Relax. Every single successful writer started out with no publishing credits, and you can too. Agents and editors understand where you’re coming from and, for the most part, have reasonable expectations of the newbie author.
When you write a cover or query letter, there is no perfect amount of information to provide. It all depends on the circumstances. In general, however, the fewer writing credentials you have, the shorter your bio should be. Don’t sweat trying to fill a paragraph up if you don’t have a paragraphs-worth of information to share. Being sparse always trumps being irrelevant.
- Degrees relevant to writing (English, Journalism, Creative Writing, MFA) or to your specific content (Education, if you’re a children’s writer; science, history, etc. if it relates).
- Relevant career or life experience (Law enforcement for crime novels; military for international thrillers; having lived in Uganda for two years if you wrote something about Uganda; teaching if you write for kids, etc.).
- Membership in well-known professional writing organizations like the SCBWI.
- Legitimate regional or national writing awards.
- Major or relevant magazine, newspaper, and web publications. By major, I mean publications you can name-drop and impress your non-author friends with. By relevant, I mean ones tied closely to your genre or topic.your platform if you have one. (This is another sweat-inducing topic for pre-published authors. We’ll get into it next time.)
Do not mention:
- Your life experience, degrees, or career if it’s irrelevant to the project at hand.
- Every little publishing credit you have. There are a lot of obscure publishers out there, and getting published in them might mean very little. Just list the most prestigious ones and indicate there are others.
- Every little writing award you’ve received, like that first place prize in your middle school writing competition (unless you happen to be a high school freshman, in which case that might be relevant).
- The composition, duration, or any other detail about your critique group. Having a critique group, critique partner, or beta readers is great, but the details are irrelevant.
- Anything about your family, unless it is clearly and directly relevant to your project. If you write about autism and you have an autistic child, that’s worth knowing. If you write romances and are a thirty-something mother of three, keep it to yourself until you’ve established a relationship with your agent or editor.
- Your motivation for writing the book. If it’s interesting and important, the topic will speak for itself. Honest. Basically, editors and agents can spot padding when they read it, and they don’t appreciate it.
My <specific genre> novel, Title, is loosely based on my own experience/interest in <relevant experience/interest>. Because of your <relevant interest>, I thought my story might intrigue you.
That quote is based on an actual query letters that got requests for a full. That was ALL the author said about herself, and that’s all she had to say. Better to keep the focus on the project than to put even a line of weak filler in the query. Or, in other words, better to keep the agent/editor excited about what’s coming than to raise a red flag about your level of professionalism.
Hopefully you’re feeling more confident about making your biographical debut now. Share your query letter bios in the comments below – inspire other people with what’s worked for you, or get feedback on how to make your bio stronger.
And now, for a special-limited time offer:
as a FUNDRAISER for BOOKS FOR AFRICA, Inc.*
Our membership options have been closed since earlier this year. HOWEVER, if you want a yearly membership, we will open one option from ONLY.
The $90, half-year PRO membership good for the rest of 2014 will include:
10 total submissions for rating plus comments
7 "anytime" submissions - must be sent before
3 submissions on the free days (one MS on each day: , , and )
Priority inbox treatment
access to our pro-member monthly bonus email (with bi-monthly interviews).
*Miranda Paul and Rate Your Story will donate 50% of net proceeds after credit card charges, PayPal fees, and eCommerce costs to Books for Africa, Inc.'s 1 Million Books for Gambia project.