Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anatomy of my crappy author bio & my strategy to change it!

Note: I did this post last February for a blog that is now broken and defunct...it's still out there, floating, but it's like one of those spacecrafts on Star Trek that don't respond to hails, and when the crew of the Enterprise boards it, everybody on it turns out to be dead. Nooooo! Anyway, I'm reprising the post here before it disappears altogether.

Anatomy of my crappy author bio
...and my strategy to change it!

The other day I was tweaking my long bio for my Amazon author page and I got to thinking, Wow, this is a really pathetic bio!!  Oh, WHAT was I thinking? Here, for your inspection, this is actually what I had:
Carolyn Crane began writing at age 7 with a poem about earthworms during a rainstorm, which she can still partially recite, but ONLY under dire threat.
[NOTE: who cares? And I opened with that? A childhood anecdote? In UF?]
Ever since then she's dreamed of becoming a real author, scribbling on various fiction projects while working menial jobs, and later graduating to ad agencies and the freelance writing life. 

[NOTE: Basically, I work hard at writing. Shouldn’t every author? And I have a job that relates to writing. Uh, the more I examine this, just…uh! This is not an interesting or cool bio!]

The trilogy that begins with Mind Games takes place in the fantastical Milwaukee/Chicago of her childhood imagination (she grew up in suburbs of both cities).
[NOTE: not terrible, but could be cooler]

Today she lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daring cats, and when she's not writing novels or day job stuff, she can be found reading in bed , running, helping animals, or eating Mexican food - or at www.authorcarolyncrane.com, along with sample chapters, contests and extras.
[NOTE:I guess some of this is okay. I mean, it’s true personal stuff. I think a bit of that is good.]

I’m so going to change it. Probably after I write this post. Versions of this are on my site, Goodreads, all over. Below is the short bio from the back of my book and the part of the Amazon page I can’t change until book #2:

“Carolyn Crane lives in Minneapolis with her handsome husband and two daring cats. She enjoys reading and running and loves animals of all kinds. For more than a decade she’s made her living as a freelance writer. This is her first novel.”

What in either of these bios would make a person go, wow, I would love to read a book by her? 

What was I thinking?

So, I was casting around to look at other cool author bios to get inspiration, and I came across this fine article written by Barry Eisler on an author’s bio as part of an author’s marketing.

A bio is part of an author’s brand. It helps to sell the book. (If you’re unpublished, this is a good thing to consider for your query, too, on a small scale.)
You know what is really hilarious? Take a look - I’m actually a freelance advertising writer. Part of my job is to try to get companies to think about what their personality is, and why it makes them different and better, and I write their communications in a way where that shines through. That is my job, but I never applied it to my own author bio.


There’s a reason for that, of course. In my mind, novel writing is my personal anti-advertising zone. In advertising, I’m strategic and goal oriented; in fiction, I get to play and be wild and free. In advertising, people tell me what project or concept to work on, and it pays the bills; in fiction, I decide what to write, and the money comes out to like 10 cents an hour, and then I turn around and spend it on promo. In advertising, I have a certain decorum. In fiction, I can swear and make up words and write smutty and it's all about enjoyment and entertainment. Advertising is a job; fiction is a labor of love, and never shall they meet.


So anyway, I am going to revise my bio. Being that this is a writer’s site, I thought I would share the way I’m planning on approaching it. Because a lot of people talk about keeping your author brand consistent across social media and all that, but what the hell IS your author brand? How do you determine it?

Below, I’ve modified some actual client branding questions I use in my day job to fit to an author bio project. Maybe somebody has already done this author bio/author brand discovery sort of thing, but I couldn’t find it. You don’t have to use every bit of material you generate here; this is more about getting pointed in the right direction.

The “don’t be pathetic like Carolyn Crane” author bio branding questionnaire.

1. Why are you the best person to write a book like this? Do you have any insights, personality traits or life experiences that make you a natural in the world of (Urban Fantasy, mystery, writing about girls’ boarding schools or whatever.)

