Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Interesting bio vs relevant bio

As you know, every agent/agency has different asks and preferences--some say "include a short biography" in the query letter and others have online forms with a specific text box (a required field!) and others don't mention it at all. Since I am unpublished and my life experience doesn't really have anything to do with the fiction I write (i.e., I am not a former spy writing about spying)... I was planning on just saying, "This is my first novel."

But for those who specifically ask for it (especially those pesky online forms) -- and because I promised you a question at the beginning of this email -- is there any currency in an "interesting" bio rather than a "relevant to this story I'm querying" bio?

I understand everyone thinks their own bio is interesting, which is where this idea gets hairy (and why so many folks try their hands in memoir)... but I think my life has been interesting so far: I do make my money from writing (copywriter at an ad agency), I've written / directed several video ads, I co-directed (but did not write) an indie feature film (very small budget, around 200-300k, that is playing at festivals), and I kinda almost starred in a Reality TV Show along with my 4 brothers for a major cable network (we filmed the entire first season before the show was cancelled before airing, womp womp), and I've even sold a Reality TV Cooking Show concept (which also didn't air, womp womp); oh! and me and my brothers have created and sold several board/card games to major gaming companies ... all things that are the result of being "Creative" and even some writing, but none of which have anything to do with novel writing / publishing.

Because the show didn't air, I wasn't able to benefit from developing a social platform, though my brothers and I have a mailing list of about 6k people ... so I guess that's something?

Anyways... my book I'm querying is a YA speculative fiction that has nothing to do with board games, reality TV, or advertising. Do you and your agenty folk care about an Interesting Bio. Or do you only care about a Relevant Bio?

What's the purpose of a bio? It's to find out things about you that are interesting (clue!) and info we can use to pique the interest of an editor, then the marketing team, then the book buyer at B&N, then prospective readers.

So, yes, this is your first novel. BUT you've had some grand old times with all this other stuff. Write it up as humorously as possible, limit yourself to 100 words or fewer, be self-deprecating, rather than self-aggrandizing, and you'll be fine.

You should know: The most compelling and enticing thing you told me was you had a mailing list of six thousand people.

The general rule on bios is give me something I can use to help you stand out from the crowd. I've never rejected a book because an author sounded boring, but I must confess I've read pages when an author sounded witty, funny, and interesting.


Adele said...

Well, that's good news! I always thought the bio was so Picky Agent could judge whether or not the author had enough writing chops to write a decent novel. Now that I know it's to reveal the interesting bits of my life, I have a lot more material.

Kitty said...

I've never rejected a book because an author sounded boring...

That's a relief. Until I read that, I thought my bio would doom me. I have lived a life on the fringes of other people's lives. I have no bio fodder of my own which is why, the few times I've been asked, I usually skip it. I wouldn't know how to stretch my bio to 100 words.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Write it up as humorously as self-deprecating..."
"(...womp, womp...)" did it for me.

OT and personal side note.
I just love all these little dot, dot, dots. Reminds me of my mother. Her name was Dot. My father addressed everything to her as (.)
Dot was an unknown artist, an unpublished writer, and a musician without an audience. She had a hell of a bio. May she rest in peace in the heaven in which she did not believe. (.) died on Easter Sunday.
God got the last laugh.

Anonymous said...

OT, but man am I excited my Writing Without Rules copy came in today! I went right out and bought a highlighter (recent move back to Japan means a lot of small but otherwise essential things, like highlighters, didn't make the cut).

Back on topic, I don't have anything relevant to publishing to include in my bio, either. When I drafted a query for a book set in a fantasy version of Japan, I did include some of my life experience in the country in there, but the current WIP has nothing to do with that. So I just included a well-phrased (I hope) sentence or two about myself and called it done.

Julie Weathers said...

I hate writing bios.

I will probably mention my extensive Civil War library and research in the bio very briefly on Rain Crow. I threaten to leave the 600+ books to various sons depending on which one is acting the fool at the time.

Barbara Rogan thought I should leave the bit in about being a former lady bronc rider as it makes an agent do a double take. She's a former agent and editor, currently top notch author. So, that goes in as, "I'm also a former lady bronc rider, which has absolutely nothing to do with this book, but it gave me the opportunity to have my head examined. It's fine, thank you."

I have mixed emotions about adding I wrote for a horse racing magazine for twenty-five years. It shows I can string a sentence together and understand deadlines, but that's about it. My biggest asset was doing interviews and that doesn't translate to anything. I could always get a good story and interesting tidbit from the most curmudgeonly owner or trainer. Trainers like Bob Baffert are easy, they live to give you a hook to hang your story on. Others don't like doing interviews and just want you to go away. You have to get in their good graces and then like an oyster they open up. Lo and behold, there is that pearl no one knew was there. Anyway, that has nothing to do with writing.

Colin Smith said...

My bio might mention some published stories, but will mainly focus on my FirstBorn's ability to make delicious pastries. And my undying affection for mushy cereal. I think the "ex-pat Brit with six kids" line is getting old. I prefer the implicit bribe of tasty food.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

I would definitely rep Colin based on tasty pastries alone, but ya know, he can write too. Can I use my affection for Colin’s firstborn in my bio? The banned from the Christ Church, Oxford library story might not go over well with people who love books.

