A great author bio should be many things—quirky, memorable, and bursting with personality. But writing an effective one—especially for the first time—can be very difficult.
When you're an indie author, self-promotion is the name of the game. You need to learn about getting good at tooting your own horn and bragging about yourself at every turn to your fans and potential readers. There's no room for shy people in the world of book marketing and self-publishing.
Therefore one of the first things you need to write before attempting your first book is an effective author bio. This is absolutely essential for your book's back cover, your author's website, your book's blurb, and many more. But not many authors can pull it off. Many first-time authors also think they don't have anything to put into a bio, but you have an active imagination and writing chops! You'll come up with something!
To help, here are some actionable tips on how to spruce up your author bio and make it pop.
1. Write Your Author Biography In The Third Person
Your bio should always follow the same writing style template. First, always write in the third person, not the first person. So instead of “I have written 17 books”, say “<your name> has written 17 books.” It just sounds more professional.
This is my standard template —
Mark O'Neill has been writing in one form or another for the past 30 years as an author, journalist, copywriter, and editor. He's now an independently published fiction writer, currently working on the Department 89 espionage novels starring the female spy Captain Sophie Decker. The first D89 book, “The Renegade Spy” was downloaded more than 4,000 times in the first 4 weeks, and has received Bookworks' “Book Of The Week” Award. Mark's second book “The Reichsbank Gold” received the Readers Choice Award. You can visit Mark at his website at markoneill.org
When writing your bio, remember that it will be picked up by search engines, so always keep SEO in mind at all times. You need to mention your full name, the name of your first book, and the name of your series (if you're writing one). Always ask yourself “if I was searching for me, what terms would I be putting into Google?”
As well as a long bio (which ideally shouldn't be more than 150-200 words at most), you should also write a short bio. This is just three lines at the most, which can be used on social media profiles and mentions on websites where you've made a podcast appearance, or written a guest article, for example. Here is a good example from indie author Joanna Penn.
“NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Thriller Author JFPenn.com. Creative Entrepreneur. Podcaster. Professional speaker. INFJ. Travel junkie.”Joanna Penn
Short, succinct, and to the point.
2. Get a Good Headshot Picture
Unless you want to be shrouded in mystery and stay anonymous, the first step is to put a face to the name. The key to selling lots of books is to develop a personal connection to the reader. A picture can definitely help with that. I have a personal preference for black-and-white pictures, but colour is equally good.
The only time you should consider a non-serious picture is if you're writing a children's book. Then you can probably get away with a bright bow-tie and a goofy grin. Otherwise, keep the picture serious and professional. Mid-chest up with a focus on the face, and wear plain professional-looking clothing. If you know a Photoshop guru, ask them to touch up the photo afterward to get rid of any imperfections.
Although smartphone cameras are becoming insanely good these days, you should always opt for a professional photographer instead. Trust me, your readers will notice the difference between a professional set-up and a selfie. In the early days, when I used selfies, people knew instantly that I had taken it — because the reflection of my phone was in my glasses lenses. Don't make the same mistake I did!
3. Collect Your Award-Winning Accolades Together
As I said at the beginning, an author bio is no time to be modest. If you've won awards, then now's the time to knock the dust off them and show them off. Not everyone can claim to be on the bestseller lists for the New York Times, USA Today, or the Wall Street Journal. Especially if you're an indie author. But even just the smallest awards signal to potential new readers that your work has been appreciated and recognized, and maybe they should give your books a go. Remember, if you project success, you'll have success.
If you've sold a lot of books, don't be reluctant to call yourself a “bestselling author” either. I know indie authors with “imposter syndrome” who are petrified of being mocked for calling themselves that. Don't be. If you've earned it, use it. There's no better marketing line for your next book.
If Writing Non-Fiction, List Your Qualifications
If you're writing a non-fiction book, the rules are slightly different because people will want to know your qualifications. Especially if you're advancing a controversial theory about the US President being a lizard person in disguise, advancing the worldwide cause of all lizards. People will want to know what makes you qualified to make such a bold claim. Otherwise, why should they listen to you?