2. What do people tell you they like about your work?  Your detailed knowledge of x?  passion for y? irreverence? your fun sense of humor? shocking crassness?  For example, (sorry to seem to toot my own horn, but I’m actually in this process now) people like the plotty inventiveness of my book, and I have always loved puzzles and psychological intrigue and the hidden workings of things. I wrote the book the way I did because I have a passion for that sort of thing. So I might try to work in an angle like that. It’s something about me that is relevant to why people might like the book.

3. What are 5 words you would want people to associate with you and your book? This overlaps #1 and #2. Not like these words have to appear in your bio, but think of them as the fertilizer for it. For example, I even see some authors write really imaginative bios, like, raised in the woods by wolves, etc. This tells me the author is fun and creative, without the author actually saying “I’m fun and creative,” which would be a boorish thing to do.

4. Realizations, inspirations, defining moments: if you look around, a lot of companies have a little story they tell. The founders of Caribou coffee were inspired by a hike in Alaska. Another client of mine woke up in the hospital and decided quit her job and start her own business in what she loves. Another made and lost fortunes two times over and now he coaches CEOs through crises. A little anecdote like that would work for a writer, too. (Of course, a lot of companies make theirs up. Sometimes they hire me to help them do that. LOL. Don’t make yours up, though.) I don’t actually have a defining moment. I’m pretty boring. 

Hopefully this article has been helpful to avoid the sort of bio I wrote above. Does anybody have any other bio writing and branding hints? Feel free to leave them!

UPDATE: So here is my refurbished long bio. Which I of course want to change yet again.

Images: Monster of wall, a public domain image by an anonymous artist, from Wiki commons
Man: 1970's JCPenney cataolog, Ship: personal collection.


Erin MacPherson said...

HI Carolyn- I saw your tip to use dropbox.com on Wendy's blog and I wanted to stop by... I am TOTALLY going to check that out!! Anyway, this post is sooo helpful... because it's so easy to write a crappy bio. Thanks! I swear I've fallen into ALL of these traps recently!

KT Grant said...

Have Lil CJ write your bio ;)

Chris said...

Deja vu - I think I read this in its original location - although I don't remember that stylin' picture...

Heh, I see from Erin's comment that you are spreading the dropbox love everywhere! :)

Carolyn Crane said...

Erin: hey! Thanks for dropping by! Hope it was helpful!

KB: LOL. Yes, THAT is what I'll do! NOT.

Chris: I am dropboxing the love all over! I love dropbox! Thanks to YOU !!!

Nicole Peeler said...

You are the best friend EVAH!

Lea said...

I always learn things when I visit your blog Carolyn.

Good luck with the bio revitalization. ;)

Blodeuedd said...

Can't say I know anything about writing bios, but I know you will write a fun one for sure

Shiloh Walker said...

I went with light and fun when I did mine-played into what got me started with vampire writing, and how I'm living a HEA with my guy-which, since I'm a romance writer, totally works.

But I hate and abhor writing bios.

Nicole Peeler said...

Mine's all, "blah blah, I've done some stuff, I'm WACKY! JAZZ HANDS!" and I think I need to drastically overhaul them and make them more serious. I have to stop hiding away my credentials with this new job and let people see I actually do know what I'm talking about. JAZZ HANDS. ;-)

KT Grant said...

You could write a bio like Superman's such as Carolyn Crane can stop a speeding bullet and still write 10k words in a day.

Mention how you love cats. Any author who mentions their pets makes me want to read their books.

Angela Bulloch said...

Wow! I really get the author bio after reading about your struggles with it. I think most artists look back on earlier works and cringe a little, because there's such a learning curve when it comes to craft.

I'm in the process of writing my personal bio and you've give me a lot of great ideas. Here's a question, however. How personal should I get about edgy experiences which have added to the dimensions of my characters. I write YA, so I understand some of my life circumstances and/or traumas may interest some readers and deepen the story for them. However, I don't want to turn away others.

