Admit it, you’ve struggled over writing your bio. I know you have. We all have. But there’s hope, believe me.
A short, one-paragraph bio is something every author needs, but there’s no one right way to do it, no “must have” information, so it requires almost as much creativity as the novel it accompanies. First off, this is your bio and no one can (or anyway, no one should) tell you what it should or shouldn’t say. Not comfortable addressing your personal life? Then don’t. No matter what I say as this post goes on, overlaying all that is that you have to pay attention to your own comfort zone.
That having been said, I think a good author bio is written first so the tone of the bio matches the book, the genre, and/or the audience. If your book is a serious, adult fantasy full of political intrigue and tragic death, skip the funny, clever bio. I know this one from hard experience. I once wrote a pretty serious military SF story for an anthology, then provided this completely mismatched and ill-advised bio, which I totally regret and wish I could take back:
Philip Athans. What can I say about Philip Athans? Women want to be with him. Men want to be him. He currently lives in the Seattle area with a couple of really lucky gals. And yes, he is one damn fine lookin’ man.
However true that may be, it didn’t match the story, the rest of the anthology, and the genre at all. So yeah, know your audience and write appropriately.
Here’s my “standard” bio—you may have seen it in one form or another somewhere before. I keep this on my computer, and paste it in almost every time I’m asked for a bio, but not exactly every time. Again, I switch things up depending on the time, place, tone, and so on.
Philip Athans is the founding partner of Athans & Associates Creative Consulting, and the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilationand more than a dozen other fantasy and horror books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction and the soon-to-be-released Writing Monsters. Born in Rochester, New York he grew up in suburban Chicago, where he published the literary magazine Alternative Fiction & Poetry. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans. He makes his home in the foothills of the Washington Cascades, east of Seattle.
This starts with my name. Do that. If you’re part of an anthology, for instance, this makes it easier for the publisher to fold your bio in to the existing text without adding a headline. And anyway, this is, by definition, about you, so why not own that up front?
The next element is “what I’m doing right now.” Most of the writers I know have some kind of “day job”—as long as you aren’t ashamed of it, go ahead and tell us that, especially if what you do for a living, or did for a living, helps reinforce your “credentials” for the book at hand. If you’re writing military SF, for instance, and can say that you’re a retired Navy SEAL then by all means, yes, do that!
Next comes previous credits, which serves two simultaneous purposes: It says “I’m a pro, take me seriously” at the same time saying “Buy my other stuff.” If you don’t have any previous credits, okay. Everyone starts somewhere. Don’t fret, just leave that out or better yet, own it: This is [your name]’s first novel. You’ll never be able to say that again!
Then I combined where I’m from with a much older credit. This is all optional, and honestly I’m not sure why I mentioned a literary magazine that published its fifth and final issue in 1987. But there it is.
Then I sell a little more. I send people here and to my Twitter account so that they might become one of my Unholy Minions. If you don’t have Unholy Minions you’re in big trouble. They’re the only people who read anymore.
But seriously, some kind of social media/web presence is not optional, so for the sake of your career, at least tell us you’re on Facebook!
Then I like to end with the tiniest bit of personal where-is-he-now, telling everybody the general area in which I live. I think where I live is a pretty interesting place. If you live somewhere uninteresting, think about what else you can “reveal” here. Do you have kids (and are you okay telling that to the world?). Do you have a cat? A dog? A collection of . . . something that won’t make you look like a crazed maniac? Do you have a hobby of any kind?
Just like your day job, where you live, your hobbies and interests, and so on, will be of interest to your readers if they tie back to the subject matter of the book. Does one of the characters in your book suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and you helped care for a relative who fell victim to that awful disease in real life? It’s not exploitive to mention that, it helps your readers know that your presentation of that character is sincere. On a much lighter note, do your characters ride and raise horses? If so, do you? Do they have a bloodhound and you breed and show bloodhounds? Is it set in your home town, or a town you once lived it? Any and all of those connections can help breathe some life into your bio.
I sometimes tell people that I’m a lifelong SF/fantasy fan, a lifelong Trekkie, and a first generation (D&D) gamer . . . because all of those things are true and tend to say, “Phil isn’t just trying to cash in on the Harry Potter craze, he actually likes this stuff!” And that’s not a bad message to send (as long as it’s true). Genre readers like the genres they read. Who knew, right?