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Don’t Write Your Bio, Write a “Why Me?”

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, writers who were pitching their articles or books to editors and agents included in the query or proposal a “bio” paragraph. These writers would include such things as their education, previous publishing credits, and whatever other claims to fame they could cite.

Some still do that, but for many years now my recommendation has been not to write a “bio” paragraph for your pitch, but a “why me” paragraph. What’s the difference?

It’s right there in the name. A “bio” tells the story of your life—in a few sentences, of course. But a “why me” paragraph answers the question, “Why am I the perfect person to write this?”

This “why me” paragraph may include your degree in Medieval German…if your degree pertains to the project you’re pitching. It may include previous publication credits, but it may not. It’s more important that this paragraph—like your whole pitch—be extremely well written and compelling enough to close the sale.

How are you supposed to do that? I suggest four ways:

  1. Leave out the wrong words.

Mark Twain famously said, “Writing is easy. You just write down all the words you know and cross out the wrong ones.” Many writers inexplicably fail to do this. They say things like, “I don’t really like fiction, but—” or “I’ve never published before” or “God gave me this.” Those are the wrong words. They don’t create a positive, professional impression.

  1. Tailor your “why me” to the pitch it accompanies.

If your novel involves Amish vampires, don’t forget to reference your childhood in the Amish vampire community. Are you pitching a parenting book? If so, the fact that you raised ten children to adulthood without any of them doing jail time might merit a mention, while your ten years in the aeronautics industry might not.

  1. Be strategic with publishing credits.

Having a few articles or books under your belt isn’t a bad thing if you’re pitching a new idea, but it’s not everything. And many aspiring authors shoot themselves in the foot by how they refer to their past publishing successes. And others feel defeated because they never published in The New Yorker. But you’re a writer, aren’t you? So put as much effort into crafting the “why me” paragraph as you invest in the rest of your pitch. And if you really want to write that Quilting Your Way to Mental Health book, think through what sort of credits would make your pitch more compelling, and then start querying those markets so that in six months or a year you’ll have a more persuasive answer to the “why me” question.

  1. Don’t be boastful, but don’t be falsely humble, either. Be professional.

Many of us struggle to write a great “why me” paragraph because, well, we don’t want to brag. But your choice as a writer isn’t between “prideful” or “modest” but between professional and unprofessional. And a well-written “why me” paragraph can leave the impression that “I could say more, but modesty prevents me.”

So let’s try it. This is how some of us might write a “bio” paragraph:

I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother, and homemaker for forty years and though I’ve never published a book, my husband read my manuscript and gave it to a pastor friend who also loved it. He said it should definitely be published. The group of pastors’ wives I meet with every Tuesday and my weekly Bible study said the same thing. I was even asked to share some of my experiences at my mother-in-law’s church in Poughkeepsie. I earned a bachelor’s degree in German from McTavish Bible College while also working as a waitress to help my husband earn a seminary degree. The only writing I’ve done has been for my church newsletter over the last seventeen years. However, I once had a letter to the editor appear in the newspaper and sold a devotion to The Upper Room in 1985 for $7.

That’s not the worst I’ve seen as an editor and an agent, but it could definitely be improved, using my suggestions above. How would you change it? Here’s one possibility:

Forty years of heartache and happiness—from seminary days to senior pastor’s wife—have supplied the hard-earned wisdom I share in Don’t Get the Paper in Your Nightgown (And More Wisdom for Pastor’s Wives). The book’s insights have already entertained and helped pastors, wives, churches and Bible study audiences as I’ve spoken on this topic around the country. In addition to being a long-time columnist for The Bell Tower, my writing has also appeared in The Upper Room and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

That’s just one possible approach. It uses much of the same information as the first example, and doesn’t even include what that writer could add in six or nine months after strategically selling an article to one or two targeted markets that would make it even better with just a little more patience.

What about you? Would you suggest other changes? How would you make it better?

 

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