Thank you for your time and attention to a critical detail all authors face.

Angela Bulloch

Christine said...

I say just focus on the part about being able to do THREE PUSH UPS! Forget everything else. THAT caught my attention. ;p

Seriously, though, I don't know the first thing about writing an author bio, so I'm keeping my mouth shut. Except... don't you like Thai food, too? Or is that just where Chris always wants to go?

Christine said...

Ugh. Follow-up comment thingy.
Don't you hate when you forget to hit that? :|

Carolyn Crane said...

Nicole: LOL. I bet it says FUN though!!

Lea & Bldd: Thanks. I actually hate it again and may again redo!

KB: I will style myself as a crazy cat girl!

Angela: That is a really good question! My instinct is that your edgier experiences mean you are bringing authenticity to your work, but I don't know the YA market well enough to know how specific you want to get. I'd look at authors who are in the space you want to be in, and check their bios. Maybe a good twitter question. Anybody have YA insight on this?

Christine: Dude, it's three PULL UPS! LOL. I have to work off all that Thai food and pizza Chris corrupts me with.

Chris said...

Hey now!

Christine said...

LOLOL! I KNEW it was PULL UPS. Hence the impressive part. You'd be p-r-e-t-t-y pathetic if you couldn't do three push ups.

I hear you on working off that Thai food. Do you KNOW how many calories are in that yummy coconut milk?

1 hour running = 1 cup coconut milk. *cries*

Danielle said...

Hmmm...don't write it yourself. Let a few peers interview you, using the branding Q&A, it could be lots of fun! I remember reading a post on Ilona Andrews blog in which she invited friends to re-write her bio and some of the responses were a riot! Some were very usable too. If for nothing else, it will help you think out of the box.

Good luck!

Carolyn Crane said...

Chris: eep

Christine: Snort. But it's soooo good!

Dani: that is actually a super smart thing you're bringing in here. A lot of times, I think authors don't know the real reason people are reading them. (this may include me!) Or, even having other people fill it out for you. That is really smart.

Natalie Duvall said...

I quite enjoyed this post, and the resulting tips. But here's my question. How do you avoid putting anything insulting in your bio. Something you never knew could be taken in a negative way... but then is?

For example, you talk about Caribou Coffee being inspired in Alaska. What if someone is anti-Alaska? (Hey, it happens.) Or what if someone had a bad experience with earthworms... in the rain?

Do you avoid going too far out on a limb? Do you pitch your bio by friends first?

Thanks for a good post!

Danielle said...

Thanks! It makes sense really. It's important to know how others perceive you. Try using two different branding questionnaires and assign them randomly with different interviewers (if you pursue this) and see how the different bios read.

I do suggest you rewrite the finished result though, I hope that was obvious. Any endorsements you get can be written into the bio as such..."Fans have said that Carolyn Crane writes..."

Maybe bounce around a first person vs third person bio, see which sounds more like you, which connects to the reader better? Does a bio have to be third person?

I dunno, good luck!

Carolyn Crane said...

Natalie: Great question. I think the key with any promo, and a bio, is not to please everybody, but to speak to that slice of readers who will resonate with you and like your stuff. So, I think it's okay to go out on a limb some ways be who you are.

To take the example of Caribou, it's fine if some potential customers are like, I hate Alaska, so I don't want to go to Caribou. Because, those people might not like the woodsy mood of the place. Maybe those are Starbucks customers. That's fine.

So, to a certain extent, you're not talking to everybody, you're talking to your people.

Dani: Right, or maybe if I did that, and now I'm thinking about it, I'd do a think at the end, like, "thanks to x and y for their great insights that helped me write this!" Also, I've always heard a bio is 3rd person. I don't always follow that, but I do on my long one.

Mackenzie Lucas said...

