Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Author bios in queries-Updated!

Sunday's QueryShark post drew an interesting comment from One of Us Has To Go
The only thing that I noticed is that there is no bio in this query. I'm confused why it doesn't need one, since I thought they all do.
Indeed, "author bio" is one of the things listed in almost all submission guidelines.

And yet!

I've never rejected a query because writer hasn't included one.
I've never rejected a query because the author spelled my name wrong, or got my name wrong. Or addressed it to someone else (in fact, I've signed and sold projects that were intended for someone else!)

The key here is that I'll overlook just about everything if the query is compelling.

So why include an author bio at all?
Cause a lot of you don't write compelling queries, and I HAVE read pages cause you told me
*you were published in a lit mag I respect
*are from Oregon
*sound interesting

In other words, a good author bio can salvage a less than stellar query.

That's why you should include one.

Update: Lisa Bodenheim's comment mentions a good example of a fun bio in QueryShark #285

I currently attempt to shepherd five book-hungry children as a single mom. In my spare time (term used loosely), I commandeer various sea- and un-sea worthy vessels down the Snake River. 

This is an excellent example because it's not just what the writer does, it's told in a fun and enticing way. She could have said "I"m a mom to five kids, who enjoys rafting" but instead she gave it some style and verve. That's exactly the right thing to do.

Thanks Lisa! 


Stothers said...

I'm struggling with this one at the moment. My author bio isn't very literary. I could fill it with fun, interesting facts but none of them would sell a query.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sadness. I have a less than stellar bio. Guess I will be hitting that query hard.

Unknown said...

We all have stellar bios! Don't sell yourself short. There's only one person like you in the entire world, maybe the entire universe. And, look at Janet's list of how your bio can sell you. Only one of three items has to do with writing. Let yourselves shine writer friends! @$!# the negative thoughts.

Timothy Lowe said...

To introduce themselves on the first day of class, I've seen teachers play "two truths and a lie" - might be a good exercise to brainstorm items for a bio:


Barbara Senenman said...

Your blogs and good coffee is the way I need to start my mornings! Just saying!

Craig F said...

I'm going to keep plugging for that enticing query. I have a compelling bio but it in no way relates to anything that would help me get published. I think that is the deciding factor for an inclusive bio. I hope nobody, since Mom passed away, gives a shit about me having been published while in the third grade.

Colin Smith said...

Yeah, let's stick with a compelling query. That'll be hard enough. I'm not leaving it to my bio to push an agent off the fence. "I'm an ex-pat Brit who, despite living in the US for over 25 years, still says tomahhto and zed." :)

Kregger said...

Spelling a person's name correctly is a pet peeve of mine as I'm the Duke if not the King of misspelled names. Carolynn of the 2Ns' duchy is probably related to me.

Unfortunately, spelling web addresses doesn't seem to fire the same neuron. During my early forays into the trench, I incorrectly addressed a query. Instead of coming back as undeliverable, this agent had set up a separate address to auto-respond any email back to the sender. Of course, it had a snide remark. Like when you drive around a road-closed sign and at the end of the road is a sign (written in crayon) that says, "Idiot! Didn't you see the road closed sign?"

I think I have been playing the wrong game. My bio has two lies and one truth, and I'm having a hard time telling one from the other. I have an unmarried, writer friend who is a mortician who lives above the parlor with his mother. His bio reads like a bar pick-up line. Comparatively, mine sounds "almost like the truth" to his.

Make it a good day!

Aka: Kregger

Sam Mills said...

I started subbing short stories because I wanted: a) practice handling rejection, b) positive reinforcement when they *do* get accepted, and c) a juicy juicy SFWA membership for my bio.

And then I discovered I genuinely love the current SFF short fiction field! To the point where I'm rethinking my career goals and which of my novel-length projects better reflect the tone of my short work.

So, this is a tangent, but in the process of trying to beef up my bio I stumbled into a part of the market I should have investigated earlier. I also refined my sense of style/voice beyond "try a bunch of stuff and see what sticks." So, you know. That's a good step. XD

Julie Weathers said...

