Thursday, August 25, 2011

Your Author BIO: Straight-Talk from my Editor

Have you ever written an author bio? If you haven't yet, you will, eventually, because if and when you get published, the publisher is going to ask for a couple of things.

The first thing is this: Your signature. Sign here. And here. Initial there. Here's your copy of the contract, looking forward to doing business with you.

And it is a business for the publisher -- ain't no art in publishing, you knuckleheads.

Now the next thing they'll ask for is a clean draft. They'll probably do a quick read and ask for long edits and send it back to you. Mind you, I'm with a small publisher, so this leg of the process will vary proportionately with larger publishers, but Open Heart Publishing, local to Dallas, has been professional and by-the-book as far as I'm concerned. I imagine the only difference between drafting with OHP and drafting with Harper-Collins will be length between edit responses, and the depth of the personal and professional relationships.

That's a theory.

So while you're drafting and re-drafting and reading and re-reading your piece, the editor will ask you for a couple more things.

We need a headshot for your bio, says Ms. Editor. (Her name is ME, by the way, and her blog is here: An Honest Lie Speaks.)

Okay, you answer. I got a picture from last spring break, just need to clip out my wife and kids from the pose.

Take a new one, ME says. You alone. It doesn't need to be professional, but you need to be the only one in it.


And we need a bio, she says. Between one and two hundred words for your short story in the AHL volume 3 anthology, and another one about three-hundred words for your novel.


Can you get this to me tomorrow? she says.

I guess.

I'll take that as a yes, she says. She then promises to share a beer with you once we get the damned things in print, and off you go to write your bio.

The picture is easy. Grab a beer and a clean shirt. Head to the back yard with the wife. Snap. Done.

But that bio, that ever-loving bio, that freaking fracking macking bio...

There's the hard part, folks. Who the hell are you? How do you sum up the complexities of YOU in three-hundred -- or two-hundred, or one-hundred -- words or less?

I won't share my bio with you, but I will share some of ME's invaluable editorial feedback.

And I quote, where I got too flippant and personal about my non-writing activities and family and such:

Be careful here – you are shifting too much focus away from your writing. Everything that is “in addition to” or “aside from” takes away from your writing career time. You don’t want to inadvertently sound like your life is so filled with other priorities that writing takes a back seat. Writing has to be and remain primary focus.

I ping-ponged ME a bit on the personal aspect (we communicate primarily via email). I wrote that I want to establish a personal connection with the reader in my bio, and that's why I include the personal aspects in it.

ME responded to that point like this:

I agree with you on the personal connection being important, but we always have to remember the potential publishers and agents who might come across our work, and be ready with the bio info they'll want to know.

On the personal part of the bio, for the novel, I have made a couple of alterations. Below is the revision. I have taken out "unbelievably beautiful" wife - this is a bit more personal and intimate than should be included in a bio (remember, a bio is a resume, not a personal journal).

Here is another response from ME, earlier in the pinging and ponging:

That's a good bio, and those are great photos. I think we'll use the photo of you on the chair looking right (yours, not viewer's).

I'd like to see something a little different on your bio. I'd like to take the personal info down to one or two sentences top, include your other writing credits, and talk about your blog and anything else you've been doing in the field of writing. 100-200 words is about the size we need.

Would you mind?

Bios should always focus primarily on credits, even if they were the same credits from the last bio. You want to work towards getting as many credits as you can, and as many writing related projects. After that, when you get new credits or projects, take out those that are less spectacular in order to add new credits/projects.

You see what I highlighted, yes? Are you paying attention?

I was, and I do pay attention to ME. She makes sound points and backs them up. I tell her she has hollow-toothed venomous advice that strikes like a bite to the neck.

But it's a good strike. It's a good feeling. She injects you, the author, with a jolt of reality that is meant to make your writing BETTER.

Here's another diddy from ME, when I originally included my email in the bio:

Never ever include contact info in your bio. Your bio can and will be seen by the world at large and you don’t want a way for perverts or stalkers or other harassers to be able to contact you. You can refer people to your publisher or agent, but never give your own contact info. Delete next sentence. I have deleted same reference from short story bio.

And now, in summary, for those of you knuckers who skim to the bottom and skip all the good stuff I write:

 o Focus on your writing activities
 o Your bio is your resume
 o Focus on writing credits (include significant non-writing, such as a patent, which I always include)
 o Do not share personal contact information

Listen to ME's advice. When you write your bio, remember what ME says.

Just don't get sour if she leaves a little smidge of a mark just above the shoulder and below the ear.

Do you have bio advice? What does your editor say?

- Eric

PS: If you find this advice helpful, you should thank ME at her blog: An Honest Lie Speaks. All email responses are used with her permission.


Stephanie Lorée said...

My advice: be funny, and if you can't be funny, at least don't be boring.

This extrapolates on my general life rule #1: if you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Excellent tips, Eric. My bio has changed so much over the past seven years, but I try to keep it up to date and fresh.

Wine and Words said...

A perfect reason for why I never wish to be published. That fucking leash.

Best of luck buddy.

Phoenix said...

I think I'm too resistant to ever sounding professional about anything (sounding professional would give people the false impression that I have the SLIGHTEST CLUE of what I'm talking about, and I don't) so I end up defaulting to funny, self-deprecating, and downright weird, and when I submit bios for acting people usually give me raised eyebrows.

Dammit, now I'm curious about what YOUR bio said! :)

Phoenix said...

PS Your comments on my blog make my freakin' day, they are so thoughtful and hilarious and rambly all at once. And Benni gets no say in the matter that you're my favorite :)

dolorah said...

I think I was born without a sense of humor in my writing, lol. But, I know all about being professional. Sometimes I'm too stark.

Those were great bio-writing tips. Its hard to know exactly what to put in that about 200 words. ME sent me some good advice on changing my personal bio - the one from the Bewildering Stories publication. I liked this mor concise one so much I save it for future publications. See how positive I am :)

Now I need to go work on my revisions before they bleed red all over my other works.

Later Eric.


Roland D. Yeomans said...

A great, fun informative post, Eric. Blogger has been removing me from my friends' followers listing. I think Blogger hates me. Still it's free. LOL. Roland

Anonymous said...

I'll let you know when a nab an editor in need of my bio! Until then I'll live vicariously through you and your spunky-ass commentary.

Raquel Byrnes said...

That was really helpful, Eric. What a great thing to share that. I never know what to put into those kinds of things.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Anonymous said...

I usually keep my bios short, and I always include my blog link. Lately I've been paring down my standard bio, as I've looked over earlier publications and had to cringe at my wordiness.