I didn’t find your first attempt at your bio pathetic at all. It gave a nice flavor of who you are (or want to show us) as a writer. I love that personal touch in bios. However, your four questions are excellent for thinking about creating a bio to present your cohesive marketing brand. Nicely said. Thanks!

Dr J said...

I cannot imagine writing bios could ever be "fun." After all, how does one put in the "stuff" that will interest potential readers, condense a varied life and myriad experiences in just a few paragraphs. I understand and applaude an economy of words, but sometimes that just doesn't cover it very well. I think you did very well, actually.

Nicole Peeler said...

Love your comment about "our people." It's so true, we're talking to "our people." And if you're not "our people," you probably won't want to read our books, anyway.

So maybe I should just add a cancan to my jazz hands????


Carolyn Crane said...

Candy: Hey, thanks! So glad.

Dr. J: Thank you! Yes, it is really strangely hard to do!

Nicole: LOL. YOU are MY people dude! I think you should add a "vogue" to your can-can and jazz hands.

Brooke said...

Your list of steps are so helpful in writing an author bio. I especially like number three--it made me think about what exactly I want my readers to know. Thank you!

writtenwyrdd said...

When forced to come up with one, I came up with the one below, which format I basically took from my favorite bio ever, Anne McCaffery's. I didn't think about is as deeply as you did, but the idea was to be interesting and hopefully a bit humorous.

"Writtenwyrdd can be found in Northern Maine, where she is owned by a cat, a Pug and her money pit of a house. She adores all three, but wishes that there were more time in the day to get things done so she can both write and catch up on her humongous to-be-read pile. Her past includes such dubious occupations as personnel manager, a telephone psychic, an Army patrol dog handler, and segues into law enforcement. She enjoys writing, the occasional beer, and reading. Other interests are subject to change from moment to moment."

Calie said...

I think you make a good point about the inability to change the printed version.

Which is why I keep my printed bios (thus far) to the three line minimum, and my online one is the expansive version.

Good blog - very useful, and Nicole, I want to see both jazz hands and the cancan at next res.

Jill Sorenson said...

I'm totally going to have to rewrite my bio. It's dull, dull, dull. And I'm not dull. I'm exciting, damn it.

I love your short bio (handsome husband and daring cats). It's cute. They're all better than mine, gah.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Carolyn! What a fantastic post. I'm glad you republished it because I can definitely take a few tips from you!

After reading your break down of the things a writer should consider and comparing that with your revised bio, I have to say that my absolute favorite part is this:

"She’s into that as a reader and a writer, too. Plotty puzzles. Psychological intrigue. Concealed realms."

There's a bio that makes me want to read more!

Who else do you think has a fantastic bio that other writers should consider?

Carolyn Crane said...

Brooke: So glad!

WW: That is a really nice bio, and also, I didn't know all that cool stuff about you. You have a naturally interesting background.

Calie: I want to see it, too!!

Jill: Maybe we should both put in something about our attachment to klunker cars...

Irene: I haven't been looking at other bios much lately, and can't think of anybody's except my fave, Mark Henry's. Here is his long,


but his short is great, too. Possibly even better.

Nikki said...

Great article, Carolyn. Thank you! I do have one question: Do you think branding pushes a writer too far into a niche? If I brand myself, for example, as a writer who has spent years working with camels and with a unique ability to write a story from a camel's perspective, does this mean that readers will always associate my name with camels? Do we have to be careful about how we brand ourselves and careful with how specific we are? Thanks again! ~Nikki

Anonymous said...

After reading this blog post, one of my short stories came out in an anthology. I was pretty bummed to see almost a quarter of the people, myself included, used a quippy variation on "I've been writing since I was a toddler". On their own, each one would have been fine, but all together, I sure felt like just another face in the crowd, trying to be witty.

Carolyn Crane said...

Nikki: Right, I think that's a good point, that you don't want to be SO specific. (LOL. Unique ability to write from a camel's perspective?)

Narf: Oh, I bet that would've been weird. Yes, that "since toddlerhood" is an easy fallback for sure - like it was for me. Congrats on the antho, though!

