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Biographical Information in a Query

When writing your bio paragraph in your query letter, keep it short. Please. This is another quick post to answer a specific query question, and it follows on the heels of my advice to not write about yourself in the third person. For the bio paragraph, where you went to college, how many kids you have, what your pets’ names are, and even what your day job is are not important unless they are directly related to the book you’re writing.

Some of that warm-n’-fuzzy getting-to-know-you stuff will happen if and when an agent calls to offer representation. At that point, I want to know more about you as a human being. For your query bio, however, I don’t really care about personal information unless it relates to you as “the person who wrote the manuscript that’s in front of me.” That’s not me trying to sound harsh. I am sure you’re wonderful and interesting and have had a fascinating life (and you have impeccable taste, since you are one of my beloved readers, after all!). But a query is still a short cover letter, and a business letter.

In children’s books, some aspiring writers are convinced that they need to “prove” that they can write for children, specifically. So they talk about the children they have, or the children they have access to, or how they took a class on early childhood education in college, or how they worked as a birthday party clown, or whatever. The work itself is the only thing that proves whether or not you’re qualified to write for kids, honestly. In fact, the more experience with kids someone has, or the more education they’ve gotten about kids or psychology or education, the more they tend to either make their stories way too personal (only marketable to a specific kid) or too intellectual (“written by an expert” instead of just written).
So in the vein of telling me about yourself as “the person who wrote the manuscript that’s in front of me,” there are two things you should focus on in your bio: professional writing credits and information relevant to the project at hand. First of all, if you’ve published something or won an award, present it professionally. Say something like,

My book, Biographical Information in a Query (Unlikely Press, 2012), has sold briskly, and I recently won the Stupid Blog Post Example Award from the Muse Society.

If you haven’t published or won anything, don’t sweat it. Just like you don’t need to prove that you’re familiar with children (since we all were children at one point, we have experience), you don’t really need writing credits. Everyone starts somewhere. And, to be perfectly honest, most of the stuff that aspiring writers start off winning or publishing in, I haven’t heard of. It’s just nice to know that you’ve gotten yourself out there already, but if that’s not the case, don’t sweat it.

Finally, if you are, say, an archaeologist by day (or a superhero by night) and your characters either go on a dig or fight crime in Gotham, mention that your vocation or area of expertise is relevant to your story. Otherwise, knowing that you’re a middle manager at a corkscrew manufacturing corporation doesn’t really belong in the query letter. The only exception to this suggestion is if you have a really fun professional or personal fact that you think will add interest to the query (and if the tone of your query is light or quirky and matches the information). If you don’t, you shouldn’t sweat this much, either.

So, brief and relevant. That’s about it. An excessive bio is one of the biggest query issues that I see, but it’s also less important, for example, on the list of query faults, than failing to make me care, so read this post, cut your bio in half, and move on.

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  1. Kim Green’s avatar

    Mary,

    I’m loving this terrific series of posts about writing queries. I’ve been seriously overthinking mine for about a week now (although maybe that’s not such a bad thing). This answers lots of questions for me about the bio section.

    One question: Do journalism awards matter to you, or just awards directly related to fiction writing?

    Many thanks!

  2. Bperry’s avatar

    “Stupid Blog Post Example Award” Bahahaha “Unlikely Press” Where do you get your genius from this so early in the day? *stumbles about* *searches for coffee*

  3. kathryn’s avatar

    This is great insight–I never know what to say in my bio, and this has given me the direction I need.

  4. Wendy Delfosse’s avatar

    So if there’s nothing that falls into either category are you a fan of skipping the bio altogether? I ask because some agents say they want something to know you as a person regardless.

  5. Giora’s avatar

    Thanks, Mary. Many of your posts are helpful by giving practical tips what to do. My question is about a YA novel set in a foreign country. Should the query have one line about the author’s experience with that country making her/him qualified to write the novel? Thanks.

  6. Michelle Teacress’s avatar

    I’ve heard this before, but this is more in depth. I appreciate it. Thanks! Have a good weekend.

  7. christine tripp’s avatar

    >In children’s books, some aspiring writers are convinced that they need to “prove” that they can write for children, specifically. The work itself is the only thing that proves whether or not you’re qualified to write for kids, honestly.<

    Yes Mary!
    Years ago it surprised me to realize that a good number of well known, and much loved, Authors and Illustrators had little to no contact with children in their daily lives. Often they didn't have children of their own, and a few of them actually disliked the little ankle biters:) They still managed to create Children's PB's that went on to become classics.

  8. Amelia’s avatar

    Haha. Does this mean I can quit my job as a birthday party clown? Hallelujah!

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