Submissions 101: Keep the Kids out of Your Author Bio

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Acquisitions editors don’t care how many kids you have. So why would you include this tidbit in your submission’s author bio?

author bioImagine you’re in a job interview and your potential employer asks you to explain to her why she should hire you. Would you start by telling her about your three lovely children, your 20 years of marriage, and your beloved golden retriever?

Perhaps there’s a job out there that would require such qualifications, but you get my point. When you’re trying to sell yourself to a prospective employer, you’re likely to focus on your professional qualifications and not your personal life.

The same should hold true for writers submitting work to publishers. The standard query letter generally requires that authors devote a few sentences to their background as writers. Unfortunately, more often than not, this “author bio” reads more like the hypothetical interview response above.

The Professional Author Bio

I can tell you that as an acquisitions editor, I could care less about how many kids you have. Or grandkids. I don’t care if your husband loves you or if you make a killer cheesecake…unless you’re selling a dessert cookbook.

My publishing background focused mostly on educational materials and children’s books, but whenever I saw the line in the author bio about kids (which was very often), honestly my eyes either rolled or glazed over. Don’t get me wrong: I love kids. I have two myself including a baby girl who was born just last week. My wife and children are everything to me, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, but they don’t matter a hill of beans to the editor reviewing your submission. In fact, he might hold it against you because it shows that you can’t use the limited space in a cover letter to market yourself and your submission effectively.

Related: Are you treating your submissions like job applications or marketing pieces?

But what if you’re a first-time writer with no professional experience or published works to promote in your author bio? Nothing screams newbie (and perhaps “poor writer”) than a bio that doesn’t sell you as either an expert in your field (nonfiction) or a master storyteller (fiction).

If you’re submitting a nonfiction book and you can’t come up with any professional or practical experience with your subject matter, you should rethink your decision to write the book. If you’re submitting a fiction book, and you have no publishing credits yet, use your author bio to talk about what writing experience you do have: Maybe you write the newsletter for your neighborhood association. Maybe you did work as a freelance editor for a spell. Or you have experience in corporate PR. Don’t just say: “I’ve been writing all my life.” Come up with some tangible experience that says to the editor or agent that you will be an asset to them, that you have had some success with your writing and that you can help them in the oh-so-important marketing game. If you’ve truly been writing all your life and you consider it to be one of your best skills, something must have come of it, right?

(Note: If you are banging your head against the wall trying to come up with something, I suggest two options: Leave out the author bio altogether and let your writing speak for itself, or hold off on submitting that book and start small: submit short stories, poems, articles, whatever to small literary magazines or journals. Submit to local publications. Enter a few contests. Then add these publishing credits to your author bio when you’re ready to push your book.)

Author Bios on Pubmission

I decided to write this post because I still see in the submissions I review on Pubmission how underutilized the Author Information section is. Many writers make the mistake of thinking that this space is somehow separate from their writing submissions. It’s not. It’s a place to up the ante on your submission, to show publisher members that you are a professional who can not only craft a great yarn, but can help them sell the work should they choose to publish it.

And don’t neglect the author photo either. Include a professional picture, but if you don’t have one yet, please, please, please don’t take a picture of yourself in your pajamas with your web cam!

Pubmission also lets you provide a link to your website. Everything I’ve written today about your author bio applies to your website, too. Keep it professional. Sure you can share some personal anecdotes on your blog, but don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this in the first place: to get published. And if you don’t have a website yet, what are you waiting for?

The important thing to remember here is that when you start submitting your work, you’re taking a leap from the highly personal experience of writing into the business/public realm of publishing. You might not be in this to earn a livable wage, but your publisher is. So market yourself like a professional and put the kids to bed.

What frustrates you the most about your author bio? Are you like me and hate to talk about yourself?

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