Don’t Have Time Right Now?
Unless you’re a household name author (Steven King, JK Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell), most people buying your book won’t know who you are.
So how will they learn about you?
And why is this even important?
That’s what this blog post will explain: how to properly write it, and why your author bio matters.
Why Your About The Author Is So Important
Even though very few authors think about it, and even fewer publishing guides talk about it, the “Author Bio” section impacts sales, reputation, book marketing and social media.
“Author reputation” is consistently cited as one of the main factors that influence a book buying decision. If you’re seen as an authority on your book topic, readers will buy your book and read it. One of the best ways to be seen as an authority is to have a great Author Bio.
For business the short bio can sometimes be more important than what’s actually in the book—the sad but true reality is that more people will read your author bio than your actual book.
It takes a long time to read a book, but it’s very easy to make a snap judgment based on a short paragraph, and most people do that.
This is doubly true for media and social media. Most people in media work very hard under tight deadlines and don’t have time to read long books or even pitch emails. But a good author bio cuts right to the point by saying: this is an important person I need to pay attention to.
How To Write Your Author Bio
Writing about yourself is a task that many even full time writers shy away from. Don’t make this mistake. A few simple steps can get an effective bio that will impress interested readers and help sell your book:
Step 1. Mention your credentials on your book subject:
It’s important to establish your credentials in your book’s topic area.
For example, if you’re writing a diet book, mention things like professional degrees, nutrition training or accomplishments, places you’ve worked, awards you’ve won, etc. Any credential that clearly signals your authority and credibility in your space works.
If you struggle with what to say about yourself, remember the idea is to make it clear why the reader should listen to you. What credential do you have–if any–that signals seriousness to the reader?
For some types of books and authors, this is harder to do. If there’s no clear way to signal direct authority or credentials—for example, you wrote a thriller or a romance novel—then don’t make up things or try to “invent” authority. Focus on the other parts of the author bio.
Step 2. Include achievements that build credibility or are interesting to the reader (without going overboard)
You’ll also want to include things you’ve accomplished in your life, especially if you don’t have direct credentials and authority in the book subject matter. This will help your audience understand why they should spend their time and money reading what you’ve got to say.
If you have something about you or your life that is unusual, even if it’s not totally relevant, you should still consider putting it in your bio.
For example, if you were a Rhodes Scholar, or you started a major national organization, or won a national championship in ping-pong—whatever. The point is to show the reader that you have done things that matter, even if they don’t matter to the book.
If you’re lacking on credentials or exciting things, you can always put in your passions and interests. Anything that you enjoy doing, writing about or consider a hobby, especially if they are relevant to the book topic.
That being said, do NOT ramble on and on about things that reader doesn’t care about. Put yourself in your readers shoes, and ask yourself, “Does this fact really matter to anyone but me?”
Step 3. Mention any books you’ve written, and your website (but don’t oversell them)
If you’ve written other books, especially on that subject, make sure to mention them. If you’re a bestselling author (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today or even Amazon) or won awards, even better.
If you’ve won multiple accolades and listing them all is becoming tedious, aim for brevity instead. Simply writing “John Smith is an award winning author whose works include …..” is more than enough to show your readers you know what you’re doing.
If you have an author website, an author page (on Amazon or another 3rd party site) or anything else that helps promote your brand then you should make sure you include it at the bottom of your bio (assuming this meets your goals).
Again, you don’t want to brag here so just be humble and simply put something like “Find out more about John at www.johnsmithwriter.com”. It should be simple and have a clear call to action.
Step 4. Drop some relevant names, if they’re appropriate (without being crass)
Yes, name dropping can put off readers if it’s done wrong. But there’s a right way to do it.
For example, if you are relatively unknown, you can say something like, “The woman that Seth Godin called “the most important writer of our time” reveals to you the secrets of…” This way you are trading on Seth Godin’s reputation, and establishing your credentials at the same time (assuming he said this).
Also, if you’ve worked for or with very well-known people, name dropping is not seen as bad; it’s seen as an effective signal to the reader of your importance and ability. What matters is that there is a reason that you are using someone else’s name that makes sense, and is not just a gratuitous name drop.
Step 5. Keep short and interesting (without leaving anything important out)
While your readers are interested in finding out more about you, they don’t want to get bored, or listen to arrogant bragging about how great you are. If your bio is too long, or too full of overstated accomplishments and awards, it will turn your readers off and actually make you look less credible.
Typically, if you keep your word count under 150 words you’re ok. Anything longer than that means you’ve gone on too long about your accomplishments, your personal life or both. Cut it down to the most important things.
