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It’s important for indie authors to know how to write an author bio that tells readers: who you are, what you write, why readers should trust you, and how you stand out from other writers.
Your bio is like your calling card. “It’s something that will let readers get a sense of who you are, and is an important part for pitching media and book proposals,” sums up marketer Rachel Cone-Gorham, formerly of Penguin Random House.
This step-by-step guide dives into the four main components of a killer author bio and provides tips from our talented marketers for nailing each section.
For non-fiction authors, the author bio is a critical marketing tool as who are you are is often as (or more!) important than what your book is about.
Novelists will rarely depend on the bio to sell the book, but as book launch specialist Joel Pitney suggests: “Reading is an intimate endeavor in which the reader and the author are engaged in a kind of relationship. So, it’s important to provide potential readers with the chance to get a sense of who you are and why you have the authority/expertise to write about a particular topic before they pick up your book.”
Let’s get started on putting together your killer calling card.
The short bio
Writing a short bio is like speed dating. You’re describing as much as you can about yourself in the shortest amount of time… Or the least amount of words. It’s your chance to introduce yourself to a complete stranger and hook them in.
The best short bios are unique, simple and snappy, able to squeeze into tight spaces with a limited word count of anywhere between 1 and 40 words. You’ll find them at the bottom of blog posts, immediately following a magazine article or underneath your profile picture on social media.
Rather than listing links in their full form, short bios presented online are often accompanied by social media logos, such as the Facebook ‘F’ or the Instagram camera. By clicking on the logos, readers know they’ll be taken to the writer’s profile on that particular platform.
On her Twitter profile, Joanna Penn starts with the most important piece of information: she is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. With her remaining word limit, she uses short phrases to list other elements of her professional and personal life.
This popular strategy is great if you want to include any facts that might not be relevant to your work but define your personality.
NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Thriller Author JFPenn.com. Creative Entrepeneur. Podcaster. Professional speaker. INFJ. Travel junkie.” —Joanna Penn
The medium bio
Your speed date was a success and you’re meeting for coffee during your lunch break. You’ve only got 45 minutes to chat and you’re keen to retain an element of mystery about yourself. In other words, you’ve got more space than you had writing the short bio, but you don’t want to give everything away just yet.
The medium bio is similar to a cover letter in a job application, usually between 40 and 250 words long. You’ll use your medium bio for marketing material, for your section on a Meet the Team page, and when you write a query letter, after you’ve described your manuscript.
How to write a medium bio
Begin with your name and the one thing that makes you stand out as a writer. If having a short story featured in your local newspaper is your greatest writing achievement to date, open with it! For more accomplished writers, you could open with a previous top-selling publication or an award you’ve won.
Move on with one or two sentences each about your writing credentials or achievements, relevant education, life experiences, work history or personal life. Keep it simple. In this case, less is more and too much is arrogant. Instead of repeatedly using your name, use pronouns to break up the flow.
If you include your birthplace and living situation, place it at the end. While it is great that you exist and readers may want to know where you come from, this information isn’t critical and will take up valuable words in a query letter. Don’t worry – you can tell readers all about yourself in your long bio!
On her website, Joanna Penn includes a longer version of her short bio. She opens with a strong statement about what she does and the level at which she has published, then moves on to describe her professional and creative achievements in greater detail.
J.F. Penn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers on the edge, as well as bestselling non-fiction for authors published under Joanna Penn. Joanna’s site for writers, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted one of the top 10 sites for writers three years running. She is a professional speaker on creative entrepreneurship, digital publishing and internet marketing, and was voted one of the Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013.” —Joanna Penn
The extended bio
Once again, your first date was a success but this time you’re meeting for dinner, a three-course meal during which you have all the time in the world to talk about yourself.
In other words, the reader has skimmed over your short bio and taken a look at your social media profile. They like what they see and they want to learn even more, so they click over to the ‘About’ section on your website. This is where they will find your extended bio.
Extended bios include all the information that couldn’t fit into your short or medium bio. It is a comprehensive summary of your life as a writer.
By the time readers get to your long bio, you will have already captured their attention. So while this is the time to go into greater depth, don’t undo all your good work by simply listing your published works and rambling. Use your writing flair to make the bio interesting. Employ humour, tell a story and keep the bio moving.
How to write an extended bio
There is no right or wrong way to structure your extended bio, but there are ways make it stronger.
Think of it as a sandwich. The slice of bread at the top is the most relevant information, the stuff that has drawn your readers to the site in the first place. If the bio is published on your website, the bottom slice is a paragraph about your personal life, written in as much or as little detail as you like. If your bio is being published elsewhere, the slice at the bottom is your contact details. Then you just need some ingredients for the middle of the sandwich.
If you’re just starting out, you might be wondering what to include. Well, as long as it relates to your writing, use it!
Stories about your childhood or information about where you grew up is extremely interesting to many readers. Provide information about your work or performing history. Talk about where you live now, your hobbies, where you’ve travelled and what your family is like.
If you’re an established writer with a number of achievements to your name, you can include industry awards, relevant education, such as writing or editing courses, and a full list of your published works. For book publications, list the title in italics and parenthesise the name of the publisher and the year of publication.
In the extended bio featured on her website, Jane Friedman begins with a three-paragraph outline of her most important information, including a rundown of her experience in the industry, information about her award-winning blog, and experience in writing essays and public speaking. She moves on to discuss her interests and how they relate to her professional life, her work history and finally her personal life.
Rachel Aaron (also know asRachel Bach) approaches her extended bio in an entirely different way. It is lively, humorous and personal. The bio takes the form of a letter to readers and employs first person viewpoint to give it a conversational feel. She finishes with a list of links to interviews, podcasts and guest posts.
In general, your bio should include these four elements:
- Start with an opening byline
- State the theme of your work
- Mention your credentials
- Include a personal touch
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Start with an opening byline
Joel recommends starting your author bio with a one-liner that states your profile in a nutshell and the title of your latest publication.
- For instance: “Jane Doe is a Professor of Anthropology at UCLA and author of Insights Into Our Past: Tracing the Legacy of Intergenerational Trauma in 19th Century America.”
- Or: “Jane Doe is a poet, writer, and author of the new novel We Were Already There.”
If you’re using this bio digitally, don’t forget to link the title of your book to your sales page, whether that’s Amazon or your author website. Joel also suggests adding titles like “award-winning” or “best-selling” to your byline, if applicable.
The great part about writing a one-liner as your opener is that it can double as a short bio for guest articles, social media, etc.
2. State the theme of your work
This one is pretty simple: what do you write about? Are you fiction or non-fiction writer? Have you published more than one novel? What’s your area of interest or expertise?
- For instance: With over a decade writing obituaries for the local paper, Jane has a uniquely wry voice that shines through in her newest collection of essays on the importance we place on legacy.
- Or: A professionally trained electrician, Jane has spent the last decade reading and writing romance novels giving her characters palpable spark! Her latest work is the sequel to her debut novel, In the Arms of a Stranger.
In other words, give readers an idea of what they can expect from your book.
3. Mention your credentials
An important job of an “About the Author” section is to boost your credentials, says Rachel: “You want to show your qualifications and credibility so that a reader or potential reader will feel validated in choosing YOUR book to read.”
That being said, it’s not a good idea to start listing every award you’ve ever won. Only stick to credentials that directly relate to the content of your book. According to Rachel, “Qualifications can include writing courses, college degrees, awards, bestseller lists and accolades or, for fiction authors, even a lifetime of interest.” Here are a few of her examples:
- Jane has an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College.
- Jane completed a creative writing course at Vermont College.
- Jane is the recipient of the Vermont College creative writing award.
- Jane is a historian at Vermont College and has spent over a decade researching World War 2.
- Jane has traveled extensively around Eastern Europe, learning about the history of the region and walking the paths of her characters.
- Jane has been a lifelong writer and first began creating other worlds and characters in the third grade.
Book marketing consultant Rob Eagar suggests that another way to boost your credibility is to “to weave in any endorsements you may have received from well-known outlets figures. For example: [Famous person] says, ‘Jane Doe writes books that you won’t be able to put down.’ Readers pay more attention to authors with a proven track record.”
For non-fiction authors, your credentials are incredibly relevant as readers are far more likely to trust an authority on a subject. Fiction authors can focus more on why they write in a specific genre in this section.
4. Include a personal touch
Author bios are not a place for you to delve into a lengthy explanation of your history. First-time readers glancing at the bio of a new indie author frankly don’t want to hear about your first pet or the list of authors who have inspired you to pick up writing.
However, you also don’t want your bio to be devoid of any personality. That’s why Joel Pitney suggests: “If there’s room, and it’s relevant, you can add some color, like where you live or something interesting that might not obviously relate to your writing career, but that makes you a more interesting person.”
