Wednesday, February 02, 2011

How to write a bio for your query (And happy Groundhog Day!)

First off,
Happy Groundhog Day!

Insert awesome segue... (How can you segue from a groundhog, eh? C'mon! It's a groundhog!)

B wrote an excellent post on Monday, and I was particularly interested when she said that she didn't have a bio section in her query because she didn't have any credits. That got me thinking... So many people have trouble with their bios. So here are some tips on how to make this often-overlooked bit shine.

Writing a bio for your query letter can be tricky. You want to showcase your accomplishments, but you don't want to come across as a jerk, either. 

  • Formatting
    • Keep it short - a single paragraph is best.
    • Write it in first person. Third person bios are creepy.
  • List major writing credits
    • Self-publishing doesn't usually count. Don't bother including that info unless you've won major awards or have recently sold a TON of copies. Like thousands.
    • If traditionally published, include the year and publisher name.
    • If you've got short story or journal credits, only list the ones that will be familiar to the agent/editor. Rinky-dink places that no one has ever heard of won't really help. Use that space to say something else that will.
  • List writing associations
    • RWA, SCBWI, etc.
      • If you're secretary for one, treasurer for another, and member at large for six more, that's all fine and dandy, but keep it short. List two or three of the bigger ones and leave it at that.
    • Don't list small things, like podunk library patron, bogus who's who's, or published in that poetry mail-in book thing that you pay to be included in. Those peg you as an amateur and lessen your credibility.
  • Personal stuff
    • If you've got five kids and nine cats and stories about how each of their names came about... don't include that. Save that "getting to know you" stuff until later.
    • Places of work - If you're a lawyer and you write legal thrillers, then include that. It adds to your credibility. If you're a mom of teens and you write for teens... eh. That doesn't really set you apart from all the other moms that are querying. 
    • You don't need to share your story about how you've been writing since you were five and that you like to make up stories.  Stick to stuff that's relevant to THIS book.
    • If you've got a writing/publishing MA/MFA, list it. 
What To Do If You Have No Writing Credentials:

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, DON'T PANIC. We all started out with nothing to show for our passions, and that's perfectly ok. It's perfectly acceptable to not include a bio if you don't have anything.

If you want to include something though, try saying something like: 

"I blog regularly at and on twitter @WriterMcWriterson. I'm also working on another book about a half-vampire/half-toaster."

Those two sentences show that you've got an online presence going (Yay marketing!), and that you're serious about writing because you're already hard at work on another book.  Win-win.

C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She is currently single. And unagented. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at


  1. Thanks for this awesome post, Cass. I always struggle with this section of the query and you've given me some great ideas to work with. :D

  2. It's tricky to know what to say, and what tone or voice to use. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Good stuff, Cass! Great insight ;o) Thank you!!

  4. Good tips! Thanks for sharing, Cass.

  5. Thanks for this post! Quick follow-up question: Is something like a journalism degree (from a reputable school) or experience working as a reporter/editor worth listing?

  6. Thanks guys! <3

    Good question, LizzieFriend. Yes, a journalism degree is relevant, especially if you've won any major awards. It is writing afterall, and even non-fiction counts. Experience as a reporter is one of those iffy things. If you've been at it for a long time, or won any awards, or if was/is at a major newspaper, include it. If it was/is only a tiny paper, online zine, or newsletter that no one has heard of... Use the space to say something else.

  7. That was a helpful suggestion for the under-published ;)

  8. Nice suggestions Cass, thanks! :)

  9. I have to say, I LOVE YOU for writing this post. I was getting worried about the future for this, but this just makes it all better :D

  10. Hello and thanks for the post! What if you are brand new and have no writing credentials OR blogs etc. to include? Just the traditional "where I earned my degree" line? I'm worried about only having ONE line. Anything else sounds too resume-y (like volunteering for Reading is Fundamental or being a part of local women's groups). Is it eye-catching or unprofessional to have a little humor in there -- like "secretly composing creative writing pieces since her mother told her writer's make no money, and she had better spend her time trying to become a doctor" or "wakes up at night and writes lines of children's books into her iPhone notes app" -- Thanks for your help!