Your bio in a query

May 31, 2012

Authors often worry about their bio. “What do I say??” is the main nail-biter…especially if the author doesn’t have a publishing credit.

Understand this:  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a publishing credit. Really.

It bothers me to hear that authors feel defeated before they even begin the query process because they “don’t have a bio.” Of course you do! Everyone has a bio. The trick is to create your bio so that it’s relevant to your story.

Stay On Track

Bios, for me, can be the icing on the cake that entice me to ask for pages. If you were the 2012 Singing Belly Button Champ and your book is about singing belly button tricks, then you have a good bio. If your book is about cleaning gutters in Bakersfield, then your talented belly button has zero relevance. Leave it out. See the difference?

The trick is to create a bridge between your life experience and the topic of your book. Are you the cop who writes about his cases (hello, Chris Baughman), or the mother-turned-heart warrior for her son and who is shaking things up in Congress and the Congenital Heart Disease community (hello, Amanda Adams)? Zero previous publishing credits aside, those are strong bios that create a bridge to their subject.

Stay on track with your bio in order to keep it relevant. There is a reason why you wrote your book – so concentrate on that and how your bio fits into that topic. I’m looking for a golden nugget that I can use to promote your book. You may have written a novel about a teacher who decides to take on her school district, and not realize it’s important to state that you are an award-winning teacher, but it’s important to me because I know you have access to your potential readership.

Look for the bridge.

Are You an Expert?

If you wrote a cancer/divorce/substance abuse/mid-life crisis book, your bio is, obviously, that you lived these experiences. However, is there something you can pull from your bio that sets you up as an “expert”? For example, let’s say your book is about bipolar disorder. Did your experience get you to become involved in NAIMA as a spokesperson? That information is something I can use when it comes to marketing and promoting your book.

Competition vs. Experience

Maybe the main character in your novel is an Army Ranger, and you spent a decade as an Army Ranger. It may not mean much to you, but this may be a slice o’ heaven for your editor because you may be able to do book signings on bases and speak before veteran groups. You’re using your experiences to catapult you against the competition of others who write military novels.

Conversely, the mom who stays home and knits toilet paper doilies and writes about her experience with cancer is going to have a tough road to hoe because a) she’s writing in a hugely overwritten category (ever seen how many cancer books are out there?) and b) she has zero platform – meaning there is nothing that will drive readers to want to read her book.

I know many agents and editors who don’t really care about someone’s bio in a query letter, and it’s because authors rarely know how to write an effective bio. But I have yet to ever hear of an agent or editor who rejected an author because their bio was a terrific bridge to the book. It will be rejected for other reasons, but not because of the bio. So why not make your bio count for something that may pique our interest?


Ringin’ in the New Year – helpful query hints

January 2, 2011

I’m always hopeful that with every new year, writers are that much wiser and careful about their writing careers. In order to help with that endeavor, I’ll share a few of the query blunders that slid into my Inbox while I was out drinking champagne…

Calling Google…where are you?

If your query lists your accomplishments, then it makes sense that I should be able to find them, yes? If you’re as fabo as you attest, then I would expect you to include a link to your website. What? You don’t have one? How can you be a:

  • Motivational speaker
  • Community leader
  • Public figure

and not have a website or blog? People with platforms have these things. If I find zippo on google, then all your insistence that “yah, I’m all that” melts the ice in my margarita. After all, if I can’t find you, then how does your public find you? Your future readers?

Learn before you leap

The dreaded query letter…so much hinges on so little, and it’s so easy to earn a very quick rejection letter based on how you communicate your story. Or lack, thereof.

Don’ts:

  • I’m a new writer. Not only is this unnecessary, but it could work against you because we’ve learned that new oftentimes means a glaring lack of understanding how to write a proper query. So we’re wary.
  • I attached my synopsis. NO. Do not attach anything unless you’ve been directed to do so. Many people won’t open attachments. Your pitch is short, and it belongs in the body of your email.
  • Reply to a rejection. Argh. Please sit on your fingers until the urge passes. The rejection letter went out, we’ve moved on. This isn’t an invitation to open a dialog, and it certainly isn’t an offer to send pages. I rejected an author yesterday for her lack of a coherent pitch, and she replied that she sent her synopsis (yes, I know…it was less than stellar). She decided that I needed to read her first four chapters. This is headbangy stuff that screams noob. As rude as it sounds, I really don’t need (or care) about the reasons why or how you blew your query. If I offered some insight in my rejection letter, cool. Move on and be smarter the next time. But you can keep me out of the loop. Really.
  • Can I rewrite my query and resend? I know there are differing opinions on this. Some agents/editors have no problem with authors asking if they can fix up their query and resend. If a story sounds interesting, I’ll contact the author and ask for more detail. Otherwise, a no is a no. And it goes back to that “a rejection letter isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog.” I’d suggest that you take your time, learn how to write a bang-on query. Go jump in the shark tank at Query Shark and do it right. If you have a fabulous query, go ahead and resend. You don’t need to ask permission.

