Once, I heard someone reading a writer’s bio aloud. It began with “unpublished novelist.” The person stopped to make space for laughter, for himself and the audience. I remember a few people laughing. It occurred to me to join them, but I was moved towards curiosity instead. What did this writer mean? There was a heft to the phrase, a nude audacity attached to it; something that demanded both respect and contempt in equal measure, daring the listener or reader to make the choice. Unpublished novelist. What an idea.
As a writer, one of the decisions you’re going to have to make constantly is what you include in your bio. It’s worse if you have never used LinkedIn. The pressure and shame, which are kindred in this context, comes from the fact that as a writer, whose claim to any relevance is your announced ability to deploy words, your bio is expected to be kickass-ly sensible. This pressure, this threat of shame hangs over everything you publish. And it forces people into all sorts of mistakes. Unfunny writers try to insert a joke in their bios. It’s poisonous. Witty spelled wheaty. Learning how to write a bio is no small feat.
As a budding writer once put it, “What Should You Write In A Short Bio?”
The best thing to be in your bio is who you are. Anyone looking at it must get a brief sense of who you are, not just artistic achievements (as in resume) but a unique hankering that unlatches you from the cavalcade of writers marching the world. And it works like this in a submission. If you can honestly make an editor or first reader raise their brows (in a good way) or stop for a fraction of time when reading your bio, they’re naturally curious about your offering. Decisions of course do not rest on what kind of bio you submit. But if you’re remembered for a peculiarity, your name can linger just long enough to force a measured evaluation of your work. Sometimes, a first reader even shares your bio with someone else, “look what this person wrote.” They might chuckle, or groan in admiration. Whatever the reaction, if you successfully force one, you’re already being published.
So, how do you get yourself down in a few words? Here’s how to write a bio for literary submissions.
It is idiotic to even suggest it, but mind your names.
Or at least, the order of them. In a recent German translation of my work, the magazine editor told my translator that she had scoured the internet for bios of me and she was confused. My translator told me. Days later, so did my agent. I was embarrassed. I realized I had the order of my names appearing in threes and in twos, disjointedly so. Sometimes, C before A, sometimes A before C. It screams confusion, and can be off-putting if the editor is not already invested. Decide the order of your names and stick to it.
Decide the voice.
Most writers’ bios are done in third person, for obvious reasons. But sometimes, a certain venue requests the bio in first person. It is wise, therefore, to have two bios saying similar things in two voices. It follows too, that it is unwise to use the same bio in two different voices when submitting. One day you’re going to confidently push send after writing “Writer X has published in Indonesia. I live in Magodo.”
Put your most attractive leg forward.
It is tempting to release the hounds of all your artistic achievements. But if you must, it is important to prioritize the one that you’re most proud of (note that this might not be the biggest detail). If you mention the Moby Dick Review first, it’ll be assumed that you consider them your highest achievement until that point.
Leave something of yourself for the reader.
In the torrents of bios you can find for me online, I have the fortune of keeping a constant detail: a fact about me that is highly personal and quirky. In most cases, it is my twitter handle. In others, it is my pancake obsession.
Finally, brag humbly.
It’s a neat strategy to strike a note of self-confidence when writing your bio. But you also don’t want to send people to your short story or poem expecting Alice Munro or Dami Ajayi when you’re skeletally neither. If they notice the brag before they notice you, you’ll run into all sorts of trouble; someone might turn their nose up at your submission. A good brag is noticed after whoever’s reading has acknowledged you. This is achieved by slipping it casually in the bio and making sure not to repeat it, even if you’re terrified it won’t be noticed. That’s the point. That’s the difference between being admired and punished for publishing your self-confidence.
It is important to learn how to write a bio every literary agent and editor will love. Not only can it increase your chances of getting published,it can also help you stand out as creative and exceptional. Knowing what to write in a bio can save you the pains of rejection.
Author’s bio: Author prefers to publish this anonymously