Fear of bio is another of my torments as I prepare to dive into the slush pile of razor sharp rejection. Querying will be the death of me. One of you will have to visit the coroner when they take my body away to explain exactly what happened.

LynnRodz said...

Great question, OP! I would've never thought to include my 4k (and growing) list in a query. I will now, when I'm ready. Thank goodness for Francophiles.

Brenda said...

Oh Kitty, ‘life lived on the fringes of other peoples lives’ sounds like the hook for an interesting memoir. Good writing - unless it’s a quote that I’m not bright enough to pick up on. Love it.
Humour and wit in the bio is great, I think, as long as the joke doesn’t fall flat, as mine did. Nothing quite as deflating as having your witty pun taken literally in critique.
Thanks again, Janet, for your timely advice. I wonder if there are agents out there who cuss you out over the upswing of deceptively well-written queries. I also wonder if the industry as a whole has seen an increased number of amateur manuscripts due to the encouragement we’ve found in Stephen King’s writing book. I’m very grateful for both but I suspect that the traffic increases the competition.
Back to the computer to up my game yet again.

Chris Desson said...

OP- I've always wondered the same thing as an unpublished author but never thought to ask Janet so thank you. I always left the bio section blank.

And thank you, Janet, for answering this question.

Unknown said...

To be honest, I don't like writing bio. The query should be about my story, not about me.

Julie Weathers, I really like that part: "I'm also a former lady bronc rider, which has absolutely nothing to do with this book, but it gave me the opportunity to have my head examined. It's fine, thank you." Made me smile.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I've been going short and sweet. "I write from my lair in Northern Virginia. When not writing, I lend my voice to the folktale podcast, Anansi Storytime."

If they mention a place or hobby in their own bios, I've been known to add it in. (dancing/fencing/I'm an identical twin...)

Julie Weathers said...

I think one thing I learned from many many years of interviews is that everyone has an interesting story. People sell themselves short needlessly. You just need one line to create a hook.

Steve Stubbs said...

It should be added that if you read the author bio on the book flaps of Best Selling Authors (BS'ers for short) you will notice that a lot of BS'ers don't live particularly exciting lives. They do, however, generate exciting profits for their publishers and agents.

The bio that matters may be the one that is going on in your mind.

KariV said...

I've gotten really good feedback on my bio so far. But it took me a long time to get to that point.

Here's something that helped me: Have you ever had a trusted friend or loved one tell you something about you was really cool?

Before we were dating, my husband would tell me aspects of my childhood were really cool. Since it was so normal for me, I had a hard time believing him. But guess what? Other people thought it was cool too.

Eventually I took some of my favorite aspects and waved my magic writer wand over them (Read: wrote them in a condensed, succinct, and interesting way).

What I came up with has garnered both laughs and curiosity.

We all have something that someone else thinks is "really cool" about us. Find out what it is and capitalize on it. The responses might surprise you.

Panda in Chief said...

I once fed a cookie to an actual panda.

Julie Weathers said...


That's exactly it. People think they aren't interesting, but they are. Everyone has some little tidbit that makes you perk up. It's finding that bit and telling it in a fun way. My dad always thought he was a boring truck driver. He left home at sixteen because his dad wanted him to quit school to help out on the fame. He wanted to finish school. So he left with his two pairs of bib overalls and went to work for a dairy farm. He'd get up at 4, milk cows, clean up and catch a milk truck to school and then catch a ride home at night or walk for two years so he could graduate. Education and reading were very important to him.

Everyone has a story.

Craig F said...

Up until now every damned person has told me that bios are for writing credits. I feel like I am now dancing in the dark. I guess I am going to have to try this, any advantage is acceptable to me, as long as it doesn't mess with my approximately 250 words of query space.

I am a reformed environmental scientist who now designs paddleboards somewhere in Florida. I would be writing for myself and friends except one of those friends asked me to immortalize her in print. The race is on and here comes pride in the backstretch.

MA Hudson said...

Julie - I reckon the horse magazine, as well as the bronc riding, show that you know a hell of a lot about horses, and that’s pretty interesting to those of us living in smoggy urban jungles! And the interviewing experience shows you know how to extract fascinating stories from the people around you. But yeah, the bronc riding on its own would probably garner you a few requests!!

Julie Weathers said...


"And the interviewing experience shows you know how to extract fascinating stories from the people around you."

I guess. I had one man in California tell his trainer I wasn't allowed to call him anymore. When he started talking to me he didn't know when to shut up. "I'd give that woman the combination to the safe if she asked me. No, I'm not talking to her anymore."

Another guy was a movie producer. I always called his trainer because I figured he'd be too busy to talk to me. His trainer told me I was supposed to start calling the producer. His feelings were hurt because I never called him. After a while, he'd just start calling me when he won a race because I covered all the western tracks where he ran.

You never know which way people are going to go.

MA Hudson said...

Julie - that’s hilarious. I guess the interviewee often BECOMES the story with their quirks and foibles - brilliant fodder for a fiction writer!