I haven't had a guest blogger in a while, so it is my pleasure to introduce to you my friend, Mindy Schoeneman, owner of Sincerely Me LLC. What a beautiful website, right? Obviously, I'm a fan of the typewriter.
At the beginning of the year, Mindy interviewed me on the editing and writing life, and it was so much fun! I've asked her to talk about writing bios and blurbs today—a skill authors can definitely use to their advantage. You guys are going to love this post. It is so incredibly helpful and thorough. Follow her guidelines, and you can use these for your website, print book, Amazon page, social media, and more. Share this post so more authors can learn too.
I doubt I’m in the minority when I say I don’t enjoy bragging about my mad skills. Even when talking about my qualifications as a writer, I cringe. I don’t want to be that person (you know what I mean), who thinks the most interesting person in a room is herself. As a writer, I prefer to let my work speak for itself. I shouldn’t have to sell someone on who I am or what I wrote to get them to read my work, right?
In an ideal world, yes. People should be able to recognize my immense talent (we’re not in reality at the moment, remember?) from a clever Facebook post or, my favorite, a blog post. And, people should know your book is worth reading because of the great cover you so cleverly chose. Unfortunately, this isn’t reality.
A solid, engaging bio or blurb can seal the deal for you, without a clever Facebook or blog post. Although you might be the best writer since Nancy Drew’s Carolyn Keene (come on, those books are timeless), writing your own bio or blurb can leave even the best writers frustrated, flabbergasted, or fed up.
Since you know so much, Mindy, how do you suggest I write a good bio or blurb without pulling my hair out?
I’m so glad you asked!
Let’s start with a bio.
Here are some dos and don’ts:
- Don’t list all of your accomplishments like a long line of merit badges. Be particular and keep it short.
- Don’t list the accomplishments that are irrelevant. I went to nursing school, but that isn’t relevant to any of my writing. The only time I might mention it is on my resume while trying to secure a position writing medical-related blog posts or articles.
- Do write in the third person. I, I, I gets old, fast. And again, first person is more fitting for resumes and cover letters.
- Do keep a list handy of five fun facts about yourself that don’t usually come up in a conversation. You’ll need them.
- Do remember your audience. Who is your target audience?
- Don’t write an essay when a paragraph will have more impact. Keep a mini, short, and long bio ready to go. A mini bio consists of about 50–100 words and covers just the basic, core message of your brand. Think of it as your elevator pitch. A short bio will consist of a couple of paragraphs that outline your core brand and showcase your personality (use a couple of those fun facts). A long bio should be about a page long; add a few more accomplishments to the mix and the rest of those five fun facts.
- Do state your business (you want to connect with readers) and give interested parties a place to go. This brings me to my next point…
- Do use hyperlinks. I am a nonfiction writer specializing in business content. So, my target audience is businesses, website designers, and anyone interested in hiring a ghostwriter. I throw in a hyperlink linking to my services page on my website or an appropriate blog post for anyone looking to learn more about a specific topic such as SEO (see what I did there?). I make sure I am sending them where I want them to go.
- Do have a nice, flattering headshot taken. Include this photo in your bio; it is now part of your brand.
- Do your best to make a connection with your target audience. Do you know the best way to make that connection? Be genuine. Authenticity is huge! Everywhere we look, someone is working an angle for their own agenda. Be the person who isn’t. This will require a little vulnerability on your part.
- Start with your name.
- Write in the third person.
- State your business.
- Point out what makes you special.
- Make sure you are sending your audience where you want them to go.
- And always, be yourself!
Now, let's talk about blurbs.
Descriptive blurbs are similar to bios, except the subject isn’t you, it’s the protagonist. So, let’s cover some more dos and don’ts:
- Do dive right in. Introduce your protagonist. Treat it like the opening line to your mini bio. Then, get to the hook...
- Do hint at the main conflict.
- Don’t give anything away, no matter how tempting!
- Don’t get sucked into writing another novel. Your book is way more complicated than can be explained in 100–250 words, so don’t try!
- Do be honest; stay true to the story.
- Do write in the third person.
- Do briefly cover who, what, when, where, why, and how. Briefly.
- Start with a name.
- Hook the reader with the main conflict.
- Tell the reader how this book is different.
- Leave them wanting more! In this instance, less is more.
For example, let’s talk about the book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I’m sure you’ve heard enough about it to have a general idea of the details of the book.
Step 1: Introduce the protagonist:
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the coal-mining District Twelve of the nation Panem.
I started out by introducing the protagonist and the basic core detail of the book (that she is from District Twelve). I also answered the who and where.
Step 2: Hook the reader with the main conflict:
Survival is her daily chore in the district, where food is in short supply, but she will have to fight much more than hunger if she expects to survive the Games.
The main conflict—survival—is revealed without giving away too many details. I have also answered what.
Step 3: This book is different:
The residents of all twelve districts must send two of their children to the Games every year as penance for defying the Capitol seventy-four years prior in an uprising. The Games are a death sentence for all but the victor.
This covers the why and when. I covered the facts without revealing anything that will spoil the first part of the book.
Step 4: Don’t write another novel:
Katniss uses her survival skills to stay alive in the Games, but she needs to do more to become the victor. She is determined not to allow the Capitol to alter her humanity. How will she survive without playing the Capitol’s game?
This last part covers the how, in that she plans to survive the Games without compromising her humanity. And, the last question helps to build the suspense. The entire blurb is 126 words, which is average length for the inside jacket of a book in this genre. Take a look at it as a whole:
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the coal-mining District Twelve of the nation Panem. Survival is her daily chore in the district, where food is in short supply, but she will have to fight much more than hunger if she expects to survive the Games.
The residents of all twelve districts must send two of their children to the Games every year as penance for defying the Capitol seventy-four years prior in an uprising. The Games are a death sentence for all but the victor. Katniss uses her survival skills to stay alive in the Games, but she needs to do more to become the victor. She is determined not to allow the Capitol to alter her humanity. How will she survive without playing the Capitol’s game?
I have covered who, what, where, when, why, and how without writing an entire book or revealing too many details. The hook makes it clear that the protagonist is in the fight of her life.
If you’re really struggling with which details are vital to catch the reader’s interest and which details reveal too much, try a different approach. List each detail and then ask if it will spoil the suspense in the chapters prior to its reveal in the book.
Even if you aren’t struggling, have a professional help you. Getting outside input is so vital. You need someone who doesn’t have boat loads of time and emotion invested in the details of your book.
Mindy Schoeneman, owner and wordsmith at Sincerely, Me LLC, is a nonfiction writer specializing in business content. She lives outside of St. Louis, Missouri and writes from her home office with her two assistants (her strong-willed kids) Emma and Morgan. Mindy focuses on ghostwriting, web content, blogging, and expanding her knowledge on best SEO practices. She gets her kicks playing amature photographer, Tetris, and hanging out with her family. She can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. She would love to hear from you. Stop by and say hello!
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. Her blog posts have been featured on popular websites like The Book Designer and Positive Writer. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.