Who Am I? – About the Author

The author biography section in a book proposal seems to be one of the least anxiety-provoking sections, yet I often see areas that could be improved. Here are a few ideas on how to make your author bio section the best it can be.

Include a portrait

When I was an intern on Capitol Hill, one of my duties was to open the mail. On one occasion, we received a resume that included a portrait, which was not the common practice at that time. The portrait wasn’t large, and if you looked like this man, you would put your picture on everything, too. But the office manager said, “I would never hire him. He’s an egomaniac.” Now, maybe my office manager was jealous. (And no, I don’t think he’s reading this). But I thought including a picture was a great idea. On proposals, Steve Laube recommends including a portrait in the author bio. And no, no one will think you are an egomaniac. I have put together many proposals under our banner, and I can tell you that including the visual is helpful. We like portraits that are about the size of a postage stamp. Most pleasing is to have the picture on the left hand margin, with the text wrapped around it.

Speaking of text…

Always write in third person. At first, writing about yourself in third person will feel strange, and maybe even a little arrogant. But don’t dismay. Once you get the hang of it, writing this way is fun. The reason why we ask that you write this section in third person is because your proposal is being presented by your agent, not you. So third person makes sense.

So what do I include?

I like to see a snippet about your life that gives me an idea about who you are. It’s fine to say you live in God’s beautiful country of (name your state — we all think we live in the closest place to Eden), with your spouse/kids/pet monkey named Ivan and you enjoy reading/teaching Sunday School/skydiving. This can be a good place to tell me about your education unless you want to list that under a separate heading. I’d like to see why you are passionate about writing about romance/the Amish/fatherhood/Saturnites.

Special Qualifications

If you are writing about a topic that requires familiarity and expertise, such as the Amish, it’s fine to put your special qualifications here, because this is about yourself, and about your life. Say you worked on a ranch every summer during high school, and your novel is set on a ranch. You can include that information here. Not all proposals will include this section.

Professional Organizations

This listing can appear in the marketing section, but in my view, the organizations you choose to join are really more about you and your professional development than marketing opportunities. One exception: if you are a member of organizations with the sole mission of marketing books, then it would make sense to include those under your marketing helps section. I recommend writing out the names of the organizations rather than using just acronyms, and include the links to their sites. Truly, CBA agents will know major groups such as ACFW immediately, but it’s still professional to include the complete information. I remember once receiving a proposal where the author listed about twenty (no kidding) organizations, using nothing but acronyms. I wonder if the author knew what all the initials stood for. With that many organizations, I’ll admit a few of them stymied me. Not only that, but the author appeared either to be addicted to joining clubs, unfocused, or worse. Better to choose one or two excellent organizations and devote yourself to those rather than racking up memberships, thereby diluting your effectiveness in them and their benefit to you.

Next time…

I hope to blog about marketing helps. In the meantime, enjoy writing your author bio. This is one time you can brag without worrying about making your sister in law jealous.

Your turn

What special qualifications do you have to write your WIP?

What is the most challenging part of the author bio for you?

 

30 Responses to Who Am I? – About the Author

  1. Diana Harkness June 28, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Here’s my bio: Diana Harkness earned degrees in Photography and Cinema, and Law before becoming an IT consultant. In 2006, business was booming but life was not working. A 3-year journey led to a new plan to do what she loved best: researching ancient times, spending time in the outdoors, specifically the Ohio hills, and writing. She has written poetry, short stories, and essays while juggling two businesses and aged parents with the help of her supportive husband. She has completed her first work of historical fiction, a novel based on the life of the prophet, Elijah, who lived during the 9th Century BCE.

    I don’t have any special qualifications, simply a love for words and research. The most challenging part of the bio is to include only what is pertinent to others and I really have no idea what others might want to know about me.

  2. Kathleen L. Maher June 28, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    Very helpful blog post!

    Do you think it is helpful to mention if you have finaled in a major contest such as Genesis, or in other RWA contests?

    Also, to answer the question about qualification, I write Civil War historicals/romances, and I am an avid student of my town’s rich Civil War history, which hosted Underground Railroad activity and an infamous Confederate prison camp. Is this a noteworthy qualification for the author bio?

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 28, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Kathleen, yes, you absolutely should mention any distinctions regarding contests. And in my opinion, the fact you are living in a town rich with history pertinent to your story’s era is great to note!

      • Kathleen L. Maher June 28, 2012 at 8:38 am #

        Thanks so much, Tamela. Hoping my “final” this year will turn to a “win” :)

  3. Jennifer Dyer June 28, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Under the education section, is it fine to list all our qualifications even if it doesn’t relate to writing?
    To be specific, I am a speech-language pathologist. I have a M.S. Degree in Communication Disorders and hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence (M.S.CCC-SLP) from the …and so forth. I could see it relating to a non-fiction proposal, but if I am writing a proposal for a book that has nothing to do with my profession is this information good to include or just seen as resume padding?

    Thanks for the information!

  4. Maria I. Morgan June 28, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Thanks for these insightful tips on the author bio section of the book proposal, Tamela!

  5. Gail @GodGirlGail June 28, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    Thanks for the suggestion on the postage-size pix! If I have it on my business card, why not my bio? Food for thought.

