Unpublished Writer: You Can Write a Kickass Author Bio!

The author bio or the “about the author” section can be a real balls ache for unpublished writers. What the heck do you boast about, if you’ve just started this writing gig?

First things first: If you’re tired/ lazy/ about to flip the desk—chill. There’s a template at the end. Like, a really awesome one. So your problem is solved.

Next on the list: It’s okay to feel useless when staring at that blank page. Even experienced writers, who build worlds and have hundreds of characters swimming around in their creative minds, cringe at the thought of having to write about themselves. (Well, that’s what I’m telling myself.)

As an unpublished writer, you’re not even sure what to call yourself. Am I an author, writer or some chump with a keyboard and a few vague ideas?

My feeling is: fake it ’til you make it.

Think of the author bio as a resumé after one shot of Jägermeister. You’re going to sell your good points like you would for a job interview but you’re going to be relaxed and little silly about it.

At this point you’re almost a 100% certain this is the worst advice you’ve ever received. Bare with me, you’ll see there’s method to my madness but first let’s get the basics down.

Don’t call yourself a “novelist” if you haven’t published yet.

  • Describe yourself as a freelance writer because chances are you will be sending your manuscripts off to publishers, or sharing your work online e.g. writer’s forums, Wattpad, blog posts.

Write in 3rd person

  • It might feel a bit pretentious but it does create distance. Use this to separate yourself from the author.
  • It also makes you look less self-indulgent to the reader when you’re tooting your horn.

Keep it short

  • Fewer than 250 words, if you haven’t won any awards, what are you jibber jabbering about anyways?
  • Keeping it brief means that you can use the same bio for print publications, author pages, social media (these might have word count/ character number restrictions).

 Be professional

  • List your achievements, something that gives you credibility or makes you newsworthy e.g. education, work experience, big prizes, press credits, were you editor of the school paper?
  • If you’re an active member of a writing group, mention it.

Be a little silly

  • You are your genre: authors who write about serious topics usually have serious bios, authors of the young-adult genre tend to be more upbeat and funny. Non-fiction authors rely on credibility, so, not a lot of room for silliness there.
  • Give the readers a sense of your voice (light, chatty, dark, brooding, sarcastic, witty).
  • What makes you human/ relatable? Do you drink too much coffee, love 80’s music and wear white socks?
  • A touch appropriate humour can go a long way in taking the snore out of a bio.
  • Mention something that makes you interesting: quirky jobs, hobbies, and talents — if it aligns with your novels even better e.g. your book is about werewolves who own a gourmet burger restaurant and you’re the world’s championship burger winner.
  • If there’s nothing interesting about you, mention something personal. Readers may be interested to know that a children’s book author has kids of her own, or an ex-police officer wrote a crime novel, or that you have a fat cat that loves to eat lasagna.

Online presence:

  • Mention your blog, Twitter handle and any social media sites you’re active on.

If all else fails: use this template provided courtesy of Alexandra Franzen. She’s got mad skills, check out her blog!

Super cool template:

{Your name here} wants to live in a world where {describe the kind of world you want to live in}.

As a {your job title here}, {he’s / she’s} been {spotlighted / featured / showcased / honored / applauded} on {list of blogs / websites / podcasts / theaters / art galleries / places that have recognized or shared your work}.

When {he’s / she’s} not {describe whatever your normally do}, you can find {him / her} {describe whatever you do when you’re not doing … that}.

{His / Her} {first / next / latest / recently-released} {book / program / project / collaboration} — {title of your new and cool thing} — hits {the shelves / airwaves / silver screen / internet / an inbox near you} on {date}.

{Discover / learn / explore / find out} how to {describe whatever you help people to do} at {your website here}.

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Posting Unpublished Work Online

You get a visit from the muses and your story cup runneth over. You type feverishly.

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Urgently recording a dream, a whisper, the evaporating trails of legend. You stand back and you admire your masterpiece. Truly, it is a thing for the world to behold. You realize that it is not enough for the story to be written; your runes must be read.

Crud. Now, I don’t know about you but I have no friends. I’m your garden variety asthma pump-inhaling, glasses-wearing, Firefly-loving, LoTR-quoting dork and I’m awesome. Yes, the “no friends” thing is a mystery of puzzling proportions.

The first person I showed my work to was my computer-geek husband who mostly reads books about cricket and military battles. My story revolved around food and the supernatural; not his usual cup of tea. Actually, he doesn’t drink tea of any kind but I digress.

Yes. He loved it!

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But wait—my billowing bosom and hair flicking can easily sway this man.

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He is not an unbiased source.

I knew on the spot that I needed constructive feedback and that asking friends and family was not a good idea. Why? Let me put it this way: it’s like posting “highly recommended from my loved ones” under accomplishments on LinkedIn.

I quickly researched the subject and what I found scared me shitless, what came next told me the exact opposite.

The issues:

  • Many unpublished writers were afraid of their work being stolen.

My research on copyrights advised me that once you put pen to paper, you have full ownership of the book.

  • Why would anyone want to post half-baked, unpolished work online?

First drafts are rarely publisher ready and I’m a novice, my expertise is clearly limited. Feedback will help me revise and refine my work. This is critical to the development of my writing.

At a quick glance, I found that while posting short excerpts online is acceptable, anything else makes your work “previously published”.

  • Why would a publisher buy something a consumer can get for free online?

This is a good point if you plan to sell your book. It seems to me that the real issue here is quantity: if you are posting your work online, don’t post the story in full.

  • Test marketing by using a subset of individuals to estimate characteristics of the whole population.

Statistically speaking, most new writers do not have a large enough following for accurate market testing.

  • People can be meanies:

We all know that the online anonymity can turn people into ass-hats who revel in trolling and tearing things down. Are you emotionally prepared for this?

Yes, I am. You do not survive the harsh lab environment with a soft underbelly. My best advice is to separate yourself from your work and not take the feedback personally. Use the criticism to make your writing robust. Ignore the ass-hats where possible.

Feedback makes us better writers but not all feedback is insightful. What you really want is an experienced reader of your genre or someone who at the very least is honest with you. “ I like it” is useless to me, I want actionable feedback that improves my writing.

These were my options:

  • Hide my work in my mind palace and wait for a professional to critique my work for free. ( What? Kind people don’t exist in your realm?)
  • Post my work online and accept the consequences.

 I like to pretend that I gave it more thought than this but in the end I figured:

Don’t look at me; I’m an unpublished nobody.

You’ve got to decide for yourself.