How to Write Your Author Bio

Today Producer Jack asked us for bios to put on the Writer Dojo website (Steve and I have recorded the first 9 episodes so we’ll be launching pretty soon).

I wrote this –

Larry Correia is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels. He’s best known for his Monster Hunter International urban fantasy series, the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior epic fantasy series, the Grimnoir Chronicles alternate history trilogy, the Dead Six military thrillers, and the sci-fi Gun Runner. He’s also written over sixty pieces of shorter fiction, many of which are included in his Target Rich Environment collections, and he has edited three anthologies. He has won numerous writing awards, including three Dragon Awards, and two Audies, as well as being nominated for other awards like the Campbell, Hugo, David Gemmell fantasy award, and the Julia Verlanger. Larry’s novels are published in seven languages, and two of his properties have been optioned for television. He lives in Yard Moose Mountain, Utah with his wife, children, and fearsome Krasnovian Waffle Hound.

Okay, now with that mandatory BS out of the way, since Writer Dojo is an educational podcast to help authors make a go of this business, let me break down what I just did there, and what I was trying to accomplish.

A bio is all about establishing street cred, pertaining to whatever event/item that particular bio is for. I’ve got a bunch of different kinds for different things.

As you appear in various things you’ll be asked to provide an author bio. First thing you want to do is find out what the expected size is. Nobody wants to be the oddball in the program who has got the bio that’s wildly different in size than everybody else (unless you are the super star, then you don’t need one, but those guys also don’t need any professional advice from me either!)  Fluff the bio size up and down according to the parameters.

There is nothing worse or that comes off as more needy than the new guy who has clearly done zilch, with the program bio that takes up a whole page telling you about his 3 short story sales and how he’s the world’s leading expert on traditional Mesoamerican goat cheeses, while across from that dude is a super star whose bio reads “I’m that guy who writes books and stuff”. Because then the newb looks like he’s trying too hard. And people instinctively hate try hards.  

So first, establish the basics, who are you and what have you done? If you’ve written a bunch of books, say so. If you are there because you are astronaut, lead with that! If you’ve only written a couple of things, skip the total, because it doesn’t sound as impressive, and go straight into the title list.

I always put New York Times bestseller as early as I can. Personally, I believe the Times list is rigged nonsense, that plays favorites for its friends and bumps off anybody they don’t like, usually because of politics. Their methodology of how the list is calculated is secret for a reason. However it sounds super prestigious to people who don’t know any better, which is why those of us who’ve blundered into that status will lead with it.

If you’ve got any other things like that, they work too, but the NYT is the famous one. You’ll see USA Today bestseller (I’ve got that one) or Nielsen Bookscan (got that one too, and it’s actually the most accurate of all these inaccurate things, but it’s also the least well known to the general public, and thus most useless for bio purposes unless its aimed at industry types). I see a lot of Amazon bestsellers now, but they’ve got so many categories that anybody can hit #1 if your book gets lumped into a tiny enough micro genre. So that one is starting to get overused, so if the audience is pros, skip it, but if it’s newbs, run with it.

(sad part of Amazon’s bestseller system, it takes me thousands of books sold fast to hit the top of urban fantasy, and I somehow have to squeak past the guy selling 15 books for a dollar, but hitting #1 in Quick Reads About Left Handed Basket Weaving, you sell like four copies, and we’re both truthfully #1 bestsellers)

Then I go into the series list, because I’ve got ongoing and complete series. If I only had a few books, I’d accentuate those instead. If I’d only appeared in anthos and done some short stories, I’d try to fluff that up. However, don’t over fluff and over inflate your meager resume, because then it makes you sound desperate. People love rooting for the new guy or scrappy underdog, unless you sound desperate, then they instinctively dislike you. Don’t do that.

If you have too many titles, don’t list them all, because if there’s twenty plus titles in italics sitting there, readers just start to skim. I like to use series instead, but even then I’m starting to get too many, so you’ll run into the skim thing. So depending on the length I’m shooting for I’ll drop off the less famous ones.

For this one I added genres to the series list. Why? Because for this particular bio I’m trying to establish that I’ve got broad experience. This bio is for a writing podcast where I’m supposed to be the more experienced one, so writing in multiple genres shows that I’m not a one trick pony who just writes monster books.

For this one because I’ve got some room and I’m trying to establish expertise, I also put in my short fiction (because the number and having multiple collections sounds impressive to regular readers) and then the awards. If I have less space, I ditch the awards first, because they matter the least. I put the Hugo in there just out of spite, because I despise that award and everything it has turned into now, and the Campbell isn’t even called the Campbell anymore because that wasn’t woke enough. But whatever. We’ll record an episode about awards one of these days.  

TV tie ins make you sound cool and accomplished, even if in reality your odds of getting an option made into an actual show are still like winning the lottery. Foreign sales and translations make you sound international and worldly. Like holy moly, his books are in French and German? Then he must be super famous. Not really, I’m just a mid-lister there. But remember, the bio is all about perception.

