By Bonnie Stanard
“I can write something about almost anything, but when it comes to a bio, I don’t know what to say.” If you haven’t said this yourself, you’ve probably heard somebody else say it. Kia Goins, SCWW’s vice president, recently wrote in the Quill, “It’s my turn to write a brief biography. This is far more difficult than I imagined.”
If you’re submitting your work to agents, journals, or publishers, a short bio of sorts appears in your query letter. This is where you provide credentials that say you’ve been published, won awards, or been recognized as a wordsmith by some authority other than your family. It’s where you provide evidence that you’re qualified to write a book. If it’s nonfiction, you’ll sink or swim on your education, experiences, and/or qualifications to address the subject of your book. A novel is different, for the imagination needs no college degree. Assuming you have imagination, the focus becomes your writing skills.
What to do if you have no published works, i.e., no obvious credentials? One possibility is to show that you’re serious about writing. Recount writer organizations you belong to, such as the South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW) or Romance Writers of America. Add a note about conferences that inspired you or list conferences you’ve attended.
Do you contribute to a writer’s blog (such as this one)? That’s another way to show that you are working on your skills and trying to improve. You may want to provide the link to the web address as well. Don’t underestimate the importance of an online presence (consider where you’re reading this…). Have you participated in other exercises that show your commitment to writing, such as the November Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?
Another possibility is to explain how you came to write. As a child, did you love “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” (or some such story) or Laura Ingalls Wilder (or some such author)? A love of reading and/or writing that dates back to your youth demonstrates depth. If you can appear well-read, all the better, e.g., comment on authors you admire or emulate.
If you have no writing background to speak of, tell of the passion that inspired you to write the book. Even without credentials, you can win over readers if you write passionately and intelligently. Perhaps you haven’t solved a mystery, but you’re a Sherlock Holmes junkie. Maybe you don’t know Shoeless Joe Jackson, but you know his date of birth and next of kin. In other words, if you’ve written a western, sound obsessed with westerns; if a football story, let your ardor for the game show.
Unless your bio is part of a letter, write it in third person and provide contact information. Most bios are no longer than a paragraph, so make fewer words say more. Try for clear sentences that get to the point.
Occasionally a biography will say: “Eva lives in the Lowcountry with her three cats.” Or dogs, or goldfish. Am I the only person who doesn’t want to know about a writer’s pets? When handled well, personal information may personalize or provide insight, but there’s a fine line between purposeful information and useless chatter.