would be easy for a writer. However, writing great mysteries doesn’t necessarily translate into creating a gripping author bio. And bottom line: most of us dread writing about ourselves.

What to put in? What to leave out? How to sound good without sounding like a braggart? No wonder so many writers procrastinate on writing their professional bio.

But you’re reading this because you’ve decided that today’s the day. Hurrah! Good for you.

OK, let’s get started writing a good author bio for you. Here is what you need to keep in mind:

1. Be very clear about your target audience.

“Target audience” is just a fancy way of saying “people who read your work.” Consider who typically reads your work (or who your work is intended to attract) and tailor your bio to their interests. After all, while an author bio may lead a reader to a new favorite writer, in many cases, the author bio is to give readers who already stumbled over the work a better idea of who the author is (and hopefully make them fans for life).

2. Create mystique.

If the customer is looking for someone to put new brakes on a car, they want the most honest, straightforward, boring but qualified person alive.

But when it comes to learning about an author, a bit of mystique can be intriguing. One of the techniques of many successful authors is that they make themselves are a character in the novel that is their life.

Think of Hemingway. Would he be Hemingway if he’d been some little pipsqueak with spectacles living in an attic apartment in Dayton?

A contemporary example would be author Anne Rice, who’s created a series of bestselling vampire novels. She lives in a huge, spooky-looking mansion in New Orleans and seldom appears in public unless she’s dressed completely in black. That’s mystique.

Mystique can certainly attract fans. Once you’ve attracted their attention, your quality writing will make them a committed fan.

3. The point is still the work.

Yes, you want an interesting author bio, but the whole point of that is to make sure readers know what you’ve written, especially if you’ve got a half-dozen books out there.

Make sure to include a complete list of your published works and any works that is about to be published. Note that the phrase “about to be published” should only be used if you have an actual publishing deal (it doesn’t mean you’re hoping a publisher will buy it.)

4. You may need more than one bio.

You definitely want a “user-friendly” bio on your website (if you don’t have a website, get one). That bio is for fans and potential fans. You may need a far more formal bio to accompany a manuscript that’s being submitted to an agent or publisher, so have a couple of versions of your bio ready.

5. When in doubt, leave it out

Edit your bio just like you edit your prose. Interesting facts about your life, especially if they tie into your writing, are fine. If you lived in Paris from ages 8 to 14 and have now written a book on going to a French elementary school, that’s absolutely relevant. If you had two years of high school French classes but your book is set in Japan, leave out your knowledge of le français.

6. Tailor publication credits to your stage of career

If you’re starting out, list all your publication credits. However, by the time you’re a finalist for a National Book Award, it’s time to leave out the poem that was published in your college literary journal.

7. Don’t share too much

Again, if you’re starting out, you’d probably be delighted to hear from your fans. Heck, you might be delighted to have one of them stop by and sleep on your couch for a week!

However, believe it or not, that will change. There are lots of wonderful people in the world. There are also some really messed-up individuals out there. Don’t give them your address, your phone number, or your private email. If you want to hear from them, set up a website and let them reach you there.

8. Include a professional photo

To photo or not to photo? Between privacy concerns and the fact that most of us hate how we look in photos, you may be tempted not to include one.

However, you need a picture with your bio. It doesn’t have to contain details that will let people stalk you; a head and shoulders shot in front of a simple background is most appropriate.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are photographers everywhere who can create a head-shot for a very reasonable fee. Do it. It makes you feel like a “real” author.

9. Determine the correct voice

Traditionally, professional biographies were written in the third person voice (i.e. “Doug Miller is the author of…” not “I am the author of…”).  Third-person voice conveys formality and professionalism (it sounds as if someone else is extolling your accomplishments), while first-person voice sounds friendly and informal.

The tradition of always using third-person voice for writing a professional bio has changed. With the advent of social media, the choice of how formal or informal depends on your audience and where the bio is to be published.

For example, third-person voice is most appropriate for LinkedIn because it is a business and career oriented site.  In contrast, first-person voice is often used when writing a short bio for less formal social media platforms such as a bio for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

10. Keep it up-to-date

Your bio should be updated frequently, especially every time you have another work published or win an award.

Short Author Bio Example

____________(author’s name) is a writer, __________, and _______ (add a couple of other major interests, especially if they pertain to the written work). He/she is the author of _____(number of works), including the ___________(name of award)-winning _____________, the recently released ____________, and the upcoming _____ .   ____________ (author’s name) has also collaborated with ________ on a series of novels set in ______, available through ________ publishers. _____________ lives in ________ with his/her collection of ___________. You can reach ______________ at his/her website _____________.

