Who doesn’t like talking about themselves?
Well, actually, most writers. Because we’re shy, retiring introverts. In the main. But if you don’t toot your own horn, who’s going to?
The trick is to toot cleverly, and at just the right tone and volume to get an agent or editor’s attention.
The first fact in your biography paragraph will be the most important fact about you, pertaining to your writing. Not that you visited the Biggest Hand-Dug Well In The Country as a small child. (In Greensburg, Kansas.)
Not that you are a member of the Mother-of-Pearl Button Guild…unless your book is about buttons.
Unsurprisingly, the second most important writing-related fact about you is the next sentence in your bio paragraph. And so on.
These facts might be:
- Stories or articles or books published
- Jobs held in the publishing/bookselling/literary/educational industry
- Author organizations
- Blogs/social media
- Other qualifying factors
HOW TO DECIDE WHAT TO INCLUDE
If your stories were published in top-of-the-line magazines like Highlights or Cricket, or your books were published by one of the big six, soon to be the big five, then this should probably be the first line of your bio. (Unless your book was a well-known fiasco, in which you received a six-figure advance that didn’t come near to earning out. But then, you would probably not be here on this blog looking for query advice. You and your agent would be querying under an assumed name. Good on you! Restart your career! That was your publisher’s fault for misreading the market.) I digress.
If you’ve sold children’s stories/articles/books to smaller markets, by all means mention it later in the paragraph as a toss-away: “I’ve had some success with several short stories published in children’s magazines, in print and online.” If they’re not going to be impressed with the name of the magazine, don’t mention it. If you want to mention a book, then you will have to give the title and publisher. BUT. If you wish you could find every copy of a book that did not turn out the way the publisher promised it would, nothing says you have to mention it. Sometimes we get taken for a ride when we are young (or young in the business) and desperately want our words in print. ON THE OTHER HAND. If you got paid, it is a credit. So you will have to decide if it’s worth it.
If you’ve only sold stories/articles in small adult markets, then you might state that fact near the end of the paragraph, but not mention the periodicals by name. It won’t have much bearing on their opinion on whether you can write for children. If it was an adult novel sold to a small market, definitely name it, as it will demonstrate you can write a whole book.
If you’ve only self-published, don’t mention it unless you made a million dollars like Amanda Hocking.
Jobs Held In The Publishing/Bookselling/Literary/Educational Industry
If you’ve been running a children’s magazine for forty years, I think you know this goes first in your paragraph. If you’re a parent, that fact doesn’t go in at all. In fact, stating you’re a parent might get you deleted before the agent even looks at your writing. It’s a RED FLAG.
Working as a cashier at Barnes and Noble doesn’t mean a thing, but coordinating story hour there for fifteen years might make it into your paragraph. Or if you’re a buyer for an independent store. Your employment would have to entail something more than making minimum wage for unloading boxes.
Librarians are nice, but are on the same par with peeps with degrees in creative writing or MFAs. I’ve heard many an agent/editor say they don’t care about such credentials. And while that may make you want to put up your dukes because it took a lot of hard work to earn those degrees, I think it’s true. BUT ANOTHER BUT. They don’t care about the credentials, they care about what you DO with those degrees. If you are a librarian who has written a YA novel, then the fact that you have six kinds of teen reading groups going on at any given time is important. If you write a middle-grade novel, it’s important to know you also used your MFA to design a curriculum for a poetry badge that you worked on with the Girl Scouts in your local region. If the degree not only taught you to write, but got you hands-on experiences with your age group, it’s a fact you can use in your biography paragraph, if you need to.
If you’re going to mention that you’re a teacher, it better be for the age group you’re writing for.
I think it’s important to mention you belong to author organizations, as it shows that you consider yourself to be a professional. If you are an officer or have received an honor from the organization, the mention comes sooner in the paragraph.
Everybody’s got a blog. Everybody’s on Twitter. Everybody has a critique group. Don’t mention it unless you’ve got a hefty ton of followers. HOWEVER. Wednesday I’m gonna tell the tricksy way of getting that information across to your queryee.
Other Qualifying Factors
Wow, there are tons of these. If you write a picture book about dancing, then mention you are a dance teacher. If you write a non-fiction book about turtles, then mention you own 65 red-eared sliders. If you write a YA novel about young love, mention you were young and in love once.
No, not that last one.
These are the fun facts that will not make or break your chances, but will make the agent/editor say, “Huh.” And read your query with a little more interest.
But be very careful. If you throw in an Unusual Extenuating Circumstance, make sure it is something that directly affects your ability to write this manuscript and/or bolsters your credentials.
Writing the biographical paragraph is a matter of listing your strengths. As you rack up achievements, your bio will change. For heaven’s sake, don’t get an ulcer over all of this. In the end, an agent/editor is simply looking for a writer who behaves professionally, and above all, can write!