What should you include in your short author bio?

A lot of author bios I come across on web sites or Facebook pages have similar content. Oftentimes they start with things like “I live in x location with y pets/kids and/or my partner, and I was raised in z.” I mean, that’s all nice, and maybe I’d like to know that if I was interested in being your friend, but what does it tell me about why I should follow you and read what you write?

Here’s what I actually want to know before anything else: What do you write?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not someone who has the time or inclination to read everything that crosses my paths. Some genres and subjects aren’t in my interests, and I want a way to easily skip over them and find someone who does write what interests me. I want to follow people who are writing similar stories as I am. That usually means I’m looking for keywords like: speculative fiction, fantasy, mermaids, pirates, and so on.

These days a lot of writers do like to branch out and experiment in different genres and so forth. That’s fine — you don’t necessarily have to state what genre you write. There is probably still some kind of theme that links your writing, or another kind of focus.

Here are some simple questions you can think about to narrow down how you want to say what you write:

1. Is there a particular age group your writing is targeted at? Children, middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult?

2. What type of writing do you do? Poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, blogging, screenwriting, playwriting, experimental? Flash fiction, short stories, novellas, novels?

3. Now narrow that down, think about genre and theme. Does your writing cross typical genre boundaries? Can it fall under a broader umbrella?

4. If you write fiction, what type of characters do you write? Supernatural, ordinary, heroes, villains, etc?

5. Where do you tend to set your stories? The real world, alternative reality, the past, present, future, another planet, a fantasy world? If on Earth, then what countries/cities do you write about?

As an example, I’m going to answer these questions based on what I write.

1. Generally I write adult fiction. I have dipped my feet into children’s and YA fiction, but my preference is for characters in their mid-twenties and above, which is a little older than “new adult”.

2. I’ve actually done a bit of all of the things I’ve listed there, but the things I want to be known for are my fiction and screenwriting, which tend to be mentioned most when I only have a few words to use in a bio.

3. I’ve taken to using speculative fiction to describe what I write, and I plan on writing another blog post that talks about that in more detail, but I felt like it was a better description than “fantasy” because, though I write things with fantasy elements, I set my stories in the real world, and I didn’t really want people thinking epic other-world fantasy when they saw me, which seems to be the default assumption for a lot of people. Not only that, but I’ve also been inclined to write dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction, without fantasy elements, and that still falls under the spec-fic umbrella.

Thematically, I write a lot about how people discover who they are (which is different when you’re in your mid-twenties than it is as a teenager), and the way they interact with the people and world they encounter.

4. A lot of the characters I write tend to be queer and/or non-white, sometimes alongside the typical straight and/or white ones (it really depends on the story). I like to emphasise this because those stories seem to be more limited, and harder to find, but have an audience that seeks them out (I know, because I like to find them). I also write about pirates, mermaids, and sometimes fairies. I like to mention pirates and mermaids to separate myself from the other spec-fic out there that focuses more on paranormal creatures like werewolves, vampires, and angels. We might not share the same audience.

5. As mentioned previously, I tend to set my stories in the real world, but timeline wise, it varies between the past, present, and future. I also travel a lot so I like to use a number of different locations, usually based on places I’ve been to that are either places a lot of people might be familiar with (e.g. New York City) or don’t have as many visitors but might be a location my audience is curious about (e.g. I have recently started writing more fiction set in Australia, which seems to interest my American audience, and provides something my Australian audience can identify with).

Now, you don’t need to mention all of these aspects in your writer bio. You probably don’t have enough room for it all, so just pick out the most important elements that you would like your readers to latch onto you for.

Also, consider where the bio is going to be shared, because that might change what you include, to make sure you attract the right audience. If it’s for a bio in an anthology with a specific theme, you might include something to target the readers of that differently from those who might come across you on a guest blog post, or your Twitter, or Facebook page, or web site.

If you have room in your bio to say more than “this is what I write”, then the next thing I tend to be curious about is where the writer lives/is from, and maybe hobbies or anything relevant that can connect me to what they write about. This will differ from writer to writer. If I’m looking for queer fiction, I might be interested to know how the writer identifies his/herself on the queer spectrum. If I was looking for a story set in a particular location, I might be interested to know if the writer lives/has lived there, or travels a lot. If I’m looking for historical fiction, I might like to know what experiences the author has had with researching a particular period, and what period they write. I do think specifics help here – historical fiction covers so many different periods and locations, and I’m not interested in all of them.

This isn’t a be-all, end-all guide on what to include in your bio. Something that lets your personality shine through can also be good, especially if you have a quirky or humorous personality. But, again, I think it depends on what you write – if you write quirky and humorous pieces, that’s going to work better for you than if you write, say, dark horror fiction.

I’d love to hear from other people about what they want to know about when they see an author bio. When we don’t have the time to click around lots of links to find out more information, what can make or break your decision to ignore or follow another writer?

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