Of all the terrifying things we do as writers (writing stories, sharing them with critique partners, revising, submitting to publications, enduring rejection, grappling with sudden success…) most people rate ‘writing my bio’ or ‘summarizing my story’ up there with death and public speaking as ‘fun things to do on a Saturday afternoon’.
They are, however, part of the business of being a writer.
I have some tips.
The Purpose of Bite-Sized Intros
Your story summary and your bio are NOT ABOUT YOU.
This is the most fundamental thing to remember in trying to overcome the self-consciousness that sweeps over you when you try to write them.
STORIES AND BIOGRAPHIES ARE HOOKS FOR THE READER
The story summary should contain just enough to intrigue a reader and make them pause in their day–or as we say online: ‘stop the scroll!’.
The summary shouldn’t tell them what happens in the story, but whet their appetite, intrigue them, pose a question, or in some other way get them interested in the story.
Your bio is a similar hook. They might read your bio first and find out that, hey, you live in the same part of the world as them, or you too are a redhead. Any little detail might intrigue them enough to feel a connection with you, feel well-disposed towards you, and want to read your story.
Or they may read your bio after they’ve read–and enjoyed– your story, and feel moved to find out more about you and read more of your writing. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste (more about that later).
The Story Summary
You must be able to summarize your story to answer this question:
Why should a reader read this?
Or better yet: Why should Julie read this?
(Thinking of a specific person always, always, always helps me get out of the abstract and onto the human-connection level that helps me write this kind of stuff.
The Short Story Framework
If you used the Short Story Framework to help you brainstorm your story, you’re in luck! You’ve pretty much written down everything you need for your summary.
If you didn’t use the framework before you wrote, pull it out now and start filling in the blanks.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about get your copy here.
For a short summary of your story, use the first few parts of the
An Alternative Method
If you simply can’t bear to distill your story down to the kind of summary I talk about above, or if it doesn’t feel authentic, there is another way to intrigue people:
Pull out a quote from the story and use that.
You can see how intriguing this can be by looking at these examples from StoryFest 2019.
All I did was scan the stories for a line that seemed to be:
- Asking a question
- Surprising or contradictory
- Getting to the heart of the story question
(Tip: often this line occurs somewhere around the middle of the story. This is also a good place to search for titles for your story.)
- For a short story, keep your summary to 3-4 sentences max (and no, that doesn’t mean you can write 100-word sentences!).
- Don’t use names, instead use character descriptions (“An ambitious mommy-blogger”, “a burned out mechanic”)
- Don’t mention side characters
- Do mention the central dilemma/conflict/story question
- Don’t tell us what happens at the end!
An unloved orphan discovers magic is real and that he’s a celebrity in the wizarding world. But how can he hope to fit in when he has never even held a wand?
A burned-out city police chief is trying to adjust to his new seaside beat. When the town is menaced by a man-eating shark, he comes up against unexpected forces that threatens his career…and his family.
A dissatisfied farmboy’s dreams of glory in the galactic fleet seem like just that: dreams. Then, a mysterious message from a beautiful stranger pulls him into a universe of adventure and secrets beyond his wildest imaginings.
(These took me a few minutes to write and are far from perfect, but you get the idea.)
Swap stories with another writer, share the formula and agree to write each other’s summaries.
A little emotional distance can be a wonderful thing.
Speaking of emotional distance, it’s really hard to write a third-person description of yourself.
Remember the purpose: this bio is for the reader.
Whether it’s an editor, a journalist, or a potential fan, the bio serves as a little piece of human connection, to make them interested (and hopefully sympathetic) towards you.
It gets much easier to write an author bio, the more publications or credentials you have. Simply list your 3-4 most prestigious credentials/publications, and maybe add one line about where you live (journalists love that) or one thing you love, that displays a bit of personality.
What If I Have No/Few Publications?
Everyone starts somewhere. Just because you haven’t been discovered yet, doesn’t make you any less worthy than someone with several prizes on their mantlepiece.
In this case limit your bio to 3-4 sentence (unless you’ve been asked for something longer) and use some of these pieces of information
- Your full name/pseudonym
- What you love to write or who/what you love to read
- What you are currently working on
- Where they can find out more about you (your website or most active social media account, if you have one that represents you as a writer)
- Optional, if you have a little more space: Why you wrote this particular story (what was the spark, or the question that intrigued you?)
- Optional: include something that shows them you’re a person, too. (for example, the last line of one version of my bio reads: “She also knits and juggles, though rarely at the same time.”
Power-User Tip: Remember, too, that you’re writing your bio for use by other people: journalists and editors. The person putting together the collection your story is appearing in will love you if they can go to a single page (like this) and find third-person biographies of you in various lengths, one of which will probably suit their purposes.
- Always write your bio in the third person
- Remember that it’s for the reader (editors, journalists, fans) to connect with you.
- Don’t be too cutesy (I can get away with a joke about juggling and knitting because my writing is rarely serious. If you’re writing Holocaust fiction, maybe not, eh?)
- Write 2-3 different bios: 50 words, 100 words, 250 words (bonus points if these are on a single page along with a high-resolution, nicely-lit headshot stating that people have permission to use it (like so)
- Share as much or as little as you’re comfortable with.
- Always include a link to somewhere people can find out more/follow you.
You Can Do This
You are a writer. You can do this.
Remember that the piece that you are writing is not about you, it’s about the reader.
Don’t be afraid to write a longer version and cut it down.
Pay attention to the back copy of books and the blurbs that go along with stories you’re reading online — even if you never do.
There are THOUSANDS of examples out there for you to learn from, and you can absolutely do this.