Here it is, your moment of glory. You’ve finished your book, chosen the title, the cover, maybe you’ve even already written the blurb. Now it’s finally time to write your author bio.
Some people dream about this moment their entire lives yet never get to the finish line. Others may write their bio years before ever completing a book. Wherever you are in the process, this is a moment to savor, and worth spending the time to get right.
You want to feel proud of your author bio, of course. But also understand that it’s more than a fluff piece. Your bio is another piece of your marketing, a part of your author brand that should broadcast who you are at a glance.
Your author bio accomplishes a couple of things. It helps to declare and establish your reputation as a writer. If you are in the non-fiction world, this is particularly important. Use your bio to tell people how you know what you know and why they should listen to you. But even for fiction writers, many readers look at the author bio before deciding to buy the book.
If the cover, title, and blurb still leave them on the fence, reading a bit about you just might be the thing that pushes them over the line to decide to buy.
Even if an e-book version of your book only costs a few dollars, it’s true cost is the commitment in time. Potential buyers will make a snap judgment about whether or not to invest the money and time based on short bits of writing like your blurb and bio.
For people deciding who to interview as a guest on their podcast or which book to promote through social media in any given week week, it’s far easier for them to make that decision based on your bio than on your entire book. Of course, you want them all to read the whole thing, but successful people are busy and some of the biggest scores will never have the time. A great author bio helps to make their decision easy.
If you are ready to write, here are some best practices to keep you started strong.
1. Standard author biography format
Write in third person past tense. This isn’t your autobiography and yes, we know you aren’t dead yet. But third person will make you sound professional, and what you did is already in the past. Besides, you will die one of these days, then that past tense will be up to date and even more appropriate. If you want a professional author bio, write it in third person past tense. Take a look at the author’s bios of the authors you admire most. While it’s possible one of them purposely decided to do something else to highlight how wacky and unique they can be, I bet the rest stuck to the standard.
2. Accomplishments, awards, and accolades
If you are going to list any of your accomplishments, awards, and accolades, make sure they are all things that can be easily proven and verified. If you call yourself award-winning, then you better be able to tell the reader which rewards. And not just the name of some random, little known industry award the general public has no frame of reference for. If it’s not a Pulitzer, a Nobel, a Newbery, or an Oscar, explain what it is and why you won it.
If you’re going to claim the title of bestselling author, tell the reader according to who. The New York Times? Amazon? A category in Amazon? Be honest and transparent — you don’t want someone calling you out on something that could be considered a fib.
Don’t bother listing aspirations. People don’t need to know that it’s always been your dream to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. They only care if you actually did it, and then only if it has something to do with your book. If you’re over the age of 30, there are probably a lot of things you’ve accomplished in life, but if they have no bearing on or relevance to your book and your career as an author, put the reader first and leave them out.
3. Education, membership, and work/life experience
If it has little or no relevance to your book and subject, there isn’t any need to mention your education, membership in clubs and societies, or work/life experience. If it has bearing on your book, like if you want people to know you have a Ph.D. in psychology so they take your book on trauma recovery seriously, by all means include that detail about your education. If you earned that degree at a prestigious institution and think it will lend weight to your opinion, then yes, of course, include that too. But you don’t need to detail where you got your undergraduate degree or what score you got on your GRE. Unless you’re writing a GRE study guide. In that case, your GRE score is of prime importance. You get the idea. The point of this is, you only have so much room in a bio. Make every word count.
4. Show your skills
You’re a writer, so keep it tight. Make your point as efficiently and effectively as possible. Describe yourself as the author with as much care as you use to describe and develop characters. What do your readers most want to know about you? What do you most want them to know? How does your bio tie in with the kind of writing you do? What can your bio say to pique their curiosity about you and your books?
5. Be a real person
You want your ideal readers to feel drawn to you and able to relate with you in some way when they read your author bio, so never be afraid to include something personal. Many authors do this toward the end by telling the reader something about themselves, their family. Maybe where they live and what they like to do aside from their writing. Don’t go crazy with this one. It’s not a dating profile where you need to say you like drinking margaritas and taking long walks in the rain.
6. Author photo
Some authors choose to break out of the professional headshot standard and do something creative that relates to their personality and the type of books they publish. It works well for some of them. But for most authors, especially non-fiction authors, the best bet is to go with the standard professional-looking headshot. Head and shoulders, either squared up to the camera or maybe with the shoulders slightly turned, but the face and eyes looking directly into the camera. If you are a horror or thriller author, maybe you want a stern, unforgiving, even frightening expression, but for most authors, a smile or slight smile works pretty well. Pick a photo you are proud of and want to have people see. You can use this not only for your book but also for your author page on Amazon, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and wherever else you identify yourself as an author.
Author Bio Examples
Now let’s look at a few examples. We’ll start with a world-famous author that everyone knows: Stephen King.
About Stephen King
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His first crime thriller featuring Bill Hodges, MR MERCEDES, won the Edgar Award for best novel and was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award. Both MR MERCEDES and END OF WATCH received the Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Mystery and Thriller of 2014 and 2016 respectively.
King co-wrote the bestselling novel Sleeping Beauties with his son Owen King, and many of King’s books have been turned into celebrated films and television series including The Shawshank Redemption, Gerald’s Game and It.
King was the recipient of America’s prestigious 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. In 2007 he also won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives with his wife Tabitha King in Maine.
Because King has so many past titles, accomplishments, awards, and accolades to his name, his bio focuses on all of that first. But it also mentions his son, who he has co-written with, as well as his wife Tabitha and the fact that they live in Maine.
