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Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 2:10 pm
by Leila
Hi all, I have four questions I would deeply appreciate your help and guidance in responding to, for a person who has no publishing credits and it is a first novel.

1. Bio information in a query letter.

I understand in a query letter that the 'bio' information would be pretty slim, given the lack of history and credits. I get that you need to say 'this is my first novel' and keep it simple. And I also understand that if you have work/research/other experience which is directly relevant to the novel you've written you can briefly mention it. But is that it for a query letter? Or am I missing the point altogether?

2. An actual bio.

I've seen Nathan refer people to his FAQ's on this one, and have followed the links myself. But what I don't see is a resume result. Is that because for new writers it would be unnecessary/nothing to put in? And/or the information that I've referred to for a query letter constitutes all the 'bio' a new writer with no publishing credits would have?

3. How to respond to a request for a writer's bio.

On some agents/writers blogs, they talk about submitting your bio in addition to your query letter. At that point I get really confused about what I would send. I mean, if they are specifically requesting it, you have to submit something I guess, but what? I've written every kind of document in my professional life, but nothing to do with fiction (apart from my novel naturally). I assume they don't want to hear about irrelevant stuff like that, so...?

4. Formatting

If such an animal exists, there are some websites which say to put a bio in the third person, keep it under two hundred words, and never say you haven't written anything before. One website even said to tell people you have done freelance writing because you are submitting this MS and therefore you are a freelancer. But again, I can't even think what I'd put in a writer's bio in the first place. If it were my professional life, my resume is good to go. But in the world of writing, I'm drawing a massive blank. I just can't seem to get my head around what a writer's bio would actually look like.

Any help, guidance, advice you can provide will be gratefully received.

Leila.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 2:54 pm
by Down the well
Leila wrote:1. Bio information in a query letter.

I understand in a query letter that the 'bio' information would be pretty slim, given the lack of history and credits. I get that you need to say 'this is my first novel' and keep it simple. And I also understand that if you have work/research/other experience which is directly relevant to the novel you've written you can briefly mention it. But is that it for a query letter? Or am I missing the point altogether?
This is just my opinion, but I don't like to see writers mention in a query that it is their first novel. I don't see any reason to point that out. I mean, what if those five words automatically trigger a prejudice in the mind of the agent? Not saying that will necessarily be the case, but why risk it? And if you don't have any writing credits then it is better to just forgo the bio part of the query. Focus on the important parts of the novel: character, inciting incident, choice the MC faces, the stakes if they fail, etc.

Leila wrote:2. An actual bio.

I've seen Nathan refer people to his FAQ's on this one, and have followed the links myself. But what I don't see is a resume result. Is that because for new writers it would be unnecessary/nothing to put in? And/or the information that I've referred to for a query letter constitutes all the 'bio' a new writer with no publishing credits would have?
Generally speaking, in a query letter you want to add bio information if you have writing credentials or if your work/life experience is directly related to the content of the story. For example, if you wrote a book about the Afghanistan conflict it might be important to point out that you served in the army during the last decade. It shows you have some authority on the subject. Otherwise, no bio is really necessary in a query. Although I will say I do know a few agents who specifically state that they like to see something about the author, even if it's just a mention of your day job. You'll have to research your list of agents to find the few who prefer it.

Leila wrote:3. How to respond to a request for a writer's bio.

On some agents/writers blogs, they talk about submitting your bio in addition to your query letter. At that point I get really confused about what I would send. I mean, if they are specifically requesting it, you have to submit something I guess, but what? I've written every kind of document in my professional life, but nothing to do with fiction (apart from my novel naturally). I assume they don't want to hear about irrelevant stuff like that, so...?

I think in this case, the bio they are referring to would be similar to what you find on the jacket flap of a novel where the author has a little blurb about who they are, where they live, where they went to school, or whatever. If you can, flip through some novels at home and look for the author picture at the back. Even if there isn't a photo, there is usually a one paragraph bio about the writer. I would use that for a guide. BTW, humor is often the goal in these things.


