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Writing an author biography

Written by Will Mackie, New Writing North

Writers may be asked to supply an author biography for a variety of reasons and it’s worth having something to hand that you can use more than once with only minor updates and revisions. Biographies can range in length from a couple of lines about yourself to between 250 and 500 words. You should always write in the third person.

Your publication achievements should be given priority

Try to establish in your first few words what kind of writer you want to be known as. For example, if you’ve written both poetry and short fiction but believe most strongly in your poetry then state that you’re a poet and leave the stories until a few sentences in. If you’re an early career writer then you should include your most significant published material to date, which could be work that’s appeared in magazines or a pamphlet-length publication. Highlight if your work has appeared in a range of outlets to show that different editors have accepted you. Writers of one or two books should add their titles, especially if they’re recent publications, but more experienced writers need to be selective. If you’ve written ten novels then you don’t have space to name them all. Pick out the most recent plus any others that have been especially well-received or achieved recognition.

Always mention awards

These might include a developmental award (such as a Northern Writers’ Award), a book industry accolade or a fellowship. These details stand out and show that you’ve been through a selection process. Crosscheck the wording against the relevant organisation’s website: is that apostrophe in Northern Writers’ Awards in the right place? If you’re lucky enough to be a multiple award winner, you may need to be selective to keep the word limit down. It is worth including educational achievements if they’re particularly relevant to the subject of your manuscript but there’s no need to mention your grades. Residencies, short-term writing courses and workshops you have run can also be interesting.

Remember that you're entitled to guard your privacy

It is up to you how much personal information to put into your biography. Mentioning your geographical area might lead to arts organisations, schools and libraries approaching you for work but you don’t have to be too specific. Saying you live in Newcastle or Manchester is usually sufficient and doesn’t give too much away. You can mention a particular association with a place that is not where you live now, such as the country or city you were born in. Simply saying that you have a family is usually enough; you don’t need to mention that you also have two children and a cat. There’s no obligation to indicate your age but if you want to then write your year of birth rather than in the style of ‘she is 32 years old’, which will become out of date.

Don't disclose anything that you may later come to regret sharing with the world at large

Remember that once your biography is out there, and especially after it’s appeared online, it’s not easy to pull it back. If you have done something especially unusual, such as wing-walking or walking across the Atacama Desert, mention this only if it has relevance to your writing and you don’t mind people reminding you about it for many years to come.

Lastly...

…if you’re planning to get a picture to go alongside your biography then be sure to invest in a professional photographer.

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