Ah, another ongoing series of blog posts, sort of like the recommended books and interviews, but this series was inspired by an edit. Cut out of the final edition of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction was a short appendix that began with this paragraph:
We’ve learned a lot over the last few hundred pages or so, and I know you’ve been paying close attention all along. But just when you thought you were done, now comes the hard part—actually doing something with the wisdom you’ve gathered here. In order to get the creative juices flowing, here are some exercises designed to help you put some new ideas and skills into practice. Don’t wait until after you’ve finished your novel to start on these—go ahead and write a log line, a cover letter, and so on for a book you think you might want to write, or something you’re making up off the top of your head, then do it again when you have something specific to talk about. You might be interested to see how different they are.
Well, that aside, and leaving off that the book has only just started to ship and you have only the gathered wisdom of this blog, let’s start with the exercises anyway. Consider this a homework assignment:
Write two versions of your own bio: a long one and a short one.
The long one might appear in the dust jacket of a hardcover novel where you have some elbow room. The shorter one might appear in your publisher’s catalog and web site, or with the other authors’ in an anthology or magazine.
Not every single book includes an author bio (yes, you guessed it, short for biography), but I suspect that most of them do, and they cover a wide range from chatty and funny and personal, to oblique and unwelcoming and evasive. I’ve even made up fictional bios for pen names like T.H. Lain and G.W. Tirpa. But you should have a real bio for yourself, and you should have them on hand. You never know when you’re going to be asked for one, and you’ll never be asked for one because something bad is about to happen. It usually means you’re about to be published, or almost better yet, marketed. If your publisher wants to tell people about you, that’s a good thing. For God’s sake (at least for your career’s sake) help them help you.
But how to start? What do people want to know about you?
Better question: What do you want people to know about you?
Rifle through your bookcases at home, go to a bookstore or library, and look at published author bios. What about an author might make you want to read his or her books? Does that author get very personal, or is he keeping relatively mum, just listing a few previous publishing credits and maybe an award or two? Are they serious or funny? One sentence or more? I read the book Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus and found its advice extremely helpful. Definitely a book worth checking out.
How much you want to tell people about yourself is up to you. Your editor, or a marketing or PR person from your publisher, may have some specific advice—a way they like to do it. Pay attention to that, but if you’re uncomfortable revealing to the wide world things like the names of your kids, exactly where you live, etc., you can set reasonable limits for yourself and expect your publisher to respect that.
Think about the message you want to send about yourself, but also about the book. If you’ve written a serious tragedy set in a richly detailed world that is your Middle Earth then attach a silly, tongue-in-cheek bio to the end of it, you’ll be throwing your readers for a loop. Likewise, readers may find it confusing when you write a broadly-conceived space opera then tell them you won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Not that I wouldn’t brag about that constantly, but think about the disconnect that could cause in a reader’s mind.
It’s not a bad idea to broaden out this assignment from just one long bio and one short bio to add a funny bio, too—something you can use in a less formal atmosphere.
Anyway, once you have these set and saved you’ll be surprised how often they’ll pop up, and how useful it’ll be when you’re ready to start your blog or website. The very first post on this blog is my bio.
Here’s a fun bio I whipped up that eventually found its way into the anthology Realms of the Dead:
Philip Athans is a model for self-control, fixity of purpose, and cheerfulness under ill-health or other misfortunes. His character is an admirable combination of dignity and charm, and all the duties of his station are performed quietly and without fuss. He gives everyone the conviction that he speaks as he believes, and acts as he judges right. Bewilderment or timidity are unknown to him; he is never hasty, never dilatory; nothing finds him at a loss. He indulges neither in despondency nor forced gaiety, nor has anger or jealousy any power over him. Kindliness, sympathy, and sincerity all contribute to give the impression of a rectitude that is innate rather than inculcated. Nobody is ever made by him to feel inferior, yet none could presume to challenge his pre-eminence. He is also the possessor of an agreeable sense of humor.
That’s actually paraphrased from the 1964 Maxwell Staniforth translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (I, 15).
Oh, I’m such a smarty-pants.
Writer R.A. Salvatore is so old now that he’s forgotten most of his life. He hates writing bios for that reason.
Maybe okay for anthologies, but you’ll notice that both of us take bios a bit more seriously when they’re attached to novels. And honestly, looking back at it, we should have taken the anthologies a bit more seriously, too.
I have a feeling the nature of the author bio will continue to change as we plummet the rest of the way into the Digital Age. In 1968 Andy Warhol wrote: “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” In the Digital Age, everyone will be famous all the time.
Twitter, Facebook, blogs, You Tube . . . all this stuff gets people “out there,” in ways that even the forward-thinking Warhol couldn’t quite have imagined. You probably already have all this biographical material out there, even if you’ve never been published before. But there will continue to be a use, and therefore a demand, for the traditional About the Author. Here’s your chance to think it through, and have it written, even if it just sits on your Facebook page for now.