Leila wrote:4. Formatting

If such an animal exists, there are some websites which say to put a bio in the third person, keep it under two hundred words, and never say you haven't written anything before. One website even said to tell people you have done freelance writing because you are submitting this MS and therefore you are a freelancer. But again, I can't even think what I'd put in a writer's bio in the first place. If it were my professional life, my resume is good to go. But in the world of writing, I'm drawing a massive blank. I just can't seem to get my head around what a writer's bio would actually look like.

Any help, guidance, advice you can provide will be gratefully received.
The only advice I have would be to not sweat it. It's not unusual for first time authors to have no writing credentials. Some agents prefer to work with people who are previously published. And an MFA in creative writing gets some people's blood hot, but there are tons of agents who are more than willing to work with first time authors. The only thing they really care about is the quality of the work. If your writing is good and your story is commercially viable, that's good enough for most.

**Disclaimer: my opinion only :)

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 3:17 pm
by Holly
Leila wrote: One website even said to tell people you have done freelance writing because you are submitting this MS and therefore you are a freelancer.
Terrible advice -- I would never do that. What will you say if they ask where you freelanced?

My understanding of a bio:
Publication credits
College background that relates to writing
Membership in professional writer groups/associations
Life experience that relates to the piece you are submitting
Writing conferences/workshops you attended, especially well-known ones, like Clarion
Major writing awards

If you don't have these things, leave it blank.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 4:12 pm
by Leila
Thanks very much for your responses Down the well. They are much appreciated.

I guess it just feels like a delicate balance between missing the point (maybe on just one issue) v's coming across as professionally as possible. There are certainly no guarantees in life, but I would just like to take away as many of unknowns as possible. Especially one's which could inadvertently make me look unprofessional. Thanks again.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 4:19 pm
by Leila
Holly wrote:
Leila wrote: One website even said to tell people you have done freelance writing because you are submitting this MS and therefore you are a freelancer.
Terrible advice -- I would never do that. What will you say if they ask where you freelanced?

I absolutely agree! I just had to share that one to show the diversity of opinion out there on the subject. That one just seemed plain unethical. Thanks very much for your response Holly. Your list makes total sense and I had considered some (but certainly not all) of the areas you suggested. I guess the trick is just about how to package oneself up, in terms of relevance to one's submission. Thanks again.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 4:27 pm
by Holly
Leila wrote:
Holly wrote:
Leila wrote: One website even said to tell people you have done freelance writing because you are submitting this MS and therefore you are a freelancer.
Terrible advice -- I would never do that. What will you say if they ask where you freelanced?

I absolutely agree! I just had to share that one to show the diversity of opinion out there on the subject. That one just seemed plain unethical. Thanks very much for your response Holly. Your list makes total sense and I had considered some (but certainly not all) of the areas you suggested. I guess the trick is just about how to package oneself up, in terms of relevance to one's submission. Thanks again.
Good luck, Leila. Also, you can start working on some of the items on the list -- attend workshops, etc.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 4:33 pm
by Leila
Thanks very much Holly. Funny, how until I looked at your list, I didn't even comprehend that I can tick off a few of the items listed. (Phew - the blank page suddenly looks a lot better)

This is off topic, but I just read your posts (belatedly I'm afraid) about Gmail. Did you send your queries via other e-mail sources? I use Gmail and I seem to have full functionality when it comes to bold, italics, etc. This will sound strange but could it be a version issue? Anyway, if you sent yours off all the very best to you, and I hope you will keep us posted! You've contributed so much to these forums, I'm sure many, many people will be sending positive thoughts your way!

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 5:03 pm
by Holly
Thanks for the nice words, Leila. My gmail doesn't show formatting, for whatever reason. I gave up on gmail and decided to use a regular internet provider (Comcast, because they have an easy to read email address). I sent a few queries out last weekend, five by email and five by snail-mail. I plan to send them out in small batches so I can change the query letter if I get all form rejections. Again, good luck to you, too.

Re: Writer's bio confusion.

Posted: January 20th, 2011, 5:07 pm
by Leila
How exciting - the journey begins!