Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bios...Is yours working for you?

One of the things that you'll use over and over again (on your blog, in the back matter of your book, during author interviews) is your bio. Yet most are sorely lacking. I'm the first to admit that I was guilty of writing a "less than desirable" bio in the past - but that's why we are here - to learn from my mistakes and hopefully do better in the future.

First you should recognize that you need more than one bio. I actually suggest 3:
  • Super short - for twitter (160 characters)
  • Medium - 500 - 600 characters
  • Long - 500 - 700 words
Your bio should change over time. Every few months I look at the bios of myself, my authors, and Michael to see if they should be revised. Did you just release a new book? Get an award? Cross an important milestone?

I'll come back another day and discuss the super short and medium but for today I want you to think about your "long form". It should:
  • Give the reader insight about you
  • Be engaging
  • Be truthful and heartfelt
  • Tell a story
I'm going to pick on Blake Crouch for just a second. (I love you Blake but you illustrate my point well). He's a great writer of hardcore Thrillers and in some cases they get a bit on the "disturbing side" as many works of that genre does. Here is Blake's bio from Amazon:

BLAKE CROUCH is the author of DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, SNOWBOUND, and ABANDON, which was an IndieBound Notable Selection, all published by St. Martin's Press. Blake's latest thriller, RUN, his first indie release, hit the Amazon Top 50.

His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Thriller 2, Shivers VI, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and other anthologies.

In 2009, he co-wrote "Serial" with JA Konrath, which has been downloaded over 500,000 times and topped the Kindle bestseller list for 4 weeks. That story and ABANDON have also been optioned for film. He is currently at work with JA Konrath on the novel STIRRED, the conclusion to his Andrew Z. Thomas series. Blake lives in Colorado. His website is www.blakecrouch.com.

Blake took the "establish credibility route" - which is fine. He mentions his books, and how successful they have been - but this really doesn't "pull me in" or endear me to him as a writer. Readers like having a personal connection with people they read and Blake didn't give us enough about "him" to do this. I read an interview once where Blake mentioned that when he was young his parents were pulled in for a conference when little Blake wrote a paper for school that was "disturbing"...What a great insight!! What a fun story for someone who writes about serial killers and grisly murders. Blake, why isn't this in your bio?

To illustrate the "tell me a story" aspect of the bio let's look at Michael's

After finding a manual typewriter in the basement of a friend's house, Michael inserted a blank piece of paper and typed: It was a dark and stormy night and a shot rang out. He was just eight years old. But the desire to fill the blank page and see what doors the typewriter keys would unlock wouldn't let him go. For ten years Michael developed his craft by studying authors such as Stephen King, Ayn Rand, and John Steinbeck...just to name a few. During that time he wrote ten novels, and after finding no traction in publishing, he gave up and vowed never to write creatively again.

Michael discovered that never is a very long time, and he ended his hiatus from writing after a decade. The itch returned when he decided to create a series of books for his then thirteen-year-old daughter, who was struggling in school due to dyslexia. Intrigued by the idea of writing a series with an overarching story line, he created the Riyria Revelations. Each of the six-books were written as individual episodes but also included intertwining elements and mysteries that develop over time. Michael describes this endeavor as something he did "just for fun with no intention of publishing." After presenting the first manuscript to his daughter, he was chagrined that she declared, "I can't read it like this, can't you get it published?"

So began his second adventure on the road to publication, which included: drafting his wife to be his business manager; signing with an independent press; and later creating a small press. After two and a half years, the first five books sold more than 60,000 copies and ranked in the top twenty of multiple Amazon fantasy lists. In November 2010, he leveraged his success and received his first commercial publishing contract for three novels from Orbit Books (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group, USA). In addition, Michael reached international status with foreign right translations including: France, Spain, Russia, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

Today, Michael continues to fill blank pages and has three projects under development: A modern fantasy, a literary fiction piece, and a prequel to his bestselling Riyria Revelations.

