I suspect that the last time you considered buying a non-fiction book you took a look at who the author was. It is a normal and natural thing. The same goes for your book proposal.
The “About the Author” section of a non-fiction book proposal answers the question, “Who are you? And what right do you have to write about this topic?”
It is not a place to recite your resume or Curriculum Vitae. Think of it as a little longer version of what would go on the back cover of your book or at the end of an article you have written. We have examples for each of us in the “About” section of our web site. While it may seem to be an obvious exercise to some, it is important when approaching an agent or an editor who does not know you.
Since you’ve already said “hello” in your cover letter, think of this section of your book proposal as a further introduction. A “sound-bite resume” if we must describe it.
Include Your Photo
The photo is especially helpful if you’ve met the editor or agent at a conference. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “Glamour Shot.” But please don’t take a selfie in your backyard and use that. A good photo can follow you everywhere…web site, media packet, advertising, the back of the book, and more.
Try to use one that is reasonably recent. Your high school year book photo may not work if you are from the class of ’83…
Some conferences have a photographer on hand who can do a great job in some very nice settings.
In addition, the Christian Writers Institute has a video course called “10 Photo Secrets for Bestselling Authors” which deals with things like the pose, the right colors for your complexion, lighting, and more.
Write in Third Person
Write it as if someone were describing you. Don’t be surprised to be introduced in a public setting by someone who simply reads the bio provided for the event. If it were in first person it would sound strange.
Instead of writing “I have three goldfish and live in Roanoke” write “He has three goldfish and lives in Roanoke.”
Don’t be Shy
Recite your accomplishments…as they relate to your credibility as the author of this book. We don’t care if you were named “Best Dressed” by your peers in Beauty School, unless your book is about fashion. At the same time there are some awards, degrees, or accomplishments that help round out your “resume,” so to speak.
This is not the time for humility. I know there needs to be a balance. Sounding arrogant can be a huge turn off. I recently received a proposal where the writer all but claimed that everyone else in the world was wrong about his topic. It set my teeth on edge.
At the same time, if you don’t talk about yourself a little, how else will we know who you are?
Your degrees. Your experience. Your past publications.
Try Not to Exaggerate
“Puffing the Resume” will get your project rejected faster than you can imagine. It is tantamount to lying to the person with whom you want to partner in a business relationship.
One time a writer claimed to have won the Nobel Prize in their area of expertise. I was impressed. So I looked it up. (Yes, we will google you.) I could not find the name listed anywhere. I dug deeper and discovered that the writer had been part of a large research team which had won the award. The problem was how the claim was stated in the bio; it sounded like the writer was a solo award winner. If they had just stated they were part of a Nobel Prize winning team it would have been fine.
Another writer, out of ignorance, claimed to have been nominated for a major writing award. I happened to know how this award was administered. The publisher entered the book and paid the entry fee. That is all. It was one of hundreds of books entered. “Entered” does not equal “nominated.” The book was not a finalist or a winner, merely entered. But the author claimed in their proposal that their book had been nominated. It was an innocent mistake via a misunderstanding, but it didn’t look good.
It’s Okay to be Personal and Funny
It is nice to know if you have family and the general part of the world you live in. My bio, for example, would read “He is married with three grown children and one grandchild and lives in Arizona.”
It is also okay to add in a little humor if it is appropriate to your personality and how you wish to be introduced. For example, “She has four three goldfish and one very hungry cat. They co-exist in Iowa Falls.”
Make it easy for the agent or editor to click through to your web site, blog, Facebook, Twitter, or any other place where you are active.
What about the Novelist?
Many of the same principles apply if you write fiction. The difference is that you are not necessarily trying to establish credentials. However, it is possible that your background can add luster or a little juice to the type of novels you are writing.
For example, Carrie Stuart Parks (web site here) is a forensic artist who works with law enforcement in the reconstruction of crime scenes, likenesses based on bone structure, and more. The main character of her novel is…wait for it…a forensic artist. She is an example of where the bio contributes to the credibility of the novel.
It doesn’t have to be that specific. There are many fine novelists who were not Mountain Men, or Search & Rescue team members, or part of the Special Forces, or sea-faring Vikings.
The “About the Author” section of a fiction book proposal is not as much about credibility. However your warmth as a person can come through in a well written bio.
Rebekah Love Dorris
Thanks for the helpful tips! I also love studying other people’s bios for inspiration. Pretty hard to plagiarize a bio!
You might be surprised… 🙁
This will be great to refer back to in the future, so thank you! At what level does a publishing credential become something worth mentioning? Magazine publication? Winning a contest? Being named a finalist in a contest? Or would those smaller achievements be better left unstated?
The “bigger” the magazine or prize the better. Being a finalist for the Christy Award is better than being a finalist in the “Hopeful Chicken County Fair Award.”
If they are too small they might suggest that your “platform” is small too. I’d be careful.
Remember to think of the proposal as a job application. What will make that potential employer sit up and take notice when yours crosses the desk?
Thanks, Steve. That makes sense. 🙂
Jerry W Lindberg
Thanks. Some helpful hints. I’ll consider them before my next submission.
I always get great information from you and your agency. I also followed the link of your BIOS and you study them.
Thanks for all you do.
Great post, Steve – a treasure-trove of useful information.
I’d like to make a suggestion, if I may – don’t use a photograph that’s immediately recognizable, and don’t be specific about where you live. I look quite different from both my thumbnail and author photos, and I live on a ‘mesa in New Mexico’, which is about as generic as you can get. There are a lot of loosely hinged people out there – I’ve met several – and it’s WAY better safe than sorry, because sorry can be Too Late.
