It’s a paradox: The author is the most important part of a book project, but the author bio may be the least significant part of a query.
That said, future authors constantly ask me (and other publishing professionals) how to handle their author bios in their queries and book proposals. And honestly, it is a part of the query that has more potential to harm a pitch than help. So here’s a quick list of what to include and exclude in author bios.
Learn how to improve your submission materials and get your book published with the Your Submission Tools: How to Write Excellent Queries, Opening Pages, and Synopses boot camp. Literary agents will lead this incredible online event December 12-15.
In addition to teaching writers how to write better queries, opening pages, and synopses, literary agents will provide personalized feedback on the query, synopsis, and first 5 pages of each attendee. Plus, each attendee has an opportunity to ask specific questions of their assigned agent, which makes this a truly personalized event.
What to Include and Exclude in Author Bios
- Include your name as you expect it to appear in your book. This is called your byline and may be completely different from the name that you use for cashing checks and filing taxes. For the purposes of your bio, use the byline, because it cuts down on the chances of the wrong name making it into print.
- Exclude questions about whether to use a pseudonym. If your editor or agent makes a suggestion, that’s great; let them start the conversation. However, act like you’ve already done your research and decided on your byline. Lack of clarity on your byline is a major red flag for clarity in other areas.
- Include relevant publication credits to the project you’re pitching. If you write a column dealing with teenagers for a parenting magazine and are pitching a book on how to raise teenagers, then yes, include that! Conversely…
- Exclude your publication credit of a poem in your high school literary magazine. That is, unless…actually, no, just don’t include it under any circumstances–for the same reason that you should exclude anecdotal praise from your friends, family, and/or co-workers.
- Include relevant professional experience to the project you’re pitching. Proposing a book on running a small business and you actually run a successful small business? Include that. Also, include any professional organizations you belong to that might cross over with your project.
- Exclude apologies for your lack of experience, publication credits, age, gender, etc. While apologizing when you make a mistake is a good thing, don’t apologize in a query letter or pitch. By pointing out shortcomings in a query, you’re basically giving an agent or editor an easy pathway to Rejection City, which isn’t nice this time of year.
- Include any other relevant platform information related to your proposed project. The key word here is “relevant.” If you’ve published a textbook on American history, that publication credit is unlikely to be relevant to your book proposal–unless you’re pitching a middle grade biography of Abraham Lincoln or Rosa Parks.
- Exclude anything that bends the truth about your platform or reach. Lying is bad; you know that. Also, avoid saying things like, “I’d like to be on The View.” That’s true of most authors (and agents and editors, for that matter), so it’s superfluous to even bring it up–unless you happen to be best friends with the producer and can make it happen.
Bonus Tip: Err on the side of concision. I’ve never questioned assigning an article because the bio was too brief. However, I have read bios that made me question how professional and experienced the writer is. So when it comes to author bios, follow this mantra: When in doubt, leave it out.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. He edits the Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market books, writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, maintains the Poetic Asides blog, speaks at conferences, leads online webinars and tutorials, and so much more.
Robert is also the author of Solving the World’s Problems, a poetry collection published by Press 53. A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, he’s been a featured poet across the country at poetry events in Austin, Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta, and more.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.
Check out previous WritersMarket.com blog content here: