There are two types of writer’s biography. There’s the visible one that appears in print either on a book cover or in the contributors’ notes in a magazine and there’s a biography that goes with a covering letter or submission form. Both require the same approach.
- Think edited highlights – you might want to write your memoirs or autobiography later so don’t give it all away now;
- Check available word count – some publications give a word limit – or look at previous issues of the magazine to get a feel for how much space you have;
- Keep it brief – no editor is going to read more than a paragraph or so;
- Tailor publication credits to the editor or publication – choose a couple of good examples of previous publications and mention them, put most recent first as if you’re writing a CV or résumé;
- If you don’t have publication credits, think about areas that might show you have writing experience – do you write reviews, blog or perform at open mic nights?
- Briefly mention qualifications if relevant to the subject matter being published – if you’re writing a space opera this might not be relevant, but if you’ve written about a computer virus and have a BSc in Computer Sciences and work in software development it’s very relevant;
- Mention experience if relevant – give the editor or reader confidence you know your subject matter;
- Think about the tone of your biography – if you write comedy a jokey tone might fit but if you want to convey professionalism, keep it brief, relevant and to the point;
- Consider your reader – a biography with a submission needs to be focused on your writing and experience relevant to your submission, a biography for a magazine may have to follow an in-house format, a biography for a reader can be less formal;
- If asked for a photograph, send a head and shoulders portrait that can be reduced to thumbnail size and works in colour or monochrome, unless the publication specifies otherwise.
- Insist your biography cannot be edited – editors do not have to accept your biography and may have to edit it to fit on a page so don’t make it easier for an editor to leave your biography out;
- Think a long list of publication credits is OK – you are more than just your previous publications;
- Send 100 words if the requirement is 50 – editors don’t have time to edit your biography so get it right or get it rejected;
- Feel obliged to mention when or where you were born if you don’t feel it relevant – “Joe Bloggs was born in 19xx in the Midlands” eats into a word limit and isn’t actually that interesting. If you share a birthday with a celebrity or relevant historical figure or were born, lived in or worked in the place where your story is set, mention it;
- Have a standard biography you use for everything – tailor your biography for the publication, just as you would tailor your CV or résumé for the job for which you’re applying. If you have a succession of magazine publications, it gets boring reading exactly the same biography each time;
- Submit a photo if not asked for one;
- Forget to include a blog or website address so an interested reader can find out more about you and your work, but don’t expect a busy editor to click through and read your biography from a website, include relevant details as well;
- Forget to proof-read.
The usual word limit for a biography is 50 words. Can you succinctly mention relevant publishing credits, writing experience and say something interesting about yourself in 50 words or less?
By Emma Lee