A Poet’s Biography

Following my article on dealing with rejection, you decided that sending out some poems (after following submission guidelines) was a good idea and managed to get some accepted. Now you’re been asked for a writer’s biography…

  • Check any word count you’ve been given. If there isn’t a word count, use 50 words as a guideline (that’s 50 words maximum)
  • It’s worth having a look at the publication’s current ‘notes on contributors’ to see if there’s a general format followed (that doesn’t mean you have to follow it but it gives you a starting point)
  • Always write in the third person so that your name appears in your biography (“I” could be any of the contributors and editors don’t have time to rewrite your biography)
  • Mention your best achievements to date: these could be your most recent collection, a reading, an award and your blog. A list of magazines is repetitive so stick to one or two and mention other things you’ve done.
  • A year of birth is better than your current age (which may be out of date by the time the magazine appears), but bear in mind that age is only interesting if you’re very young or very old and often best left out.
  • Take care when mentioning personal details. You may love your children to bits but they aren’t going to be taking a copy of the poetry magazine to school boasting about how their parent named them in the biography so stick to “has two children” or leave them out.
  • You need not mention your cat/dog/goldfish either, unless they happen to be relevant to the accepted poem.
  • Be wary of giving an exact location. Lives in City A is fine but if you mention a specific district, people may recognise where you live or combine with other information you’ve posted online or elsewhere and figure out where you live. It’s unlikely you’ll get fans camping on your doorstep, but exercise a bit of caution as to how much information you give out.
  • Quirky hobbies can add interest, but keep it relevant and make sure it’s not something you’re going to be embarrassed by in 10 years’ time.
  • Humour is difficult to carry off successfully. It works in a poem because the poem has its own context. A funny phrase or joke in a biography can just look odd.
  • If you stick to a format of name, a couple of publication credits, blog/website address, notable writing achievements, location and any interesting/quirky information chances are you’ll have met the word count before giving anything potentially embarrassing away.
  • Do tailor your writer’s biography to the publication you’re appearing in. It is easy to use the same wording each time you’re asked for a biography, but that gets very boring for readers.

A writer’s biography is a way of giving readers a chance to find out more about you and your work so one that points readers in the direction of your publications or where to find your blog/website is going to be more successful than one that tells readers when you were born, where you live, contains a joke and fails to mention anything else.