News & Views

How to Create a “Selling” Author Bio

This is the second in Valerie Peterson's series on author marketing. You may want to check out her previous article, "7 Common Mistakes of an Author Website."

Your bio is a marketing tool, pure and simple. Properly executed, it can help you attract an agent, editors, journalists, and readers to your work. But if your current bio has you revisiting your long, long road to discovering your inner author, you're going to have to do some killing off your bio babies. I know, I know: You were weaned on Dashiell Hammett and you've wanted to pick up a pen since you were in Pampers.

My tough love to you is — that's a big club, nobody gives a dirty diaper, and that type of information is only relevant to agents and editors if that pen was poisoned, you stabbed your babysitter, and you spent your toddler years in juvie.

And — unless they're potential stalkers — even most avid mystery readers don't have the patience to slog through 2,500 words that goes back to your grade-school writing awards.

What pros care about — and, importantly, what marks YOU as a pro — is to include in your bio only what:
1. Uniquely qualifies you as a professional writer with the chops to pull off a mystery novel and the knowledge of your specific marketplace
2. Helps the pros see that you understand the need to help them draw in an audience of paying readers.

The Good News — You Can Choose
Your bio is a living "resume" and should change constantly as you grow your expertise and accolades. Whatever writerly level you have achieved, you can choose what to include, you can focus on what you do have going for you to divert people from what you might not yet have and let them dig deeper.

Sure, many pros will understand that you're dancing a bit, some will dig, and some won't — but if you present whatever credentials you do have in a professional manner (and on an appropriately established website), your bio will go a long way to showing that you understand what it takes to be a professionally published author — and that you are taking the steps to get there.

Then, as your expertise grows, you'll continuously add the most relevant "cred" for your author bio:
• Any "official" publications, writing awards & prizes, and bestseller list appearances. Regular blogs and mystery publications count. If your chops only extend to school newspapers, write "… was editor of The Crimson Tide," etc. As your "cred" grows, keep in the most prestigious and relevant, ditch the rest.

• Other "social proof" such as quotes and review excerpts from accredited publications and reviewers and established authors and booksellers. Again use reviews from "pay for play" pubs only if it's all you've got and replace as soon as you've got something better.

• Self-published or online published work. You don't have to call out that you're not traditionally published. Naming books or short stories "out there" at least shows you've had enough pro-activeness to get it there.

• Your unique expertise and/or intense research and awards for such: Your day job (you're a transit cop who's writing about accused of killing their boss by pushing him in front of the new Second Avenue subway line), volunteer work, or highlighting your passionate pursuit of obscure firearms.

• Your memberships and board positions and awards for such: MWA! Authors Guild! NRA! These show you have a community that might come to your book.

• Your readings and speaking engagements. These show you know how to get in front of an audience, and show you know the importance of building an audience of readers.

• Any other bio info that's relevant to your book plots. For example, if you're an academic, and your mysteries are set in academia, that's relevant. Ditto for stay-at-home dad / Little League coaches who are writing about a serial killer who targets the same.

• Your voice — you're a writer, for Edgar's sake! Bring your own creative sensibilities into your bio. Funny, dead calm, creepy… just make sure to also bring . . .

• An editor. Get a peer (not your mom or spouse) to look at and vet your bio for any kitchen sink or turn-off "ick factors."

Keep in mind that your bio is a mere marketing tool and an edit here is nothing personal. Honing your bio to its best will just help you attract (and not turn off) the people you most want to engage and bring to your work.
Valerie Peterson

— Valerie Peterson

Valerie Peterson is a proud member of MWA-NY, a semi-finalist for a 2016-2017 Writers Guild of America East Made in New York Writers Room Fellowship, and a 2015 Finalist for the CBS TV Writers Mentorship Program. She is currently finishing her first novel, which involves several intertwining mysteries and at least two dead bodies. Peterson is also a content strategist and book publishing consultant who ran major book marketing departments and campaigns (including for James Lee Burke and Robert Crais) and for six years ran the Book Publishing site for About.com/The Balance.

6 Responses

  1. Lisa Martinez says:

    I’ve been reading your posts. These are very helpful, Valerie, thank you. Please write more.

  2. John Collis says:

    Question: What if you’re starting out and you’ve got, like, zero publishing credits. What should I write in my bio then? I mean, I want to say something interesting. I can’t just have nothing.

    • Valerie Peterson Valerie Peterson says:

      Many famous writers have VERY short bios … while you need to build, you can also be a little cryptic for the time being.

      How much have you written? “Collins is the author of nine stories of mystery fiction.” You don’t need to flag that you haven’t been published.

      Clever? “As far as John knows, he’s no relation to Wilkie – but the DNA results are still out.”

      Best of luck!

      • Valerie Peterson Valerie Peterson says:

        Sorry John – just noticed that you’re “Collis” – but you can still find a way to bring the clever.

        “John is an avid reader and writer of mystery stories and novels — his last name is spelled almost like Wilkie’s, only without the ‘n’.” 

        Again, best of luck!

  3. Valerie Peterson Valerie Peterson says:

    Also – brainstorming here – are you a NY Chapter member? Get on the KGB reading list and et viola! “John Collis is the author of nine mystery stories and has been a guest at the MWA NY KGB Reading Series.”