Submissions 101 – Query Letter Bio

When you’re querying fiction it really is all about the manuscript. If it’s great then a good bio is just icing on the cake. Sure it can be hard to talk about yourself, but it’s a good idea to let the person you are submitting to know at least a little something about you. Or maybe you have the opposite problem. You have a lot to say and you need to choose. Either way, your bio should be one quick paragraph in your query that gives the reader a small glimpse into who you are AS A WRITER. Three to five sentences should be plenty!

Keep it short and interesting. If you have a ton of credits, choose a few that fit best with the manuscript you are querying. You can always have a full bio on your website or blog that has a list of all your credits. An agent or editor will be pleasantly surprised to find that you have even more to your bio if they are interested and do an internet search on you!

What to include? Here are some possibilities:

Book publications  if you have them, list them! Use the most relevant ones if you have a lot. Give the title and publisher. There’s nothing to hide!

Magazine writing and newspaper credits are good too! You can go with something such as my articles have been published in this publication and that publication. <–You know, fill in the blanks there. You can be more specific IF you can do it in a quick fashion. Or you could simply say something like, “My articles have been published in a number of regional magazines.”

But what if you are writing say, a picture book, and have only published adult nonfiction? They’re so different. The publications aren’t really relevant. Well, yes… and no. Having worked with a publisher, magazine or book, already shows the reader of your query a couple of things:

  • You know how to write
  • You have experience working with a publishers
  • You are a professional

Not bad things at all!

List your membership in writing associations. Putting that you are a member of a national association shows that you are serious about your craft. Almost every category of writing has one. There is SCBWI – The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, RWA – Romance Writers of America, SFWA – Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and so on. (If you don’t belong to a group that is okay but it is something to consider. You can learn a lot from others writing in the same vein as you.)

Your profession or hobbies – Do they have something to do with the manuscript you are pitching? Then it can be relevant information. Why? It shows that you authentically know about the subject which you have written. There is a big difference between writing about specialized subjects – stem cell research, off grid living, gluten-free cooking, family law–the list goes on and on! – from the perspective of a person who has experienced it as opposed to a person who has read about it. Not that there is anything wrong with that! But, if you have that tiny edge why not add it into your query bio?

Contests and Awards can be good things to add to your bio if you have won. Be reasonable about this. If the contest is super small or peer judged it might not be worth mentioning.

Writing degrees, of course.

There are so many writing groups and classes these days. Are they worth mentioning? Maybe, maybe not. You may need to judge depending upon who you are submitting the work to. If the group is something they’ve likely heard of then you could put it in your bio. If not then I probably wouldn’t. If you have better things to put in your bio go with those instead.

Your online presence is something you could put in. Of course, with e-queries you can always sneak your social media into your query in your email signature. Even if you don’t have a large following yet it can at least show that you are aware that as a writer or illustrator, being online is important in this day and age. It’s something you could use if you don’t have anything else.

Okay, we’ve gone over things you could say, now what about things that you shouldn’t? There are some things that will mark you as an amateur so let’s avoid those. Don’t tell them:

  • This is your first book, submission, etc. Even if it is. This information isn’t doing you any favors. They aren’t going to read more sympathetically because of it. Maybe even the opposite.
  • How others loved the story—not your kids, your neighbors, or even your critique group. Unless one of them is a super well known book reviewer or something like that, their opinions hold no weight.
  • Where you live. Unless it’s relevant to your manuscript it really doesn’t matter.
  • That the manuscript was sent to an editor and/or critique group—the reader of your query expects that you are sending your very best. Critique partners and editors are part of the process.
  • How long it took you to write the book, how many times you revised it, etc. This matters not one iota. It is the quality  of the writing that they are interested in.
  • Why you wrote the book. Okay, I know, this could possibly be used if you saw a hole in the market or a need for the book. What I am talking about here is the ‘I wrote this for my daughter because she loves pigs’ or ‘I am telling this story because I my husband left me and I am going to get him back by writing romance’ sort of things. Please, use good judgment.
  • Anything about copyright. Your work is copyrighted to you because you wrote it. No need for registering or copyright symbols.
  • That you have self published, unless you have sold a high number of books. Like in the thousands. Or won awards with it.
  • Submissions, rejections, etc. They don’t need to know the manuscripts history. This is just another thing that won’t be looked upon positively.

And that’s what you’re going for, isn’t it? To put yourself in the best light along with your manuscript. Your query letter bio is going to change as you progress in your writing. Mine has definitely changed over time.

  • I’ve used the simple “I am a member of SCBWI.”
  • I’ve put in, “I keep an active online presence on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog:”
  • I’ve said that I am a librarian. I’ve told them that, “I have lived in a house run exclusively on solar electricity for the past fourteen years.” when it was relevant to the manuscript I was submitting.
  • Of course, once I got published I got to say, “My picture book, BEDTIME MONSTER, is published by Raven Tree Press.”
  • I have even *gasp* skipped the bio a time or two when I just really had nothing. Bad writer? Maybe, maybe not. If your manuscript is spectacular they will be calling you up to find out about you. You can bet on it.

But, it really is best to put a good bio into your query. I’m a big proponent of using the credits you have at the time. Do your best to be reasonable and keep it relevant. If you’re not sure get some opinions from other writers. Mostly, don’t stress out about it. You wrote an entire book. You can write a short bio.

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