Steve Piacente Bootlicker and Bella-BEAOur thanks to author Steve Piacente (pictured right with his titles at Book Expo of America) for this insightful post. It definitely pays to have a well-crafted “About the Author” on your book and your website, and Steve’s suggestions are right on point!:

“Alice always wanted to be a writer. She’s married and lives in southern Ontario with her husband, three children, and two cats. They all like mac and cheese.”

It always baffles me when writers creative enough to craft a 300-page novel spin the story of their lives into a batch of boring paragraphs that do little to explain who they really are or entice readers to check out their books.

Your About the Author shouldn’t be a chore to write or read. Some tips:

1. Consider what was going on when the stork landed at your parents’ house and weave in some history. I was born in 1954. Looking back, and with a little help from Google, I opened my website bio with:

It all began for me in 1954. Eisenhower was president, no one beat the Yankees, and Elvis was still an unknown. TV was three channels and two colors, black and white.

2. Briefly explain what fired your writing gene. My story:

Growing up, I didn’t particularly like school. I liked baseball, egg rolls and comic books, and it was Superman that got me interested in reading and writing. 

3. Just as when you write fiction, provide details that move the action forward:

Raised in New York and educated in Washington, I kept moving south after college, eventually learning all they left out at journalism school at the feet of street-smart newspaper editors in Florida and South Carolina.

4. Be conversational, open and personable. My piece continues:

In 1985, one of those editors found me presentable enough to send back to D.C., this time as correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. The job ended four years later, and I found myself in steep competition for a similar slot with the Charleston, S.C. paper. I remember pumping the Charleston editor’s hand and pleading, “Please don’t let me become a press secretary.” The man was merciful, enabling nine more years of Washington reporting, and front row exposure to the real South, as Charleston is far deeper into Dixie than Tampa, geography be damned.

5. Now it’s time to circle back to writing fiction:

Though Bella was my first real fiction, some thin-skinned politicians would say the stories I wrote about them were just as fabricated. In fact, no fiction bubbled up until I earned my license to write in the Johns Hopkins Masters program in 2000. During this time, I also reentered the classroom at American University, my alma mater, and began teaching journalism classes. 

6 – Give a glimpse of your private life, but don’t go overboard.

My insistence on clean, tight writing did no lasting harm to our three children, now taxpaying adults in the fields of public relations, art therapy, and engineering. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the kids snuck secret help from their mom, a special education administrator in the Montgomery County (Md.) Public School System.

If it helps, think of all this as a first date. If you want a second, don’t make the story of your life a resume. Make it a short story, one that makes readers want to take the time to learn more, and by extension, take a look at your work.


steve-small1Author Steve Piacente (@wordsprof) has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella, the story of a widow’s quest to uncover the truth about her husband’s death on an Afghan battlefield. Bootlicker, a prequel focused on a dark secret that imperils a historic election, came out in late 2012. Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the same position for the Charleston (SC) Post & Courier.  He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. His novels are available at www.stevepiacente.com

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19 thoughts on “Six Tips to Crafting a Better Author Bio: Write A Life Story Worth Reading!

  • February 15, 2013 at 2:14 am
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    Hi Steve, i am a writer of fiction both novels and short stories. I have self published four books upto now, won a few short listings, and intend continuing writing into the future. I am Sri Lankan and English is my second language but I had my entire education, both secondary and higher in English, I enjoyed reading your tips for Crafting and the various comments made thereafter . I think an authors note must carry a very short synopsis of the book, whilst the back page should indicate the gist of the story/stories. In Sri Lanka the English reading public is rather small when compared to most western countries and so books in English must be exceptionally written if it is to sell.

    • February 28, 2013 at 11:34 am
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      Knowing your audience – and that includes possible cultural differences – is critical, and you’re wise to point that out, Lucky. Thanks very much for coming by and adding to the discussion.

  • January 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm
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    Steve,

    These are great tips even if they do lean toward fiction writers.

    I think that Sandra is right that we must keep in mind that the media will be reading our bios, but it depends on where the info appears too. Your blog post began with tips for About the Author which I suppose you meant for the back of the book. When it’s going on a website, blog or one-sheet for introducing you as a speaker, the bio is usually longer and must be engaging. A list of degrees and job titles in these situations is deadly.

    Your author’s resource box at the end of the post is an example of a different type of bio. It hits the highlights of your writing and career to quickly establish credibility rather than beginning with “I was born in a log cabin. . .” Using the third person here is appropriate since this is a guest post and you are being introduced to us by the host (although we know that authors usually write them.)

    There is a time and place for a variety of bios, but in most cases writing in the first person with a little insight into the writer’s personal life is lots more fun to read and definitely more memorable.

    • January 27, 2013 at 11:59 am
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      Thanks, Flora, and yes, my tips were geared toward fiction writers. As for reporters reading the bios, I was a print journalist for 25 years. Frankly, if someone took the time to craft something a little out of the ordinary, it got me more interested than a routine resume. Of course time and place always apply, and wearing sweats to the wedding is definitely not advisable. Then again, if someone today says he or she were born in a log cabin, I think I’d want to know a little more …

  • January 24, 2013 at 4:59 am
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    Thanks for sharing this info Steve…I thought it was very well done and great advice!

