More on writing your biography for a query letter

bio
Among the elements that agonize authors when writing a query letter is their biography. Most scream from the heights of flagpoles, “I don’t HAVE a friggin’ bio!”

Well, sure you do. Everyone does. What they mean is that they don’t have publishing credits. Sure there are some editors and agents who want published authors only, but there are a large number of us who don’t mind new writers. But we need to know something about you, and it’s what you decide to say that makes a difference. Many make the common mistake of telling us stuff that’s either cliché or of no interest. Here’s an example of what I commonly see in query letters:

I write to relieve my stress as a corporate lawyer (plumber, mom, engineer, teacher, etc). My writing puts me into a make-believe world where I can control the lives and stories of my characters. It’s my goal to create plots filled with unique adventures and put my characters in situations that are filled with conflict – a mirror of everyday life. My creative writing class helps me improve my craft, so I can move closer to my real passion, building a writing career.

The problem I have with this is it screams “I’m a newbie writer.” We’re looking for a savvy writer, and this bio is pedestrian and a shining example of what invariably crosses my desk. Just like writing, we want to avoid fluff, and this is fluff. It’s a natural assumption that we all want to create great characters and plots, and we all have stress, so you’re not telling me anything new or vital. Who cares? I’m glad you’re taking writing classes, but this makes you sound like a work in progress. I don’t want a work in progress, I want a pro.

Another type of bio I see is the “my kids” theme:

I wrote my novel because my seven-year-old twin boys inspired me. I read to them every night, and I thought it would be great to read them something that Daddy had written. My family thought Twin Boys in TwinkieLand would make for a great addition to the fantasy genre.

This is cliché, hacker, hobby stuff. Most of us don’t care about your personal life and what drove you to write. We want to know what drove you to write this story. What elements did you feel were missing in the genre that your story could fill? We’re looking at elements about you that we can sell to the genre buyers and reviewers. We want to know that you’re well-read in your genre because too many writers aren’t, and they write stuff that’s already been done over and over.

Here’s an off the cuff example:
I wrote the children’s story, Twinkies Take Manhattan, because Twinkies have made a huge comeback in the US snack market, and I saw this as a delightful way to combine America’s favorite snack as a major character and dealing with getting lost in a big city and how to find help. The child safety classes I teach in the elementary schools are a true inspiration because children tell me that getting lost is their biggest fear. This important topic isn’t addressed in the current children’s genre, and Twinkies wraps sage advice in a very colorful package.

I don’t mention my lack of publishing credits, but rather I’m focusing on what I feel is the marketability and uniqueness of my story compared to everything else on the shelves. I’m trying to convey the existing popularity of my MC – anything that says “this is a book worth looking at.” You’re hyping your story while giving us a sense of who you are.

It doesn’t matter that in my real life I crochet toilet paper doilies and have 1,000 cats that I’ve potty-trained. Who cares? Focus on the story and why you wrote it. If you can’t tell me why you wrote that story as compared to something else, then I’ll suspect you’re a hobbyist and probably move on.

If you tell me that you just sat down one day and banged out this story because it was bursting inside of you, I guarantee that my eyes will glaze over. Again, who cares? Why this story? I’m looking for the passion behind the words. I don’t care if this idea came to you in a dream. If it did, then make it relevant to the marketplace, readers.

Why all this bugaboo about bios? It’s as I said, we use this info to sell your book. The more exciting the author, the more exciting the book. And that equates to genre buyers getting excited about filling out purchase orders. And that equates to a very joy joy day for all.

4 Responses to More on writing your biography for a query letter

  1. Scott says:

    Thanks. I’ve always – well, in the last few months since I finally made it to the query part of writing – worried about the bio part. This post really helps me to fill in that glaring blank spot in the query letter.

    If drinking margaritas figures heavily in the book, does drinking margaritas count as part of my bio? : )

  2. michael says:

    I wish somebody asked me these questions years ago. I read all the “how to” books I could find, did my homework, but my queries still were flat. Thanks for making me think.

  3. lynnpricewrites says:

    Michael, this is why I’m so excited about our book
    The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box to come out. It deals with all those behind the scenes issues that make or break a writer.

  4. Aston West says:

    Keep to the point and keep it to writing…best advice I ever had.

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