Bottom Line

An author bio helps create buzz, connect with fans, establish the writer in the fraternity of authors and (hopefully) sell books as well. It’s an easy and effective tool that only requires a keyboard and bit of imagination, which you certainly have.

If you like the template above you can get a longer, more thorough version. Immediately download the full writer-author bio template that will make the job so much quicker and easier. That way you can complete your bio writing task and get back to the writing that you actually enjoy!

wall with heart

Mike Russell is a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon. He asked me to take a look at his professional biography to see if a set of “fresh eyes” could yield any improvements.

Original version of Mike’s bio

 I help service professionals, consultants, and innovators to align their stories with their ideal clients, refine their sales funnels, and expand their online reputations.

I’m convinced that the best results, the most durable change, and the greatest common good all emerge from there.

I love helping talented professionals write a bio, an article, or other marketing collateral that puts their best foot forward, and connects magnetically with the people whom they can help the most. The world needs more people avidly pursuing their passions.

For me, success comes when my clients are as delighted with my work as I am.

Post-project praise like this affirms that I’m heading in the right direction, professionally:
“You are seriously one of the best copywriters I have ever encountered,”
“Not only is he immensely talented as a copywriter, but he’s easy and fun to work with,” and
“We appreciate sharing the weight and having you on the team!”

This path hasn’t always been so clear. When I started out as a freelance writer, I tried to project the ‘right’ professional image. Though professionalism is important, I believe that people prefer to do business with ‘real people’. Familiarity, a healthy whimsy, and an incurable curiosity all inform my writing.

I was the kid who loved the book reports and essays. Although that didn’t score points with my peers, it paved the way for a career as a professional writer.

Though I live, work, and play in Portland, Oregon, I love to collaborate with professionals, consultants, and innovators everywhere. If we ever meet in person, remember that I have an exploitable weakness for unorthodox pizza.

 Revised Version of Mike’s Bio

I’m a copywriter with a difference: I write for clients who believe the world needs more people avidly pursuing their passions.

I help these service professionals, consultants, and innovators align their stories with their ideal clients, refine their sales funnels, and expand their online reputations. That can take the form of a great bio, article, or other marketing material  that puts the client’s best foot forward, and connects magnetically with the people whom they can help the most.

For me, success comes when my clients are as delighted with my work as I am. Praise like this affirms that I’m heading in the right direction:

  • “You are seriously one of the best copywriters I have ever encountered”
  • “Not only is he immensely talented as a copywriter, but he’s easy and fun to work with”
  • “We appreciate sharing the weight and having you on the team!”

I was the kid who loved the book reports and essays. Although that didn’t score points with my peers, it paved the way for a career as a professional writer.

But my path hasn’t always been clear. When I started out as a freelance writer, I tried to project the ‘right’ professional image. Though professionalism is important, I believe that people prefer to do business with ‘real people.’ Familiarity, a touch of whimsy, and an incurable curiosity all inform my writing.

Though I live, work, and play in Portland, Oregon, I love to collaborate with professionals, consultants, and innovators everywhere. If we ever meet in person, remember that I have an exploitable weakness for unorthodox pizza.

Contact me by…

Suggestions for Mike

Mike’s a talented copywriter, so it’s no surprise that his bio was already well-written. I didn’t change  a lot in his bio: it involved more rearranging than rewriting. I also replaced some jargon words with plain words (e.g. “marketing material” instead of “marketing collateral”).

There was only one sentence that ended up on the cutting room floor:

I’m convinced that the best results, the most durable change, and the greatest common good all emerge from there.

It’s a good sentence, but I just couldn’t find a place where I thought it added value. I tried attaching it to the end of paragraph two, but decided it had the effect of weakening the paragraph’s impact  (sometimes less is more).

I love how Mike’s heart-centered approach is reflected in his bio. That will have the effect of attracting like-minded clients – just the people he wants to work with.

I also love how Mike’s whimsical sense of humor shows up in statements like “I was the kid who enjoyed the book reports… which didn’t score points with my peers” and “remember that I have an exploitable weakness for unorthodox pizza.”

Mike  might want to replace this testimonial “We appreciate sharing the weight and having you on the team!” with something stronger. On his website Mike has fantastic testimonials that have more “punch” than the “on the team” one. I particularly like the one from Frank that said Mike’s writing is not the standard boring corporate stuff.

Thanks Mike

I really enjoyed working on your bio, and I hope you like it!

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