Saturday, August 27, 2011

Query Bios: If you don't have anything nice to say...

Writing a query bio is easy.  All you have to do is list all of your impressive publication credits and contest wins.  So simple, right?  Yes, unless you've never been published or won a contest.  Fortunately, you're not the first person to have this problem.  From what I've read, agents prefer you to have strong credentials (obviously) but they also understand that plenty of people querying don't have impressive resumes yet.

What to do?
If you don't have much to put in your bio you have two choices:

It's a far cry from the easy way, but since when was anything worth doing easy?  If you're seriously seeking a professional writing career, you're looking for a job.  And like with any job, having experience is going to make you stand out.  Even though going out and getting credentials takes time and work, it may actually be easier than you think if you think small.  And you do have the time.  How about while you wait for your beta readers to finish you work on a short story?  Or write a story while you give yourself a break from your WIP after you start editing so you can look at it fresh.

Here are some ways to gain credentials:

  • Write short stories - There are tons of places to get a short story published - check out  And it's a LOT easier to get a short story published than a novel.  Don't worry about major publications, just get published somewhere.  
  • Enter contests - How about a blog contest?  I won a blog contest and wasn't sure it that was a good enough credential to add in my query.  Two agents who reviewed my query said it was okay to include.
  • Join professional organizations - This is one of the easiest ones, but it may cost you some $.  Remember, free organizations look good too.
  • Join critique groups
  • Attend a conference 
  • Attend a workshop

A little can go a long way if you:

1) Think small

Agents naturally will prefer a author with prestigious credentials, but that's not the only thing they are looking for in a bio.  A bio shows an agent that you're serious about writing.  Small publications, small contest wins, and small affiliations are easier to get and still show an agent that you're serious about your craft.

How small is too small?
You probably don't want to include your publication in your high school literary magazine, but other than that, minor publications are fine as long as they are recent and relevant.  Author Nan Comargue defines recent and relevant in her post Query Letters 101 - Your Bio

2) Think free
You can spend some $$ on professional affiliations and conferences, but don't necessarily have to.  Look for local or online writing groups with free or low monthly dues.  Any suggestions?  Post in comments.

Check out No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast for more ideas.

Here is what agent Noah Lukeman says about getting credentials: " the big picture, ultimately the solution is for you to make a sustained effort towards gaining those very credentials which will indeed impress an agent. Just because you’ve never been published in a major literary magazine, or attended a prestigious writing program, or hold endorsements from famous authors, doesn’t mean that you can never attain those things on your own: indeed, many authors who land agents have already managed to attain these things on their own."

Really, it's okay.  Unpublished authors can land agents.  And the last thing you want to do is add irrelevant information to fill space.  In most cases, the only appropriate things to list in a bio are recent and relevant publishing credits, contest wins, and membership in writing groups.  If you don't have these, you're best off saying nothing.

Here is what some agents say in support of leaving a bio empty:

Rachelle Gardner - "Don’t worry about platform and don’t stress about your bio. If you have traditionally published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist. If you like, you can indicate that you’re a blogger and you’are active on Twitter and Facebook (so the agent sees you’re aware of the importance of social networking for authors)."

Lauren Ruth"Others might disagree with me, but I’ll advise against listing credentials unless a.) you finalized in or won a contest or been given formal accolades on your writing b.) you’ve had something published, even a short story c.) you have work experience that is very relevant to the material in your query d.) You have an MFA in creative writing. Otherwise, it’s like putting the fact that you graduated high school on your resume: you’re only highlighting your lack of higher credentials.

The good news is, you don’t have to have credentials to become a published author. For fiction, no agent is going to reject you solely because you’ve never been published or won a contest.  But, if the agent is on the fence about requesting more, your credentials might be the tipping point. For this reason, I’d rather see either big credentials or no credentials at all. Let your writing speak for itself and focus on the strengths of the book you’re querying."

Noah Lukeman -

Thus it’s best to just say it like it is, and state that you have no credentials and that this is your first work (this is not necessarily a strike against you, as there always remains the thrill of discovery). Even better, you can keep the query letter short and not mention anything at all, ending the letter abruptly after your synopsis and concluding sentence. This at least demonstrates self-awareness and word economy."

I think the pros and cons between the choices are pretty obvious.  With choice #1 you have a better bio but it's a lot of extra work and possibly cost.  With choice #2, your bio doesn't look as good but it's easier.  Personally, it's taken me a while to get up the gumption to select choice #1.  I am the mother of a toddler and have a part-time job so any free time I find, I use on my novel WIP.  I rationalize that I don't have time to write, edit, and submit short stories and don't have the money to join professional organizations.  But the bottom line is, is that extra time and money worth increasing my chances of publication?  In my opinion, absolutely.


  1. Great post, Sharon. This is really helpful in composing a query letter, and the agent opinions make it even better. This is totally going to be bookmark'd for future reference.

  2. Sharon, this is an incredible post. Instead of agonizing about the bio section of our query, it's refreshingly great to know that in the end a well-written book by someone who's serious about writing can be worth much more than a long bio. Thanks for these wise words!

  3. P.S. I've just tweeted the link to this post.

  4. Marlena & Michelle - Thank you for your comments! I'm so glad you found it useful. Michelle, thank you for spreading the word!