Ah, I have coffee and water and Janet Reid's blog. There's a lot to be said for that. I still don't have plumbing to my entire house so it has to be hauled to the kitchen. I look at it as research.

I assumed the bio had been removed from the query yesterday to protect the innocent.

I put in my bio of Far Rider that was from a ranching background and had raised Registered Quarter Horses for many years so the horse details are correct. One of the cultures in the book are horse lord warriors. I was tempted to add, "thus you will find no raging black stallions within", but I didn't.

1. They probably have a client who has a damsel in distress escaping on a raging black stallion.

2. They probably wouldn't understand aside from a few breeds, true black horses are very rare, except you, know, when you're a naked virgin who's trying to escape the clutches of the evil baron and grab the raging black stallion no one has ever been able to tame and escape because he's also the fastest horse in the kingdom.

A former editor friend said I should mention briefly I'm a former lady bronc rider. I did in some and added, "This has nothing to do with the book, but an editor friend finds it amusing." Being bucked off on my head one too many times may also account for the odd humor in my writing. Who knows?

A few agents requested and said they found it too intriguing not to at least look.

In the end, I just put a very staid, normal bio in most. I hoped to fake agents out about the normal part.

Ann Bennett said...

Good to know that a bio is not the most important item in a query. Some of us have led fairly mundane lives.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

For the writers' bio, I really appreciate it when they put something unexpectedly humorous.

Looking just quickly, Query Shark's #285 is one example. Not sure if QOTKU would appreciate getting a passel of queries with humor in the bio department, not to mention everyone has a different sense of humor!

Julie Weathers said...

Ann Bennett

I've led a fairly mundane life aside from a misspent youth, which is usually best left untalked about.

KariV said...

I saw a query tip from an agent on Twitter recently that said even if you don't have a full author's bio (ie pub creds) to at least include one line about yourself to convey a little sense of personality. I don't have any fiction pub credits, so this was encouraging. It's another way to infuse your query with voice and style (done correctly of course).

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I was banned from the library at Christ Church, Oxford in my misspent youth for trying to take a peek at some ancient book in an area I lacked authorization to be in. However, I doubt that would recommend me to an agent.

Julie Weathers said...


I don't know. That sounds like the inspiration for a Harry Potter scene to me or something more nefarious.

Julie Weathers said...

Ok, I've messed around here long enough. Back to wreaking murder and mayhem with my imaginary friends.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie Funny story. I was reading the first Harry Potter book to my daughter. Hermione had sent Harry off to the restricted section of the library. My daughter gets confused

“Mom, libraries don’t have restricted sections.”

“Yeah, kid. In England they do. Trust me. You go into a restricted section in England without permission, a unreasonably large Welsh man will escort you from the building, take your name down, and tell you never to return.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

My daughter, a wise 9 year old at the time shakes her head. “Mom, you’re not as clever as Harry and Hermione.”

She wasn’t wrong.

Janet Reid said...

Y'all might be surprised to learn what agents think is interesting.
Lady bronc rider? Yup
Banned from the restricted section of the library? Yup
Reads this blog? Yup

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

It never dawned on me that OP from Sunday's post wouldn't include their bio/housekeeping in their query when it hits the trenches. I just figured all that had been redacted.

When I queried my first book, way back in the dark ages, I had zip-zero writerly accomplishments under my belt. I simply offered a very brief bit about myself to give the agents/editors a sense of who I was. It landed a contract.

Power up the confidence. And onward!

Unknown said...

Colin, if I was an agent, your "ex pat" sentence would sway me. It tells about you, and it's funny/clever. To me, the most admirable thing about my grandparents is that they left Ireland to move here in their late teens. I don't think I could do that, and I greatly admire anyone who does. In my book, any immigrant is an interesting person. Funny immigrant? Double points.

Anonymous said...

Joining the 'oh, I thought it was redacted' chorus.

I like adding a little personality, with a quick one-two line bio. I figure, if someone can make themselves sound interesting, it bodes well for making their CHARACTERS interesting.

