Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Things you should or shouldn’t put on your author bio

Over on Tomorrowville I confessed to being struck by lightening twice, something David suggested I should put on my next author bio. And it got me thinking (the bio that is, not being struck by lightening which is something you can’t really avoid if you like being outdoors). My current author bio for Macmillan is this:

“M.F.W. Curran was born in Essex, in 1974. From an early age he was brought up on a diet of fantasy and science-fiction and has been writing stories since he was ten years old. In a past life he worked in the banking industry, for the Government, as a music journalist, and a lyric-writer. The Secret War is his first novel. He lives in Sheffield with his wife, Sarah.”

Now, after The Secret War was published someone “mean” remarked on Grumpy Old Bookman’s blog that my bio was unbelievable and that if I’d done all those things then it made their life look positively dull. Well, I have done all these things, but it’s not as grand as it sounds (well, not to me anyway) and in retrospect putting a faux resume on an author bio might have been fun at the beginning, but now it’s quite tired and I’m looking to change it, maybe not in time for the hardback release of The Horde of Mhorrer in January 2009, but maybe – and let me add, hopefully – when my third book is published. I certainly will post a new author bio on my website this year.

So what is in an author bio? Should it be humorous for a serious book? Should it be serious for a humorous book? Do you buy a book by the author bio? Should it be long, short, or not at all? And should it include ludicrous moments, like being struck by lightening - twice?


Frances said...

My feeling, where authors' bios are concerned, is that less is more. You can't go wrong with a brief bio, whereas a humorous bio won't amuse everybody (I've read some really cringey ones)and a long one can be tedious. Personally, I like to know (very roughly) what someone's age is (one can usually tell that from the pic), what jobs they've done and whether they have a spouse/partner and/or family. And maybe where they live. I think that's usually enough.
Incidentally, what does it feel like to be struck by lightening, Matt?

Len Tyler said...

I think I'm with Frances on this one - brief and factual.

The interest in the biographical note usually comes from relating the story line to the person. Reading a novel you may guess that the author must have grown up on a sheep farm near Abergavenny, but it's interesting to have it confirmed. Reading my own bio you would probably work out why Border Terriers appear as extras in various scenes and why so much of the action is set in North London. You might conclude that I should get out more, but you would understand.

One point I have been considering. I can't help noticing that the more books you publish the less likely you are to do the "he previous worked as a chicken-plucker" bit. So the perfect bio for book 1 may not be the perfect bio for book 3.

I doubt however that I would buy any book on the basis of the bio alone - even being struck twice by lightning wouldn't quite be enough to do it for me ....

David Isaak said...

I have to say that I don't think I've ever paid the slightest bit of attention to a bio until after I'd bought the book. Often I don't glance at it until I finish reading--though I sometimes may glance at the back flap midway through to see if there is any clue to why there are so many chicken-plucking scenes.

I don't think most readers care much about the bio. But if I'd been struck by lightning even once, you can bet it would be in my bionotes!

Matt Curran said...

Thanks guys

For a book, I think that's probably the best way to go - if it's relevant to the story then fine, and keep it short. One of the best bios I've seen for a while was Neil Ayres' in the Dick and Jane Primer for Adults - hilarious it was, and in the style of the Dick and Jane books.

For a website or a Wikipedia entry, I think you can get away with more (though I'm loathed to give my life story). I think an author bio in that respect interests prospective writers - to see where they started, their background etc.

As for being struck by lightening - twice - all I can say is that it did more than tickle.

(On a side note, I'm also prone to static shocks, especially whilst walking around Debenhams in Sheffield).

Tim Stretton said...

"The Dog of the North" has an ultra-minimalist bio. I had sent PanMac something longer and faintly humorous which was never used. I can't say I'm too worried.

Less surely is more, and I can't really expect readers to be interested in my pets, particularly imaginary ones. (The only writer who can pull off making pets interesting is Len...)

Doug Worgul said...

Here's the text of the bio that MNW is currently using for me in pre-publicity:

Doug Worgul was born into a family of preachers, teachers, and writers, in the state of Michigan. He now resides in Kansas City where barbecue and the blues are a way of life. A strong sense of place is a major theme in Doug Worgul's fiction, as it has been in his career as a newspaper journalist and editor of regional and national magazines. Currently he is managing editor at RiseUp, a national weekly newspaper magazine celebrating racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. He is a nationally-recognized authority on the history and cultural significance of American barbecue traditions. He is married and has four daughters.

Too much?


Ann Weisgarber said...

Doug, my guess is the bio on book flap will be shorter than the pre-publicity one. That's what happened to mine.

In my case, my life was summed up in four quick sentences. How sad is that? Maybe I should have included a picture!

Anonymous said...

As you say, Ann, the publicity one's much longer than the one on the book. You really have to shake my life hard to extract anything remotely interesting in my bio. I agree that funny ones wear pretty thin, pretty quickly, so unless there's something really relevant (that James Herriot's a vet, say) I'm all for "X was born in 19XX, and lives in X" and stopping there.

Alia said...

Thanks for writing this.