Thursday, July 21, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Your Bio

After struggling through distilling your novel into a single ‘hook’ sentence and then agonizing all over again about turning into three or four sentences, you should be looking forward to an easy task today. The third paragraph in your query letter: your biography. This is all about YOU, so how hard could it be?

Relax, it’s not hard. It takes work, of course, but as a component of your query letter, your bio shouldn’t cause you to lose any sleep. It’s essentially fact-based. Who you are and what you’ve accomplished. In addition, if it’s relevant, you should include what makes you capable of creating the work you’ve created and making it authentic.

Here are some tips on crafting your bio.

Focus on the relevant facts

First of all, you need to know what to put in your biography. Like the summary of your novel, you’re starting out with a lot of raw material. Your life. Raw enough for you?

You’re not giving out your resume, or your mission statement, or your life history. You are talking about your writing here and you need to show your publishing track record, if any, awards or achievements for your writing, and why you wrote the book you did.

Publishing track record

Two criteria determine whether you include a publishing credit in your bio. Wait a minute! Determine whether? If you’ve published one story twenty years ago or never been published, you might rightly be asking why on earth would you ever leave out a publication, especially in your query letter where one of the goals is to establish that, yes, you can write. Then why purposely leave out a fact that shows other people thought you could write in the past.

Well, first let’s look at the criteria.

Recent: If you published that short story you’re so proud of, say, thirty years ago, you may want to think about excluding it from your bio. Why, you ask? For one thing, that writing credit you’re so proud of (and I have several of these of which I am inordinately proud) may not help you secure the agent or publisher you are targeting in your query letter. And that’ s the whole point, isn’t it?

At some point, the clock sets back. A thirty-year-old credit is the same as never being published in today’s market. The same rule may even apply for a ten-year-old publishing credit, particularly if it was in a genre that was trendy then and now no longer gets attention.

Relevant: You may write in your professional life or about a hobby. These credits will likely not help you to sell a work of fiction. So leave out the Journal of the American Medical Association when you’re trying to publish a romance novel. The exception is if it’s relevant to the work you’ve created, such as a medical romance, in which case you should mention it as a reason why you’ve written the book in the first place and why you’re best able to write that particular book out of all of the wannabe authors out there.

Awards and achievements

The same rules apply for your writing awards and achievements. Your Grade 6 essay contest winner will not help you publish a novel (unless it’s a YA novel about an essay contest winner). Ditto if you won the Technical Writing Achievement Award 2011 when you’re pitching a romance novel.

Why you wrote the book/ character

Comb through the piece of writing you are trying to publish. Why did you write it? Are you in it? Is your town, your friends, your job? What makes those things special to you? In other words, why are you uniquely capable of writing the book you did? It could be because you’re setting a story in little heard of Hundred Mile House and you want the world to know more about the quirky people who live in that town. You may have grown up there and the town itself is crucial to your work.

You may be writing about a topic about which you have special knowledge. You’ve put your romantic suspense manuscript in a legal setting and you used to work in a courthouse, seeing the most hardened criminals come through.

If it’s relevant, put it in there. What makes you special may make your work special. Use your biography to sell your writing.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the helpful post! I linked to this post in my blog post here