Written by A Guest Author August 19th, 2020

Crafting a Strong Bio

by Sherry Shahan

Writing an effective bio was a recent topic in the Authors Guild community—in particular, when filling out that little box for an online submission. Different types of publications have different length requirements, but are generally in the 50 to 100 word range. All agreed that bios should be written in the third person. Three sentences seemed to be a well-tested length.

I have four bios on my computer desktop ready to go, each between 55 and 500 words. The longer bio is on hand for editors who request a more comprehensive profile. In these instances, I was being showcased as a ‘featured artist.’

I also consider the publication and target audience. When submitting to a children’s magazine, for instance, I cite Highlights and Cricket. Likewise, if sending out a travel article, I list similar credits, such as Backpacker.

DC Diamondopolous (www.dcdiamondopolous.com) has over 225 published stories. Her 80-word bio introduces the type of stories she writes and then names a half-dozen publications. The closing line of her bio is: ‘She lives on the California central coast with her wife and animals.’

Dani Hedlund, Editor-in-Chief of F(r)iction says “I like to see if an author is writing from a unique or marginalized perspective—whether it’s diversity of the author’s background or a particular area of experience. When it comes to putting issues together, we always want to ensure we’re creating diversity of both authorship and content.”

When I research publications for content, style, and tone I also read writers’ bios. It’s another way to show editors that I’m familiar with their sensibilities and not merely submitting randomly.

Edward J. Delany, Editor of Mount Hope (Roger Williams University) says he isn’t a fan of the ‘whimsical’ bio. “I suspect many a writer regrets these down the line. Mentioning pets and such seems beside the point. Maybe I’m too businesslike on that; some magazines seem to enjoy those.”

I’ve heard editors at conferences remark that the more a writer feels compelled to tell about herself, the less secure, professional she may seem. The overselling of one’s self in credits placed below an email signature may put off some editors.

Delany elaborates: “We sometimes get submissions from people saying they’re “professors” at various institutions when they’ve been part-time lecturers or teaching assistants. We like to be accurate with what we put in the magazine, so we don’t have to defend it. We had someone say they “wrote for the New York Times” and it turned out to be a letter to the editor. If we can’t trust you on your bio, can we trust that the piece itself isn’t subject to plagiarism, misstatement or embellishment?”

Shawna Kenney is a distinguished essayist and longtime instructor in the UCLA Writers’ Program. Also an editor at Narratively, she says a bio doesn’t influence her decision on whether or not to commission a piece. “If the writer has had anything published before, I take it as a sign that they take their work seriously and assume they understand the editorial process. If they’re published in top-tier outlets, I anticipate less hand-holding through edits and an overall professional interaction.”

Kenney has recently been writing for LL Cool J’s company, Rokh the Bells. “Finally, it’s a turn-off if a bio is longer than the pitch or reads like a résumé. Showing a little personality or sense of humor is nice, and sometimes it’s cool to see a writer has developed a niche in repeatedly writing on certain topics, but in the end it all comes down to that pitch.”

A writer who isn’t published should keep it simple: name, profession, education (if applicable), and place of residence. Example: ‘Mary Rose owns a nursery in Burlington, Vermont where she teaches cooking courses on recycling kitchen scraps. She’s currently compiling vegan recipes for her blog.’ This bio would fit well with submissions to health, gardening or cooking publications.

Hedlund emphasizes F(r)iction’s policy of ‘blind’ submissions—a writer’s bio isn’t read unless a senior editor is interested in taking on the piece. She encourages manuscripts from unpublished writers. “We really like to know when a submission is an author’s debut publication. We love new talent and are happy to put in a little more elbow grease to help authors at this pivotal early stage.”

The following is my go-to three-sentence, fifty-five word bio:

Sherry Shahan writes from a laid-back beach town in California. Her credits include the Los Angeles Times, Oxford University Press, Christian Science Monitor, Country Living and scores of other magazines, newspapers, and literary journals. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught a creative writing course for UCLA Extension for 10 years. www.SherryShahan.com



We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat