Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Little Something About You

I get a variation on this question quite often:
"I've been asked to provide a brief bio, but I have no novel credits... what do I do?!"
First of all, take a deep breath. This is not a trick question, and nobody is going to get mad or look down on you for not having credits. Everyone had to start somewhere. Personally I think NO credits are far better than half-assed ones.

If you write for magazines or newspapers, you need not mention them by name unless they are major national or international publications that there is a good chance I've heard of. You can however generically say that you are a "freelance magazine writer" or similar without getting in to the nitty gritty of a bunch of mags I've never laid eyes on.

NO: I have published short stories in the Bloomington Intelligencer, and recipes in the Lafayette Advertiser, and my quilting group put together a book of riddles and games called THREADING THE NEEDLE WITH FUN! that we had published by and sell at the local farmer's market.

YES: I have published short stories in The New Yorker and Paris Review.

OR: I am a freelance magazine writer.

OR, if you aren't: Don't mention anything.
You don't need to put your educational background unless it directly relates to your work, ie, if you write about wildlife refuges, and you have a degree in Zoology, it is a good thing to mention. As for writing degrees, if you have a masters or higher you might as well mention it, but if you don't, do not fret, nobody cares.

YES: I have an MFA in Writing for Children from Randoma College in Coldweather City.

YES: I am an expert in [book topic] and have [an advanced degree] in [field of study related to book topic]

NO: Anything else.

Keep it short and professional, and don't worry about it too much. This is NOT in lieu of the paragraph describing your book, and the main thing I want to know about is your book, anyway.

"I don't really have any publication history per se but I went to junior college and studied dental hygiene and I write a semi-annual tooth newsletter for my local tooth-enthusiasts forum. I am also a superenthusiastic mommy and I read my kids my stories about HENRY THE SQUIRREL WHO DIDN'T FLOSS and they just love them, so I know that though this is my first foray into the world of children's book writing, my toddlers laugh and laugh at my work, AND they learn a lesson, and I took this to a first grade classroom and read it to THEM and they just loved it too, and everyone will buy a copy!"

"I am a kindergarten teacher and freelance magazine writer in Skokie, Illinois. MY BRILLIANTLY RAD NOVEL ABOUT FIREMEN was inspired by my many years as a volunteer fireman's pole-waxer, and is my debut work of fiction.

Optional add-on: I am currently working on another novel, SOMETHING SOMEWHAT MORE MYSTERIOUS IN SPACE, a thriller about a troupe of mimes on a mission to Mars who must band together when one of their own is turned inside-out by invisible spacemonkeys. A synopsis is available upon request."
Did this make sense or did I muddy the waters even more?


  1. Thanks so much for this post. As someone with no publishing credits, it was really helpful.

  2. This is a fantastic post on a subject I haven't seen addressed. A definite keeper for someone who gives seminars on how new writers can get published. Thanks!!

  3. Anonymous8:07 AM

    What should you do if you have no credits or mentionable qualities to speak of, but an agent specifically asks for a bio at the partial or full stage?

  4. ANDREW:

    I am confused... isn't that what this whole post is about?

    * If you are asked to provide a bio, keep it brief and to the point.

    * Don't pad the bio with a bunch of bull.

    * Don't tell me every school newspaper you've written for... only mention periodical writing in passing unless it is a national publication.

    * Don't tell me what barber school you went to - I only care about your education insofar as it affects your writing (like if you have a degree in WRITING or in the topic you write about.)

    * If you don't have writing credits, you say "I am unpublished" or "this is my first novel" or similar.

  5. Andrew, you're talking about like, when you don't really want to give a bio 'cause you have no credentials, but an agent asks for one? I ran into this problem when I was querying. I have no degree in anything and I had never sold a single piece of writing until Jenn sold my novel...nothing to say. I just kept it short and try to make myself sound interesting and nice, like:

    I've been an avid reader since the librarians used to tease me for lugging more books out than I can carry. I work in a health food store, live in Florida with two cats and dozens of vintage dresses, and enjoy cooking and drawing.

    Something like that tells a little something about you, and isn't going to turn anyone off I'm sure.

  6. Anonymous12:18 PM

    Yes, I meant exactly what Jackie said, when the agent specifically asks. At the querying stage I don't say anything at all, but when asked for a bio paragraph with a partial I feel like ignoring the request could do more harm than good. I considered a one line answer of "I am unpublished." but it seemed strange in context.

    Thanks to both of you! I'll keep all of these tips in mind if the situation comes up!

  7. I want to read SOMETHING SOMEWHAT MORE MYSTERIOUS IN SPACE. It sounds awesome.

  8. Anonymous8:09 PM

    I think, if I were an agent, I may request that fireman book based solely on the fact that I am dying to know what a volunteer fireman's pole-waxer is! ;). Great info, thank you!

  9. Thanks for the post, guess I need to take out the part about my past lives as a witch and a mermaid from my query letter.

  10. Great post. I linked this one and several more of your great posts on my blog, where I featured you today. Thanks for the great posts!


  11. So, if you do have another WIP, should you mention it or not? What if it's not the same genre/category?


Comments are moderated - if I'm at my desk, they'll show up quickly. If I'm not... not so quickly. Thanks for your patience!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.