  6. Meghan Carver June 28, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    I so much appreciate these posts! Taking the mystery out of the proposal and publishing process helps to calm jittery nerves.

  7. Jeanne June 28, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Tamela, thanks for sharing the information on writing an author bio. I’ve only been writing for a couple of years, so I have no real credits to my name yet. Is it appropriate to mention conferences I’ve been to to show I’m serious about learning craft and improving as a writer?

    I am learning so much from these posts. Thank you!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 28, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      Jeanne, so glad my posts are helpful! Here is one idea: perhaps under the “Professional Membership” section, you can say something such as, “ACFW – Conference Attendee, (year/s).” If you are planning to go to a conference where the agent will be present, mention this in your cover letter with, “Hope to see you there,” or some such sentiment. You can use these ideas as a jumping off point, ultimately deciding for yourself how you feel comfortable presenting your information. Hope this answer is as helpful as the post. :)

      • Jeanne June 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

        Thanks, Tamela. It is helpful!

  8. JennyM June 28, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    After 3 days being housebound with 3 bored boys, and watching the neighbours build an ark, I do NOT have the mental clarity to do this with even one micron of sense.

    I will bookmark this for later.

    I *could* go to town on a fake one though. I’ll start with my Ph.D in Nukeyalar Fizzics.

    • Kathleen L. Maher June 28, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      LOL!

  9. Miranda Shisler June 28, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Just wanted to say thank you for these tips, Tamela! The Author Bio is the hardest part of a proposal for me to write, following your advice helps me have a little more confidence in what I’m doing.

  10. sally apokedak June 28, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Others don’t feel anxiety over this? Hmm. I may be stranger than I knew.

    Good post. Thanks.

  11. Laurie Alice Eakes June 28, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    As I’m edging onto the release of my tenth and eleventh books, not including two novellas, may I consider myself experienced enough to add another snippet of advice?

    One can be too arrogant in a bio. I have read some author bios that turn me off before I read anything the author has written. Example: A statement about the quality of the writing without any attribution.

    Example: Sally Smith writes beautiful, lyrical prose.

    Yes, I have read bios that read like this, so far from unpublished authors, and, though someone may have told them this, without an attribution or at least quotes, it comes across as something the author thinks about herself, to which I want to respond: Oh, yeah? Prove it.

    So I think a fine line does need to be walked between arrogance and honesty.

    Or maybe this claiming one’s own writing is beautiful is something new along withportraits?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Laurie Alice, you make a good point and I want to address your comment although your question is largely rhetorical. It may help others to see one agent’s response to that type of statement in a bio.

      Of course, the world has its share of egoists, but when I see a description like that, I consider it the writer’s honest attempt to describe his work – or at least how he hopes his work appears to be. If the writer is truly coming from a place of arrogance, I can quickly discern that fact a number of other ways.

      I am glad you brought this up, because I do agree it’s best for writers not to insert a glowing description in a bio, although if I love your work, that won’t be a deal breaker for me. I’ll just ask you to delete the reference and compliment you in my cover letter instead. :)

  12. Rachel Wilder June 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    For my historical series I’m working on, set on a French Creole plantation, I spent four years working at a French Creole plantation turned museum. Interpreting daily life on a cotton plantation was my job. I’ve also lived in Louisiana all but the first fifteen months of my life.

    I can’t think of anything that particularly qualifies me to write space opera, except that I grew up on it. Science fiction and history are two of the many things that make my life interesting.

    • Regina Jennings June 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Would that be the Laura plantation by any chance? My family and I loved the tour and I bought a book about that place. It still fascinates me!

      • Rachel Wilder June 28, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

        No. I don’t live in New Orleans. I live in the middle. Google Kent Plantation House.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      Rachel, the French Creole connection is wonderful and interesting!

      As a general side note to our blog readers, being widely read in any genre you are writing is worth a mention, in my view. Maybe point out one or two books that really influenced you. Something a bit obscure would make your credentials all the more interesting. Just a thought.

  13. Regina Jennings June 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    A few years ago I was dismayed thinking about a bio because, besides working at a newspaper office in high school and a few years of church secretarial work in college, I had no resume. My only employment since then was helping out in the family business at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, but that’s hardly impressive. To my surprise, that quirky job fit in perfectly with my historical romance novels set in Texas in the 1870s. You never know which experiences of yours God is going to use.

  14. Peter DeHaan June 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I would have written in third person, but likely missed the rest of your excellent suggestions. Thank you!

  15. Jackie Layton June 29, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    Tamela,

    Thanks so much for this post. You help take the scary out of this business of finding an agent and getting a book contract.

    I’m a pharmacist, and I have a story about an insurance company sharing patients information in my romantic suspense.
    For this story, would it be okay to mention my pharmacy career?

    Thanks!

    Jackie

  16. Charles Bailey June 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Tamela, what happens if an author’s job is such that he’s not permitted to reveal details?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray July 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Charles, in that case, I hope the author is writing spy novels! Seriously, just focus on why you are writing and maybe a couple of personal items, plus education. Does that help? :)

      • Charles Bailey July 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

        Thanks, Tamela. Understood.

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