How to Make Your Bio Do Double Duty


The author bios that accompany our published works can provide a very effective way to communicate personally with our readers. Unlike resumes or curricula vitae, bios tend to shy away from dry lists of titles, dates, and publishers. Instead, they do double duty as marketing tools that let us do quick and dirty publicity for our work by sliding in quick, tantalizing flashes of the author in-the-flesh: an introduction to new readers, an update to continuing ones, or a seduction to potential buyers or editors or publishers. Or all of the above.

Often, in 50 words or less. Whether the publication is in print or online, We’re given a golden opportunity to snag our readers’ attention — and to do it in a venue where they’re already seeing (and, one hopes, being impressed by) our work. We can use this opportunity to accomplish a variety of creative and professional goals.

A key to making this work is in deciding what we want to say in a particular bio — and to whom we want to say it. Once We’ve figured that out, we’ll be able to decide how to tailor a specific bio. (By the way, maximum word count can vary widely. I’m using 50 here because that’s the number I’ve run across most frequently this past year.)

For reference, it’s a good idea to have an easily accessible master list of publications in a format from which it’s easy to cut and paste. Yes, it’s invaluable to have a sortable spread sheet with the raw data of our work: story and/or book titles, pennames and editors (if applicable), publishers, dates. But it saves huge amounts of time to also keep a prose type file with summaries more akin to what we’d find in an annotated bibliography. As time goes on and our publications list grows, We’re more likely to pull from the most recent entries. But when the need arises for a themed biography (BDSM, couples, a holiday, whatever), it’s nice to be able to zoom back to the master list and pull out the related descriptions, already written. It’s much easier to just edit out what’s no longer needed or relevant than it is to re-invent the entries each time we need them.

Try this with your next bio. What is the most important thing you want the person reading this particular bio to know about you and your work? Who are you most trying to reach? And what do you want them to do? Are you a new writer, looking to make your first personal connections with a potential audience? Are you pushing a new book you want people to buy? An upcoming event you want them to attend or a blog you want them to read? If you have space, you can include two or three things. (If you list more than three, it can be easier to hold a reader’s attention by grouping the pubs into three subtle categories. Otherwise, readers can gloss over what looks like a grocery list and be less likely to come away looking in the direction in which we’d like them to look.)

I often think of it as providing a literary rather than graphic thumbnail about the author’something that lets the author reach out to a potential audience with interests similar to those in which the author is currently being published (and thus has an initial connection), and with whom s/He’d like to build continuing rapport.

This can be the time to include some of the personal things that are associated with your writing. I’m involved with a historical re-enactment group, where I play a fifteenth century Italian. (Note to self: given the complexity of Renaissance garb, if I ever decide to switch personas, seriously consider becoming a Viking! But I digress . . . . ) When I’m doing publicity for stories set in other-than-contemporary settings, mentioning my re-enactment background subtly lets people know I’m a history buff with an affinity for including (sometimes shocking!) bring-the-past-to-life details in my stories. I’ve also spent many years in a multi-generational home. Though I’ve yet to find the person from a “functional” family, the experience with my own quirky home life gives me some semblance of authority when I’m writing stories with family issues subplots (late) teenage rebellion, marriage/remarrying/stepchildren, re-entering the dating world, empty nests, or trying to find privacy at a family reunion or with nosy in-laws around. I have an extensive herb garden, make jewelry, and am owned by a number of opinionated pets — all of those are things I can use to entice a reader to see how I weave things in which they’re interested into a sexy story.

Some erotica authors take this a step further, including information about their personal sex lives that they feel will resonate with specific readers: BDSM, consensual spousal “discipline,” polyamory, swinging, cross-dressing, or a particular fetish (shoes, plush, watersports, cookware — insert any object on which you can run an Internet search). These details can be more important for nonfiction work, where real life expertise is often much more important than storytelling. For fiction, opinions vary (sometimes vehemently) over how closely related the author and the story’s speaking voice need to be, especially when it comes to being a specific gender, orientation, age, economic class, race, religion. (More on that in another column.) With bios for general audiences, though, the trick with “how many details to use” can be in the balancing — having enough similarities to connect with the limited number of readers for whom specific real life credentials are essential, while not alienating those who might well enjoy the story purely on its own merits.

When will the bio be read or published? An introduction requested by an editor for a cover letter needs to reference immediately available works and abilities, whereas something for a publication hitting the bookstores in eight months might well include what will be hot off the presses at that point in the future. Also, when you’re latest work is for a publisher or editor with whom you’ve worked before, it can be a professional courtesy to mention, even in passing, things that will help backlist sales. It’s also a good idea to include a URL (a working URL!) so those so inclined (potential agents or publishers, reviewers, or readers with bookstore gift certificates) can see what else of yours is available to them.

So, what and how much do you want to tell about yourself — the real you, the writer behind the stories? For some writers, their literary persona is as important to them as their writing. Other writers want their writing to stand alone, with little or no actual face behind it. What connections do you want to make — and why? I’m including some examples here for jump starting your own bio(s).

(Caveat, disclaimer: For dog’s sake, to the best of my knowledge, these stories and bios are entirely fictional! They are in no way related to anyone living or dead or to any existing story!)

New Author:

John Whip-er-well made his first flogger on his 18th birthday. Dozens of practice teddy bears later, he is much in demand with his wife’s naughty friends. “Mink Panties” is his first published piece. He is an outspoken member of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association Storytime List [insert URL]. (50 words)

In this instance, readers get the fun of knowing they’re getting first crack (so to speak) at seeing if John’s real life experience can translate into good storytelling. Avid readers are often looking for fresh voices to add to their repertoires, and ERWA (which, as you know from being here, does exist) is well-known enough to catch many a passing reader’s attention. If John tells his story well, he may find an audience.

Author Emphasizing a Specific Theme:

Works by Jennifer Peters are becoming well known to those in the watersports community. Look for additional works in Yellow Snow, How to Make Adult Baby Clothes” (winner of Diaper Dandy Magazine’s Splashin’ Good Literary Award), and the inaugural volume of Best Ladies’ Erotica (available next spring). (48 words)

Is Jennifer Peters male or female, or in any way involved in watersports in real life? The bio doesn’t say — the emphasis is on her(?) stories rather than her as a real life person. Whichever, those looking for this specific kind of not-so-frequently-found story now know where to go to get more of her work.

Author Emphasizing a Specific Work:

J. Doe Smith’s latest novel, Lickety Split (XXYYX Publishers, 200X), breaks new ground in intergalactic gender bending. Information on the previous books in the acclaimed series, as well as merchandise, is available at [insert website]. Remember to vote for which characters you’d like to see in the next book! (49 words)

Even with a word count, the publisher may decide to make a particular bio longer, to highlight a couple of backlist titles with an eye towards bumping up sales of those as well. Either way, since this author’s entire pubs list is too long for readers to absorb all at once, just telling them where to find — and bookmark — the additional information not only catches their attention for the newest work, but gets them coming back for updates when additional works come out. The merchandising and participatory activity (voting) can cement interest even further.

By picking and choosing which hat(s) we want to wear for a particular bio, we can lead our readers to look for additional connections with, and opportunities to obtain, our work. Readers are happy, publisher are happy, We’re happy — good business for everyone!

October 2005

“The Business End” © 2005 Kate Dominic. All rights reserved.

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