Also, I’ve found that people tend to be put off by my having a doctorate and having worked a brief stint as a college professor, so now I leave out the degree and just say I was a teacher. The doctorate’s irrelevant to my writing, and professors have a bad odour in the circles in which I digitally move (and following even a little of the news, I can see why).
The use of the photo is a suggestion, not a requirement. You may have reasons to keep yours very private and that is respected and understood.
However, if the use of your photo on a web site or on Facebook is okay with you, then include it in your proposal.
Especially if you’ve met the editor or agent. I’m better with faces than with names. So if you’ve met me at an event and then include the photo I’ll have a better chance of remembering the details of our meeting.
Ouch! Good to know. I always see things I’ve done incorrectly when I read these kind of posts. I purchased a proposal guide to help me craft a proposal but still there were some basic questions that went unanswered (which you have answered here). Thanks for giving more clarity. I didn’t know photos were a part of a book proposal along with a few other boo-boos. Sure nice to have more direction. It’s all about learning, and I like that part of writing. You can look back and see how far you’ve come, and you can look ahead and see where you need to improve and grow. Journey on.
I published professionally as Carol I.H. Ashby, and I considered using my middle and maiden name for my fiction pen name. I decided to stick with plain Carol Ashby when I learned about the need for an online presence to build a relationship with my readers. I couldn’t see how to do that as a fake person, even using the part of my real name that are usually initials.
How should a person deal with the bio part of a proposal if they are using a pen name to publish in different genres or not blow their cover in a witness-protection program?
A lot of authors use pen names for a variety of reasons. They simple keep each identity separate online. We had one client who managed four different pen names. Each one wrote a different genre of fiction. She independently published three of them, we represented the fourth to the traditional market.
If you use a pen name in the proposal and you are NOT in a witness-protection program then reveal that.
Unless you have a good reason to keep your real identity secret. I’ve met a couple authors who are very private about their real identity and go to great lengths to keep it safe from prying eyes.
I even know a male writer who writes some novels under a female pen name. There is never an author photo and the web site is intentionally obscure.
Suffice it to say, “It depends.” !!!
Steve! I literally just referenced you to a client with book proposal questions, got on the site to grab some links, and saw this as today’s post. Your ears must’ve been burning. Thanks for always having great, reference-able content.
I just dumped a bucket of water on my head to put out the fire on my ears. … thanks for that.
Following up here with a question because in your Book Proposal session at Mount Hermon 2018, you had said that an author’s bio can be as long as needs to be. (It’s in my notes, which I can produce for you! 😉 ) However, I don’t believe a bio should be more than one page, do you? And would you qualify the statement with “in how it fits the book proposal you are submitting”?
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Steve, thanks for the suggestions. I once went to a conference where there was a stunning photo on the first Power Point slide that pictured the keynote speaker.
I had never heard the woman speak before, so I leaned over at two women seated next to me and said, “If she ever gets out of education, she could be a model.” They glared at me. I figured it was because I had suggested that a Ph.D. could be a model. Nope!
They knew her, though not in the biblical way, and actually worked for her. The picture? It was AT LEAST 40 years old. The speaker hobbled up onto the platform, turned around, and smiled at the audience. I gasped.
Truth in advertising? Not that day!
A great example to use a photo that is reasonably recent. I suspect your opinion of the credibility of that speaker was affected by that experience.
Dear heavens, I have the face only God can love.
Can’t wait for the Biblical twinkle of an eye. Hope that heavenly change will come with a facelift — okay, but if fishes were wishes… pfft.
And yes, that’s what stood out from the article. Though I did read the rest, trust me.
As commented above…if your photo is used on Facebook or on a web site, include it in the proposal. People do want to meet you when you are an author.
Carrie Stuart Parks
Thanks for the shout-out, Steve. I enjoy reading your agency’s column daily.
Steve, such perfect timing! Thank you. I’m scratching my head figuring how to upgrade my proposal skills after a trusted person suggested my proposal needed work….
Thanks for all the great tips!
You told me to TAKE OUT the reference to my goldfish.
Bob, oh my … that’s unforgivable. Maybe your next book will have something to do with your dear goldfish. What was his name? 😀
You were referring to your passion for the goldfish crackers… I thought it made you look odd. Not physically odd, mind you. Just odd as in “Bob Hostetler” odd.
Which begs the question, why then are you are working for The Steve Laube Agency? Who hired you? Maybe it is a reflection of that company’s president?
I just got this weird image of Bob with a goldfish cracker bobble head. I think I’m beginning to question the entire agency… 😀 Help!!
Bob and his Shakespeare and “goldfish” fascination.
Dan and his obsession for the Green Bay Packers.
I won’t tell you about me.
Tamela is the only normal one in the bunch.
Steve, I can’t stop laughing over here.
I feel very sorry for Tamela … I think I’ll send her a sympathy card.
Bob and I get along because of our love for goldfish (crackers, that is), and horses. What are you driving at? Shakespeare was a genius!
Dan and I get along because of … um, I don’t know yet. I haven’t met Dan, so what am I saying? Hope to meet him in June at Write to Publish. (I do work for him so there’s got to be a connection somewhere!)
It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me about you. I know enough. 😉 However, if you like Fahrenheit 451, then perhaps I’ll retract my former statement of doubt—and send Tamela a Congratulations! card.