Novel Marketing listener Samantha Johnson, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, recently wrote:

I discovered the Novel Marketing podcast a few months ago, and since then, I’ve listened to nearly all the episodes in the archive. Great stuff! I now have a lot of new marketing ideas to try, and I’ve learned ways to fine-tune the things I’ve already been doing.

I’d love to see you guys discuss how to write the perfect author bio. I know you’ve touched on this briefly in the past, but an entire episode would be awesome.”

Samantha, your wish is our command!

Bios are one of the most overlooked aspects of an author’s marketing, but it’s one of the first things a potential reader, interviewer, publisher, or agent will look for.

Most people assemble a few personal facts, mention their success highlights, and believe they’ve written a good bio.

Trained public speakers learn how to introduce a person using their bio. Professionals take your three-paragraph bio and edit it to a couple of sentences that will interest the particular audience and whet their appetites for what you’re about to say.

Sadly, it’ doesn’t always happen that way. Often, the conference director, who has not been trained as a public speaker, will simply read all three paragraphs of a very boring author bio. When that happens, you, as the featured speaker, have lost half the audience before you’ve even begun.

When I’m asked to speak, I always provide a long bio and a short bio. The person introducing me can choose from the buffet of information in my long bio and deliver only the parts that will interest or entertain the audience in attendance.

But I also provide a short bio for the MC who isn’t prepared or doesn’t know the protocol. That way, the audience and I don’t have to endure the long reading of the long bio.

Your bio is your introduction and therefore needs to be entertaining, provocative, or at the very least, not boring. It should hook the audience and pique their interest.

Generally speaking, the audience doesn’t care where you went to college or how many kids you have. They are wondering how you will impact them. There are exceptions for nonfiction writers. For example, if you’re writing a parenting book, your readers will be very interested to know how many kids you have and whether they’re grown or not. But for novelists, readers will be less interested in your personal history and more interested in how you’ll entertain them through your writing.

Your bio should entertain or provoke them in some way, and whatever you include should invoke emotion.

Here are some tips for writing a bio that will hook your audience.

Tip #1: Be relatable but keep some mystery.

Make sure people realize you’re just another human. Mention a quirk or a hobby that might surprise your audience. Self-deprecating humor can work if that fits your personality. Do you love 50s music? Are you a fan of superhero movies? Are you a night owl?

Specific quirks or interests make people smile. They can identify with a person who likes to stay up late. Plus, quirky facts are more memorable than the fact that you received a degree from a little-known institution.

At the same time, you want to retain a little mystery so that your audience will want to stick around and learn more. When you give more information than they want, you lose their interest.

Tip #2: Use humor.

You don’t have to lead with a knock-knock joke unless that fits your brand, but opening with a bit of humor makes you more approachable and puts your audience at ease. Humor opens people up to hear what you have to say next.

If you write with humor or have a little bit of wit, please use it in your bio.

Not everyone can use humor. If you’re writing on a serious topic such as human trafficking, abuse, or grief, it won’t work, but for most of us, it can.

Tip #3: Tell us where you live, even if you’re not specific.

You don’t have to provide your address, of course, but in the same way, the setting of your novel grounds people in your story, giving your location can ground your listeners and let them know where you’re coming from.

You can say you’re from the Pacific Northwest, that you grew up in the South, or that you live along the banks of the Missouri River.

Tip #4: Give people a sense of your voice.

Agents and editors always say they’re looking for an author’s voice. They want to be able to identify a writer’s specific style. They may not be able to define it, but they know when they see it.

If your writing voice is serious, use the same voice in your bio. If you write YA, your voice should be much more upbeat. A humorous bio will build the expectation that your talk will include at least a little humor. Your bio should reflect your writing.

A bio is an extension of your voice that will give people a hint about who you are.

Tip #5: Write your bio in third person.

Whether you’re writing a bio for your website, your back cover, or your introduction at a speaking engagement, write it in third person.

A third-person bio makes it easier to talk about your accomplishments. For example, it sounds much better to say, “James L. Rubart is an award-winning author,” rather than, “ I am an award-winning author.” Third person makes me sound credible. First person makes me sound like a braggart.

Speaking about yourself in third person on your website bio also helps for SEO purposes. When people search for your name on Google, Google will scour the web to find you. But if your website says, “I am a fantasy author,” Google can’t match the name being searched.

On your website’s About page, write “Sally Smith is a fantasy author,” and Google will be able to match the web search to your website.

Tip #6: Remember, it’s not about you.  

Technically speaking, your bio is about you. But it’s really about your position and authority to be able to help your reader. Your reader or your listener wants to know what you can do for them. Tell them how you can benefit them.

Tip #7: Give your authority.

Samantha, who inspired this episode with her question, might say how long she’s been gardening, what gardening awards she’s won, or how many beginning gardeners she’s taught. Maybe she’s helped people who’ve never gardened before, and now they have more tomatoes than they know what to do with.

Even novelists should establish their credentials and authority. There are so many books available today that you need to give readers a reason to choose you and your books over another author. Listing relevant awards you’ve won or the number of novels you’ve written will establish your authority as a novelist.

One of the best ways for a novelist to establish credibility and authority is to have written other novels. Then each novel can promote the others.

Tip #8: Customize your bio for different audiences.

Not every publication will need information about your feline affection or love for classic rock. With that said, tailor your tidbits to the audience and be sure to keep them at a minimum. Readers are only marginally interested in your personal life.

When I speak to writers, I use a bio that says I’ve worked with publishers and authors for over a decade. When I speak to non-profits or political groups, they don’t care that I’ve worked with authors, so I use different bios for those audiences.

Tip #9: Watch your length.

William Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Use everything you know about tight writing to keep your bio short. The fewer words you use, the better. In an odd twist of logic, the more accomplished you are as an author, the shorter your author bio can be.

Tip #10: Give a call to action.

For bios that appear in writing on your back cover or website, you can make a call to action. You might ask readers to connect with you on your website or social media. You could also invite them to read more in your other books.

Two Examples

Mary Weber is a ridiculously uncoordinated girl plotting to take over make-believe worlds through books, handstands, and imaginary throwing knives. In her spare time, she feeds unicorns, sings 80’s hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband, who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California, which is perfect for stalking L.A. bands, Joss Whedon, and the ocean. {Facebook: marychristineweber, Twitter @mchristineweber, Blog: maryweber.com} 

Mary’s mention of her “muggle children” tells us she’s writing fantasy, and her audience knows that muggles are the regular people in Harry Potter’s world. Each sentence is interesting and hints at her interest in the fantastical. Even the way she describes her affection for her children and husband ties back to the fantasy world. Her bio demonstrates her writing voice, and fantasy readers will be interested to find out what kinds of worlds she’s overtaking.

James L. Rubart is 28 years old but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons and loves to send readers on journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He’s the best-selling, Christy, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award-winning author of seven novels as well as a professional speaker. During the day, he runs his marketing company which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington. More at www.jameslrubart.com.

James L. Rubart wants to give people the sense that he’s young and adventurous at heart, even though he’s well past 28 years of age. His bio demonstrates his voice, his sense of adventure, and his novel-writing authority.

Bonus Tip: Keep refining it.

If you need help refining your bio, post your short bio at AuthorMedia.Social and ask for feedback. If you’re looking for individual paid coaching, contact James L. Rubart.

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