Writers, of course, can write. But writing an author bio is often seen as an annoying chore at best—or a stressful exercise at worst. How do you summarize your whole life story, all your professional accomplishments, and your body of work in under two hundred words? Luckily, we have some useful tips for you on how to write a catchy author bio, whether it’s for a project pitch, the back cover of a published book, or your personal blog.
If you’re not working to a hard maximum or minimum word count, 150–200 words is a good range. The trick is keeping it brief while still making it an engaging promotional pitch that will pop. If you are widely accomplished as a writer or as an academic, entrepreneur, or journalist, for example, you’ll want to get that across. Mention several works and achievements as well as the credentials you hold that make your expertise or life experiences relevant.
At the same time, however, you can’t just list your degrees, the outlets that have interviewed you, your previous books, and so on. For one thing, overlisting your works and achievements will cause readers to skip your bio, defeating the whole point. For another, you may actually come across as overselling yourself and end up damaging your own credibility.
A good way to avoid this is to restrict yourself to just the accomplishments most relevant to the work in question. If your bio is for a book on how to start a small business, mention the national and regional small-business-owner groups you are part of, but not every single board or organization you have joined. If you are pitching a murder mystery, definitely mention that you once worked as a private investigator but maybe not the time you spent as a safety inspector for a power plant (unless that’s the story’s setting!).
A good rule of thumb when it comes to how to write a good author bio is to bear in mind that you are selling the work first and yourself second.
If you’re writing a bio that you intend to use for multiple pitches or publications, it’s a good idea to write it in the third person. There are exceptions, of course. Some publications do require first-person bios as part of their editorial standards. However, third-person bios are common enough that it should be your default for your own website, blog, or column as well as for any pitches you send out.
We all tend to keep on hand generic bits of writing that we just copy and paste into our pitches and cover letters. But remember that an author bio must change as your life does. Remind yourself to look at it every time you get a new job or put out a new piece of writing. Also, as mentioned above, be sure to tailor it to your target publication or editor. You shouldn’t have to rewrite a bio from scratch every time you need one, but you should not treat it as a one-size-fits-all document either.
With personal information, the secret is that a little goes a long way. Your readers don’t need to hear about your top five lasagna restaurants or your preference for daffodils over tulips. Nevertheless, little details will make you seem human—and that will make people want to read your books.
One old go-to is to mention your hometown, which is something you can liven up with a little geographic detail. For example, instead of just saying you are from Berkeley, West Virginia, you can mention that you “grew up in the mountains of West Virginia.” Or that you were “born and raised in Northern Ireland.” You can also mention your pets or children, although avoid giving too much detail. Opt for “Annabelle Author lives with her two daughters” rather than “Annabelle Author lives with her two daughters, Ashley and Lauren. Ashley is in her first year at Adelphi (Go Panthers!), and Lauren is a junior in high school who plays tuba in the marching band…”
Hobbies and interests are also good for establishing both your personality and your credibility. For example, romance novelists specializing in historical fiction may want to mention that they enjoy reading about the Victorian era.
If your bio is for an essay or column, especially one that is being published online, calls to action (CTAs) are an excellent and simple way to make sure your bio works for you as a marketing tool. Just list your handles from your main social media platforms, and include a link to your website. It’s pretty standard nowadays to list your CTA at the very end of your bio to make sure readers will easily be able to research you and your work.
Still a little iffy on how to write a good author bio? Here are some examples of great author bios from BookBub. And of course, Elite is on hand to help if you’d like help writing back cover text, which includes an author bio!