Knowing how to write a great author bio is an underrated and important skill that many writers approach with trepidation. Writers fear coming across as self-important and conceited, or worse, boring. While I offer no panacea for self-confidence, I can provide a framework for an informative, evergreen personal biography.
Author bios weren’t an aspect of publishing I’d given much consideration until we implemented the Apex-Magazine.com site redesign. The redesign required that I manually update 500+ author entries for formatting purposes. Reading that many biographies in a relatively short period of time exposed a number of problematic trends that contributed to poorly composed bios.
Keep in mind that the type of bios I’m describing are those that accompany your byline for online publications of features and stories. Obviously, biographies accompanying a personal website or a different, non-zine style of publications will have different needs and structure.
THE RULE OF THREE
The most common author bio sin is that of the endless bibliography. Veteran professional writers have dozens and dozens of publication credits and it isn’t unusual to see career highlights listed out like a shopping list in their bios.
Lists are boring. And when readers are inundated with dull information, it all becomes a congealed mass of data.
I suggest limiting yourself to three publication credits. This trio can be your three most recent projects, or mix it up and list your most recent release along with a couple you might be particularly famous for. It’s also a good idea to tailor your list to the type of content it will accompany. That way you are more likely to match the interest of the reader, and potentially encourage them to check out more of your work.
Example of some functional author bios:
World Horror Grandmaster Brian Keene has published 50+ novels, including the zombie apocalypse classics The Rising and Dead Sea. He is also the author of the lost world novel The Lost Level available from Apex Books.
Kelly Link’s work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards.
Don’t date yourself by giving out dates or using phrases like “coming soon” or “upcoming.” You want to include information that makes sense regardless of whether someone is reading your bio today or twenty years from now. People prefer seeking out recently published work and you might cost yourself a potential reader if your bio states that your next novel, A Great Book, comes out in 2009 (eleven years ago!).
Here is D.K. Thompson's bio from our website.
D. K. Thompson (also known as the Easter Werewolf) has written stories featured or forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Bull Spec, Drabblecast, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod, and has lost NaNoWriMo twice. He was the former host and co-editor of PodCastle and has narrated audiobooks by Tim Pratt, Greg van Eekhout, and James Maxey, and others. His collection of stories And Welcome Back was funded via Kickstarter earlier this year and will be out by the year’s end. He lives in Southern California with his wife and three children.
Most of D.K.’s bio is solid until you reach the dated reference to his Kickstarter “earlier this year” and that his book will be out “by the year’s end.”
Avoid specific declarations such as “this is his first publication” along with “and he’s delighted to have his first story in Apex Magazine.” Those are all excellent topics to mention in many situations, but many websites use author user accounts and these accounts only hold one bio. This means your bio will show up the same all over the site whether you’ve published a poem, a blog post, or a short story.
Here is Bentley A. Reese's bio from our website.
Bentley A. Reese is a Wisconsin-born writer who has always had a love for science fiction. He has been published in many magazines, such as Shimmer, Bourbon Penn, and now (to his complete surprise and utter joy) within the pages of Apex. An Alumni of UW-Madison, Bentley is currently one of few genre writers studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He wrote this piece last fall while studying abroad in London and walking the streets of Whitechapel.
In this example, Bentley states that he “wrote this piece last fall while studying abroad in London and walking the streets of Whitechapel.” Personally, I find this snippet of information interesting. However, in the context of Bentley’s Apex author’s page, it doesn’t make sense. What if Bentley has another work published by Apex? To which piece is the factoid referring?
BORING IS OKAY!
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, many of us have a fear of coming across as boring in our bios. You know what? That’s completely okay! After all, you want your content to do the entertaining.
However, if you do have an unusual or neat bit of personal information, I encourage you to use it.
Here is Benjamin Naka-Hasebe Kingsley's bio from our website.
Ben Kingsley is best known for his Academy Award winning role as Mahatma Gandhi. A touch less famous, Affrilachian author Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley has not acted since his third-grade debut as the undertaker in Music Man. A Kundiman and UPenn alumni, Ben is currently the 22nd Tickner Writing Fellow and recipient of a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center fellowship as well as scholarships from Sewanee & VONA. He belongs to the Onondaga Nation of Indigenous Americans in New York. In 2017, his work can be found in Best New Poets 2017 (ed. Natalie Diaz), the Iowa Review, Narrative, Ninth Letter, PANK, PEN America, the Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, & Tin House, among others.
Specifically, I want to point out “He belongs to the Onondaga Nation of Indigenous Americans in New York” and “Affrilachian author.”
Let’s ignore the use of dated references and the long list of publications in Benjamin’s biography and focus on the interesting snippets of personal info. As a reader (and editor), I have a particular interest in both Affrilachian authors and Indigenous creators, therefore, I’m more likely to seek out Benjamin’s other work for this reason. I’ve been hooked into exploring his other work.
Also, keep in mind that readers generally have a keen interest in supporting regional creators or creators with a certain voice and/or perspective.
FOR MORE INFORMATION …
It amazes me how many writers fail to include a link to their personal website or preferred social media accounts when I know they have them available. If you have a website, link to it. If not, give your readers a social media account to follow.
From an SEO standpoint (search engine optimization), you’re missing out on the free link juice offered by the publication. Most pro-level zines, such as Apex Magazine, have a pretty high SEO rating and can help nudge your personal website up the search rankings for certain keywords.
If you’re the type of person who wants to keep your internet footprint to a minimum … then maybe create a pseudonym with an accompanying website? It’s the internet, you can be anyone or anything you want to be!
I also suggest using an author photo that shows your face. Readers are people and people make personal connections with those they can see. Fair or not (blame evolution—it’s an unconscious effect triggered by our lizard brains in order to assess threats, opportunities, and social placement), it is reality. Beyond helping your readers make a personal connection, using author photos that show your face helps fans recognize you at events and conventions.
I’m not a photographer nor do I have the skill necessary to take a quality photo, so I’ll direct you to an expert on the subject in this excellent article at The Writing Cooperative that gives basic tips on how to take a good author photo.
From a technical aspect, I suggest that your image be at least 1400 px wide in 72dpi resolution with an aspect ratio around 2:3 or 3:4. Most content management systems (such as WordPress) will use different sizes and versions of an image in different ways so you want to provide something that can be cropped.
And one more tip to save you a future headache—don’t include an email address in your bio. You’ll be unleashing a flood of spam onto yourself. Rather, make sure to have contact information on your website and point people there.
I must take points away from House Apex for the number of author bio grammar errors I’ve fixed while doing our migration. I’m ashamed to admit that editing bios isn’t something that has been high on our priority list.
Naturally, that will change going forward. Live and learn, right? But as an author, you should ALWAYS be concerned with the presentation of your content and your brand. This includes taking personal responsibility to provide a cleanly written, grammatically correct biography.
I’ll leave you with some positive reinforcement. Here is an example of a succinct, well-written bio penned by Bogi Takács. It includes a link to eir website, a nice author photo, a short list of publication credits, and a bit of background information about the author.
Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish author, a psycholinguist, and a popular–science journalist. Bogi writes both speculative fiction and poetry, and eir works have been published in a variety of venues like Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Jabberwocky, among others.
Bogi Takács makes it look easy because, really, it is easy. There are already plenty of aspects in the business of writing and publishing to stress about. Don’t let writing your bio be yet another source of anxiety!
FOR WRITERS is a bi-weekly feature from the Apex Magazine editorial team covering various aspects of writing. Visit our archive to read more FOR WRITERS content!