The Four Bios Every Author Needs
If you Google author bios you will find a million different articles, each with their own recommendation. Be short and too the point. Use the third person. Simply say who you are, and give your publishing credit. Be formulaic.
A lot of this advice is good, but I also think it is incomplete.
I recently attended a Meetup hosted by Robin Sullivan, wife and business manager of fantasy author Michael Sullivan, where she covered the topic of author branding (the following post draws heavily upon her presentation). One of the points she raised was how to write an author bio. Robin argues that authors need more than just the one bio because they are going to be used for more than one purpose.
Authors need bios that can be used on social media profiles, Goodreads and Amazon author pages, and on the web. Since we are looking at radically different lengths, this essentially means multiple different bios.
Update: I’ve just been working on my Facebook profile. It has space two bios, one of which is 101 characters long.
- the Facebook intro bio: 101 characters
- the Twitter bio: 160 characters
- the podcast intro: 20 words
- the speaker bio: 50 words
- the Amazon/Goodreads profile bio: 250 to 400 words
Sidenote: Robin told me that the profile bio should be 800 words or more, but that’s actually longer than the examples she shared. I checked both of Michael Sullivan’s bios she provided and found that they were 247 and 387 words long. I changed the word count to reflect that detail.
I would recommend that you put all four bios on the about page on your author site so that anyone who is writing about you cam find it.
Of course, first you have to write them, but don’t stress too much because this is one of those things where you can start with "pretty good" and improve it over time.
You don’t have to put your entire life out on display, but you do need to concentrate on the things you want to be known for. Your goal is to establish your brand, and consistently display it across all platforms (freelancers have the same issue, if that helps).
Try to define yourself in a single word or phrase. For example, Joe Konrath could be described as contentious self-pub evangelist, and anyone who knows Check Wendig would describe him as inventively foul-mouthed.
You should also try to answer the following questions.
- What’s your purpose, your cause, your belief?
- Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
- Why should anyone care?
I happen to be sorely in need of better-written bios, so why don’t I go walk us through the process of rewriting my bios.
Let’s start with my goal: I want to be known as the guy who can fix your website.
As a first step, let’s change that so it reflects why I do what I do:
I want to be known as the guy who can I live to fix your website. (That sounds a little obsessive, but it is okay.)
Not only is it too short, it’s out of date; I don’t maintain the second account anymore. The following bio might work better:
Speaker to websites. WordPress wizard. Slayer of bugs. Error code breaker. I know why tech goes thump in the night. Fixing your tech problem is my nirvana.
With its references to SF and fantasy, this Twitter bio is intriguing while at the same time explaining what I do and why. And according to LetterCount.com, it is 155 characters long. Add in 5 pound symbols to turn keywords into hashtags, and we reach exactly 160 characters allowed by Twitter.
While this might not be the perfect Twitter bio, it’s also not boring or stale. It is good enough for now, so let’s move on to the profile bio.
Amazon/Goodreads profile bio
The thing you should know about the profile bio is that it is long enough that you can use the one bio for a couple different purposes. Also, you will probably want to tailor your bio to each site you use it on.
I won’t link to my profile bio; it was written to serve a very different purpose. Instead, I want to show you a a couple examples.
On Amazon the bio is going to be displayed in a sidebar on the left side of the screen next to a column of books. That’s why in this situation Michael Sullivan’s bio focuses first on the author’s origin story before listing his bibliography, current projects, and contact info.
Over on Goodreads, however, an author’s bio is displayed at the top of the page, followed by the FAQ and a lit of the author’s books. That’s why Sullivan’s bio on Goodreads focuses first on the works he is currently promoting and second on the author.
You should read both, and compare/contrast.
Podcast / Speaker bio
Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group. You can find him over at The Digital Reader.
One problem with the above bio is that it is little more than a Dragnet-esque recital of the facts. That is not necessarily a bad thing (in fact, I think I’ll save this bio just in case I can use it again), but it doesn’t really tell you why I do what I do.
Let’s try again:
Nate Hoffelder is here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns at The Digital Reader.
The bold text is the podcast bio, while the full text is the speaker bio.
TBH I am not sure that my second bio is better than the first; I think I may need y’all to A-B test it for me. Which one do you like?
Edit: I have decided to combine the old and new bios, and add a new sentence:
Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. You may have heard his site, The Digital Reader, mentioned on podcasts such as The Creative Penn, Wordslinger, or Sell More Books Show. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.
I’d love to hear what you think; please leave a comment.