Author Bio? Author Crisis!
December 12, 2022 § 24 Comments
By Amanda Le Rougetel
Yay! My creative nonfiction piece is complete.
Next: Double-check the submission deadline and guidelines. Check for typos. Then, send: Off it goes.
Happy dance. Cup of tea. Catch up on house chores.
One morning, my email inbox pings: Accepted! Oh, my goodness, yes!
But then, what’s this? They need an “author bio.”
An end piece that describes me as a writer.
Ah. OK. Fine.
But is it?
I’ve been writing for decades yet am sparsely published, so what to say? Shall I count up my blog posts? My Facebook posts? Um, no. An author bio should surely indicate bigger, better accomplishments. While I could pull such a list together, the places my writing has been published are more popular than literary, more journalistic than journal. Does that matter to the CNF world?
Maybe I could ignore those niggling details and simply take a cheerful approach.
“Amanda Le Rougetel is excited by words. She writes CNF at her desk while the cat swirls about her ankles, inspiring and provoking her in equal measure. She is already working on her next piece [insert happy face emoji here].”
Or maybe a studious tone would be more appropriate.
“Since learning to write on a manual typewriter at age 10, Amanda Le Rougetel has toiled with intention, researching the attributes of pieces published in print and online journals. She is committed to a daily writing practice—her focus CNF and occasionally flash fiction—and takes courses to enhance her writing skills.”
Alternatively, readers might be interested in how I got here.
“Amanda Le Rougetel set a goal of being a capital-W Writer by spring 2023. To achieve this, she created a blog in 2018 and posted regularly. Since then, she has gained a (small) subscriber list and a (slightly bigger) readership. Her long-term writing objective is…well, once she figures that out, she’ll include it in her next bio.”
This is much harder than I expected. All those words are just me telling about myself. There’s no showing, no “third party validation” via actual bona fide publication. That can’t be right.
An online search for “how to write an author bio” results in more than 800 million hits, adding to the dilemma. The advice includes “write about yourself, your credentials, your hobbies, and other information you wish to share with readers.” Fine, but what “other information”? And hobbies? Really? Readers care that I garden and bike-ride? And credentials, truly? This isn’t academe, so who cares about my BA and MA?
Stop, Amanda. Go back online and this time look at author bios in the journals you regularly read. That would be smart.
And here’s what I find: Shorter or longer lists—but lists, nonetheless—of the writer’s publishing history. An article placed here. A story there. A piece accepted by an anthology. And more writing in other places. Nothing about hobbies. Nor about the author’s personal activities.
I have come to realize that a list of places published is proof that the person not only writes but is a writer worth reading. No one can dispute that writing vetted by an editor + publication = Writer.
We write CNF because we have something to say, something about ourselves and, by extension, the world around us and those who share it. But how challenging it is when the editor turns the focus squarely on us, putting our skill to the test in crafting a readable, credible piece of micro-autobiography.
The author bio is at once fleeting and lasting. While we who write for publication hope our bio is ever evolving, we know that the version of ourselves that lands on the printed page or screen lasts for an eternity of readers who encounter it in that spot. Our best hope is that we capture in the moment not only the facts but also the spirit of who we are as Writer.
Amanda Le Rougetel writes creative nonfiction, usually personal essays, three of which have been published in Canada’s Globe and Mail. Her work has also appeared in Herizons magazine, and twice in Brevity Blog. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where she challenges herself by writing flash fiction, blogs at Five Years a Writer, and teaches “writing as a tool for transformation” courses through writingastool.ca.
As a reader, I feel unsatisfied by most of the bios on novelists’ book jackets, where they simply recount objective credentials without any sparkle of personality. Sometimes a last sentence like “He divides his time between Los Angeles and Rekjavik” or “She lives in rural Vermont with her husband, four cows and a goat” at least hints at some interesting proclivities.
I think what we should strive for in an author bio is a mix of objectively informative and subjectively revealing characteristics, written in a style that fits the author’s personality, whether earnest, wry, irreverent or sarcastic.