M Duvall said...

Hi Carolyn--thanks for sharing this. I found your questions at the end very insightful.

When you're working toward being published, how much time should you put into prepping an author bio?

For example, the "why I'm the best person to write this book" part--it all depends on which book eventually gets published. I'm thinking you still can start working on those other core parts about yourself, though.

Carolyn Crane said...

M Duvall: Right, this stuff is good to keep in mind, but not as major in the pre-publishing stage...unless you're pitching nonfiction, of course. But, it's nice to keep it evolving over time, even if it's just collecting ideas, so that when you get a deal, you have a sense of where you want to go.

Jason Schmetzer said...

Excellent advice, Carolyn. It doesn't hurt that it's hilarious, either.


Self Publishing said...

Good information. I wonder though about keeping your bio consistent across platforms. Since most, if not all, writing should consider the audience, shouldn't ones bio take the different audiences of different media platforms into consideration? The term branding has become a modern business mantra and I hesitate to brand myself since my writing crosses boundaries.

Imaginarium of Dr Paulcraft said...

So I'm working on writing my author bio for a class, and I make mention of Shoggoths, which is a direct shout out to my people. I write horror. :)
I like the idea of having five words you want readers to connect with the book, I'll have to start working on those next.

AnnK said...

Hi Carolyn,

The interesting thing is that many many of the author bios I've read on books are like your original print bio.

But online bios tend to be much more creative and reader-oriented. Do you think that's just a legacy of print being harder to change? Or are print bios more--stuffy?

Elle Stone said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts, Carolyn! I think the whole “I’ve been writing since I dropped from the womb” thing comes from an attempt to validate ourselves as writers. I’m just starting out and have definitely succumbed to that temptation. When you haven’t published yet, it’s so easy to say you wrote your first picture book at four…and a writer was born!

My true selling point is probably the quirkiness of my writing worlds, but my question is how do you filter the details you put in your bio? I’m okay with quirky, but don’t want to be so out there strange that people are afraid I’m going to show up at their house (I’m not, and I probably wouldn’t). How did you decide which details about yourself were the important ones? Was there anything cool in your background that you decided not to include in your bio?

Thanks again for sharing your insight : )

Carolyn Crane said...

Elle, Thanks for stopping by, and that's a great question. I would say, use your good judgement. Write it and sleep on it. You want to be authentic, but not a sideshow act. Look at other bios you like, and think about how those are balanced. Like with fiction itself, one or two strong details can go a long way. Good luck!!

Carolyn Crane said...

Oh, I didn't even answer your question LOL. I meant to say, there are lots of items I could have included, yes, for sure. Are they cool things? Probably they seem cooler to me than to other people!

Genevieve Iseult Eldredge said...

HI Carolyn,
Thanks for the insights! I found the evolution of your bio very useful.

My biggest problem with writing my bio is that it tends to be funny and quirky while my actual writing is epic fantasy, and thus somewhat more serious. Although I do use humor to break the tension, it's certainly not the thrust of the novel. I'd like my bio to more accurately reflect my work.

But...I don't want to come off a stuffy, either. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

I work in marketing too--and never thought to apply marketing principles to my own bio. I like the steps you work through ... maybe I'd better go do this exercise and see what I come up with. I like the life-changing moment part, too--something the reader can identify with.

Bethany Hutira said...

Carolyn, I loved seeing the changes from your old author bio to your new. The new bio reads fluidly, and I appreciate that naturalness.

You made the revision look effortless, even though you pointed out the struggles involved. It made confronting/surviving one's own bio relieving.

Based on your progress, writing these bios can be irksome but one can pull through by really thinking about who one is and what defines one's self. Thank you for detailing all those steps! It was a tremendous help!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Carolyn - SHU Tina here. I found two of your questions especially helpful: "What do people tell you they like about your work?" and Five words you want people to associate with your work." Answers to these questions provide a perspective from oustide ourselves! Thanks! Oh, and I quoted you in my post!

