Something that’s often required of the writer is a bio. This might be needed to enter a competition, for an ‘About the Author’ page in a published book, or an ‘About Me’ section on a website.
Yet, despite the writer knowing everything about their own life, and their writing journey and accomplishments, they struggle with composing all that information into something succinct and purposeful.
Yes – think of the bio as the story about you and your writing. This is what people want to know about. You might’ve been married five times, have nineteen kids, and once been abducted by aliens, but none of that is essential for a bio. Only provide details that are relevant, or which offer context.
What information provides context? Often, this will depend on what you’re writing.
If you’re writing a murder mystery set in Tootgarook, it’s probably not going to be important to tell people that you’ve been married five times. But if you’re writing a self-help book about surviving divorce, that detail now becomes relevant – it’s a qualification to substantiate that you know your subject matter. That’s context.
Equally, if you’re writing a murder mystery set in a hospital, and you worked as a nurse in a hospital for ten years, you might include that information in your bio because, again, it provides context. It shows the reader that you know your setting, and the protocols within that setting, so the story should enjoy a level of verisimilitude.
Something else to keep in mind is that a bio should be written in third person – that means you’re writing about yourself as if you were somebody else.
You wouldn’t write:
I have always been interested in murder mysteries, and after working as a nurse for ten years, I started toying with the idea of a serial killer masquerading as one of the staff.
That’s first person. Instead:
Jane Smith has always been interested in murder mysteries. After working as a nurse for ten years in a public hospital, she started to toy with the idea of a serial killer masquerading as one of the staff.
You can also be playful, if you like.
This will depend on your market. If you’re writing about grief counselling, you wouldn’t joke about owning five cats. But other markets might be open to some quirkiness.
Jane Smith has always been interested in murder mysteries. After working as a nurse for ten years in a public hospital, she started to toy with the idea of a serial killer masquerading as one of the staff – not that she was drawing from experience, of course.
Your market will determine just how playful you can be, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’ll work or not.
This will depend on the market. They will usually stipulate how long a bio should be. But this could be anywhere from 50 words to 200 words to one page.
Obviously, the length will determine what should go into the bio and what shouldn’t.
The 50-Word Bio
This should be nothing but the facts. Also, there’ll be generalising involved. You wouldn’t list every journal you’ve been published in. You might list a few of the bigger ones, but usually it’ll just be an overview.
- Jane Smith is a Melbourne-based author. Her novel, Death Comes Screaming, was published by Veracity Press in 2017. She’s also had short stories published extensively in print and digital journals, and two screenplays optioned.
That’s just thirty-four words (thirty-five, technically, because the compound hyphenation of ‘Melbourne-based’ is only counted as one word), but we’ve communicated lots of information.
If you wanted, you could go back now and provide some specifics – just a few, mind you.
- Jane Smith is a Melbourne-based author. Her novel, Death Comes Screaming, was published by Veracity Press in 2017. She’s also had short stories published in Overland, Meanjin, Going Down Swinging, and various other print and digital journals. She’s also had two screenplays optioned.
Now we’re up to 43 words. It’s a lot of information in so few words, and should show you the power that you have at your disposal by being concise.
The 200-Word Bio
Now there’s room for details. But think chronologically.
- Jane Smith worked in the public hospital system for ten years. Her novel, Death Comes Screaming (Veracity Press0 2017), involved a psychotic surgeon who preyed on palliative care patients, believing he was doing them a service by putting them out of their misery.
Jane was born in 1979 in Glasgow, Scotland. Her family relocated to Melbourne, Australia, in 1985.
Here, the bio has jumped chronologically. Keep everything in order. Dot point it as an outline before you start writing if you need to.
And, like any other story, it should follow the three-act structure. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.
- Jane Smith was born in 1979 in Glasgow, Scotland. When she was just 5, her family relocated to Melbourne, Australia, where Jane fell in love with the outback and would often hike with her father. As a teenager, a kangaroo bouncing through her school camp bowled her over. A short stay in hospital introduced Jane to the compassion of nurses, which fuelled her desire to become a nurse herself.
While studying at LaTrobe University, she saw a competition for creative essays from people who’d relocated to Australia. Her piece, ‘Land Ahoy’, was longlisted, and a love for writing was born.
During her early years as nurse, she toyed with short stories, and had several published in journals such as Overland, Meanjin, and Going Down Swinging. While working at Melbourne Hospital for ten years, she started to develop the idea of a murder mystery.
The result is Death Comes Screaming (Veracity Press 2017), in which a young nurse, Alice Cronwin, grows suspicious about a spate of sudden deaths in palliative care, and suspects that a doctor might be responsible.
Jane is currently working on her next novel, ‘The Green’, about a serial killer who hunts his victims in the outback.
Etc. That’s 199 words which gives us a more detailed portrait of Jane, and also shows why certain interests in her life developed, i.e. a stay in hospital shows why she grew interested in nursing. (As an aside, published book titles are italicised. Titles of books which haven’t been published should be inserted in ‘quotation marks’.)
We also get a logical structure to Jane’s life:
- Act One: Jane’s birth in Scotland, and relocation to Australia.
- Act Two: Jane’s life – school camp, a stay in hospital, study, a growing interest in writing, and the development of an idea for a novel.
- Act Three: The completion of Jane’s first novel, and that she’s working on a new novel.
The Page-Long Bio
And, of course, with a page-long bio, you can grow much more detailed and go into lots more personal detail. Just remember to keep it chronological. And be succinct. Don’t waffle for the sake of filling space.
Also, do not exceed any word limits that might be stipulated. Observing the requirements a publisher, journal, or competition may set illustrates your professionalism. Don’t ever believe you may be so brilliant, they’ll forgive you exceeding any word limit.
With a page-long bio, you can fudge how much space your text occupies by changing the font type. Fonts vary in size. 12-point Palatino is larger than 12-point Times New Roman, which is larger than 12-point Garamond. One page of Times New Roman may amount to one and one/quarter pages of Palatino, while only being three/quarters of a page in Garamond.
It’s About the Details
Don’t fret if your writing life has been sparse. You mightn’t have lots of writing credits, but you have lots of life credits. Everybody does. It’s just a matter of sifting through your life to find what will work.
Also, think about how personal and professional details can provide relevant information and context. Look at the details that fill out your story.
Writing a bio for yourself doesn’t have to be stressful.
Remember, it’s the story of YOU.