    • January 27, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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      Thanks, Wendy, judging by your author bio, you learned these lessons a long time ago!

  • January 23, 2013 at 10:22 am
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    I disagree totally. I’d probably put it down before I’d flicked through the pages. Especially if I’ve never read anything by this author before, I don’t want to be bored by his/her personal history.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:09 pm
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      Thanks for your comment, Rose Mary. I guess we can agree to disagree, though maybe not as much as it might appear. I think it’s terrific that your Amazon bio says you’re doing “what you were born to do: full-time writing,” and that you consider your children and grandchildren your “most important achievement to date.” I did not find that boring at all, and think it’s terrific that you highlighted the information. All I’m really suggesting is that you turn those facts into a little bit more of a story.

  • January 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm
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    I disagree. As a reader, I get totally turned off when an author tells me their favorite food, movie, or ideal vacation spot in their bio. To me, it feels too “cute.” UNLESS — the details pertain to the particular book. For example, in my YA novel LOST IN THE ’90s I do list my favorite ’90s movies, ’90s songs, and ’90s TV shows. But I don’t mention these in my standard bio on Amazon.

    In terms of an author bio I’m more interested in knowing that the writer is legit, ie., where they’ve studied their craft and what else they’ve written. As a writer, I take my author bio very seriously. I make sure I list my books (so that a reader knows to look for them if they enjoy the current book they’re reading), the awards I’ve received, and where I grew up and live now.

    I also don’t advocate writing an author bio in the first person. It feels unprofessional. I wouldn’t write the cover copy, so why would I intentionally write the bio to look as if I wrote it?

    • January 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm
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      It definitely depends on the writer and genre. For some – especially in the lit fiction category – I advocate an About the Author that lists accomplishments and accolades, but also like to see a message FROM the author that’s first person – up close and personal, that demonstrates both the writing style and also lets a reader “in.” This is after all why readers go to booksignings, and why we have an endless appetite for celebrity interviews, so the first person is valid and can be valuable 🙂

      That often transcends fiction into the non-fic category as well – Case in point being Guy Kawasaki’s work, most recently APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. The first person gets a reader on board and along for the ride…

      I’d say if doing from a third person point of view at the very least make sure it includes quotes from the mouth of the author.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm
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      Frank, I appreciate your thoughts, and I definitely feel this can be taken too far. But I look at the author bio as an introduction as well as a listing of credentials. When I meet someone, I don’t begin by rattling off my degrees, books or professional history. I believe that’s all important, but I first want you to understand a little more about who I am as a person. We can work the other stuff into the conversation a little later.

  • January 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm
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    Love this. Great advice.

  • January 21, 2013 at 10:11 am
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    Steve’s suggestions, if taken to heart, will ensure your reader will be intrigued. His comment, ‘It always baffles me when writers creative enough to craft a 300-page novel spin the story of their lives into a batch of boring paragraphs that do little to explain who they really are or entice readers to check out their books.’ I applaud!

  • January 21, 2013 at 10:06 am
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    This approach works well for fiction, but nonfiction bios do better when they’re more straightforward and emphasize the writer’s credentials that are related to the book’s topic. When we’re reading a fiction bio, we’re looking for an indication that the author can tell a story. When we’re reading a nonfiction bio, we want to know that the author has the topic knowledge to write that particular book.

    Keep in mind, too, that the media will read that bio, so make it easy for them to pull out the key descriptive phrases they need for their reporting.

    Also, be real careful about how you handle tip 1 — starting at the “beginning.” I’ve seen too many fiction bios that start out with just the facts — the year they were born, the city, their parents names and occupations, the number of siblings, where they went to elementary school, etc. It’s the timeline of their life in narrative form without any creativity or personality, and it can be deadly. Steve’s approach is interesting and engaging.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Sandra Beckwith

  • January 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm
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    Wow! I’m now thoroughly embarrassed by my bio. This post dispelled my fear that nobody really cares about me and my biography! Of course they do! If I can present myself as an interesting person, they just might bank on the idea that I could write an interesting book. BINGO! Thanks for this.

    • January 19, 2013 at 11:06 pm
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      Steve’s insights were great and we love how he broke it down – best “About the Author” article we’ve seen and proud to have his wisdom!

      • January 23, 2013 at 10:18 pm
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        Marney, Ginger, Sandra and Jacqueline, thanks for weighing in. My post and suggestions were definitely geared for fiction writers. And Jacqueline, I’m anxious to see what you come up with for an author bio!

        • February 5, 2013 at 10:29 am
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          Steve – Great advice! I can relate to your bio. Thanks for sharing the info on twitter and encouraging me to use it!

          • February 28, 2013 at 11:36 am
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            Glad to, Robert; hope it’s helpful as you craft your own author bio!

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