Many authors find it easier to dream up an alien universe than to summarize their real-world accomplishments. In the old days, when the “About the Author” section was buried at the back of the book, you could get by with a little résumé-speak. Now, though, your bio is front and center on your product page, and it needs to sing.
Referring to yourself with an impersonal pronoun like “he” or “she” might seem awkward at first, but it’s standard. It’s also standard—and, we think, more professional—to refer to yourself by your last name instead of your first name. So follow the industry formula of alternating pronouns with your last name. For example: “Jane Smith is the award-winning author of three beloved sci-fi series. Smith is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Washington. She is also an amateur astronomer.” Imagine that you’re a journalist or reviewer recounting the achievements of a star author. This will help you strike the right tone—and steer clear of “me,” “I,” emojis, and exclamation points.
Tell readers what makes you uniquely qualified to write the book you’re selling. If your ten years as a criminal defense attorney informed the plot of your thriller, then lead with that tidbit. If you’re a legend on the competitive barbecue circuit and you’ve just written the definitive book on slow-cooked ribs, then your stack of blue ribbons is more relevant than a list of your novellas. Emphasize provable facts, awards that reflect your expertise in the subject matter, and firsthand experiences.
Be judicious in choosing which accolades to highlight. For example, there’s no need to list every literary award your first short story won (pick two or three)—or to list old academic achievements, such as graduating summa cum laude from your university, among your professional credentials.
If you have a long list of previous titles, pick two or three of your superlatives: bestsellers, most critically acclaimed works, or most popular/beloved books (e.g., a cult classic that put you on the map). Even if a title is your favorite, if it is obscure or out of print, save it for the “Other Works” page of your book. Series writers can save space by including only series titles (“Rowling is the beloved author of the Harry Potter series”) instead of listing individual titles. Your whole bio should be no more than 250 words.
Nowadays, it’s (a little too) common for authors to include a personal aside along these lines: “She lives in rural New Hampshire with her husband, two sons, and an English sheepdog.” Although a few biographical details can help engage your readers—and pad a short bio—beware of being overly cute. Make sure the tone of your bio matches the tone of your work. Do the people reading your book on World War II geopolitics want to know the names of your pets?
Think of your target audience and choose details that are relevant to the reader’s experience. For example, stating that your book represents the culmination of a lifelong dream, 1,000 hours of research, and five years living in a remote area of the Yukon is personal in tone yet still professional, as it underscores your passion for and dedication to your book. Listing all the places you’ve lived might be relevant if you’re a travel writer—or if your novels feature peripatetic characters.
Once readers and critics start talking about you and sharing your work, your author bio will take on a life of its own—you’ll see it excerpted in reviews, interviews, and promotional materials, and it may haunt the internet for years. So as you’re following the above tips, think carefully about which details will remain evergreen after the initial pub date or sales push. For example, avoid cultural references that will quickly become dated or won’t translate beyond a niche audience.