Telling Your Story: Author Biographies
When someone picks up a book to see what it’s all about, the moments that follow are extremely important. What are they going to think of the story? How do they feel about the author? Do they feel connected to them in any way? As we discussed in last week’s post about author portraits, readers want to know the authors who have written the books they read and love. They want to see the world from the author’s perspective. This is where author biographies come in.
Author biographies, or bios, are brief descriptions of the author that appear alongside their portrait. They usually include details such as previous works, personal achievements relating to the book world, and a few personal life details. No two authors are alike, so each author bio is going to be a little different. With those three details in mind, we’re going to look at a few examples of author bios, picking out what works best and what should be left out completely.
Example 1: Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996. He is the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. Prior to joining The New Yorker, he was a reporter at the Washington Post. Gladwell was born in England and grew up in rural Ontario. He lives in New York.
For those of you who don’t know this author’s background, Gladwell writes non-fiction books about the stories he has collected and the research he has done on a variety of different subjects that relate to everyday life. His biography is short and sweet, giving the basic details of his life and work without getting too detailed. But one thing that stands out is that it feels a little stark, almost as if the author doesn’t want readers to know too much about him. To make it a little more personal, he could have added a sentence about what he enjoys doing in his free time (other than writing, of course).
Example 2: Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs grew up in Florida but now makes his home in the land of peculiar children – Los Angeles. Along the way, he earned degrees from Kenyon College and the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, got married, and made some award-winning short films. He moonlights as a blogger and travel writer, and his series of travel essays, Strange Geographies, can be found at mentalfloss.com or via ransomriggs.com. This is his first novel.
Here is another author who wants to remain a little mysterious. This biography comes from his first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is a unique piece of children’s literature. By taking the reader on a journey of his life’s work, Riggs is showing how all these puzzle pieces have fit together to eventually become the book they’re holding in their hands. His varied work history shows his creativity, which is an evident element in his writing, and important detail for those who are interested in reading his book. Plus, by including websites in his bio, Riggs is inviting readers to discover more about his interesting life. He has made the most of the space dedicated to his bio by giving readers a glimpse into his peculiar life. This is a great example of an author bio!
Example 3: Andy Weir
Andy Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.
Weir’s author bio is very different from the previous two. While this is also taken from the author’s first book, The Martian, Weir does not have a background in writing or the arts. For those who have read this novel, you’ll know how real the story feels because of Weir’s dedication to researching space travel. While he may not have any book-related information to include in his bio, he is showing readers that he has a lot of experience in this field and has done his research. He is confident in what he does know and wants his audience to be aware of this fact. This is a good structure to follow for those who are new to writing and are breaking in from another field.
Example 4: Yann Martel
Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of Canadian parents. He grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Canada. After studying philosophy at university, he worked variously as a dishwasher, tree planter, and a security guard. Then he began to write. When he’s not living somewhere else, he lives in Montreal.
This final example is not what would be described as a typical author bio. Martel, the author of Life of Pi, is now celebrated as a bestselling author who has won many awards for his writing. But when this book was released, he was kind of a nobody. His bio gives an interesting look into his past and reveals that he has gained a lot of experience from his studies and travels. While it isn’t necessarily a badly written biography, it feels a little distant and doesn’t necessarily invite the reader into the life of Martel as an author. To make it feel more personal, Martel could have included a sentence on why he became a writer, what he enjoys doing in his spare time, or why he chose to write this particular book.
With so much information available on how to write author biographies, it can get a little overwhelming. There are no two identical biographies, so these examples should simply be used as a starting point to guide your own writing. Feel free to get creative and tell your own story!