I like your suggested mix, Marcia. When I’m contemplating a book by a new-to-me author, if the front cover intrigues me enough, I then look at the back cover to see what the author’s bio tells me about the person who wrote the book. Like you, I am often disappointed and sometimes return the book to the shelf having lost interest in investing my time in it because what I learned — or didn’t learn — about the writer. However, in the online world, I read from the top down, so come to the author bio only after I’ve read their piece — and, often, I’m disappointed by how little I learn about the person whose writing I have just enjoyed (or not, but have read by then).
I confess I always like a mention of the author’s cat or dog and I do mention my snake because I don’t have a cat. Terrific post!
Thanks, Happy Dancer! I have one cat, Holly, who rules the roost; I tried a dog once, but was hopeless on the training front. As for snakes, wow: Not for me, but I’m fascinated by yours!
Wonderful, Amanda.Honest, humorous and I hear your voice in your blog.The validity of your credentials is in your writing.By the time I get to the end, I’m already convinced.
What a lovely generous comment, Cynthia. Thank you for reading and responding.
Great post–thanks so much for this. I just had to compose a sentence about myself as a writer to go with a blurb for a friend’s book–I am encouraged to know I am not the only one who struggles with this. I appreciate the wit and generosity you show in this piece.
Thanks for reading and for your generous comment, kperryman. Writing only one sentence as a bio is SUPER hard!
I my gosh! So funny. Also, so true. I would rather write a book than an author bio. Well done!
LOL – a whole book instead of “just” a bio. But Emmy, you clearly know the truth of how hard an author bio can be to write!
Reblogged this on Emmy D. Wells.
Thank you so much for sharing my piece!
Hi Amanda! The comment that spoke to me in your article was in the last sentence, about sharing the “spirit” of the writer. In other words, what you are passionate about — in writing and in life. In the bio below, you mention that you teach a course in writing as a tool for transformation. This also jumped out at me and made me feel that I want to see more. Why? Because that passion for finding healing in both my writing AND my life is what makes my own spirit soar! We write for a reason. When our words (including our bio) resonate with certain readers, you are reaching the people your writing was meant to inspire!
Oh, you’re so right, Flo. When our writing connects us to others through spirit and inspiration, it means our words have taken flight well beyond the page. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Thanks for this piece, Amanda… As a fellow writer-who-doesn’t publish much (like you, I focus mostly on my own blog—means of production, etc.), I made a conscious decision a few years ago, to not even “try” to include past publications / “fake it,” and instead just skip that part of the party altogether. (I always think then, of Anne Carson’s bio — a stunning lesson in how little you can say, when you’re THAT good…) My thought was, years ago as a writer starting out, I would have loved to see some bios that didn’t list a truckload of clips.
The other thing I wonder is, what if those lists of where else you’ve been published *aren’t* about signaling successes. What if instead, they’re for the reader who gets to the end of your piece and finds they loved it, and wants to read more by you?
Oh, what good points you make, Andi. It would be fascinating to see how an established author’s bio has changed over time — and especially how it started out. And what a delightful thought that the bio that includes others pieces by the author is more an offering of breadcrumbs to further readings than it is a statement of ego. I like that shift in paradigm. Thank you!
I like everything you said about yourself! Nice piece and I get the dilemma on writing a short bio. Yikes.
Yikes, indeed, Sally! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I enjoyed this. I struggle with bios too.
Interesting, isn’t it. On the one hand, it should be straightforward as we know ourselves (don’t we?), but on the other hand we know ourselves so well that it’s hard to figure out what to boil it all down to for the specific context.
I relate to your dilemma. I wrote marketing and training materials for a living but that writing isn’t relevant in the CNF world. I have a handful of publications so I list those, but they say little about me. I still haven’t mastered bio writing. You’ve done well with yours!
Thanks so much, Ellen. I’m heartened to have such good company in my machinations about bios!
Absolutely relatable! This is the hardest piece to write. Delightful…
Thank you so much, BJ!