For years, I was the assistant editor at a small press. It was my job to evaluate each book proposal we received and, while the pieces of a proposal seem, on the surface, to be quite simple, many authors miss the mark. Most presses and agents want the same things: a letter of introduction that states succinctly why your book is special, a focused book synopsis, a couple of stellar sample chapters, and a brief author bio. As you’ve written your book, it’s possible that you’ve invested so much in the story that you’ve forgotten that you are part of what sells it.
So, how can you – in a few short sentences – write an author bio for your book proposal that makes you look great?
First, remember that, when writing your bio for a book pitch, you should be writing in the first person. This isn’t a time for a jacket bio – that’s something your publisher will write (and will write in the 3rd person). You’re writing this as a way of introducing yourself to your prospective press or agent so keep it in the first person.
Second, keep it professional… even if you don’t have any professional writing credits yet. Everyone got their start somewhere and, if you’re shoehorning in things that you think make you seem like a more legitimate writer, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not confident in your abilities as a writer. Rather than including tidbits like, “I have completed several unpublished works,” focus on things that – while not necessarily writing-specific – lend your subject matter credibility. Think professional organizations, historic associations, and writing groups.
Third, don’t be afraid to add a little something personal. If your book touches on a subject that warrants it, add a line about how you’ve been personally affected by it. For example, if you’ve written a book about surviving your dissertation while under a lot of family stress, you may want to note, “Lily completed her dissertation in 2005, the same year that she gave birth to her first child.” It adds credibility, while putting a personal face on the story you’re telling and advice you’re giving.
Fourth, when in doubt, keep it simple. If you feel like your bio is getting too long, it probably is. If you question including a piece of information, you should probably cut it. This isn’t a place to tell your life story, but give a brief description of who you are and why you wrote your book. Every element of your bio should go towards that purpose.
Finally, edit your bio for each book proposal you send, paying special attention to the press or agent you’re querying. As with all elements of the pitch process, a blanket approach will yield less-than-desirable results. Look at your bio along with the mission of the press or speciality of the agent. Does your bio include reasons that they specifically would want to sign you? If not, open up a new document and start again.
Are you happy with your author bio? Do you have any tips to share with struggling writers? Let us know in the comments!