Here’s an example of an author bio that breaks rule #1 listed above, but Neil Gaiman is known for breaking rules and doing things in his own way, so I’d argue that this works better for him than for most authors. He has enough books to get away with it.
About Neil Gaiman
I make things up and write them down. Which takes us from comics (like SANDMAN) to novels (like ANANSI BOYS and AMERICAN GODS) to short stories (some are collected in SMOKE AND MIRRORS) and to occasionally movies (like Dave McKean’s MIRRORMASK or the NEVERWHERE TV series, or my own short film A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON).
In my spare time I read and sleep and eat and try to keep the blog at www.neilgaiman.com more or less up to date.
This Amazon bio seems a bit out of date given that Neil has now had TV shows made out of American Gods and Good Omens, but maybe his team just hasn’t gotten around to updating it yet. Notice that Neil uses first person and is writing in present tense. He also fails to mention any of his many awards and accolades like winning the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Newbery Medal, the Carnegie Medal, the Locus Award, and being nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, among others. Perhaps this is some kind of British false modesty? Or maybe he’s just not the kind of guy to sing his own praises. At this point in his career, it works for him, but an author needs to be successful before they can get away with this kind of slapdash author bio and still manage to sell a ton of books.
But neither of these examples so far are of indie authors, so let’s move on. Joanna Penn is an independent author who has been a guest on our podcast and is also a good friend. Let’s take a look at her author’s bio.
About Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, international speaker and award-winning entrepreneur based in Bath, England.
Her site, www.TheCreativePenn.com helps authors with creativity, writing, publishing, book marketing, and creative entrepreneurship. It has been voted one of the top 100 sites for authors by Writers Digest. Joanna has a popular podcast, The Creative Penn, and a YouTube Channel.
You can get a free Author 2.0 Blueprint ebook and video series at www.TheCreativePenn.com/blueprint
You can also connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn and on Facebook.com/TheCreativePenn
Joanna is a travel junkie, weaving her adventures into her Award-nominated, bestselling thrillers as J.F.Penn. She’s a cat person and enjoys a nice G&T.
Joanna has a Masters in Theology from the University of Oxford, Mansfield College, and a post-graduate diploma in Psychology from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She spent 13 years in the corporate world before breaking out to become a full-time author-entrepreneur in 2011.
Her bestselling self-help books for writers and authors include:
- Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish an ebook and print book
- How to Market a Book
- How to Make a Living with your Writing – listed as one of INC magazine top business books 2015
- The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey
- Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur
- Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts
- Co-writing a Book: Collaboration and Co-Creation for Writers – co-written with J. Thorn
- The Healthy Writer: Reduce your Pain, Improve your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-term – co-written with Dr. Euan Lawson
- Career Change: Stop Hating your Job, Discover what you Really Want to Do with your Life, and Start Doing It!
Joanna packs a lot of information into her bio, and while it is a bit on the long side, she does it well. Notice that up front she lets you know a few important things about her that tell you exactly why she’s worth listening to. Joanna knows that readers of this bio are probably seeing it on Amazon, in a kindle book, or somewhere else on a platform that isn’t owned by her, so she tells them exactly how to find her. She encourages readers to download her free Author Blueprint (which will get those readers onto her newsletter list where she can interact with them directly) and explains how to follow her on social media. She also shows herself to be a real person with the tidbit about travel and enjoying G&Ts. She briefly tells about her education and past life experience. Last of all points the reader toward a targeted list of her books. Excellent.
Now just to show you that my fellow authors at Sterling & Stone and I walk our own talk, I’ll share our author bios.
About Sean M. Platt
Sean M. Platt is an entrepreneur and founder of Sterling & Stone, where he makes stories with his partners, Johnny Truant, and David Wright, and a family of storytellers.
Sean is the bestselling author of over 10 million words’ worth of books, including the Yesterday’s Gone and Invasion series. Sean is also co-author of the indie publishing cornerstone, Write. Publish. Repeat. and co-host of the Story Studio Podcast.
Originally from Long Beach, California, Sean now lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two children. He has more than his share of nose.
About Johnny Truant
Johnny Truant is co-owner of the Sterling & Stone Story Studio, an IP powerhouse focusing on books and adaptations for film and television. It’s the best job in the world, and he spends his days creating cool stuff with partners Sean M. Platt and David Wright, as well as more than 20 gifted storytellers.
Johnny is the bestselling author of over 100 books under various pen names, including the Fat Vampire and Invasion series. On the nonfiction side, he’s also co-author of the indie publishing mainstay Write. Publish. Repeat. and co-host of the weekly Story Studio Podcast.
Originally from Ohio, Johnny and his family now live in Austin, Texas, where he’s finally surrounded by creative types as weird as he is.
About David W. Wright
David Wright is the co-author of the #1 horror and #1 sci-fi series, Yesterday’s Gone.
With co-author Sean Platt, he’s written six dark thriller series (WhiteSpace, ForNevermore, Available Darkness, and the 47North series Z2134 and Monstrous); three standalone novels (12, Crash, and Threshold); and countless Dark Crossings short stories.
He is also one-third of The Story Studio Podcast with authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.
He currently lives on the east coast with his wife, young son, and the world’s most poopingest cat.
When he’s not writing books, David can be found writing about the things he enjoys (TV shows, movies, books, video games, and going off on the occasional rant) at http://DavidwWright.com.
As you can see, we all mostly follow our own rules, writing in third person, past tense, telling a few things that qualify us as authors worth a reader’s time, and a bit of being a real person that someone can relate to.
Now it’s your turn. Change the world with your stories, and make sure your author bio gets people reading them.
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