You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? Your bio may be the only time someone decides if they’re going to invest more time or energy into getting to know you, into hiring you, or into trusting you. So you want to put your best foot forward. Make that both feet.
1. Know Your Audience What is the bio for? A book flap? Conference? Website? School visit? Who is reading it? Make sure your qualifications match the reason you’re there as a speaker, writer, professional. You’re a complicated (yet attractive) beast with many facets. You can’t possibly put everything down every time; nor would you want to. Play up your experience for that circumstance, adapting as needed. If you’ve written a piece on molecular biology, your stint in improv has no place in that bio. Your experience as a second grade teacher might, if the piece was written for grade schoolers. If it’s for college level, though, just mention being a teacher. Do you see what I mean? Highlight what uniquely qualifies you or makes you stand out for that situation. Do your audience the courtesy of customizing your bio for that specific event or book. It’s frustrating to read a keynote’s bio that’s exactly the same as what’s online. Couldn’t they have taken five minutes to write something different, this one time? When you attend an event, or read a book, don’t you want to know what makes your speaker/author uniquely qualified for this important role? Don’t you want to respect them? To know that they are the best man or woman for the job? Offer your audience that resolution.
*Example: for my “Constitutional Right to Privacy” author bio, I first wrote a funny paragraph about how despite all my acting experience, I was a terrible liar so always lost to my one of my brothers at poker, which resulted in constant arguing at family gatherings…and I wondered if that had anything to with one of my sisters becoming a lawyer. [The first draft was funnier.] The publisher not-so-gently reminded me this is a serious book about a serious topic and book buyers would be making buying decisions based on the credibility of the author. I revamped the bio to emphasize my Bachelor of Arts in Communication, my Bachelor of Science in Economics, my honors Master’s Degree, and added my personal intrigue with mankind’s ongoing fascination with what’s going on next door. It demonstrated professional prowess as well as personal interest, making me a perfect candidate to author the title. It’s a custom bio, that works, that isn’t found anywhere else. They did let me keep “She has three kids (four if you count her husband)” so it still reeks of Bitsy Kemper. I’m still me.
2. Leave Out Irrelevant Crap Prove to me being born in Omaha but raised in Alaska is important enough to stay in the bio. Maybe it is. For the most part, no one really cares where you were born, if your first pet was a fish, or whether you like flannel, unless it’s directly relevant to the story or event. If your book takes place in both states, for example, keep it. If you’re presenting in either state, keep it. If it’s how you identify yourself, and who you are as a person can’t be explained without either one of those states being mentioned, keep it. But if it’s unnecessary info, cut it. Don’t feel you need to mentionthem because you see bios list where authors were born or raised. Only include what’s necessary.
3. But Keep the Good Stuff Some background information is so interesting and unique that it almost HAS to be included, almost like a character tag you’d include for a main character. Stuff like learning to tap dance at age 60 or finishing second at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is golden. Do you raise miniature sheep? Hate cheese? Have a secret crush on Ben Franklin? Keep it! People love learning what makes you tick, what shows you’re human, what makes you you. You can have fun with your bio, as long as you’re not taking it too far. You still need to be taken seriously (see earlier reference to buying decisions based on credibility). Pick a few nuggets and have fun with them. Make sure the real you shines through, whether stoic or silly.
There’s other important stuff too, like matching the language to the reader, making sure you toot your own horn enough but without sounding arrogant, triple checking for typos, etc. Do I really need to mention that stuff? Maybe you also want to ask:
Do I write it myself? Yes, you write it yourself, in the third person.
Can I , uh, enhance my background or expertise, just a little? No. Never. Make sure the points are accurate and something you want repeated.
*Example: Early in my writing career I was introduced at a conference by someone that must have done her research on my website. She introduced me as being an “author of 27 books.” But I only had four at the time. So she either skimmed my online bio or didn’t get my sense of humor. My website DID say I had “written 27 books” but, see, she missed the second part of the sentence where I continued with “…four of which are published.” I went home and cut that part. (I kept it a verbal gag from then on.)
Can I get creative with job titles? Sure, but don’t overdo it. “Director of First Impressions” definitely sounds better than “Receptionist.” But titles like “Accounting Ninja” or “Resource Wrangler” are already so yesterday. [Wanna quick distraction? Play with this random job title generator. But not ’til after you’re done here.]
How long should it be? Typically you’re handed a word count or amount of space to fill. If you’re working on your own website, and you’ve got all the room in the world, the length should be as long as it needs to be. To quote John Mayer: say what you need to say. And nothing more. I’ve got both a long version and a short version on my About page. People can choose which one to
ignore review/read. Giving two choices allows for detail, if someone is writing a profile story on you, as well as a short clip, if someone needs a few sentences for an intro. You might want to offer both as well.
Other smart people have suggestions for how to write a fab bio. Here are links to their thoughts:
Sandra Beckwith, “Book Buzz” Coach: http://buildbookbuzz.com/author-bio-mistakes/
Chris Robley, with Book Baby blog: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2014/03/how-to-write-a-great-author-bio/
Neil Patel, with HubSpot: http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-write-a-bio
If you’ve had great success with a particular format or wording, let me know! I’d love to hear about it.