Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making Connections: What to Include in an Author Bio

One of the most important pieces of an author’s media kit is the biographical summary, or bio, which provides the important background information that media folks, booksellers, conference attendees, and, ultimately, readers, seek. A good bio can be more than a means of introducing authors to their market; it also can provide a way to develop a platform for new authors who don’t yet have a lot of experience or a public track record.

So, what kind of information should an author put in a bio, and how much of that information should be included?

I recommend that writers create two kinds of bios: a brief, one paragraph summary that can be used in press releases and for program announcements or spots with limited space, and a longer piece that can be used for media promotion and speaking events.

When I write press releases for my clients, I always include a single biographical paragraph near the end of the release. This paragraph is factual in tone and generally includes the author’s credentials, a summary list of other works and awards, a statement about where s/he currently resides, and what the author is working on next.

In addition to the bio in the press release, I also recommend developing a longer, full-length bio, which is generally three – four paragraphs (I try to keep it to one page) and includes more detailed information about the author’s personal history. This longer bio is the one I use when I approach the media to set up client interviews; it also can be submitted to conference or event organizers to help provide background for program listings and speaker introductions.

When writing a longer bio, I urge authors to include any information that might be of interest to a reporter or producer looking for topics for an article or a radio/television spot. Even if a writer doesn’t have a celebrity background or prior experience publishing, the information provided in the bio can peak interest, especially if timed to tie in with current events in the news.

It’s important to include any tidbits of information that might help a reporter or producer see a possible story for an article or interview. But since public relations is mainly a business of establishing relationships, a thorough and well-written bio can also help build a connection between the reader and the author.

Some potential items to build into a longer bio include:

1. the city and state where the author was born
2. where the author went to high school
3. where the author went to college or trade school and what major and/or degrees s/he pursued there
4. significant achievements, including awards, titles, media coverage, or recognition
5. experience or expertise in specific industries or arenas
6. a list of publications (including ongoing writing gigs), releases, exhibitions, patents, and creations
7. tie-ins or connections to current events
8. volunteer or altruistic work
9. hobbies or special interests related to the content/subject area of the author’s book
10. relevant information on the author’s family members
11. the city and state where the author currently resides
12. future projects or a description of new projects the author is working on
13. links to websites and blogs that provide more information about the author

Not all of this information will be relevant for all authors; writers should take a look at their subject area and background and give some thought to what information might be most useful and interesting when promoting their particular books. If a writer has trouble deciding how much information to include, running a draft by a professional publicity or media person, or a trusted editor or writing partner, can help.

Generally, I recommend that the tone of the bio be professional and simple. Bios are typically written in third person, with the author’s full name used the first time it appears, and only the last name used for each subsequent mention. If an author prefers a more informal tone and wants to use his first name for subsequent mentions, that’s fine, as long this is done consistently. Some authors like to inject humor into their bios, but care should be taken to ensure that the piece is not too cheeky or off-putting and that the bio clearly provides the information that the reader seeks.

Finally, authors should remember that bios are living documents that need to be updated regularly as new information in the author’s life – awards, publications, residential and job moves, personal developments, etc. – occurs.