Non-fiction authors need to list their qualifications, including all university degrees and relevant work experience. So if you've worked at the White House and seen the President in lizard form, that makes you “credible” on the subject matter. Working the drive-through counter at Mcdonald's doesn't. Graduating with an MFA is relevant, graduating from the “University of Life” doesn't.
And while you're at it, if you have any memberships of relevant professional associations, throw those in too, as well as professional titles such as Professor or Doctor. Remember, project success, have success!
For example, here's the bio for historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. After reading that, you can see she is more than qualified.
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s interest in leadership began more than half a century ago as a professor at Harvard. Her experiences working for LBJ in the White House and later assisting him on his memoirs led to her bestselling Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Goodwin earned the Lincoln Prize for the runaway bestseller Team of Rivals, the basis for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, and the Carnegie Medal for The Bully Pulpit, the New York Times bestselling chronicle of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.Doris Kearns Goodwin
4. Avoid Any Unnecessary Details
One of the traps that many first-time authors fall into is thinking that the reader needs to know certain irrelevant details about them. Instead of keeping the focus on what's relevant, the author makes a sudden right-turn and veers off into Crazytown.
For example, nobody needs to know you enjoy reading. That much is assumed by the fact you're an author. You also don't need to tell them you wrote short stories at high school or won a creative writing contest at the age of 12. Again, your writing skills are assumed by the fact you've written a novel. There's no need to belabor the point.
Many authors also like to brag about how many rejections they got after their query letter got binned by a traditional publisher. As if it's a badge of honour. You can leave that part out too. Nobody cares.
However, that's not to say your author bio has to be as boring as watching paint dry. The first version of my author bio mentioned that I was a “tea-drinking obsessed author writing to pay my dog's food bills.” Some readers loved that. You just have to not go totally crazy with this kind of stuff.
5. Set Up Your Amazon Author Page
Once you have your author bio written, it's time to add it to your Amazon author page. When it comes to online publishing, Amazon is the one place where you need to get the author bio absolutely perfect, because a lot of your sales will be coming from Jeff Bezos.
If you haven't already set up your author page on Amazon, you can do so by going here. It's completely free, and by not doing it, you're missing a golden marketing opportunity. What's even cooler is that you can put translations of your author bio into the relevant boxes and they will appear on the relevant foreign Amazon site. I'm amazed at the number of people who don't use this feature.
6. Try To Avoid Excessive Bio Text By Directing People To Your Website Instead
It can be easy to go off and list all of your social media links and email list link in your author bio. But to be honest, you can just miss all of that out and direct people to your author's website instead.
This is why it's so essential to have an author website — you can put everything there and direct everyone to the site with just one link. This includes social media accounts, email list signup widget, your media kit, and more. You might also find our guide on how to write a business proposal helpful.
Three Good Author Bio Examples
To conclude, here are three good author bio examples.
Daniel Silva is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules, The Defector, The Rembrandt Affair, Portrait of a Spy, The Fallen Angel, The English Girl, The Heist, and The English Spy. His books are published in more than thirty countries and are bestsellers around the world. He serves on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and lives in Florida with his wife, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, and their two children, Lily and Nicholas.
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His first crime thriller featuring Bill Hodges, MR MERCEDES, won the Edgar Award for best novel and was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award. Both MR MERCEDES and END OF WATCH received the Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Mystery and Thriller of 2014 and 2016 respectively.
King co-wrote the bestselling novel Sleeping Beauties with his son Owen King, and many of King's books have been turned into celebrated films and television series including The Shawshank Redemption, Gerald's Game and It.
King was the recipient of America's prestigious 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. In 2007 he also won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives with his wife Tabitha King in Maine.
Bob Woodward is an associate editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1971. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first in 1973 for the coverage of the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, and second in 2003 as the lead reporter for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He has authored or coauthored 18 books, all of which have been national non-fiction bestsellers. Twelve of those have been #1 national bestsellers. He has written books on eight of the most recent presidents, from Nixon to Obama.
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