Imagine you are in a bookstore doing a little browsing, and you come across a book with the title, How To Make a Million Dollars as a Mime. For some odd reason, you decide that you would like to make a million dollars being a mime. This fact aside, you generally are a smart person and realize that the grandiose promise inferred by the title needs to be supported. Reading the author bio is one of the several ways you can find the support you need to justify buying the book. The bottom line: generally speaking, prospective readers don't read your bio because they care about you; they read your bio because they care about making a poor purchasing decision. It is your job to help assure them that buying your book is the right decision.
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: Two Very Different Author Bios
Now imagine the book that catches your eye is a fictional novel titled The Millionaire Mime: A Story of Greed, Sex, and Murder. Your motive is different as is the kind of support you need for buying the book. You don't care if the author is a mime, a millionaire, or a murderer; what you care about is if the author can write a good story. Again, it is your job to help assure the prospective reader that buying your book is the right decision.
How Long Should Your Author Bio Be?
I recently competed in a lip-sync competition and I asked how long I would have on stage. The answer was "as long as you can hold the audience's attention". That answer works great for how long a bio should be, as well. There are some hard limits when submitting an online bio (e.g. BN.com has a limit of 2500 characters), but very few people ever reach them. Also, consider the bio needs to be fairly concise if you are putting your bio on the back of printed book.
How To Write an Author Bio for a Fiction Book
Here are some tips you can follow when writing your bio for a fiction book.
- List Your Past Successes. If you are J.K. Rowling putting out a new book, you might benefit from the fact that you also wrote the Harry Potter series (that is sarcasm... of course you will benefit). Although your past work is no guarantee of your current work, it is an indicator. This is what is called a heuristic, or a mental shortcut that we use to support our decision to buy.
- Share Your Related Experiences and/or Education. Many fictional authors can write believable stories because of their experiences and/or education related to their book's contents. For example, author Dan Brown shares in his bio how he developed his fascination of the interplay between science and religion. This is especially important for historical fiction or when writing about real places.
- Make Your Bio a Mini Story. Give prospective readers a taste of what they will find in your book. If your book is a comedy, they make your bio humorous. If it is a romance, perhaps write about how you met your spouse. At the very least, use your best writing skills. Sure, bios are usually written in the third person, but we all know that the authors write them.
How To Write an Author Bio for a Non-Fiction Book
Non-fiction books come in many flavors, so consider the following tips in respect to your book.
- Write in the third-person. When you get to the next tip, you will understand why.
- Brag away. Is it really bragging though if someone else is (ostensibly) describing you? Let's leave that one to the philosophers. In the meantime, don't hold back when it comes to your accomplishments and selling yourself and the idea that you are not only qualified to write on the topic you did, but you are the best person for it. This is NOT the place for humility... unless you are writing a book on humility, then you might want to tone it down a bit.
- Don't oversell yourself. Although this may seem in contradiction with the brag away advice, it's not. By overselling, I mean include accomplishments in your author bio that have nothing or little to do with your book. For example, if you are writing on child psychology, tell people you have a PhD in that field. But save your readers from a comprehensive overview of your numerous accomplishments in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
- Focus on the information that prospective readers want to know. Think like that prospective reader browsing books at the bookstore who picks up your book. What do you think they are going to want to know about you that will support their decision to buy? This should be the focus of your bio. Sure, let them know how many cats you have, but only after you have provided them with the essentials, and then keep the non-essential part brief.
- Support the claim that you are an expert. Getting a little more specific from the above point, if you are writing a book on a topic, you are expected to have expertise in that topic. In your bio, explain your qualifications. These might include education, formal degrees, training, awards, certificates, experience, accomplishments, and more. Why should people listen to you? Make sure that question is answered.
- Keep it specific to the book. With fiction books, you can get away with a single bio for multiple books, but not with non-fiction. For a powerful bio that gets results, it needs to be customized for the book.
Some Final Words of Advice About Your Author Bio
You may find that a single bio is not enough for the same book. You may want a short version, a medium version, and a longer version. For example, a short version comprising a few sentences might be ideal for radio interviews or bios that appear in articles. The medium version would be your standard version you send to retailers who sell your book, and the long version could be for your website and perhaps your Goodreads author profile.
Like all of your writing for the public, make sure you proofread, spellcheck, and grammar check your document. Then ask someone who will give you honest feedback to read it for you.
Writing about yourself, especially in the third person where you can get away with boasting, should be an enjoyable experience. Have fun with this! And remember that for a customer who is on fence about buying your book, reading your well-written, persuasive bio could be just enough to tip the scales in favor of a sale.