If there’s a reason to buff up my professional expertise, then you’ll see authors drop in their professional/life experiences. If you’ve got something that makes you unique and memorable, you throw out that you were a champion bull rider, an F-14 Tomcat pilot, or they based the movie Roadhouse on you. That’s awesome. Run with that.

However, tread carefully, because some things will make you sound awesome, and others will just make you sound lame. If I’m going the previous life work experience route I’ll say something like “as a former accountant, machinegun dealer, firearms instructor, Larry is blah blah blah”. Why? Because depending on the audience, machinegun dealer or firearms instructor makes it sound like I might not totally fuck up the action scenes.

But don’t lie! There is nothing sleazier or more annoying than some dude who super inflates his backstory. There are some legendary cases where authors took their regular military backgrounds (which any job there is great, because you signed up, went where they sent you, and there’s no shame in being the guy who kept the computers running because somebody had to do it!) but the author twisted their bio into them being the Perched Like A Falcon On The Tip of The Spear In The Global War On Terror Special Operator Operating Operationally. Which of course will thrill the ignorant but guaranteed that guys who recognize bullshit will see right through that, and within 30 minutes they’re having a phone call with some of your former bosses to find out what you actually did for a living. And that shit’s gonna haunt the rest of your career.

Authors lie, embellish, and exaggerate for a living, but don’t go full dumb ass in your bio, guys. It’s just sad.

One of my old bios that’s floating around out there that Baen wrote for me, they had me down as a movie gun prop master. I hate that, and I’ve tried to get it replaced/deleted whenever I see that old one still floating around, because I sold guns used as movie props, but I was never a prop master on a movie set. Same thing as when my bio says I was a military contractor. True. I was. Except “military contractor” makes some people think of door kicking mercenaries, except I only did spreadsheets.

Now the last bit is where people will usually put in some personal thing about their lives to try and make the reader feel connected and humanize the author. The less an author has actually written, the more they’ll tend to fluff up the personal stuff. Like the author who lists all their multitude of pets. It’s a bad cliché. Hence me sticking my dog in this one as an example, and look, he’s a silly made up breed, ergo I must be fun and quirky! Sigh.

Having a bit about how you are a human being with family, hobbies, whatever, that’s great. Just don’t over do it. Some authors go downright silly. That’s fine depending on what the bio is aimed at. Fun, fannish event, then bragging about your collection of Buck Rogers VHS tapes is great. Does it give professional street cred? Nope. I’ve won mini painting contests. That means dick at a book expo. There is actually a real GI Joe character based on me? Fucking awesome for the bio for ComicCon, that’s going in.  

Whatever you do, just don’t make that personal part sad. I’ve read some author bios where at the end I just felt sorry for them. Pity does not make people want to buy your product. If a one or two paragraph bio is a major downer I’m sure as shit not buying their books. Do not ever do the woe is me thing. Your bio should be about positivity/success. Maybe there’s some situation where you’d want to accentuate your loser status or victimhood points, but that sounds miserable, and I’m glad I don’t run in those circles.

Bios are stupid, annoying, but also necessary. Luckily the more you accomplish, the more you can work with. It’s sorta like a resume. Starting out, your resume is fluff and jibberish, like how your first job at Burger King is described as: a team oriented motivated problem solving in a high speed environment of synergy supervising potato based food systems, and everybody knows that’s bullshit because it’s fucking Burger King. It’s the same thing as when some guy writes 200 words about his one short story publication. The audience knows that’s really just Burger King fry cook (and there’s nothing wrong with that, because we all started somewhere).  

Things get a little trickier when they want a big bio. This is for something like you’re the Guest of Honor at something, and they want one or two whole pages about you. On those, you’re a writer, go nuts. People are paying to see you. You can do what you want. Get personal. Get detailed as you feel like. Same thing as your bio on your personal page. The About Me on this blog kinda turned into a life story journal writing exercise, but whatever, I had fun with it.

In conclusion, know your audience. Establish your cred. Be proud of your accomplishments. Don’t make shit up. Have fun.

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28 thoughts on “How to Write Your Author Bio”

  1. “Personally, I believe the Times list is rigged nonsense, that plays favorites for its friends and bumps off anybody they don’t like, usually because of politics”
    You’re giving it too much credit. They’ve literally admitted in court, under oath, in Blatty v. New York Times Co. that the list is made up stating “The list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product”. That was in the 1980s and its only gotten worse. Really, I’m not sure why anyone cared about the rag that was complicit in the cover up of the holodomor and still refuses to relinquish the Pulitzer it “won” for hiding the death of millions to make communism look good.

    “Larry’s novels are published in seven languages”
    Which are those? I know English, French, and German are three of them.

  2. “One of my old bios that’s floating around out there that Baen wrote for me, they had me down as a movie gun prop master. I hate that….”

    I had at one point put on my curriculum vitae (not my resume, but the full blown list that’s really handy for filling out applications) that I had graduated fourth in my class in high school (out of 21 or 23). I thought my mom had told me so, since she sometimes had access to inside information because she taught at the same private school. Nope; not so she told me later. Oeuf sur la face, n’est pas?