Do

  • Follow the submission guidelines.

Be clear…clue me in

I know you know your story. But. I. Don’t. Help a gal out, willya? I don’t need clever, I don’t need esoteric, I don’t need wandering diatribe. I need only one thing – what your story is about. It should always include:

Who’s your protagonist?
What does he/she want?

What’s keeping him/her from getting it?
What choice/decision does he face?
What terrible thing will happen if he chooses A; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn’t.

An incomplete pitch is the #1 reason for rejection.

Competition/Platform

With the exception of a poorly written pitch, the biggest problem I see is the author who writes in a heavily impacted category and has no clue that he’s facing some very stiff competition.

New writers tend to be very insular; they battle some affliction or another (cancer, depression, alcoholism, weight issues, etc.) and decide that the world MUST read their story. The problem is that they have no clue that the libraries and bookstores are FILLED with these stories, and that their stories invariably say the same things that hundreds of other books have already said.

I’m ok with a book written in an impacted category provided the author has the platform to back him up. As lousy as it feels, a platform is the only way to get that book noticed. It’s like wearing school uniforms. Everyone looks the same, yet there’s always someone who wears an outrageous pair of socks or hair-do in order to stand out.

If you’re gonna write about weight issues or cancer – or any theme that’s been heavily written, you better have one hell of a hook and a platform that will catch a large readership because I guarantee that readers of an impacted category are better read than you. You have to deliver a unique message, and that means that you can’t be insulated.

You. Must. Know. Your. Competition.

Word Count/Genre

I’m amazed at the number of writers who forget to include this info. It’s as important as your pitch. I’ve lost count of the times I was interested in a story only to find out it was 35,000 words. Yikes.

Fiction/Nonfiction – thar be a difference

Now stop it, I see you rolling your collective eyes. Just yesterday I read a query that stated up front that it was a memoir, but later down the page, it stated it was the author’s first novel. Eh? Whazzat? Which is it? Memoir or fiction?

A novel is fiction.

This means that you don’t say “fiction novel.” It’s like saying you bought an automobile car. Makes me do a double take, and Cosmic Muffin knows I do that enough during the day.

So those are my New Year’s gifties. May your plots be rich and your characters three-dimensional. Go forth and be successful!


Query misfire: leading with your bio – platform or gaffe?

October 12, 2009

I realize there are many ways to blow a query letter, but one of the best ways to screw the pooch is to lead your query with your bio.The reason is two-fold. To my trained eye it says, “Hey, I’m a big shot, look at me. I’m this and that, and did this and said that. I am tooo freaking cool for school, and you’d be a bona fide cow pie for not jumping through the monitor to offer me a contract for…oh yeah, I have this book I’d like you to look at. ” Thud.

You should always lead with the thing you’re trying to sell, which is your writing. And here’s why; I received a query today that detailed an impressive bio. I grew more excited with each paragraph about the author’s lofty career. “Oooo, baby, you struck the muthalode this time,” methinks.

Wrongo.

See, his bio was impressive for the book I was expecting. But it was a grave disappointment for what he was pitching; a novel. His bio, which took up huge amounts of space within his query, had zilch to do with his novel. By the time I was halfway through his pitch, I was let down because there was such a vast disconnect between who he is and the book he wrote.

His novel could have been written by anyone, so why showcase his bio? Hello, Mr. Misfire. The author made the mistake of thinking his bio was his platform when, in reality, it was nothing more than an afterthought. Is this how you want an agent or editor to think when reading your query? It’s about the writing and the story. Just because you’re the CEO of a widget company doesn’t mean your book about woodworking or rogue angels who tamper with the lives of three teenagers is going to sell. You have no platform for it, and leading off with “I’m the CEO of Acme Widget Company,” makes my eyes cross because your readership doesn’t care.

Now before you think me as a chronically grumpy old broad, let me say that he was rejected because his pitch was substandard, and he left no gaffe or misstep to chance. But yes, I was already cranky, which upset the beagle and left the new copy editor wondering why she’d taken the job.

No matter how big your bio and no matter how groovey you think you are, it still comes down to the story and the writing. Don’t mistake your bio for increasing my slobber quotient.

