Is It Time To Rethink Your Bio?
“Jonny Author has been writing since he was a boy. His deep love of the elven language together with a slightly unnerving interest in all things undead saw his High School vote him ‘most likely to become a serial killer’. When not writing, Jonny spends his days practising taxidermy. Jonny likes cats and children. His first novel, Zombie Elves: the Apocalypse is available now from One Two Many Typo Publishing.”
Personal biographies (or bios) are incredibly hard to write. Anyone who has completed any sort of online profile, from filling in information on a dating website to completing your resume, will know that just talking about yourself is hard, let alone boiling your personality and all your accomplishments down into a single paragraph. How do you make yourself sound interesting without coming across a bore? Does that anecdote make you sound interesting or just super-creepy? Does that quip come off as humour or does the joke fall flat?
And when it comes to author biographies, it’s even worse. I mean, what’s there interesting to say about someone who predominantly stays indoors all day reading and writing and doesn’t like parties? It’s impossible to come away from constructing an author bio without thinking that there’s something missing, either from your profile or, even worse, your life.
Bios do serve an important purpose though. They are there to help sell your work. They help some readers make a secondary purchasing decision as to whether you’re the type of person they might want to read. You might wonder how given that people are most likely only going to say nice things about themselves. It’s unlikely a bio would include the sentence, “Jonny likes cooking kittens and collecting the tears of children in his spare time”, only that “Jonny likes cats and children”.
But what bios do achieve, is establishing authority. If a reader sees that Jonny can speak fluent elvish they make take from that a confidence that the author probably knows a lot about elves and, therefore, that the elves in his Zombie Elves novel might be well done. It probably won’t be the primary deciding factor on whether a reader picks up a book, but it might just tip them over the edge between placing the book back on the shelf and walking over to the cashier. Let’s face it, a reader would be unlikely to pick up a non-fiction book on how to sail by someone whose bio said, “Susan is afraid of water and has never ventured closer than three miles to the ocean.”
Bios also act as a way to stand out from the crowd. It’s surprising the little, odd facts that people pick up and obtain. Six months later a reader might be speaking to someone about some other book and say, “Is that by that taxidermist guy? I really should pick up his book.”
The reality is that the perfect bio is a myth. They either feel too exaggerated or just too plain. You want to come across as confident and successful but most of the time, even as a published writer, you feel far from that. As a result you’ll look back at your bio a month or two down the road and think you don’t sound interesting enough and the success sounds fake.
Perhaps the problem is that your real biography isn’t cast in words but actions. What ultimately sells someone on your book isn’t just a killer story but your voice, your outlook on the world. And that’s not obtained by just sitting behind a desk.
Your life is bigger than a footnote to an article, or copy for a cover flap. Clever phrasing turn having once seen something into the illusion that you are an expert on it. But clever actions give you depth. If writing is a product of experience then a good writer will find their voice through their real-world adventures.
You don’t need to scale Everest. The key is to be unique not extraordinary. It doesn’t even need to be cool. You might find the idea of taxidermy slightly odd, but a reader might think Jonny Author’s taxidermy might lead to some killer zombie prose.
So perhaps before you rework your bio for the umpteenth time, instead of worrying whether a phrase makes you sound over-confident or not, think about what makes you unique as a writer. The aim is to come across as someone with a distinct set of experiences and unique voice that the reader will want to spend time with. Of course having those experiences is infinitesimally easier than cramming it all into a single paragraph.