How to sell yourself (and not in a sexy way)

Okay, we’re gonna take a lil’ break from the book summary now and look at the other main component of your query letter – the bio section.

Gif of Debra Messing from Will & Grace gesturing broadly and saying "It's all about me!"

This bit is essentially a super-condensed writing CV that tells the agent WHO the frick you are, WHAT writing expertise/experience you have, and WHY they might wanna work with you.

Now, your bio could be a single sentence or a whole paragraph – if you don’t have any publication history or just don’t know what to say beyond “I really like writing” then keep it short and sweet. But if you DO have a few literary gems to mention (shortlisting or winning a competition, for example) then throw modesty out the window and make sure you include ’em.

Here are some things you might wanna whack in your bio section:

  • Writing credits: Even if they were yeeears ago – you don’t have to be specific, eg, ‘my short fiction has been published/featured in XXX newspaper, YYY lit mag, and ZZZ anthology’. Obviously, creative writing credits will work in your favour when trying to big yourself up to an agent, but if you’ve published non-fiction articles or have some other credit that relates somehow to your book, add it in, eg: ‘My research on [Relevant Subject] has also appeared in [Publication Name]’. Similarly, if you have any successfully self-published work, jot it down with a few stats on how well it’s sold.
  • Awards and shortlists: If you’ve been longlisted, shortlisted, or the winner of a creative writing contest or competition, SHOW OFF ABOUT IT! Eg: ‘The Angst-ridden Amphibian was a finalist in the Pond-life First Chapters Prize and I was longlisted for the 2020 Froggy Flash Fiction Contest.’
  • Organisations and courses: Part of an esteemed or recognisable writing org such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) or the Romance Novelists’ Association (RNA)? Put it down in your bio. Ditto any details of relevant writing courses, such as a Creative Writing MA/MFA etc.
  • Extra relevant stuff: Maybe you run a local spoken word event, or did a PhD in the historical era in which your book is set, or have the same disability as your protagonist, or have a massive Twitter following based on your pithy book reviews – anything that connects YOU with YOUR BOOK and demonstrates that you have the authority and expertise to write it is beneficial here.

As a general rule, your bio should be fairly brief, and pertinent to the book you’re querying. Seems obvious, perhaps, but chances are you might be tempted to add in some of the following things you should AVOID putting into your bio:

  • A long, detailed explanation of your writing experiences, starting at the age of 5 and including the names of every single English Literature teacher you’ve ever had. BE. BRIEF. Variations on ‘I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pen’ or ‘gosh I just love stories’ do not make you unique, sorry.
  • Info about your totally unrelated day job/training/area of study. Interesting though it may be, unless it somehow intersects with the subject of your novel, there’s just no need to include this.
  • How long it took you to write your book, the amount of drafts you’ve written, how much research you’ve done, and the fact that you hired a professional editor to give it the once over. If you’ve got to the manuscript submission stage, your book should damn well be polished, well-researched and ready – this is unnecessary information and could be replaced by something more relevant.
  • A list of your favourite authors and/or direct comparisons between your story/yourself and massively successful books/authors. That’s not to say you can’t refer to similar novels to help categorise your book, but there’s a huge difference between saying, “The Angst-ridden Amphibian might appeal to fans of X, Y, and Z with its unflinching depiction of fractured family life” and saying something like, “The Angst-ridden Amphibian offers the insightful emotive detail of Kazuo Ishiguro with the sparse prose of Cormac McCarthy and the blockbuster appeal of Stephen King…”
  • Which agents/publishers have already rejected your manuscript. This one should be obvious.
  • That this is your first/debut novel. If you haven’t already mentioned previous publications, this should be obvious.
  • Details of your next twelve projects, including a screenplay adaptation of the book you’re querying. One story at a time. PARTICULARLY if you’re planning on writing a series based on this initial book, make damn sure you emphasise that it is a ‘standalone story’. It’s fine to mention that you have the rest of the series planned out, or have even begun writing the next one, but focus on selling ONE STORY AT A TIME.
  • Any paranoid delusions about copyright or assumptive negotiation about royalty rates. In the first instance, no agent is going to steal your story. In the second, it’s waaaaaaaaaaay too early to be talking about contracts – get your foot in the door first, buddy.
  • How much your mum/BFF/cat/boss loves your story. Unless your mum/BFF/cat/boss is also a literary agent or bigwig in the publishing industry.
Gif of Will Ferrel in Anchorman saying "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany."

But enough dos and don’ts – lets have a quick look at the example bio we posted up in the ‘What’s in a query? unit:

The Angst-ridden Amphibian is a 70,000 word contemporary novel/work of literary fiction/navel-gazing frog-based story based on my experiences as a swamp-dwelling hermit. My short fiction has been published in Tadpoles Monthly and I was a runner-up in the Frogspawn First Novel competition in 2015.”

Short and sweet, but we could probably neaten it up and expand on some of those points/add some extra info:

The Angst-ridden Amphibian is a 70,000 word contemporary novel set in the fly-blown marshland of my hometown, Pondweed. As a swamp-dwelling hermit, I have spent over twenty years studying the flora and fauna of the area, and several of my academic articles on the subject of invasive heron species have been published by Swampalicious Journal. In writing this book, I have also drawn upon my experience in running a national helpline for Amphibians With Extraneous Siblings (AWES), a support system for individuals such as Kermit who are struggling to discover themselves among thousands of brothers and sisters. My short fiction has been featured in Tadpoles Monthly and I was a runner-up in the Frogspawn First Novel competition in 2019.”

Possibly a bit waffly but you get the idea…

“But what if I have ZERO publication credits and ZERO connections and ZERO interesting things to say?!?!” we hear you scream into the void.

Fear not. There is absolutely NO PROBLEM in keeping it to the bare minimum:

The Angst-ridden Amphibian is contemporary novel, complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

A little abrupt, perhaps, but it does the job.

Right. Bio done. Any questions? Head over to the forum for more advice, or post up your bio for feedback. Then onwards, to see how that book summary’s coming along…

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