Pub Rants

What Writers Shouldn’t Stress About (The bio)

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STATUS: Happy to be back in the office for a good long time. I plan to get caught up on everything I’ve been behind on. Yippee. I’m sure there is much rejoicing from my clients too. Are you done traveling yet hasn’t been asked but I’m sure was on all their minds!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WITCHY WOMAN by The Eagles

Sometimes I’m constantly amazed by what writers stress about in their query letters.

I imagine Miss Snark and other blogs have addressed this already but time for my own take. I know Miss S has talked about her frustration with writers obsessing about font size and type and the best one, the brightness of the paper used for the sample pages.

As long as it’s clean, neat, and not strange to read, it really doesn’t matter much. All decisions will be made based on the quality of the writing. Even if the submission smells like an ashtray (tough because I HATE the smell of cigarette smoke but I still hold the pages a foot away to give them a read).

But the latest obsession that I’ve been privy to is writers obsessing about what to include in the bio section of the query letter.

Stop. This isn’t rocket science.

I’ll start with telling you what not to include.


Too Much Information. If the detail could be considered so, don’t include. My favorite? The guy who wrote a query and included in his bio that he was gay for so many years (and gave the dates), was cured (but it took several years and he gave those dates), and is now happily married (and included those dates).

And no, this wasn’t a nonfiction project for the Christian/Inspirational market on how to stop being gay. It was for a novel and the concept of being gay (or not) was not part of the story line.

TMI absolutely.

Don’t include that.

All of you have innate common sense (or the good majority of us do). What would your common sense tell you to include?

Length? What do you think? If you are new, one short paragraph. Previously published authors can certainly include a bullet point outline of publishing history (book titles, publisher, year published) if they are looking to move agents but that would be a separate list)

Publishing history if you have any. If you don’t have any, for goodness sake, don’t harp on it. Keep it short. Like “XYZ is my first novel.” Short and sweet. I’ve taken on NUMEROUS debut authors and have sold them just fine.

Nonfiction pubs okay to include but they don’t hold a lot of weight when selling a novel. A must-have if you are shopping an NF proposal.

Do you have any background or experience that lends credence to your story? You might have a degree in horticulture/botany and your heroine is a botanist helping to solve a mystery.

That would be a good detail to include. It directly relates to the concept in your novel.

Otherwise include something like “I currently live in XYZ city with my spouse, two kids, and the pet hamster.”

I like a little personal detail. It humanizes you.

Other than that, don’t obsess. Just consult with your CS. It won’t lead you wrong.

15 Responses

  1. Elektra said:

    It’s the agents who ask for an entire, seperate bio sheet who confuse me. Do the want to know my first grade teacher’s name? Do they want to know that I secretly believe in every scary book I read, and therefore can’t read them at all? Or do they want an entire sheet just to say “I have no publishing credits”? (I don’t care what the people at Miss Snark’s say. ..”I have no publishing credits?” just looks wrong.)

  2. Annie Dean said:

    A separate bio sheet? I’ve only been asked for that when my novel was ready to shop, my agent is preparing a submission list and she needed something jazzy to send to editors.

  3. December Quinn said:

    Elektra, I think you should write “This is my first novel” in blood-red ink on an extra large white sheet. Write it by hand.

    Or, how about, “I have no biography. I have not published yet, therefore I do not exist. Until I am published I can have no past. Until I am published I can have no future.”

    Don’tcha think an agent would totally be intrigued? 🙂

    I’ve seen the agents who ask for that stuff, though, too, and had the same thought as you. My relevant bio will fit in my query, so what exactly do you want on that separate page? Do you want a written bio (“December grew up in St. Louis, Missouri…”) or one of those “Name: December Quinn. Age: almost 33(cry) type of list-y bios?

    It’s enough to drive a woman mad.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Great advice, and thank you for posting the ‘Bachelorette Number One’ query with your commentary. Specific guidance like that is very helpful. In general I think it’s difficult not to stress about every sentence in a query. You write the query, rewrite it, have friends/colleagues review it, tailor it to the specific agent/agency, hold your breath and final send it. Then, you reread it and one thing (a phrase, a word, whatever) just destroys your hope. It’s like a first date, you obsess on something that the other person didn’t notice or didn’t care about. No point other than it’s hard not to stress, but your advice is very much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

  5. Nut said:

    elektra: as well, you should!

    Oh, and we’re in the same boat, so I’m actually laughing at my self here. Nothing for my biography sheet. Bummer.

    P.S. Sorry for the intrusion, couldn’t help my self. Love the blog. One of the rejectees of agent K. And finally, she really is nice!

  6. angelle said:

    My non-credit bio line describes me as a “former journalist who wore black to her own wedding.”

    Or if I’m feeling really spunky, I use the “wrote a weekly obituary column, earning her the nickname ‘The Angel of Death'”. I prefer this one, ’cause it tells them how to pronounce my first name 😉

  7. nut said:

    angelle: that’s actually intriguing. Mine, on the contrary, is compleately blank. But, I do use banana leaves.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Very interesting reading. But I have one comment. From the books I’ve read, telling what Agents or Publishers want and don’t want. Most of them agree that they do not want to know that you have kids and a dog. In other words, they said that it’s not important and who cares.
    It’s nice to know that someone might care.