Author bios may seem like an unimportant detail in the larger scheme of writing and publishing your book, but they can actually be an incredibly valuable piece in the puzzle of book promotion. Not only will it play a central role in building your author brand and legitimacy, but it’s also a space where you can allow readers to get a glimpse of who you are.
Author bios are also more versatile than people may first think and can be used for a variety of occasions. Beyond the end pages or jacket of your book, you’ll also need an author bio for your website, your Amazon book description, speaking gigs, and when you submit query letters to book publishers, to name just a few.
As your official introduction to the world, it’s worth spending some time getting your author bio right. But how do you go about penning one that will fit multiple occasions, highlight your capabilities, and make you more relatable in just a few sentences? In an attempt to answer that question, in this post I’ve narrowed down 5 tips that can help you construct an impactful bio.
1. Adjust your bio to the context and target audience
Even though this isn’t a writing tip per say, I feel like I need to start by saying that keeping context and audience in mind is truly the foundation of crafting a bio that sells. What type of book you’re writing and who’s going to be reading your bio will directly affect what should go into it.
Much like a CV or cover letter, it’s a good idea to tailor your author bio to the specific occasion at hand; the author bio that you include when you sit on a panel as an expert in computer programming will be slightly different from the one you send to science fiction publishers as part of a query letter.
So while you may write a staple bio that you can use as a base, you should always make sure to go back and adjust it to highlight the specific aspects about yourself that fit the context. With this in mind, let’s look at how to actually go about writing one.
2. Start strong and frontload the essentials
There’s a reason that so many of us remember the first line of our favorite books: first impressions matter. The difference between an author bio and a whole book, however, is that you don’t have much time and space to make up for a slow start — an author bio should land around 200-300 words — so it’s even more crucial that you start strong.
A good rule of thumb is that the first sentence(s) of your bio alone should be enough to sell you as an author. Think of it as a byline: an elevator pitch that quickly summarizes your profile, background and genre that can go on your Instagram or Twitter account. Many readers will just briefly skim your bio so make sure that you pack the most important information into this sentence. Your aim is to leave a strong impression by frontloading the kind of information that is essential for your particular author brand and audience.
Your starting sentence could be purely biographical background, what you’ve previously published, if you’ve been particularly successful and/or nominated for any awards, or simply your relevant credentials. You could also decide to go with the personal and relatable approach, showing what roles you occupy when you’re not writing.
Just look at how prolific author Ken Liu gets straight to the point in his Goodreads bio: “Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an American author of speculative fiction. He has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, as well as top genre honors in Japan, Spain, and France, among other places.”
3. Don’t be afraid to boast, but make it relevant
The whole point of the author bio is to highlight your credentials, your achievements, and your lived experiences — anything that validates you as an author and gives what you’re saying a degree of legitimacy. That’s why some amount of horn-tooting is definitely required if you want to make an impact.
Of course, there’s no need to list all of your childhood swimming badges unless you’ve actually written a book about swimming. With that said, if you’re an author who’s written a science-based argumentative nonfiction about the dangers of processed food, you may want to back up what you’re saying with those hard-earned qualifications that will ensure readers that you are indeed the reigning expert in your field.
A good example of this is Robin Wall Kimmerer, who leads with her credentials: “Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (also credited as Robin W. Kimmerer) (born 1953) is Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).”
If you’re a repeat author, you can also use your author bio to highlight the backlist titles you’re most proud of. After all, if a reader enjoyed your book and turns to your author bio to find out more about you, what better way to boost your sales than introducing them to their next read?
4. Write in third person
I know that talking about yourself in third person feels awkward and that in most social situations it’s frowned upon, but your author bio is an exception to that rule. In fact, because it’s the industry standard it’s probably one of the few places where you’re actively encouraged to do so. Plus, it can be pretty fun to allow yourself to become the protagonist for once, even if it’s only for a short paragraph that goes in the back of your book.
But besides being fun, there’s also legitimate reasons for why you should write your author bio in third person; not only does it make it easier for you to sing your own praises but it also lends what you’re saying a sense of objectivity and factfulness that comes across as more convincing than if you were to write in first person.
5. Put your personal touch on it
Lastly, think about your author bio as your chance to present yourself to readers and book publishers the way you want to be seen and don’t be afraid to put your own personal spin on it. While most bios are framed in similar ways, it’s entirely up to you how you choose to paint within those lines.
There’s nothing less inspiring than reading a formulaic and impersonal bio that’s just like every other bio out there. To be sure, these kinds of bios serve their purpose as well — nonfiction authors of the more academic persuasion should probably stay in the realm of straightforward and informative if they want to be taken seriously — but most authors can afford to add some more color.
Do you happen to have a peculiarly large collection of fine china? Use your final line(s) to spill the tea about your nerdiness or what makes you tick as a person and author. This makes you more relatable and sets your bio apart from every other Tom, Dick, and Harry, giving readers a stronger incentive to support your author career.
Every author bio will be unique to each writer so there’s no right or wrong way to go about it, but hopefully these tips will help you construct an author bio that can win your readers’ trust, and boost your sales while you’re at it.
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects publishing professionals with self-publishing authors. She advises authors on all things publishing, from understanding hybrid publishing to finding an agent or Amazon self-publishing. She lives in London.