What It Takes

What It Takes

Write Your Bio (a.k.a. an answer for Michael Beverly)

By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 10, 2016

What was her first bio?

What was her first bio?

In addition to ripping off chunks off Shawn’s work last week, I’ve stolen his spot this week to answer a question from Michael Beverly (See Michael’s full question in last Friday’s comments section.)

Do I think an author bio is necessary for a fiction author?

Necessary? No.

A good idea? Yes.

When I started writing tip-sheet (one-pagers about a book) copy for sales conferences, I learned how much bios play into sales.

The sales reps used these tip sheets to help sell the new season to book buyers.

Without having read the books, the reps would make decisions on which books to emphasize most during sales calls, based on two things: marketing/PR plans and author bios. The reps wanted the first bit because they knew it would grab the buyers’ attention — to confirm sales would be fueled. They wanted the second bit — the bio — to confirm the author had the chops and/or to fuel local sales.

Let’s break down the local and the chops.

For local, the idea was that the sales reps would push local sales if they knew where the authors lived – and that local buyers would be more inclined to buy and feature books by local authors. For established authors, this information wasn’t a must-have, but for first-time/emerging authors, the local angle was one to work. Same holds true today. Sharing where you’re from, where you live, is an opportunity to connect with readers in those communities.

For chops… On the non-fiction front, the sales reps and book buyers wanted credentials that stated why readers would want to buy a specific book from a specific author. For example, for a book about the treatment and prevention of Diabetes, the reps and buyers wanted to know that the author was a doctor who specialized in Diabetes research, treatment and prevention. Why would readers buy that Diabetes book instead of one of the many other books about Diabetes? Well, because it was written by a doc residing at the top of the field.

For fiction, the focus was different. If credentials that fed into the subject of the books were available, they would be used as selling points.

For example, Myke Cole’s bio for his book Gemini Cell is:

As a security contractor, government civilian, and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from counterterrorism to cyber warfare to federal law enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon spill. All that conflict can wear a guy out. Thank goodness for fantasy novels, comic books, late-night games of Dungeons & Dragons, and lots of angst-fueled writing.

If the authors’ day jobs, and/or past experiences, aren’t a fit, their interests hit next. Here’s an example from my kids’ bookshelf:

Erin Hunter is inspired by a love of cats and a fascination with the ferocity of the natural world. As well as having a great respect for nature in all its forms, Erin enjoys creating rich, mythical explanations for animal behavior, shaped by her interest in astrology and standing stones.

*Michael mentioned using a pen name, so I’m hoping he’ll check out Erin Hunter’s site. Erin is actually six different people: Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Tui Sutherland, Gillian Philip, Inbali Iserles and Victoria Holmes.

The interest-driven bio is a good approach for the first-time author.

I tried to find J.K. Rowling’s bio for the first edition of Harry Potter online, to see if it mentioned a love of wizards or if it relied on the penniless, divorced mother description than ran in early interviews with her. It would be interesting to know what was in the early bio, to compare it to later editions.

I’d like to know Lauren Weisberger’s bio for the first edition of The Devil Wears Prada, too. The bio in the mass market edition relies on the previous success of the title and features an image from the movie on the cover:

Lauren Weisberger graduated from Cornell University. Her first novel, The Devil Wears Prada, was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. It has been published in twenty-seven countries. Weisberger lives in New York City.

Another book-to-movie example is from W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, for an edition released after the movie:

W.P. Kinsella is the author of the novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and eleven collections of short stories, including Go the Distance. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Outside of location, chops and interests, the one other item that authors need for their bios? Their site — or their page on their publisher’s site.

Mike Lupica’s bio, for The Only Game, hits on his career highlights, while also listing his personal web site — and then below the bio are two other sites related to the publisher. A few online options nailed there – and, while a site URL isn’t a biographical description of the author, it does offer an opportunity for readers to learn more elsewhere.

So what to include in bios?

1) Location
2) Interests
3) Credentials
4) Awards
5) Site URL

You might not be able to include all five, but shoot for #1, #2 and #5 — #3 and #4 are icing on the cake.

Here’s the takeaway, Michael: Don’t overthink the bio. Take advantage of the local angle, provide a URL listing where your books can be bought and where more info. about you can be found, and provide a few of your interests. While you don’t have to provide an on-the-fence reader a reason to buy your book, sometimes letting them know you live near them, or have the same interests, is all it takes.

Posted in What It Takes

13 Responses to “Write Your Bio (a.k.a. an answer for Michael Beverly)”

  1. Mary Doyle
    June 10, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Great examples to expand on last week’s post Callie – Michael, thanks for asking the question!

  2. LarryP
    June 10, 2016 at 5:36 am

    Thanks, Callie. I’ve always thought that if you don’t have “credentials,” a bio isn’t useful — maybe even detrimental.

    Question: if you’ve lived in a number of places, is it useful to mention more than one, e.g.: “Larry grew up in New York City and worked for a number of years in Silicon Valley. He now resides in Southern New Mexico”? Would the previous places evoke local interest?

    • Callie Oettinger
      June 10, 2016 at 6:18 am

      Larry,

      For local, I wouldn’t list every place you’ve lived, but New York is one of those cities that is always of interest – especially if you can say you grew up there. The New Yorkers I’ve known tend to engage with other New Yorkers when they meet them within a new group. The various boroughs, the changes, the Mets vs the Yankees, the traffic, etc., tend to come up, and off they go. This works on a regional basis, too, for listing where you were born. Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors, is Southern born, but then she headed to New York for a little while. The Southern part was important to her. If she was launching today, I’d be drawn to it in her bio.