    On the other hand, Larry, if you don’t want to say “military contractor” because, yeah, sounds like ‘I was guarding diplomats and getting shot at in Iraq’ you could say Department of Defense contractor. It means the same, but the connotation is different or even ‘domestic contractor for the DoD,’ or in CONUS, whatever.

    1. Penny Press keeps sending me renewal requests for Analog.

      After they threw Campbell under the bus, I told them to FOAD.

      Astounding did not develop Golden Age writers. Fella named John did that.

      1. Penny Press mostly puts out puzzle magazines for seniors. So I’m pretty sure it’s not the Penny Press board that jettisoned Campbell. Nooo, it’s Analog that did that.

        I seriously doubt that Penny Press does anything much with Analog, except wonder if it can keep up with the Sudoku and Logic Puzzles magazine sales.

  3. Readers appreciate when an author has a background that hints toward expertise in the category they write. You as an author is your brand, not just your books.

    If you write Christian fiction, you better be Godly!

    If you’re self-publishing and can really write whatever, cater your bio to the tone typical in your genre. If you write witty chick-lit, write the bio in that voice. If you write romance, mention the authors in your sub-genre that 1) you love reading and 2) are similar to your book.

    (You can also include your like authors in your book blurb, as long as you’re being accurate!)

    Readers love to know they’ll get an experience similar to something they already love and that makes it easier for them to try You the New Author.

    And this might be a “duh”, but a bio that appeals to male readers may not appeal to female readers and vice-versa – so keep that in mind when trying to reach a similar tone to your author comps in your genre.

  4. Yeah, instead of ‘Military Contractor’ they should have called you a ‘Military Contract Accountant’.

  5. There seems to be a big focus (at least for YA) for people looking to get into the industry to establish a significant social media presence. If you had a YouTube channel, would that be worth mentioning in a bio? Does anyone who’s reading these bios think that a social media presence is actually a plus, or would mentioning it be just kind of embarrassing?

  6. I smiled at this: “but hitting #1 in Quick Reads About Left Handed Basket Weaving, you sell like four copies, and we’re both truthfully #1 bestsellers” I knew a BBJ instructor/school owner, he fought and won one MMA fight. Immediately on his schools web site “Undefeated in MMA”

    And for what it’s worth, I liked reading your “About Me” You made milking cows sound cool 🙂

  7. This sounds similar to advice I give on resumes. “Don’t write everything you’ve done, write what you’ve done that MATTERS to the person deciding whether you might fit for the job.”

    “Starting out, your resume is fluff and jibberish, like how your first job at Burger King is described as: a team oriented motivated problem solving in a high speed environment of synergy supervising potato based food systems, and everybody knows that’s bullshit because it’s fucking Burger King. ”

    This made me lol. When I read resumes like that I immediately want to drop the resume and move to the next one. If you can’t tell me what you really did and instead have to make a transparent inflation of the job, it makes me wonder about your honesty in general.

  8. Can you tell us if the shows will be on other mobile friendly platforms that usually hosts podcasts?

    1. To start, we’ll be on:
      Anchor.FM, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, & RadioPublic- if there’s one we’re missing, shoot me an email and I’ll see about setting it up: Jack@WriterDojo.com

      1. Thank you. I don’t have a PC anymore so trying to listen straight from a website causes all kinds of issues for me.

  9. Thank you, Larry. I’ve had problems with deciding how to do a writer bio vs. my academic bio. This helps a lot. 🙂

  10. “The guy that kept the computers running”

    Dude… you’ve worked with government computers, right? The dudes who can keep military hardware actually running are kinda the Chief Engineer Scotty of the computer world. They’re not operational operators operating operationally, no. They’re the guys who make sure your kludged together, ancient, security paranoid, built by the lowest bidder computer works and that you get the shit you need out of the bloated, festering bureaucratic Mike Glyer that is the government supply chain.

  11. Thanks for the pointers! I think ‘combat accountant’ would be appropriate, considering the battles you fought with the Air Farce…LOL

  12. Ok, I’m going to put this off topic post here. Getting worried there is something up with Oliver Wyman. We haven’t seen or heard anything about the Bloodlines audio version that is due out in just over a week. TRE #2 has already been voiced and it isn’t due out for another month. What’s the skinny?

  13. You COULD just call the “verified” best sellers:
    “NYT-BS”

    Kind of says everything in six characters!

  14. Loved this. It reminds me of the time I was inducted in my high school hall of fame and had to provide a bio. I sent a page and a half thinking they’d just use what they wanted (I’d been a magazine editor, that’s what we did for writer bios). The teacher introducing me read the ENTIRE THING, word for word. It was, by far, the longest one and I was not, in any way, the most impressive person being inducted. I was mortified at sounding like a terrible braggart, but my kids said, “Wow Mommy! They talked about you longest!” so at least someone was impressed.

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