Let me stress that writing a Biography is like writing a personal character reference. In fact, many writers seek others who are experts at descriptive writing and explanatory writing. Those people are practiced at saying a lot and saying it succinctly.
(Writing a personal character reference for others, in the form of a recommendation letter, will be discussed, with samples, in the Letters section of this Web site.)
After reading the main Biography page on this site, and then the long Bio and analysis, you will better understand how to whittle the information down. This helps when writing a Biography to suit any career field. With the exception of the long and medium Biographies, you will be writing only a paragraph to cover all your information.
In the samples below, note that it is acceptable to place the first appearance of the full name in bold print. The full name should appear as close to the beginning of the first paragraph as possible.
Titles are usually allowed in bold print and italics the first time they appear. However, when writing a biography in the shorter forms, it is wise to simply use italics only.
Too much bold print should be avoided. It distracts from a smooth read. Put recurring titles in italics only. Recurrences of your name need not be in bold or italicized. If you wish to draw a wee bit of attention to a word, title, or phrase, only italicize it.
You will not include information like loglines (what a story is about) in shorter Bios. Enough space to do so cannot be allowed. It also detracts from the purpose when writing a Biography in short form.
And, as always, do not include any dialogue.
The above medium length Bio allows for including more information, and can be a wee bit more personal. More of your experience can be added in another paragraph. This Bio was meant to fulfill the requirement of a one-page Biography.
When writing a Biography for yourself, you can use some descriptive writing or explanatory writing, to liven the information a bit more than allowed in the real short versions.
Writing a Biography similar to the one above, as well as the much shorter versions below, will be the ones you use the most. Save the long Bio for posting in workshops, or for any other sites and places where all-inclusive styles are allowed.
When literary agents ask for a very brief writing history, the
purpose of using a much shorter version becomes clear. The next two
versions would suffice for that purpose.
A shorter version at 113 words:
Mary Deal was Co-founder and past President of Kauai Writer’s Roundtable. Poetry, short stories, photos, and other writings, have been published or accepted by Capper’s, The Voice, Mississippi Crow (online and print), Gator Springs Gazette (online and print), Hinduism Today, Changing Courses, Mountain Luminary, Generation X International Journal, Moondance Int’l. Film Festival Newsletter and others, including her hometown and local newspapers. Her feature screenplay, Sea Storm, adapted from a self-published novel placed as Semi-Finalist in a Moondance International Film Festival Competition. Five Star Publications, Inc. chose one of her short stories and related photo to publish in an anthology. Mary has completed four novels, with another novel and three nonfiction books nearing completion.
This Biography is intended to be included in one-page letters when querying agents for representation; and only if the agent asks for a brief history of writing accomplishments.
When writing a Biography of any type, provide only what is required.
In listing magazines and periodicals that have published your writings, the more prominent the publication, the more attention you will receive. But don’t hedge. If you mention a magazine, you need to be prepared to send a tear sheet (copy of the piece as it was printed), or photocopy of the page, if requested.
At 113 words, this data could be broken up into two paragraphs. But in the interest of keeping the query letter to the industry standard of the one-page, it is acceptable to bunch it together to fit in with the rest of the information your need to convey.
Notice how much of my original informational history, from the previous two Biography pages, has been omitted. Writing a Biography for, perhaps, agents’ queries, requires are that you state only your writing accomplishments. Get to the point of writing a personal character reference as if writing about someone else. That’s one of the secrets to making it easier.
The following is the 98-word version I used when querying agents for The Ka manuscript:
A native of Walnut Grove, California, Mary Deal lived in the Caribbean and England before settling on the island of Kauai in Hawaii where she now makes her home. The Tropics, set in both the Caribbean and Hawaii, was her first novel published. It is fictionalized from some of her life-threatening escapades at sea. Her next two novels, already written, are mystery/suspense stories. One takes place in her hometown area of the Sacramento River Delta, another in a fictitious locale on the west coast. She is presently working on her next historical fantasy set in the Hawaiian Islands.
Notice that I did not mention my novel, The Ka. In the interest of brevity, when page space is a precious commodity, it is not necessary to mention the work for which you submit the query letter.
It is difficult at best to be all-inclusive when writing a Biography of this type. It’s more like all-too-lean explanatory writing with no fluff.
Still other requirements are for 50 words or fewer. This 49-word blurb is from the back cover of The Tropics:
Mary Deal, co-founder and past-President of Kauai Writer’s Roundtable, has had award winning poetry, short stories, photos, recipes, and gag lines published. She writes in several genres. Presently polishing her next novel, Daughter of the Nile is a historical fantasy set in both modern day and 18th Dynasty Egypt.
The following version, containing only 32 words, is from the back cover of The Ka:
Mary Deal spent four years researching 3,500 years of Egyptian dynasties before writing The Ka. She lives in Kapa`a, Hawaii, and is presently writing another historical fantasy set in the Hawaiian Islands.
When writing a Biography for the back cover of your book, 50 words is the maximum allowed by most publishers. You want most of the back cover blurb to be about the story, to whet the interest of readers perusing the shelves for something new and exciting to read. They always look at the back cover synopsis of the story.
Learning about the writer comes later. If the story attracts their interest, they will buy it. Unless readers follow a certain author, they do not buy books according to an unknown author’s Biography. Even when they are familiar with the author, no reason exists to read something they already know about that person.
Authors are, however, the creators of books. So the picture and one-to-two line Bios are necessary. Too, longer Bios can be included inside the book.
I include this information here only to convince you to learn about writing a Biography in minimalist style. You will need it before submitting your book manuscript to any agent.
That’s it for mini-Bios. No dialogue, no fluff, simply to the point.
When querying agents, each has a specific set of requirements. Some want Bios of certain lengths, some want extensive coverage. Some say leave it off; they’re not interested till they decide to take on your project.
If an agent does not state any requirements, include a shorter Bio in the query letter. The space remaining for writing a Biography will be determined by the amount of other information that must be included first.
When space is limited, you have three choices:
1) List the best publications or anthologies where your work has appeared.
2) List only your best stories or other writings that have been published.
3) A combination of both of the above, adhering, of course, to space allotments.
Notice, too, that any of these short Biographies serve multi-purposes and can be reprinted in your Media Kit and other promotional materials.
A few last words about writing a Biography is that you should keep in mind that you are writing a personal character reference. You want it to contain the best possible information you can convey about yourself.