      The Silicon Valley reference makes me wonder why you were there. Because it was only a few years, if you aren’t going to mention the work you did, my gut would edit out the Silicon Valley stay and jump right to Southern New Mexico.

      Thanks, Larry!

      Callie

      • LarryP
        June 10, 2016 at 7:19 am

        Thanks, Callie.

  3. Tony levelle
    June 10, 2016 at 6:28 am

    What about people who live in two places? I live part of year on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and part of year in Northern California

  4. June 10, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Thanks Callie, I love all these tips you’ve been sharing.

    This is the bio I’ve been using the last couple months, I think it utilizes what you’ve said.

    David J. West writes dark fantasy and weird westerns because the voices in his head won’t quiet until someone else can hear them. He is a great fan of sword & sorcery, ghosts and lost ruins, so of course he lives in Utah in with his wife and children.

    • Callie Oettinger
      June 14, 2016 at 9:23 am

      David,

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your bio. I really like the line about the voices in your head being why you write. Other writers will “get” that right away. Same comment about living in Utah. The start of that last sentence, paired with the end, put a smile on my face. Had me wondering about your family, what they’d say if asked how they came to Utah: Our dad/my husband, liked sword & sorcery, ghosts and lost ruins, so Utah was his logical choice… 😉

      Best,

      Callie

  5. June 10, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I’m glad I inspired you Callie, great post and I do see the value in creating an interest in the author as a person (before being able to simply stand on previous works).

    As an indie, I’m not so much worried about these beings called “sales reps” and as a fan of the new world, and a reader of James Altucher, I believe that most middle men are going extinct.

    The new world relationship is: Artisan to Consumer.

    Black Irish Books being a most excellent example.

    All that said, I can see how an interesting bio on an authors Amazon page (or website) could help tip the scales from curious to sampler to consumer to fan.

    Whenever I tell people a bit about myself they always say, “You should write a book….”

    But I’m not ready to write a memoir yet.

    Here’s an off-the-cuff sample bio because I love the idea of practicing while the idea is fresh, hot, and churning brain cells:

    Jayden Hunter is the alter ego of Michael Beverly who spent the first 50 years of his life training to become a writer.
    Training to become a writer meant, at least to him, that one must test the edges of life (without committing any crime that carries a sentence beyond a year or so in prison).
    He has married and divorced three times, helped raise, in some sense, dozens of children (only three of which are his).
    He has been on both ends of betrayal and adultery, as well as love: both unrequited and squashed.

    You learn more as the betrayer, than the betrayed, he believes. To really understand life you must betrayal everyone you love, most importantly yourself, and then come to grips with the reality that we are all guilty.

    His only regrets in the world of love are the two times he said no.
    He believes in “knowing.”
    He once joined the army and then found a way to quit, but still dreams of incorporating the following into a novel:
    “Gunner! Sabot tank.”
    “Identified.”
    “Fire.”
    “On the way.”
    “Up.”
    Boom!
    The 120mm main gun fired a sabot round. It ruined the day of the poor fools who happened to be born to the worshipers of the wrong god.

    Speaking of Gods, Michael has been an evangelical born again Christian missionary and is now an atheist activist.

    Extremes, he believes, is where Truth Lies.

    Unlike most, who find God in jail, Michael deconverted there, finding unbelief in the pages of Tolstoy and W. Somerset Maugham, while being tortured by self righteous hypocrites he knows will someday be in hell, if such a place exists.
    To really understand life, you must be loved, adored, and worshiped, but also feared, hated, and despised.

    He believes in apologies, but not regret.
    Except for the two times he said no, there is not much in his life he’d change.
    Should you read his books?

    Only if you’d like to see if it’s possible to feel empathy for the devil.

    • Callie Oettinger
      June 14, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Michael,

      Thanks for your initial question and for your reply.

      We’ve been talking about/advocating for the Direct Connect for years — what you noted as “Artisan to Consumer” — as middlemen aren’t needed these days.

      HOWEVER: While we don’t need the middlemen to connect, the lessons provided by previous/current middlemen are still valuable. Sales reps and book buyers might have been behind on implementing new ways to sell (Internet), but many were still on target with what readers/consumers want. It was in the method of the sales and marketing, rather than knowledge of their readers’ interests, where many of them failed.

      So, while this post mentions sales reps and book buyers, my intention was to share what they knew of readers/consumers, much of which remains true today. I had the opportunity to work with some amazing individuals, who knew what sold books. I still rely on their lessons. I just wished they’d seen the potential of the Internet – and that their bosses had understood the need to radically change publisher/author relationships.

      Glad you added in your bio to your comment.

      Callie

  6. June 10, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Very practical advice, as usual. Thanks.

    • Callie Oettinger
      June 14, 2016 at 8:59 am

      Thanks, David!

  7. June 10, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Callie,
    This post is another example of why I love Black Irish Books. I imagine it took you half a day or more to research, write, proof, and edit this response to a question that was posed by one of us.

    I also know that everyone who posted will get a kind email from you as well.

    It is obvious that Michael’s question required a little more work to reply, and it was so thoughtful (and very useful) for you to do the work.

    As for me, I always want to know something about the author, especially after I read them. This is likely the same for most professions in which Resistance is our Nemesis.

    Again, Black Irish Books models the appropriate behavior by going open Kimono with not just the sausage-making, but the internal dialogue/fight.
    bsn

    • Callie Oettinger
      June 14, 2016 at 8:58 am

      Thanks, Brian!