Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Query: research by living

I am preparing to query my novel and have a quick question for you about author bios.

A few agents go so far as to ask queriers to justify why they are qualified to write their novel. You've already answered this question in another post (in short, I'm qualified to write it because it's my novel!). I was both relieved and amused by your response and your usual down to earth common sense.

But even if agents are simply asking for a basic author bio, I wonder about what is helpful to include. In my case, the MC of my novel is a teenage girl who has been abandoned by her parents to live in a home for at-risk youth.

When I was thirteen I lived in a girls' shelter. While I did not experience the same degree of abuse and peril my MC is faced with, I certainly did glean a pretty personal understanding of what life in an institution is like for a teenager.

Because my book is set in this milieu, is it relevant to mention my own history (briefly and succinctly of course) in my bio? Is this information worth including? Would it mean anything to an agent?

It's certainly not out of place to mention you have some experience in the world your protagonist inhabits.  For some agents that's a valuable thing. Me, I don't care. Make it all up, but just get the details right.

You've hit exactly the right spot knowing you need to be brief and succinct.  What irks me is when someone starts their query with what they think is relevant info and go on and on and on.

You've got 250 words to entice me to read the story.  Get that part done first. If you've got words to spare, mention your experiences that influenced the writing of the book. More than having lived in a girls home, I'm interested in what drew you to tell this story.


Colin Smith said...

I've often found it hard to come up with something meaningful when agents ask for a bio. I don't have any published works to my name right now, and the work I'm currently querying is about a teenage, female alien in Victorian London. I've never been female, the closest I've come to being an alien is that I used to be a resident alien in the the US (I'm now a US citizen), and while I've been to London, I've never been to London 130 years ago! I've resorted to mentioning my interest in British history, and my love of H.G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS... but I always feel that's a bit of a stretch, and not really what they're looking for.

smoketree said...

I'm not at the querying stage yet, but in idle moments I sometimes wonder whether it would be useful to mention that I work in publishing. I'm just an editorial assistant at a tiny publishing house, so I don't have any useful industry connections, but it would hopefully communicate that I understand how publishing works and know how to edit.

Elissa M said...

I've always felt a query bio isn't going to change a "not for me" into a "wow, send the full instanter!", but that inappropriate or too much information can make me seem like a loon and not someone the agent would want to work with. Therefor I say as little as possible between the query pitch and "Thank you for your time and consideration."

There will be plenty of time to share more after I've signed with the agent.

DLM said...

Colin, assuming you plan to write more than one novel, centering a bio on your current MC would be counter-productive anyway, wouldn't it? Mine's not exactly literary gold, but I focused on why I tell the stories I do - the interests that feed inspiration and enthusiasm and *research* ...

I've seen a lot of bios that go for funny, which is great if it works, but not always easy to manage. It's also supposed to be a pretty short form, and some bios feel like they're getting too detailed - in a way, perhaps writing a bio is like writing the query of yourself as an author. Voice, point, good punchy verb or two, done.

But then, I remain as yet unpublished, and querying is SLOW right now, with a blue-screening laptop running strictly in safe mode. So here are your grains of salt, they're the best seasoning for my blather ...

Lance said...

NFE: Thank you for your time and consideration.