Edited to add: I’m not talking about Big Name people who have major name/face recognition. They can crank out a diddy on a box of Shredded Wheat and some editor would buy it. I’m talking about mere mortals who may have a lovely list of accomplishments but has nothing to do with what they’ve written. [thanks, Jason!]


I got my eyes on you

September 15, 2009

In a previous post, I talked about how I play Inspector Gadget and check out agents in order to get a feel for the person on the other side of the query. I want to make sure they are the real deal. An author asked me if I do the same thing for authors.

Yes.

Again, I want to get a feel for the person on the other end of that query letter. What kind of person are they? Are they going to be easy to work with? The production and promotion process requires a lot of trust on the part of the author and editor. If I have to worry about the author being loosy goosy with the truth, then I’m in trouble.

I had an author tell me they won a Pulitzer. Oh really? [she says, slinking her glasses down the length of her nose]. Know how easy peasy it is to check that out? And were they insane enough to think I wouldn’t? I invited the author to never darken my inbox again.

If an author tells me their last book sold 60,000 units, I’ll check Bookscan to see if that’s true.

I check out their comments on their blogs or writing boards. Are they troublemakers – meaning do they ridicule people and pick fights? Do they bash editors for rejecting their work? Do they bash books from my company (happened; pinky swear) and then turn around and query me?  I look for any open doorway that will reveal “who is this author?” Mind you, I’m not creeping on anyone, but I need to know if an author will be easy to work with and has set a nice tone on the internet.

Over the years I’ve noticed a common trend; authors pad their bios. Sometimes a little , sometimes a lot – like my little Pulitzer winner, which was a total fabrication. I guess she figured if she was going to lie, lie big.

So with that in mind, you might want to take a look at how you present yourself when you write your bio. Does the internet present a different picture of you that you’d rather didn’t exist? Are you tempted to fluff yourself up? Well don’t. Please. If you don’t have a publishing credit, then stick to reasons about why you wrote your book and what ties you to your story in a way that would be useful to promotion. If you do have a publishing credit, be honest about your sell-through.

It could be the difference between, “hey this looks interesting” and “no thanks.”


Query: “Do you want to know about me?”

August 9, 2009

The answer is yes, I absolutely want to know about you. I love pithy bios because it tells me a bit about the person behind the words. I don’t care if you’re the president of your dart club unless your book is about darts. It’s nice if you quilt doggie slippers for rescued beagles [and I know of one who would elect you for sainthood]. But if your book is about a homicidal gardner who kills dandelions with impunity, the bootie facts aren’t important to me because I’m looking for a link between you and your book.

I haven’t encountered many authors who sit down to write a book simply because the idea popped into their head one day. There is usually a reason behind the birth of a particular story. That is what I want to hear about. If you are previously published, I want to hear about that, too. If you’re vanity or POD published, leave that information out because – snobby or not – very few editors and agents view this as a viable publication credit.

Where Do I Put My Bio?

At the end of your query. Please. I see any number of query letters where the author leads off with their bio, and this is plain wrong. Think about what you’re selling; you or your story? You could be the Queen of Sheba and still write a lousy book. Your bio doesn’t cinch the deal in a query. It’s always about the work. I’ve had queries from some very big names, but their story was virtually unmarketable. When an author leads with their bio, it makes me wonder if this is where they put their primary importance.

Don’t confuse your bio for your story. It’s true that a big bio opens doors. And, somewhat unfairly, it may get the book published. But that bio will not shield the author from scathing reviews and tepid sales. It boils down to the story.

Since you’re trying to sell your story, that is where you need to concentrate your focus. Trust me; we’ll get to the end of the query, so don’t panic.

Also, please don’t tell me the PAGE COUNT of your work. This tells me nothing because I don’t know if these are single spaced sentences, Comic Sans, 10 point, or what. We need your WORD COUNT. 118,000 words tells me something.

So, please, do tell me a little bit about yourself, but keep in mind that I like to know why you are the best person to have written your work and the impetus behind why you wrote it.

Happy writing. Which, on this lovely Sunday is exactly what I’m going to do. The beagle can walk herself today.


Bio Bungle

March 30, 2009

I’ve blathered on about writing your bio in your query letter, but Editorial Anonymous hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Like EA, I don’t care if you raise gerbils, love your dog, make your own potato chips, and love to garden. Unless these things make you the best person to have written your book and put you in touch with your readers, then it’s fluff. Fluffy query letters usually get a close shave with a rejection letter.


More on writing your biography for a query letter

January 22, 2009

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.


%d bloggers like this: