Present yourself as a career writer
Hopefully, you are following the industry standard format for query letters, often known as “the hook, the book, and the cook.” You’ve started with a great “hook” to capture an agent’s attention. Then you’ve summarized your “book” in two or three paragraphs. Now, tell them about you – the “cook” – in the biography (bio) paragraph.
Don’t be nervous. It’s only a couple of lines, and you don’t need an MFA or to be published to have a writer’s bio. The purpose of the bio is show agents you are a professional who’s serious about a career as an author – that’s all.
Education and experience demonstrate your commitment to writing, so include:
Publishing credits. Nonfiction counts, so do trade journals. If you were paid for it, it shows you’re a professional writer.
Work experience related to writing. E.g., editor of your company newsletter, newspaper reporter, columnist for the local paper, your regular blog.
Education. Include it if you have an MFA, certificate in writing, or a degree in English, communications, or journalism.
Writing awards, residencies. Preferably these are related to fiction, rather than nonfiction. Even better if you won them for an excerpt from the novel you are querying the agent about.
What if you have no previous writing experience or credits?
Remember, the purpose of the bio is to show an agent you are serious about a career as an author. I’ve heard agents say many times that the only reason they want to know something about the writer is to weed out the crazies (I am referring to the slang definition: an unpredictable, nonconforming person; oddball). If an agent is going to invest significant time in developing your career, he or she wants to know you’re a professional who's serious about your craft and willing to promote your book at school visits, author signings, etc. Agents are looking for a long-term relationship with a career author, not a one-book wonder.
Tell them you’re serious about your writing by mentioning:
Writing classes. E.g. “For the last five years I’ve attended writing workshops at The New School in New York City.”
Critique groups. E.g., “I am a long-standing member of a critique group focused on middle-grade novels.”
How long you’ve been writing. Five, ten, fifteen years; this speaks to your commitment to make this your career.
The number of novels you have written. It doesn’t matter if they are unpublished; again, it speaks to your diligence to make it as a writer.
When the “cook” becomes the “hook”
If you recently received your MFA from a prestigious college, or your manuscript (or excerpt from it) won a significant award, you might want to start your query letter talking about that. These are the kind of achievements that get an agent salivating, because you’ve established yourself as a professional writer right up front. The agent has to read on.
Here’s my bio from a recent query letter:
I am a graduate of the UCLA Writers Program in Creative Writing. As a marketing/communications writer and editor for eighteen years, I have produced nonfiction articles for numerous corporate and trade publications. I recently launched a marketing services business and blog (http://WritingThatInspires.blogspot.com) to inspire and empower writers on their journey to publication.
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