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How to write a good biography

Published Tue 16 Mar 2021 - By Literature Wales
Even for seasoned writers, an author’s biography can be difficult to write. What should you include? How much detail is appropriate? This guide will help you determine the best way to write a clear, concise and memorable author’s bio.

 

Go back to the basics

 

Before skipping ahead to the embellishments, write down the key facts of your bio. These are, after all, essential things to communicate to those who don’t know you. Start with your name, your main area of expertise (poetry, fiction, playwriting), and where you’re based. As with any piece of writing, you’re telling a story – and your reader needs to know the core facts almost immediately. It’s good to think of the principle of the Five Ws here – that any fact-based piece of writing should include answers to the following questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? (we’ll also be adding How? for good measure, but more on that later).

 

Simplify your language

 

As most authors will know, clarity is key to good writing. This notion extends to your author bio. Your audience will most likely be wide and varied, landing from all corners of the internet. You will need the language of your bio to clearly – and quickly – communicate who you are and what you do in simple terms. Write it, then strip it back. Then simplify it again. It might be useful in this context, and if you’re writing your bio in English, to remind yourself of the principles of Plain English. (Still wary? Take note of this statement on their website: ‘Almost anything – from leaflets and letters to legal documents – can be written in plain English without being patronising or oversimplified’). If you’re working digitally, make use of free grammar and spell-checking services such as Grammarly to help clarify your sentences.

 

How long should it be?

 

The length of your bio will depend for the most part on its location. Are you able to look at other author biographies on the same website or in the same format to determine the best length? If the person requesting your bio hasn’t noted a specific word count, ask for one. If you’re unable to compare or get a rough idea of the length required then stick to 300-500 words, or less – the reader wants a snapshot of you and your work and not the entire back catalogue. Detailed listings are better suited to CVs or emails and communication that require a more thorough approach.

 

Make it accessible

 

If you’re the one hosting your written bio – on your website, for example – improve your content’s digital accessibility where possible by choosing a minimum 14 point text size, and by making sure your colour contrast is high. The UK Government advises communicators to ‘contrast dark type against a light background as a general rule’. When designed this way, people with disabilities can read your bio, and this benefits individuals, businesses, and society.

 

You can read more about website accessibility here. If you know which colours you’ll be using, create a custom palette using Adobe Colour and use their free accessibility tools to check the contrast levels.

 

Add your embellishments

 

If we’re sticking with the principle of the Five Ws, here’s where the When, Why and How come in to play. Adding this colour to your bio is what makes it memorable. When is your next publication due for release? When did you receive that relevant accolade or qualification? Why are you interested in your subject matter? How do these areas of interest and pieces of work combine to tell the story of this particular author? It goes without saying that we’re all individual, unique human beings, and so the combination of elements that make you the author you are will be unique to you. That’s the story a reader, publisher or fellow author will want to read.

 

 

More information on how to develop your skills as an author, and how to secure a publishing deal, can be found via our FAQs and Resources sections. When writing your author bio, don’t forget to add links to the places readers can buy your books or publications.