2010 Fantasy Book Critic #1 Indie Fantasy (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Iceberg Ink Award Best Read (Avempartha)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 25 (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Bookworm Blues Overall Best Reads of 2010 (Avempartha)
2010 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 12 Novels as of First Quarter (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Avempartha)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Nyphron Rising)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 5 Novels of Second Half of 2010 (Wintertide)
2009 Winner of Book Spot Central's Fantasy Tournament of Books (Avempartha)
2009 Speculative Fiction Junkie's Top 5 Close Contender(The Crown Conspiracy)
2009 Top 10 Books by Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews (The Riyria Revelations)
2009 National Indie Book Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2008 ReaderViews Annual Literary Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2007 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)

The Crown Conspiracy (October 2008)
Avempartha (April 2009)
Nyphron Rising (October 2009)
The Emerald Storm (April 2010)
Wintertide (October 2010)
Percepliquis* (January 2012)

Theft of Swords (11/2011)
Rise of Empire (12/2011)
Heir of Novron (1/2012)

*Limited edition release

Michael's website: http://www.michaelsullivan-author.com
Michael's blog: http://riyria.blogspot.com/
Michael's twitter: http://twitter.com/author_sullivan
Michael's publishers: http://www.ridanpublishing.com & http://www.orbitbooks.net/

I love this story about when he was a kid, not just because it is true, but it really makes me "like Mike". I can picture him typing on the page. Thinking he just did something great, and scrunching up his fact to figure out what comes next and licking his lips as he starts the next line. It's personal.

The second part of the bio shows Michael as an underdog that had to go to great lengths to get his books to an audience. It concludes with him finally "making it" and we all feel good whe we see a little guy win.

Finally we round out the bio with a list of his books (in order so people know what order to read them in) and awards that he has won (to give credibility) and last but not least ways in which his fans can reach him.

This is 588 words and when I have to "reduce it for space" I remove in order:
  • Awards (brings it to 430 words)
  • Out of print versions (392 words)
  • Reduce contact to just website and email (380 words)
So today's homework assignment...look at your current bios and see if they are working for you as best they can and if not do a little rewriting.


Joseph D'Agnese said...

This is really good point. I tend to revise my bios depending on the audience I'm likely to be approaching. Since I write for both kids and adults, I'm always feeling a little schizophrenic about how to pitch myself. One of my most recent ones reads as follows. I know it makes schoolteachers and children who read my books laugh, but I wonder if it's a little too smart-alecky sometimes. This one, by the way, does not mention my books because they are located handily on my website, where a version of this bio appears.

"I’m an American journalist who has written books for children and adults. I am both traditionally and self-published. I occasionally ghost write books for people because I am paid handsomely to do so. But my heart lies in the realm of fiction, and the occasional beautifully reported nonfiction article or book.

In 2003, I went on a perilous journey to research the life of the Italian medieval mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. I sold my house and moved to Italy, where, in order to survive, I was forced to drink foamy cappuccinos, and eat crispy pizza, richly sauced pastas and the occasional gelato in pursuit of the story.

At long last I escaped by building a giant raft out of empty cannoli shells, which I used to sail back to the land of E. Pluribus Unum. Fully recovered from my dangerous adventures, I live with my wife in North Carolina."

Joe D'Agnese

Lexi said...

Robin, I'd like to add a rule: Don't mention your engagingly-wayward pets - they have no place in an author bio.

Or am I on my own with this one?

Sharper13x said...

Lexi, I totally agree about the pets. Everybody loves their pets. We know.

Robin, another great post with good advice. I hate writing my own bios, as a result I too often try to be too brief or sarcastic and self-effacing. Probably doesn't help.

But my dog, Baron MunchHoundsen, loves my bio. So what do I know?

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

After reading your points for the long bio, I am breathing a sigh of relief. And here I thought I was being too personal and telling too much of a story on my "about me" page. Maybe my instincts were right afterall.

Wendy Tyler Ryan
Fire's Daughter

David Gaughran said...

Barry Eisler wrote a great piece a few years back on the author bio as sales tool, which completely changed how I think about it. I'll see if I can find it...

...here it is: http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/2009/02/guest-blogger-barry-eisler-on-its-the-marketing-stupid.html

Recommended reading.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Nancy Beck said...

Hmm...interesting. I hadn't thought about a long form bio. I do include a little personal thing about why I write fantasy ("when she was in third grade, she wrote a story - a fantasy short - and she's loved fantasy ever since").

I also include a bit about my husband and my dog. Why the dog? Because a dog plays a part in all the books of this particular series.

I do agree that I like when a writer includes something personal about him/herself in the bio - especially if it's a funny or fun tidbit.

Nancy Beck said...

Don't mention your engagingly-wayward pets - they have no place in an author bio.

I'll disagree - but with a reason.

I'm including my dog in my bio for this series because the series just happens to have a dog in it. And there's a reason for the dog as the series goes along...although I'm not saying why. ;-)

What I say actually dovetails nicely with what I say about said dog in the story.

I probably won't include him in anything I subsequently put out because it's not appropriate to the story.

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Frank Marcopolos said...

Great thoughts, Robin. I just completely reworked my bio after mulling over your advice a bit. Thanks!