Understanding author bios

We’re going to spend this month learning to understand the players in the publishing world: freelance independent editors, agents, and writers.

But first let’s get a little silly as we examine the whys and wherefores of an excellent author bio.

Have you ever wondered why agents want to see an author bio paragraph in a query letter that is—as least ostensibly—supposed to be entirely about selling them on one particular book?

They don’t want to hear about your other unpublished novels or ideas, but they do want to know whether or not you have any published books, even if they’re not the same type. They don’t want a detailed plot of this particular book, but they want hear what you do for a living if it matches your subject. They don’t even want to know the ending of your story (which they’re such sticklers about with synopses), but they want to know if you’ve won a major writing award, although it obviously didn’t lead to literary representation.


    Sterling Lord
    New York, New York

    Dear Mr. Lord:

    A hopped-up madman and a psychotic angel shift the steering trannie into neutral and roll silently backward down Hyde Street into the San Francisco dawn of 1949.

    “America is my soul,” says Sam Eden as he and the saint with God in his eyes creep out Brody’s steep San Francisco driveway toward the sunrise. Sam and Brody roll all the way to the pencil-thin heaven-piercing masts of Fisherman’s Wharf in a turgid, angel-heavy silence under the clouds, leaving Brody’s cigarette-girl wife from the alleys and red velvet backroom paradises of the International Settlement to wake to the grainy dawn between the baby in the sad sheets and the god-who-is-not in her womb. They are off to find the roads of America. Before they’re done, they’ll have met and kissed all the hobos and streetwalkers and tired seraphim turning crumpled bills into salvation on this cusp of the last mid-century before God’s throne falls with a crash to shake the ages through the blood-bellied sky.

    I am seeking representation for my literary novel, BACK ON THE ROAD, completed at 70,000 words.

    Unfortunately for you, I am a belligerent drunk and an idiot. I style myself on my hero, Jack Kerouac, whom I am certain wiped his feet on women and despised his social inferiors as much as I do. I write exactly the way he did—putting a roll of paper towels in my typewriter and letting the words just breathe out onto the page in all their original genius and life force, after which I allow no one to edit a single word. I’ve submitted this query to I don’t know how many agents, all of them complete morons who couldn’t tie their shoelaces without their mommies, and gotten it bounced back in my face faster than a speed-addict’s rubber band. You might think I’m a joker, but actually I’m just a mean son-of-a-bitch who’s been convicted of assault and battery against at least three of those agents, not counting the ones who were afraid to press charges. I feel terribly sorry for myself and am only interested in an agent I can call up at all hours and insult horribly in my frequent black-outs. If you don’t believe me, ask around.

    I keep submitting my stories to magazines, but they are staffed entirely by my unknown enemies who know I can write circles around them any day. I wouldn’t waste my time on contests, which are beneath me. Even you are beneath me. But what choice do I have? I hate you already.

    Over-professional demeanor is not one of my glaring faults.


    The author who will never get representation because now the agent knows what kind of person they’d be dealing with if they took on this project.