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Choosing What to Say in Your Bio, for Writers and Others


Writers are often invited to include a sentence, paragraph, or page of information about themselves when their works are published, and the same thing often applies to speakers, new employees, or anyone else who is in the spotlight for a moment or two. But what do we say? Do we give our basic statistics–age, occupation, education, hometown? Do we trumpet our successes, wax enthusiastic about our interests, or just try to sound clever?

The answer depends on what you want the bio to do. If you just want to get out of the spotlight as soon as possible, a boring bio is ideal. No point mentioning you’re a ballroom dance champion if you don’t want people to come talk to you about it, or to look you up when they need to learn a few moves for their sister’s wedding.

For writers, though, staying out of the spotlight is a bad idea. Like actors and public speakers, we are usually our own brand. The ideal for many of us would be for the focus to always be on our work, and biographies can be used for this purpose. However, personal details can often do more to help build a relationship with readers–and a long-term relationship with lots of readers is what most of us are after, at least those of us who want a writing career.

I’m not sure that I’m a master at writer bios, but I certainly have some suggestions on the subject. My point of view is that ideally a bio does one or more of the following:

1) Helps the reader become more interested in the writer
2) Makes the writer more memorable
3) Offers somewhere to go right now to read more from or connect with the writer

The reason these three things are useful, it seems to me, is that #1 makes it more likely a one-time reader will become someone who looks for the writer’s work; #2 makes it more likely the reader will recognize the writer’s name at next exposure, wherever that may be; and #3 offers the possibility of developing a further relationship with the reader right now, whether or not an immediate sale results. Note that #s 1 and 2 tend to encourage readers to follow up on #3.

I’m not a fan of cute bios or of bios that make the person sound like Generic Writer Number 1433 (e.g., “John P. Smith loves Science Fiction, especially the works of Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, has a degree in chemical engineering, and lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, kids, and three cats, whose shenanigans keep him in stiches from dawn ’til dusk.”). Wildly-varied-list-of-jobs-I-have-had bios also do very little for me.

In theory, bios that don’t really tell you anything about the writer seem like they can work if they’re examples of really entertaining writing, since that addresses point #1.

I tend to write specialized versions of my bio for each venue or context. My bio for my article coming out in the April issue of The Writer emphasizes my writing-related background and my focus relating to the article content, plugs my current top-priority publication, and invites the readers to my blog (which is closely related to the article content–no accident, as I was pitching articles related to my blog to build on the things I know and help attract more readers).

Luc Reid is a Writers of the Future winner, the founder of the Codex online writing group, and an author of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the novel Family Skulls. He blogs on writing and the psychology of habits at

For a recent sale of my flash fiction story “Tornado on Fire” to the Escape Pod podcast, I used some of the same material, but mentioned Taekwondo (I should probably have used the phrase “black belt,” which to me has always been a coolness-booster), didn’t plug the novel (as there was a more closely-related book I got to plug along with the bio), and mentioned my current work-in-progress, which could attract interest to the blog, since it’s closely connected.

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Favorite Hidden Kindle Features: Automatic Audiobook

eBooks and Publishing

It’s come to my attention that some folks who own Kindles don’t know about one of my favorite Kindle features, text-to-speech (which I sometimes think of as “automatic audiobook,” even though actual audiobooks are usually superior). The voice, which has variable speeds and comes in male or female flavors (I recommend the default, male voice) is one of the best computer-simulated voices I’ve heard, despite a few pronunciation oddities. I use this feature all the time to listen to books I’m reading on my Kindle–stories for critique, articles I’ve pulled down from the Web, etc.–in my car by plugging into my car’s stereo system.

Text-to-speech was introduced with the Kindle 2, and these instructions are written using a Kindle 3. There might be differences in implementation on other models.

To start text-to-speech:

1. Open the document you want to read.
2. Hold down shift (up arrow) and press the sym key. After a second or two, the reader will start reading at the top of the current page. Sometimes it will miss the first syllable or two.
3. To pause/unpause, press the space bar.
4. To stop reading, hold down shift and press sym again.
5. Alternatively, you can stop reading by pressing Home.

Note that your Kindle will stay paused rather than stopped if you turn off the Kindle while it’s reading or paused. In this mode, you won’t be able to turn pages or search. You can always get out of it after you turn your Kindle back on by pressing Home or holding down shift and sym.

Reading aloud is disabled on some Kindle books: it’s up to the publisher (the author if self-published) to determine whether or not it’s enabled. There was a whole brouhaha about whether or not Amazon had the right to globally enable text-to-speech; see this article, for instance.

To change speech rate or voice selection, or to turn off text-to-speech by menu, press the font key (Aa) while reading or paused.

You can hook up headphones or external amplification using the 1/8″ audio port (standard headphone jack) on the bottom of the Kindle. There’s a volume control just to the left of it. I find I have to turn the volume up much more if I’m not plugged into external headphones or amplification.

Photo by albertizeme

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