- This can be done subtly, like by referring to your location in your byline: “New-York based psychologist, Jane Doe…”
- Or you can include a brief illustration of your lifestyle, says Rachel: “Jane lives and works out of her home at the base of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and spends her summers hiking and camping with her two children and husband.”
- Finally, Rob suggests a quippy-one liner that illustrates what kind of writer you are. “If your writing is known for its humor, let it show in your bio. One of my favorite examples is from a writer I know who ends his bio by saying, “He lost on Jeopardy to a dancing waiter from Iowa.’”
Adding a bit of color to your bio helps readers imagine who you are. And if they can relate to you, it might be an extra push for them to buy your book.
Further bio-writing tips
Now that you know how to write a short, medium and extended bio, here are some hot tips to help you make them even better and manage their evolving nature.
Match the bio to the publication
Your author bio must match its accompanying publication. Think about the genre of your piece. If you’ve written a dark, gothic poem, don’t copy and paste the bio you wrote for the short story about fairies living in your front garden. Try to create an atmosphere that matches your brand.
Spend more of your word limit on credentials if you’re publishing non-fiction. Readers want assurance that facts are true and accurate. Faced with a choice of many different books on non-fiction subjects, readers are more likely to pick the book authored by someone who can prove they know what they’re talking about.
Janet Mackenzie authored The Editor’s Companion, a reference guide that covers traditional and digital editing skills and editorial tasks. Her bio verifies her authority on the subject.
Janet Mackenzie is a freelance editor with more than 40 years’ experience in the profession and has conducted many training workshops on editing. She is an honorary life member of the Society of Editors (Victoria), a Distinguished Editor of the Institute of Professional Editors and recipient of the George Robertson Award for services to publishing.” —Janet Mackenzie, The Editor’s Companion, 2nd ed.
Fiction writers have a little more freedom in what they include. However, credentials are just as important when you write fiction in particular genres. A crime fiction writer can strengthen their bio if they mention their career as a detective in the police force. A soldier-turned-novelist writing about war should include the time they spent in the armed forces.
David Dyer is the author of The Midnight Watch, a historical fiction novel about the events immediately following the Titanic‘s sinking. He lists his credentials as a lawyer, a seaman and an English teacher, verifying his authority on the historical elements in his work.
David Dyer spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’sowners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. He now teaches English literature in Sydney. This is his first novel.” —David Dyer
If you’re including a photograph with your bio, think about investing in a professional photoshoot. Readers want to connect with you, so don’t switch them off with a poor photograph.
Know what you want to say to what audience, and make sure you signal it properly.” —Tucker Max
A professional photographer will work with you to develop a shot that makes the most of your features and suits the accompanying publication. Furthermore, a high-quality photograph will separate you from all those authors with selfies. It shows readers and editors that you are serious about your writing and willing to spend money to improve your profile.
Understandably, many self-published or emerging writers work on a budget. If you can’t afford a professional shoot, at least consider what makes a good author photograph.
Rather than sticking with your iPhone, try to find the highest quality camera that you can. Consider how your face and upper body contrasts with your background. You’re speaking to your readers, not trying to win a modelling contract, so keep your clothes on.
Just like the bio itself, your photograph should match your brand. If you’re selling ‘how-to’ non-fiction books, you want to look warm, open and interested. If you write about the business world, put on your best suit. Instead of a smile, try out a tough expression if you write thrillers.
Your author bio will continue to change as you work on new projects and build your CV. The bio you write today will look completely different in five years’ time.
Once you have written a short, medium and long bio, save each of them on your computer, USB or cloud storage system. That way, when you start a new project, all you have to do is open the appropriate file, make any necessary changes and upload it, saving you a heap of time and effort.
Don’t forget to update your bios when your circumstances change. The last thing you want is an excited reader clicking the link to your blog, only to find that you haven’t touched it for three years. Make sure links to your social media platforms and blogs are current and working.
Stay true to yourself
Whatever you decide to include in your author bio, be honest and upfront about it. Be proud of all of your achievements, even if they seem small.
Everybody has to start somewhere, so don’t draw any unnecessary attention to the fact that you are unpublished. You don’t even really need to mention it, but if you want to, a simple explanation will do. For example, ‘I have no previous publications’.
Remember, many editors will be on the lookout for the latest crop of brilliant emerging writers. And if you tell your readers how long you’ve been writing without being published, they’ll quickly lose confidence in the quality of your work.
You must resist the temptation to throw in false claims. It might bolster your bio, but when people start questioning your authenticity, you’re going to have a hard time explaining yourself. This can damage your reputation and will result in fewer opportunities down the track.
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