I was delighted earlier this week when rock star super-agent Janet Reid followed through on a vaguely delineated promise she made me six months ago and bought my newest release. She then upped the ante by posting about it on her well-trafficked industry blog. I'm hoping this turns out to be a big break, but I suppose time will tell.
In any case, on the blogpost Janet praised my author bio, pointing out that every single aspect of your web presence is part of your marketing. A weak bio might not hurt you, but a clever bio certainly can get your name in front of people - I'm proof positive of that. So I can't give you a magic bullet for how to write a strong bio, but I can tell you how I wrote mine and that might at least give you a shove in the right direction.
So, here is my current bio:
Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.
First of all, this bio is actually a shortened form of the bio I originally wrote when BRAINEATER JONES was first released. Let's look at that now.
Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife of 9 years and cat of 22 pounds in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. He was born to the soothing strains of “Boogie With Stu” even though The Who are far superior to Zep, for reasons that he doesn’t even really want to get into right now.
During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. The depiction of addiction in his fiction is strongly informed by the three years he spent working at a substance abuse clinic, an experience which also ensures that he employs strict moderation when enjoying the occasional highball of Old Crow.
He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s degree is in German.
So, what's up with the changes? Well, first of all, I wanted to cram as much personality into my bio as possible, and I didn't realize until a bit later that this is just way, way too long for the bio of an unknown author. Stephen King? Sure, maybe you want to know all about him. Someone like me? Three sentences is plenty.
So I cut out the second and fourth sentences entirely. I still think they're clever, of course. I wouldn't have included them even in the initial draft if I didn't. But when you look at this, is talking about my musical taste (and my dad's, for that matter) really important? No. And it could turn people off. In a very, very early draft of my bio I said something about wanting to punch Adele in her golden throat. But you know what? That not only alienates Adele fans, it also comes off as misogynistic, and really doesn't say all that much about my musical tastes anyway...and, frankly, my taste in music is not really defining for this book. A book about a garage band? Sure. A book about a zombie detective? Not so much.
As for the fourth sentence, I cut that for the opposite reason. It does say a lot about why I wrote BRAINEATER JONES. But I've since written other books, and my substance abuse background doesn't really matter for those. I love the "depiction of addiction in is fiction" line, but I haven't really depicted addiction since BRAINEATER. So that got the heave-ho.
What about the other minor changes? Well, I realized after my tenth anniversary that I either had to update my bio every year or leave that line out. And when I got my second cat, I decided to jettison the "cat of 22 pounds" bit. Sure, it's a nice bit of flavor to know I have a gigantic behemoth of a cat, but for one thing, his weight also fluctuates (not so much that I would need to change the line, but still) and for another, look how clunky the line becomes: "Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife of many years and two cats, one of which is many pounds." That's just not very punchy.
So I guess my first suggestion is to keep your bio short and punchy. I think three sentences is ideal. I've read hundreds of author bios since I wrote mine, and each one I at least partially mine for good ideas. (So there's another tip for you: start checking out author bios on Amazon or Goodreads or, hell, just amble down to your local bookstore. Pick out what you like and don't like from those.) After reading so many I noticed that overall the length is generally pretty static. I noticed, at a minimum, the super long ones, like mine originally was. And not in a good way.
Now let's unpack what I kept.
Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key")
Here's another change I made. People quite frankly can't pronounce my name. I've always known this was an issue, and it was one of the things I had to take into consideration when opting out of a pen name. Sometimes I regret it, but, you know what, it's not the worst thing in the world. Ta-Nehisi Coates won a National Book Award. A weird ethnic name is not going to fuck up my career. Plus, I think the mnemonic is clever, especially for my horror work. I also thank the Maker that I never went with my original aural comparison, which was Bill Cosby.
lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie.
This section humanizes me. Almost every author mentions their family and pets. Like I said earlier, the 22-pound thing was great, but I just couldn't quite stuff it in. So this section is a bit bland. That's why I decided to spice up the location with a little personality. I debated for a long time how specific to get with where I live. Some authors just say "somewhere in the American south." Others get down to the city, or, in some cases, the neighborhood they live in. Ultimately, because several of my books have to do with zombies, I decided to take a balanced approach and go with Pennsylvania, which is relatively specific, and tack on the Romero reference. It would be more effective if I lived in Pittsburgh, but, seriously, I'm not moving to Pittsburgh for the sake of my author bio.
During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
If you break down my bio, each sentence focuses on something different in my life. Sentence 1 is about my family, Sentence 2 is about my professional history and awards, and Sentence 3 is about my education. Is this a perfect construction? No, not necessarily. But it works for me, and I think it suggests a well-rounded person. I'm not obsessed with my cats, and I'm not obsessed with my military service either. A second suggestion I would make is to outline the three most important things in your life and write a sentence about each, then punch it up until it's perfect.
So here we're looking at Sentence 2. I've always thought "army officer" sounds juvenile, and just "officer" is a little unclear to the average reader, so I went with "Field Artillery officer." You know I was in the military in some capacity, even if you're not 100% sure what the Field Artillery is or what an officer does. I talk about the places I lived, to suggest a little bit of worldliness. I'm not just some shut-in who's never left PA: I've been to Oklahoma and even overseas.
Now, the Bronze Star bit is tricky. When you're writing your bio, think about what awards or honors you've earned. Were you valedictorian? Have you got a Hugo, Nebula, or Bram Stoker? You should probably mention those, instead, then. But until I've earned some kind of major writing award, the most impressive decoration I've received is my Bronze Star. I want to let people know I wasn't just Lynndie England over there, I was actually decorated for service.
But as almost any veteran will tell you, it's hard to say these things without feeling like you're bragging. I wouldn't even say I'm sure I deserve my Bronze Star. Partially that's true: a lot of guys got a lot less and contributed a lot more than I did. But partially it's impostor syndrome, too. I'll never feel like I was a brilliant Soldier, even if maybe I was better at it than I ever felt like.
So I decided to split the difference again. I think the "due to what he assumes was a clerical error" bit suggests humility, but is tongue-in-cheek enough that you know it wasn't really a clerical error. It's modesty bordering on silliness bordering on false modesty, which I know is a tricky needle to thread, but I think it's better than outright arrogance.
He is also a classically trained linguist,
Here in Sentence 3 we get into my education. I am a (admittedly half-assed) linguist. Why bring this up at all? Well, again, I don't have any awards or honors from my education. I wasn't valedictorian or summa cum laude or anything like that. But I did study language. And since I'm asking you to read a book I wrote, I want you to believe that I understand what I'm doing when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Sure, some of the best novels in history came from the school of hard knocks. But that's not where I learned to write. And I've always liked the term "classically trained" because it sounds elegant, although I have no idea what it means.
which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.
People don't actually say "classically trained linguist." I mean, it sounds similar enough to "pianist" that it still rolls off the tongue. But again I clarify exactly what I meant with that rhetorical flourish: I have a degree in German. I've studied language. Trust me when I say I can take you on a journey of words. But also this section goes back to the (false?) humility of Sentence 2. I want you to know that I'm a linguist, but I also want you to know it's really no big deal and I'm not really just some starched shirt.
So, there you have it! A breakdown of how I wrote my author's bio. The only other suggestion I can give is to keep revising it, keep using different words to tell the same piece of information until what you have is perfect. If you're anything like me, you've probably done this to try to condense an overlong tweet down to 140 characters which still says what you want it to. Just revise, revise, revise, reword, reword, reword until you have a scintillating gem.
What about you? Any suggestions, tips, tricks, or ideas for writing an author bio? Feel free to share in the comments!
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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