The Author Bio: a Tool for Boring…or for Bonding
by Chris Mandeville
An author bio can be a valuable tool for connecting with readers. Or it can bore them to death. Too much info, or the wrong info, and you may lose a potential reader of your work. But a good bio can be the beginning of a great author-reader bond.
Ideally your author bio lets readers into your life, gives them a sense of what you are like, and provides a way for them to discover things they have in common with you. If you are able to achieve even a small measure of connection with a reader via your bio on Amazon, your book jacket, or your website, it can make the difference between that person engaging with your story or passing it by.
The goal of your bio is to share information about yourself that will help a reader feel a connection to you.
To achieve this goal, it’s important to include your voice and personality in the bio, and to include some fun personal details so it doesn’t read like a resume or a laundry list of accomplishments.
Typically an author bio consists of:
Add to that some fun facts that show your style, personality, likes and dislikes, hobbies, etc., and voila! You have an author bio.
This is fine up to a point. But unfortunately this is where many authors stop. The result is all too often a bio that includes too much information and serves to bore the reader rather than to forge a bond.
The key to writing a really good author bio is in knowing not only what to include but also what information to leave out.
I’ve put together a system to help you determine what information to include in your bio and what would be better left out. I even have a handy-dandy mnemonic to help you remember it: M-PACT
T: To the point
M-PACT provides you with a “lens” through which to evaluate if the info in your bio is achieving your goal: helping you connect with readers.
Let’s look at each of the categories.
What message do you want readers to walk away with after they read your bio?
To draw readers in, all authors—regardless of genre, personality, style, or subject matter—should convey the message that they are approachable, credible, and interesting. So ask yourself if the info you’ve chosen to share in your bio is sending that message. For example, listing every award you’ve ever achieved can come off as pompous and braggy, not to mention dull and tedious, which doesn’t make you seem approachable or interesting. But mentioning one or two awards or professional memberships related to your subject matter or writing ability can bolster your credibility.
In addition, you will likely want to convey a personal message that relates to the subject matter of your work and/or your genre. For example, if you write humorous stories, your message may be that you are funny/witty/quirky and that folks who hang out with you can expect to laugh and have a good time. Or if you write adventures or thrillers, you may want to show that you are bold/daring/adventurous, so readers know to expect a thrill-ride of a tale.
So think about what message you want to convey, and tailor your bio to convey that message.
Your bio should come across as professional. This doesn’t have to mean formal or serious or dry. You can be professional while still conveying your personality, voice, and style. Just be cognizant that you are representing yourself as a professional writer, so use correct spelling and grammar, and present the information in a coherent, logical way.
The information in your bio should be appropriate for your audience and genre. Select relevant anecdotes and information to share, and leave out the stuff that either doesn’t relate or is inappropriate for the situation. For example, if you write stories for young children starring barnyard animals, your college degree in astronomy has no bearing so leave it out. Likewise the award you got for your erotica novel. But it might be worth mentioning that in your day-job you’re a veterinarian specializing in livestock, or that you grew up on a farm and spent your childhood making up stories about the resident chickens.
Your bio should also be appropriate to the medium and the venue in which it will appear. Your bio for your Twitter account should be a condensed version of the one on your website. Your byline blurb on the article you wrote for a health food magazine should be a whole lot different than the jacket copy bio on your contemporary romance novel. Think about where your bio is appearing, and tailor it to fit. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate for a particular venue or medium, check for official guidelines. Even if there are no “rules” to follow, you can always evaluate other author’s bios at that locale and extrapolate.
Your bio should be consistent in voice, tone, and style from beginning to end. Plus it should be consistent with the other information you put out into the world about yourself—like the information in your book jacket bio should be consistent with that on your website. While I do recommend you tailor your bio to be appropriate for each situation, each bio should still be recognizable as “you.”
Make sure your bio is consistent with your message. For example, if you write about vulnerability, perfectionism, and self-improvement (in either fiction or nonfiction), confessing in your bio to feeling insecure and flawed would be harmonious with that. But such a confession would be inconsistent with the message that you are a daring adventurer who writes thrillers.
Finally, your bio should also be consistent with reality. This means you should tell the truth. This does not mean you have to tell the whole truth! Be selective about what you include, but be honest.
T: To the point
This final category is all about editing. Once you’ve addressed the other categories, read through your bio one last time to see if each item you’ve included is relevant and is working to achieve your goal.
Remember, a bio is not your life history, nor is it a resume. You don’t have to include where you were born, the year you graduated from high school, a litany of jobs you’ve held, and every award and publication you have to your name. That’s boring and off-putting if it’s not relevant to your message.
If an item doesn’t help you achieve your goal of connecting with readers, leave it out!
But don’t edit out so much that you lose all sense of your personality and style. You want readers to feel like they are getting to know you, so include a few salient details. Better yet, combine some of the boring “typical” bio material with details unique to you. For example, take the standard “She was born in Paris, Kentucky,” and add “but she liked to pretend she was born in Paris, France, to the extent that she spoke with a very bad French accent for all of sixth grade.”
The bottom line is, your author bio can be a powerful tool to draw readers in and invite them to connect with you. Use the M-PACT system to help you create a bio that welcomes new readers into your world, that shows your personality, and that provides details that make you “come alive” for your readers.
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. You can find out more about her at chrismandeville.com