Thursday, December 12, 2013

Um, How Do I Write An Author Bio for Magazines?

This week an editor requested something both exciting and terrible:

“I include a writer's column each month to introduce the writers. So, please forward a short bio (a paragraph in size) to introduce yourself.

Exciting, because I’d be one of those professional, interesting writers in the “about our writers” section.

Terrible, because I needed to write something that made me sound both professional and, well, interesting. Thankfully it only took two days of research and anxiety to put together something only slightly cringeworthy.

I’m far from an expert, but did find a few things that helped me figure out what the heck to include – and might help you, too.

Plagiarism is a Great Place to Start

Okay, not plagiarism exactly.  More like getting ideas by scanning other writers’ bios. Because I couldn’t find examples in the target publication or similar RPPs, I scanned the magazines that are overtaking our hall closet. Discovery:  different magazines focus on different aspects. For example, the Oprah issue I had asked contributors random interview questions. The writers’ answers are put on the “about our writers” page, in lieu of bios. Other magazines included bios with mainly personal information;  professional designations & memberships; or connections to the issues’ articles.

One thing that would help is to have a collection of memorable bios clipped and saved.  It feels presumptuous to do that before somebody actually wants a bio. But it’s so much easier to whip out a few shining examples, than it is to frantically scan the internet and dig through years’ worth of magazines accumulating in the closet while you imagine The Editor sitting on the other end of the internet, waiting.

After reading through many bios, I noticed the ones that stood out had the 4 H's in common:
  • Hi - they give the one-liner intro information, although not necessarily all together or in one sentence:  name, home state, job, sometimes mention of family
  • Human - they tell you something that makes them relatable (hooked on the Housewives, eats a gallon of ice cream in a sitting, etc.)
  • Humor - often at their own expense
  • History - they give you related experience and education, and share interesting things they've done
Because I couldn’t find examples from the target publication, I decided to include four "H's" that their readership (other parents of young children) would be interested in.

Ask the Google Goddess

Unfortunately, Google is decidedly sparse when it comes to telling writers how to write things, such as their own resumes and, well, author bios. Now, there’s plenty of info out there about how to write author bios for book jackets, but not many about writing them for magazines. Luckily, a lot of the guidelines that apply to writing other types of bios also apply to these. 

One helpful piece was author Anne Allen's How to Write an Author Bio When You Don't Feel Like An Author...Yet. She gives a template for short bios, and guidance on what to consider when choosing content. Author Richard Ridley suggests that bios range between 25 and 125 words, and that unknown writers should try for ~75 words (this is for books, of course, but the word counts seem to apply to the magazine bios I saw, too.) And finally, there was this article that gave tips on how to write "an enchanting author bio".

All of this information definitely made the process more manageable, if not comfortable. I hope it does at least that for you, too.


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