Sunday 4 November 2012

Bios are important

Often we publishers ask for a bio when you submit work. At The Red Telephone we certainly do. Even if the publisher doesn’t ask for a bio, it’s sensible to include a short paragraph about your credentials. This might include mentioning any qualifications you have, anywhere else you are published and anything else which shows that you are the right sort of person to have this type of material published.  The latter is very often to do with how you might be able to help publicise and market the book.
So, you might include something like this if you are just starting out:
“I am completing a Short Course in creative Writing with the Open University. My short story Cats Have Eyes was short-listed in the Bentley Festival Short Fiction Competition, July 2012. I have attended several “open mic” events and am confident about presenting my work in public.”
A more experienced author might write:
“I have a Ph D in Creative and Critical Writing.  I have over 30 texts in print, including Butterfly Wings (Alexander, 2009) and The Turning Mind (Spider, 2101) which are similar in genre and style to what I am proposing here. I am experienced in conducting workshops in schools.” Note how the writer who could actually say a lot confines herself to what is important to the project she is proposing.

Why publishers find them important
Although a text will be accepted or not on its own merit, it is useful to the publisher to know a little about the writer. If the text is borderline the bio may help the publisher to decide.
The one from the less experienced writer tells us that the writer is probably used to being critiqued so can react to criticism. She is serious about her work. Other people have rated her work well. She is confident about presenting her work and she may influence her own sales.
The second one confirms that she knows a lot about writing.  In fact, if we’re thinking about rejecting maybe we should take another look.  She’s certainly experienced in reacting to editorial criticism.  She will get behind the book and she’s probably already quite well-known in the circles where we need to make this book visible.
Neither of these, though, give us much sense of the personality of the writer. Possibly a publisher who proactively requests a bio is looking for precisely that.

Bio for a commissioning editor
A 100 word bio:
“I write fiction for children aged 7-12 and short stories for adults. I have published six novels, thirty-five short stories and sixty pieces of flash fiction.
My latest novel Miss Maplethorpe, is for children aged 9-11 (Grey Dogs, May 2012). My stories appear in magazines, anthologies and online publications. Water (June 20102) was short-listed for the Brooker Short Fiction competition.
I have a Masters in Writing for Children (Conty, 2009) and I lecture in Creative Writing at Rundle University.
I make frequent school visits where I read from my work and conduct creative writing workshops.
I enjoy walking and singing”.

How long should a bio be?
As long as the publisher specifies. This can again be a deal clincher. If the publisher is a little uncertain about your script, your professionalism in adhering to the request can persuade that publisher to take a risk with you.
Length can also be a matter of common sense too, especially if the bio is for the reader. We do like to find out something about the author, especially if we want to read more by them.
A few examples follow. Note how if they’re for the reader they tend to be third person. You should always include details of your professional web site.   

For a piece of flash fiction
Flash fiction can be anything from six to a thousand words and the bio should certainly never be longer than the piece itself. It should give a quick definition of the writer and tell the reader where to find out more.
“John Doe writes poetry and flash fiction. Visit him at"

For a piece of very short fiction
This should be no more than fifty words plus web address. It gives a little more professional information.   
“Jane Doe writes literary short stories and prose poetry. Her poetry collection Beachcomber is published by Brent Books. Her short story The Lamp won second prize in the prestigious Langton Shorts Competition.
Jane lives with her family in Suffolk and when not writing helps to run the family garden centre. 

For longer short fiction
This could be between seventy and a hundred words.
“Fred Blogs writes science fiction and fantasy. His novel ZeroTimes comes out with Zen books in July 2013. His Palenter series is published by SF publications. He is currently working on the ninth novel for this series.
Fred’s short stories have won several prizes, including the 2010 Granter Cup. He has published two collections – Steel Bridges (2009) and Green Islands (2010), both published by Period Books.  
He lives with his wife and two daughters in Devon and works as a full-time writer at his converted chapel.

For inclusion in a single-author volume
This can be much longer and may include some history and testimonial material.

“Jilly Blogs always wanted to be a writer. She has combined a career in nursing with her writing and finally gave up the day job in 2009 to write full time, spurred on by the success of her novel Winthorpe (Granthorpe 2008).
She has four novels in print and Oaks is her second volume of short stories. The first, Rainbows was published in 2010.
Jilly has a long list of published short fiction: in anthologies by both small and big publishers, magazine and online sites. She is also an avid blogger and you can read her words of wisdom on her blog
A .N Norton  said of Winthorpe “Jilly Blogs has delighted us with her unique voice. Her prose keeps the reader engaged and she has a strong sense of story. Will she be the long-awaited replacement for Maeve Binchy? ”
Jilly lives with her family in a London penthouse. She spends her time writing and travelling up and down the country to visit various literary festivals where she is a popular visitor.          
Read more about her and her books on"

Keep your CV up to date.
Publishers frequently ask writers to provide their own bio. Even if you get published by a big publisher and the publicist produces the bio for you, you will be asked to provide material for it. So it’s important to be really strict about keeping a generic bio up to date. Note down every success, every positive review, every public engagement and even every course or conference you attend. You’ll never use all of it in one go. You will have to select quite carefully the details to provide in relation to every project. But if you’ve kept that CV up to date at least you’ve got plenty to choose from.  

Read bios and learn  
Not every author bio is brilliant and you need to read these as critically as you would any other text. You can learn from others, nevertheless.  

And finally one other important fact: writing a bio can make you feel good about yourself.  Sometimes we forget just how successful we are actually being.
Happy bio-writing.