Book Sales Slumping? Time to Rewrite Your Author Bio! by Johnny Townsend

Book Sales Slumping? Time to Rewrite Your Author Bio! by Johnny Townsend

Have you ever been intrigued by the title or the cover of a book and then had your hopes dashed as soon as you read the author’s bio? The two bits of prose an author absolutely has to write perfectly are the back cover blurb and the author bio. It doesn’t matter if your 400-page book is brilliant if no one trusts you enough to buy it. The bio, being the shorter of the two pieces, is sometimes the hardest part to write, so let’s go over what works and doesn’t work.

I saw one book about a Biblical subject that looked interesting, but the author included a bio detailing his career as a dermatologist. In what way does that qualify him to write on religious themes? Would you trust a dermatologist to do brain surgery on you? Would you trust a brain surgeon to diagnose your skin cancer? The bio should suggest you have some degree of competence in the field you’re writing about.

If you don’t have any particular qualifications for the kind of book you’re writing, that’s when you need to get creative. The author of a children’s book wrote in her bio that she was a member of MCALI and lived with her two dogs. First of all, I have no idea what MCALI stands for and am not likely to look it up, so that turns out to be wasted space in her bio. The fact that the author has dogs might be relevant if the story featured dogs, but nothing in the back cover blurb suggests that, so what good is that information to me as a potential reader? The author bio for another book stated no qualifications whatsoever, merely mentioning the author’s name, his wife’s name, his older son’s name, and his younger son’s name. That’s supposed to give me confidence to buy his book? The fact that he’s related to people? I’m afraid I need more than that.

If you really have nothing at all that qualifies you as knowledgeable in the subject you’re writing about, you will probably have to resort to telling a few brief, quirky details about yourself that at least make you sound like an interesting person. That may not be enough to win over a potential reader, but it’s better than nothing. Just be sure that what you think is interesting is interesting to other people as well. One author wrote, “Probably the most interesting thing about me is I don’t like coffee.” I’m afraid that’s not nearly as interesting to other people as it appears to be to the author.

One author stated in his bio, “I am a very private person,” and left it at that. Better not to say anything at all. Like it or not, as an author, you’re a public figure, even if a minor one. Your readers want to know something about you, and if you fail to deliver, they’ll fail to buy your books.

Give us your philosophy of writing. Tell us who your favorite author is. Something that will give readers a feel for who you are.

It should go without saying that you absolutely CAN’T have any typos or grammar errors in your back cover blurb or your author bio. And I see those kinds of errors all the time. It’s a sure way to lose my interest as a reader. I’m not buying your book if you can’t write a three-sentence bio without errors.

You can list your MFA in fiction or poetry writing if you have one, or the names of journals that have published you, but only list the names if people have heard of them. “I’ve been published in Podunk magazine” isn’t going to impress many readers. Listing too many names will get boring, but show us something that suggests competence on your end.

Remember, you are selling a product. Give readers a reason to trust you enough to invest their money.

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Johnny Townsend has published 30 books, mostly about gay and feminist Mormons who don’t fit into traditional religion. Invasion of the Spirit Snatchers, The Washing of Brains, and Sex on the Sabbath are some of his most successful titles. Six of his books have been named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of the Year. Learn more at johnnytownsend.com.