Thursday 18 October 2012

5 ways NOT to write an author biography for literary magazines

Ever read someone's author bio and find yourself zoning out? This is probably why:

OneIt reads like a job application form.

I do not need to know every single little job you have done since you were twelve and sold painted pebbles on the side of the road. Focus on the good stuff. The recent stuff. Also, avoid dates so you don't have to change it too often. If you want people to know more about you, link to your website. Easy. The idea is to make them want to click on your website.

TwoIt lists every single literary publication you have ever had.

Yeah, italics are good. It means writing credits. It means other editors have thought your writing good enough to publish. But seriously, don't over-do it. It's boring. And who cares? We want to read about YOU. Just cut it down to the two or three, biggest and best ones you have. Honestly, when I read the bios, I skip over the italics. I want personality, not a resume. And I'm sure readers do too. Most readers out there are not going to know much about the names of literary magazines, so what's the point in focussing on them? Make them want to read your writing.

ThreeIt sounds arrogant.

If it's in first person, you run the risk sounding like the girl/boy in school who everyone pretended to love. Remember them? Yeah, they were the ones who had their side-kicks shove your head down the toilet and made you feel like a turd. Then. But you, the geek, have now got your shit together. Be humble. Be proud, but don't wave your money around. Best stick to third person. And facts. A little quirky wordplay goes a long way too.

FourIt tells us all about where you live and how handsome your husband/wife is.

Um ... need I say more? Seriously. It's like listening to a new mum tell you about how proud they are of the texture of their baby's poop.

It's toooooooooooooooo loooooooooooooooooong.

You are not writing a memoir. Stick to 50-100 words. The key to a perfect biography for me is when you utilize the three SSS. (Short, Smart, Sassy). The purpose of a bio, is not to list everything about you. It's to make people want to know more about you. Make them want to click on your blog to find out for themselves.

Here are a few good examples:

Karina Sims is a 26-year-old writer from Beaver Falls, British Columbia, Canada. She is the author of many short stories and an unpublished novel. Her interests include: long walks on the beach, candle lit dinners, world domination and cannibalism.

Alaine Benard’s publishing credits include; Louisiana Literature, The Rose & Thorn Journal, The New York Quarterly, blah, blah, blah. Benard is known as the ‘silent poet,’ writes and paints from dimly lit caves (currently in Baton Rouge), away from snakes and all liars. She loves bacon.

Kevin Ridgeway's work has most recently appeared in Golden Sparrow Literary Review, Quantum Poetry Magazine and Thunderclap! Press. He resides in Southern California in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Check out his blog: blah.

Matt Hentschel was once a hired gunman, working in the comic industry, but is now more of a writer and illustrator pursuing his own ideas. His works (both written and illustrated) can be found at [website].

What other no-nos can you think of for writing an author biography?

*For more insider lit mag tips, check out the links HERE


  1. Heheh, thanks for that! I'm shit at bios, and have just reworked mine taking good heed of your advice!

  2. LOL. Good times. Now I wonder if mine's too long?

  3. Mine is short, although a little longer than a hundred words. And it's in third person, which is really weird to write at first.

  4. I loathe the ones that share writing philosophy-- "Max Smith believes in writing that moves a reader's soul." Hey Max, move my soul, but don't tell me.

    And, according to this, my bio is wayyyyy too long, and I guess people don't care about my dog :-(

  5. Ah, the old 'cannibalism' hobby. Idle hands, authors, idle hands... :-D

  6. The ones that *really* bore me are bios that tell me how long a person has been writing. Unless you were a genius prodigy who published in The New Yorker at age 8, I don't really care that you've loved writing since you could hold a pen. Yawn.

    On the other side of the coin, DO tailor your bio to the publication. Some journals are more serious in tone and adding too much humor makes you look like the guy making fake fart sounds during a funeral. Just sayin'.... :-D

    1. That's an excellent point, Laurel. Always be aware of what the publication is looking for.

  7. You've got all the major points listed, Jessica. There's a few things I skim (too much personal info). Only one out of 10 bios make me want to look at their blog.

    The bios are 'look at me' opportunities for some, but how to be subtle? It's not the way to get noticed, or so current trends would have us believe. Marketing would like us to be out there, in cheerleader uniform, waving a megaphone around.

    Enjoyed this post.

  8. Great advice. I agree with you on all counts for what I like to read. It is always confusing though, to know what somebody wants. My first nibble on a query requested a bio with pages and I made the gigantic goof of sending my CV... because that is what a bio is in my daytime world... I just didn't KNOW.

  9. So I guess the bottom line is short, subtle and funny?
    Not at a challenge then!

  10. Good tips, Jessica. A short bio means I'll probably read it. I zone out with anything too long.

  11. Great tips! The art of bio writing really is a learned skill.

  12. One cliche that's a turnoff for me is the list of wacky or menial jobs that an author has held.

  13. Good stuff, but Kevin's "good" bio is a stinker. Any mention of a pet & domicile is fluff.

  14. Can I leave in the "blah, blah, blah"? I think that's pretty funny.

  15. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips.

  16. Does anyone have any specific advice as to how to not make a bio sound like an obituary?

    1. I'm not sure, there is any way to tell someone how to do this. Just try to put a bit of character into it.


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