Mine currently starts off with "I write from my lair..." As I often cosplay a red dragon, it seemed fitting.

Janet Reid said...

If something is redacted on QueryShark, I mark it. Exmaple "My novel Felix Buttonweezer Splits the Atom and His Britches: a picture book was published by Random House in 2018" becomes "My novel REDACTED was published by BigAss Publisher in 2018"

I don't leave stuff out.

This was interesting to learn! Thanks for mentioning.

Amy Johnson said...

Kathy's encouraging comment (7:37 AM) reminded me of quote from Mark Twain. "There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy." Thanks, Kathy!

Amy Johnson said...

Eergh. Of course, that should be "reminded me of a quote." Why is it tougher to spot such things when using a phone to comment? And what else did I miss? ;)

KariV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KariV said...

So, being a Reider piques the Sharque's interest. I've heard, though, that cannibalism rubs her the wrong way. Does that mean my current bio: "I learned to write in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea where my missionary parents raised me alongside a tribe of cannibals. However, to my best knowledge, I've never eaten a human being." is a no-go?

Steve Stubbs said...

Re people living boring lives: Stephen King's stories use the device of a setting that is banal to the point of being boring and yet has one little twist in there. An example is a town in rural Maine, most boring plae in the world, that happens to be infested with vampires. That is a strategy. The banality makes the story believable. The twist makes it interesting. Rural Maine works much better as a setting than Transylvania.

I think he got that from Rod Serling's old TV series, The Twilight Zone. King had unkind things to say about that series, but IMNSHO it was about the best TV series ever made. (I am referring to the original, of course, and not the lame movie and 1980s era remakes.) The storytelling was so superb the series was in syndication for decades after the original run was finished. If anyyone has not seen it, it is available on DVD.

Go ye to the master, thou aspirant; study his ways and be wise.

Lennon Faris said...

A good bio would let the agent know if they might want to work with you (and vise versa!). I do like that it is as much how you say something as who/ what you are.

Happy writing, folks!

John Davis Frain said...

Interesting how many of us thought the bio paragraph was in there, but not shown, on the QS post. We should wonder how many other things in life we make assumptions about.

Reminds me of the wonderful psych experiment where subjects are asked to watch a group of people and answer a mundane question, such as to count how many times they pass a ball back and forth. In the middle of the experiment, a giant grizzly bear walks through. Afterward, when asked about the grizzly, a HUGE number of respondents say "What bear?"

While looking for one thing, we often miss something interesting. And I'm not just talking about typos. We make and enforce rules upon ourselves that are often unnecessary.

This is always such a fascinating neighborhood. Thank you to our Block Captain, evidently an Oregonian at heart. Or maybe Janet's dad's name was Eugene. I don't want to make assumptions.

Panda in Chief said...

Fun post today! I need to write a new bio, including the information that I may or may not actually be a panda.
Well, out to bludgeon nature into submission for a bit before I go back to work!

AJ Blythe said...

On queries...how flexible is the 250 word count? Making my bio interesting (which I prefer) pushes my query to 274 words. Should I worry? Or just get off the hamster wheel?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Busy day. I finally got back here to read through the later comments to find the addition of that lovely #285 quote written out in Janet's blue ink.

You're welcome.

Your archives are full of treasures.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: I say (not Janet) that you're probably fine, as long as your query is compelling. If your bio is more interesting than your query, however, you might have a problem. :)

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks, Janet, for making things clearer about the bio in a query.

I'm also glad to hear that you don't kill a writer straight away when they have misspelled your name :).
I have received a rejection letter with my name spelled incorrectly when the agency's website advised "Please make sure you spell our names correctly".

My name is not complicated at all and pretty short. I understand professionalism is important in this business, but I then found myself kind of outraged when they misspelled my name in a rejection letter.

Yeah, some here will say "Be glad you got a letter at all".
I may be too German to be glad... cause we think that when one side puts the bar high, they should be able to meet it themselves...