Anonymous said...

REPOST: I hit publish instead of preview. YIPES! Edited post below.
Hi, Carolyn - SHU Tina here. I found two of your questions especially helpful: "What do people tell you they like about your work?" and “Five words you want people to associate with your work." Answers to these questions provide a perspective from outside of ourselves! Thanks. Oh, and I quoted you in my forum post!

Carolyn Crane said...

Genevieve: Well, maybe moderation is the key, with your quirky side and your serious side. It sounds like you blend them.

Shelley: Thanks!

Bethany: Thanks for stopping by. Of course, I'm thinking about changing the ol' bio yet again.

SHU Tina: Hey, thanks for the shout, and for stopping by!

Annie Madison said...

Like many writers, I've done a number of weird things, including managing a health food store, running for the legislature and getting paid to listen to jazz-- but when I take out everything unrelated to writing, it's a pretty short list and makes me feel like an underachiever. I guess I'm trying to figure out how to be personable without being personal.

Hannah K. said...

I'm sorry for your frustration, but selfishly so glad to see I'm not the only one who is struggling with my bio. Thanks for the giggles ;)

Jen Stuttle said...

This is so helpful. While I am an unpublished writer, I am quickly learning the importance of the author's bio. Learning about your struggles has shown me that bios aren't easy and it is okay if I go through many drafts of this small but mighty selling tool. I also really like the questions you posed. Very helpful. Thanks!

Cheryl B said...

Carolyn - thanks for the helpful questions. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts related to adding a picture to the bio. Posed? Unposed? Formal? Informal? Professionally done? When and when not to?

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Carolyn, I'm not sure I think your original bio was "crappy," but I think your new one is fantastic! I love the way you incorporated your genuine, lifelong love of puzzles.

Also, the questions you provided are wonderful! I can't wait to sit down and sort out a new concept for my own!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your great tips! I'm taking Dr. Peeler's class and found your post very helpful.

haleigh said...

Thanks for an advertising take on this Carolyn. Great questions for us to consider!

Serena Stokes said...

I would have totally succumbed to the temptation of childhood anecdotes, too. Thanks for the awesome tips!

PA mom said...


Your point about branding is exactly what we are talking about in our Writing About Pop Fic course at SHU. Although I agree, you have to ask yourself, "Who cares?" when you are writing info about yourself for your bio, I think there are some fun things you could include to help readers get to know you, especially if it feeds into the image you want them to see you as being. For instance, when I was in Kindergarten, I made up a baby brother because my friend had one, for real, and I wanted to be like her. So when she wanted to come over to my house to play, I had to kill him off. Thing is, I had two real brothers and the teachers thought one of them had died. So I could see me using something like, "Killed off her first character when she was five years old..." Maybe there's too much background info needed here to make this funny, but it does have me thinking about what I can incorporate into my bio that will really pain an image of the type of writer I want my readers to see me as being. Thanks for your wonderful sense of humor and tips!

Carrie said...

Thanks for this post, Carolyn. I'm in Nicole Peeler's Writing About Popular Fiction class and she directed us to your blog. I've been terrified of my author bio because I had no idea what to put in it that would be informative and entertaining without oversharing or being ten pages long. These questions will definitely help.

David Wilbanks said...

Thanks for the advice Carolyn. I'm in Nicole Peeler's class, and just about to try to write a first draft of my bio. This was a big help for figuring out what to include, and what to omit.


Michelle R. Preciado said...

This is so so helpful! Thank you for all your wonderful advice on what not to include in a bio. This definitely takes a bit of the stress off of me, knowing that the bio shouldn't be a long drawn out description of myself, as a writer.

Jessica Vann said...

Thanks for such an insightful and humorous blog! Laying out 4 simple steps to look at our bio as a way to promote ourselves and really get who we are and what we write across to our reader is incredibly helpful and a major de-stresser!