1. Keep your bio short
Your author bio isn’t the place to tell your whole life story. 250 words is a good starting place. Once you’ve got that version firmed up, you can create a slightly longer version for PR purposes, or cut it down to 50 or 100 words for other uses such as contributor pages in a print publications, social media profiles, etc. Many poetry journals have asked me to send them a bio as short as 25 words, which is the same length as this very sentence.
2. Write in the 3rd person
Telling your story in the 3rd person may seem a little pretentious at first, but it does make it easier to talk confidently about your achievements. Give it a try.
3. A little history goes a long way
Ask yourself, “does anyone care where I’m from?”
If you’re writing a series of poems set in San Francisco and you were born and raised in the Bay Area, sure — that detail could be crucial to your bio. But if your work is a paranormal romance set in Russia, do we really need to know you were born in Iowa and now live in Maryland?
Mentioning your birthplace, your year of birth, your parents’ occupation, they’re just some of the default things we put in bios: Mary was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1953.
We begin at the beginning by habit. Boring! Cut to the good stuff that really matters to your audience. Maybe your parents’ occupations are crucial to your own story. Just be sure of that before taking up any extra words in what should be a succinct bio.
4. Your older publishing credits may not matter
Again, this isn’t a dictum, merely a consideration — but mentioning the work you’ve already published MIGHT BE a waste of words.
Think about it: if you’re Ezra Pound, everyone already knows what you’ve written; if you’re a relatively unknown poet, no one cares what you’ve written.
If you’re in the later camp, the only thing that matters is that the details of your life which you choose to include in your bio make the reader want to check out your work.
5. List SOME of your literary achievements
It’s usually wise to mention any big literary prizes or awards you’ve won, plus the most impressive moments from your publication history. This sort of stuff establishes credibility.
If you’re a highly celebrated writer, no need to be exhaustive (and probably no need to read this article further, since I’m assuming your author bio is already killer).
One thing that is common in the poetry world is to mention where you currently teach, since many poets are also academics. While this does establish credibility, that detail is so ubiquitous in bios that it’s rendered somewhat meaningless. Plus, the way things are going in higher education, you might be adjunct-ing at a new school in a new city every 12 months anyway. If you write for fun then it’s fine to mention that in your bio too.
6. Mention the most relevant professional, educational, travel, or personal experiences
Once again, it’s about pulling in the details which will resonate with your readers and which fit snuggly with the topics you’re writing about. If you’re a poet who writes about the sea, your background as a navy seal is going to interest people. If you’re a cancer survivor writing about healthy attitudes towards aging, mentioning your personal medical history is crucial. Writing Mediterranean based poetry? Talk about how you spent a year going back and forth between Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.
7. Get some outside perspective
It’s tough to see your own life and career objectively. So ask your friends, family, and fans what they consider to be the most important or interesting aspects of your life story. Get the advice of your editor, agent, or writing group. And be sure to take good notes on what they suggest!
8. Write multiple bio versions
I always recommend writing a few different versions of your bio. Pass them around and ask for feedback. Then combine the most compelling sections from each version to create an unbeatable Voltron of an author bio!
9. Don’t forget the human touch
Whether you write fiction, essays, or poetry, you’re hoping to make a connection with your reader. Your bio is also a chance to make a connection, so be sure the thing doesn’t read like a Wikipedia entry. Give it some quirk and character. Make the vibe match your aesthetic. Light and chatty. Dark and brooding. Urbane, but with a weak spot for Wendy’s hamburgers. Remind us that you’re human.