Step 6. Always Write in Third Person, Never First Person
Third person is “She is.” First person is “I am.” This is a small thing, but if you write in first person, it is a major sign of first-time amateurism.
Template for Author Bio Info
This is a template to write your author bio. I’m not saying it’s the very best way to write an author bio, in fact, many of the best examples below do NOT fit this template. But, many people asked for an easy to follow template, and this is what we use with our authors.
- First sentence: “[Author] is [statement to establish credibility on this subject and / or authorship of previous books]”
- Second sentence(s): Statement(s) further establishing credibility or qualifications of author to write the book.
- Third sentence (optional): Historical “before that” information that is at least tangentially relevant to the book, or very compelling in another way.
- Fourth sentence: Endorsement of author’s credibility by others, awards, or some other social proof, if available.
- Fifth sentence: Tidbit of personal information.
- Sixth sentence: Link to website or other resource (if relevant).
Here is how that looks in practice:
Will Leach is the founder of TriggerPoint Design, a leading behavior research and design consultancy specializing in using behavior economics and decision design to drive consumer decision making. He is a behavior design instructor at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and has more than twenty years of behavior insights experience working with Fortune 50 companies to solve their most important behavior challenges. Will is the only two-time winner of the EXPLOR Award for his work in behavior design and is known as America’s foremost authority in applying behavior science to marketing. Will lives in Dallas with his wife and family.
If You Can’t Write About Yourself, Have Friends Help You
People, especially writers, have a hard time writing about themselves. Often, the Author Bio is the most difficult part of the marketing process for an author to write effectively.
If you are unsure about whether your author bio seems either incomplete, or too arrogant, run it by a few friends for feedback.
For example, when I was doing my first bio, I made all the mistakes I outlined above. I eventually had to have my friend Nils Parker write my bio for me. It’s always easier for your friends to praise you and see the amazing things you do.
If you don’t have writer friends, then hire a freelance writer to help you. It won’t cost much, but their creative writing know how will pay big dividends for you.
Author Bio Examples
I’m going to show you a lot of different bios. Some are the best author bios I’ve read, whereas some feel like they were written by cheap self-publishing companies. The point is to give you an idea of how many different authors did them, so you can find your own author bio writing style:
Example 1 – High Status And Short: Lynn Vincent
This bio is the perfect “less is more” for an author with a lot of credentials. When you have done what Lynn has done, you can just say it quickly and succinctly.
Lynn Vincent is the New York Times best-selling writer of Heaven Is for Real and Same Kind of Different As Me. The author or coauthor of ten books, Lynn has sold 12 million copies since 2006. She worked for eleven years as a writer and editor at the national news biweekly WORLD magazine and is a U.S. Navy veteran.
Example 2 – High Status But Undersells: Michael Lewis
Contrast this to Michael Lewis, who is a very well known author, but still leaves quite a bit out of his bio that would help many readers understand who he is and why they should care (even Michael Lewis is not famous enough to assume people know him).
Michael Lewis, the author of Boomerang, Liar’s Poker, The New New Thing, Moneyball, The Blind Side, Panic, Home Game and The Big Short, among other works, lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their three children.
Example 3 – Bad Amanda Ripley
Many authors have different bios on different books (because they leave the bio writing to their publisher, which is a huge mistake). You can see the difference in the author Amanda Ripley.
Her bad bio is strangely both boring and overselling:
Amanda Ripley is a literary journalist whose stories on human behavior and public policy have appeared in Time, The Atlantic, and Slate and helped Time win two National Magazine Awards. To discuss her work, she has appeared on ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX News, and NPR. Ripley’s first book, The Unthinkable, was published in fifteen countries and turned into a PBS documentary.
Example 4 – Good Amanda Ripley
Contrast that to this good bio, where she comes off as much more of an authority—mainly because her other books are mentioned, as were her awards.
Amanda Ripley is an investigative journalist for Time, The Atlantic and other magazines. She is the author, most recently, of THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD—and How They Got That Way. Her first book, THE UNTHINKABLE: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes–and Why, was published in 15 countries and turned into a PBS documentary. Her work has helped Time win two National Magazine Awards.
Example 5 – Bad Doctor Bio: Dr. David Perlmutter
This is a long, uninterrupted string of hard to process things. Dr. Perlmutter is very qualified, but mentions everything (including medical school awards) which detracts from the overall effect.
