Friday, October 9, 2015

Query Advice-- Bio Tips

So what do you include about yourself in the dreaded query letter? There's a lot of advice out there about making it personal. Also in the opposite direction, there's warnings about not giving too much information. If you don't have any publishing credits then what can you include?

I tried to put all of it together in this post. 

First off, the main focus of a query letter should be to describe and show your story and its plot. Who are  your main characters? What do they want? What obstacle is stopping them? How does it get worse? What choice do they face? Most of your query paragraphs should be devoted to the story. That gives you a few sentences to highlight a few words about yourself.  

One place you might look for inspiration is my Query Questions interviews with agents. I have over thirty of them. I ask this exact question and received a variety of answers. Check out what the experts say. In my experience with contests, I tend to skim over the bios. That's not to say it isn't important. It just means that you have to hook the agent with your story, and a bio might be a factor after they request. Agents do want to know you will be a good client, that you will work hard, and behave and be a credit to them. A bio can help with that aspect.

Also if an agent is on the fence about requesting, a pimped-out bio might tip them in your favor. So let's look at some things you might want to include. I'll list them in order of importance.

-Publishing credits  If you have other books published with small/big publishers be sure to include that. (My YA fantasy Kindar's Cure is published with Divertir Publishing.) The same goes for short stories in anthologies or journals. (Several of my short stories are in anthologies from The Elephants Bookshelf Press.) If you've self-published another book, you might want to mention that. If you have some non-fiction work/articles published, there's no harm in including that. It shows you've worked with people, even though it wasn't on a novel. 

-Organizations If you belong to a romance writers' organization or SCBWI for children's writers or other professional writer organizations, that's useful information. It shows you are in for the long haul. You've spent money to join an organization, network, and learn more about your craft. (Sorry SFF writers that you can't get into our professional origination without earning some money first. I'm not there either, so don't feel alone. No advance = no SFWA.) 

-Real World Experience in Your Topic/Setting If you're writing about an autistic teen and you work in special education, mention it. If you have a story set in India and you've lived there currently or in the past, mention it. If you're a doctor writing a medical thriller include that. Any real life experience that plays a big part of your novel you'll want to put in your bio. I work in an elementary school and know how schools work and how children behave. I put that in my bio for my middle grade. 

If you write YA/MG and you're a teen, I would make that apparent in your query letter. It can only help you. 

-Work in Publishing If you've interned for an agent or done editing for a small press or something else along those lines, that's a great tidbit to include in your bio. It shows agents you know your way around. 

-Critique Groups This one is my own devising. If you belong to a critique group and have gotten other opinions on your manuscript then you might state that. (I'm part of the Speculative Fiction critiquing group from Agent Query Connect.) It's not a great recommendation, but it won't hurt. It might count as experience and knowing what you're doing. (You can skip this one if you have plenty of other facts to include.)

-Personal Information If your bio is full of information from the other categories, then I would skip this step also. But if not, then it's perfectly fine to include a sentence about yourself in a query bio. (I'm the mother of two and am an accountant in my day job. I'm a student at XXXX college and love to write in my spare time.) Keep this short and sweet as an agent is unlikely to spend a lot of time here. You're just giving a quick "hi, howdy", "this is me" with this information.

If this is your first manuscript, there seems to be two opinions on whether to include that in your query letter. Many agents don't want to know. It may influence them against you as they are looking for writers with experience. On the other side, some agents absolutely want to know. They enjoy working with new writers and don't have a problem possibly having to do more editing. So, this is a fact you may want to include in some query letters you send and cut at other times. There's really no reason you have to send the same information to each agent. It's okay to tailor your query letter to the agent's tastes. 

I prefer to include the bio in the paragraph with genre and word count information at the bottom of the query letter. That's a matter of personal taste, but it's also the way I see most query letters formatted in contests. Unless you have some super, standout bio, I'd put it at the end.  

So there's some tips about what to include in your bio. Any other ideas or questions? Share them in the comments.

Or feel free to share you bio for others to feedback. Give to get. If you share you bio in the comments for feedback please return the favor for someone else. 

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