David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM is a Board-Certified Neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition who received his M.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine where he won the research award. Dr. Perlmutter is a frequent lecturer at symposia sponsored by such medical institutions as Columbia University, the University of Arizona, Scripps Institute, and Harvard University. He has contributed extensively to the world medical literature with publications appearing in The Journal of Neurosurgery, The Southern Medical Journal, Journal of Applied Nutrition, and Archives of Neurology. He is the author of: The Better Brain Book and the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain. He is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of nutritional influences in neurological disorders. Dr. Perlmutter has been interviewed on many nationally syndicated radio and television programs including 20/20, Larry King Live, CNN, Fox News, Fox and Friends, The Today Show, Oprah, Dr. Oz, and The CBS Early Show. In 2002 Dr. Perlmutter was the recipient of the Linus Pauling Award for his innovative approaches to neurological disorders and in addition was awarded the Denham Harmon Award for his pioneering work in the application of free radical science to clinical medicine. He is the recipient of the 2006 National Nutritional Foods Association Clinician of the Year Award. Dr. Perlmutter serves as Medical Advisor for The Dr. Oz Show.
Example 6 – Good Doctor Bio: Dr. Benjamin Carson
Contrast this to Dr. Carson, who focuses only on the credentials and status signifiers that the reader would care about and understand, like his specialties and companies he works for.
Dr. Benjamin Carson is a Professor of Neurosurgery, Plastic Surgery, Oncology, and Pediatrics, and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. He is also the author of four bestselling books—Gifted Hands, Think Big, The Big Picture, and Take the Risk. He serves on the boards of the Kellogg Company, Costco, and the Academy of Achievement, among others, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation.
He and his wife, Candy, co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund (www.carsonscholars.org), a 501(c)3 established to counteract America’s crisis in education by identifying and rewarding academic role models in the fourth through eleventh grades, regardless of race, creed, religion and socio-economic status, who also demonstrate humanitarian qualities. There are over 4800 scholars in forty-five states. Ben and Candy are the parents of three grown sons and reside in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Example 7 – Good Balance: Tim Ferriss
Tim does lean aggressively into the idea of listing all the cool things he’s done and noteworthy outlets that have talked about him, but still makes his bio interesting and relevant to the reader of his books:
Timothy Ferriss is a serial entrepreneur, #1 New York Times best- selling author, and angel investor/advisor (Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Uber, and 20+ more). Best known for his rapid-learning techniques, Tim’s books — The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef — have been published in 30+ languages. The 4-Hour Workweek has spent seven years on The New York Times bestseller list.
Tim has been featured by more than 100 media outlets including The New York Times, The Economist, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Outside, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and CNN. He has guest lectured in entrepreneurship at Princeton University since 2003. His popular blog www.fourhourblog. com has 1M+ monthly readers, and his Twitter account @tferriss was selected by Mashable as one of only five “Must-Follow” accounts for entrepreneurs. Tim’s primetime TV show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment (www.upwave.com/tfx), teaches rapid-learning techniques for helping viewers to produce seemingly superhuman results in minimum time.
Example 8 – Out of Balance (Confusing & Overselling): Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl is similar to Tim, but runs several unrelated things together in a confusing way, and mentions things that no reader would ever care about (e.g., the director of a movie based on her book). This same bio could be 25% shorter and much stronger.
Cheryl Strayed is the author of #1 New York Times bestseller WILD, the New York Times bestseller TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, and the novel TORCH. WILD was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. WILD won a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, an Indie Choice Award, an Oregon Book Award, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and a Midwest Booksellers Choice Award among others. The movie adaptation of WILD will be released by Fox Searchlight in December 2014. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and stars Reese Witherspoon, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby. Strayed’s writing has appeared in THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS, the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon, The Missouri Review, The Sun, Tin House, The Rumpus–where she wrote the popular “Dear Sugar” advice column–and elsewhere. Strayed was the guest editor of BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2013 and has contributed to many anthologies. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages around the world. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their two children.
Remember: Your Bio Grows as You Grow
Treat your author’s bio as a living document. Just because you’ve written it once, doesn’t mean it’s finished. As you grow and change as a writer so should your bio, and the best part is that it’s easy to change a byline.
Also, remember that if you are writing for different genres or different topics that some of your accomplishments and past works will be more relevant to your readers than others. It’s a good idea to tweak your author bio for the next book you release.
Getting your author bio right is an important task. In fact, this small section is usually the ONLY source of information potential readers have about you (except maybe Google), and that’s why it is one of the most important pieces of marketing material you write for your book.
Take it seriously, get it right, and it will help you sell books.