The Story Of Your Life

May 17th, 2007 · 10 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

We were doing some casual research over the weekend — nothing strenuous, early summer has hit SoCal and when the choice comes down to blogging or sleeping in a hammock, well, what would you do — and realized something a bit distressing. There is nothing worse in this world than the bio pages on author websites. Hmm, possibly that is an exaggeration, but we don’t think so.

As a general rule, biographies, as written for publications (and as opposed to those thick tomes that serve as handy doorstops), are horrible things. If you do not believe us, we insist you accept our challenge to write one immediately. Now, think about getting a root canal. What’s worse?

Told you so.

The average author bio goes something like this:

So-and-so loved to read as a child. One day, so-and-so picked up a pencil and discovered that writing stories was more fun than reading them. After attending a long string of schools and working long hours at the monkey farm, so-and-so decided to quit dreaming and start writing for real. After years of scribbling on napkins and stealing moments while the kids were hogging the bathroom, he/she published his/her first novel in [fill in the year here].

As far as we can tell, there is an automatic bio generator that authors use to create their own version of a bad thing. Pop in a few relevant details (scuba diving instead of monkey farm, legal pads instead of napkins) and voila!, you too have your very own bio.

Of course, it is not well enough to write a bio and leave it sitting on your website. Why waste all that fine effort? Why not spread your creative endeavor around the world? That way, when your fans encounter a new interview or profile of you, they will get to hear the same story all over again. Think of it like the author equivalent of sitting at the dinner table and hearing about how Uncle Harry landed the big one back in ’68. In the author version of this tale, alas, the fish remains the same size every time.

Of course, in your zeal to share your brilliant efforts, you’re also potentially subjecting yourself and your contacts to a potentially deadly disease: the Duplicate Content Penalty. It’s a horrible affliction that leads Google and other search engines to penalize websites that have duplicate content (it’s also a helpful tool for identifying plagiarized content). In this case, more is not better. Trust us on this. Go for variety when you have to share your bio with other websites.

The thing about these bios is that they offer no insight into the soul of an author. The person behind the bio could just as likely be an insurance salesperson for all the creativity exhibited in the brief paragraphs that grace the bio page. Give your readers something more, give them something unique (hint: you are not the only author who read a lot of books when you were a kid). If all else fails, Make Something Up (or at least stretch the truth in an amusing fashion).

Our challenge to you this week is for you to go forth and write a better, more interesting bio for your website. Also your blog. And your profile at your publisher’s website (oh, those are the bios of death, are they not?). Make yourself sound as interesting as your books. After all, if your bio is boring, what does that say about your other work.

In the meantime, we will consider applying our humble efforts to other “Back To Basics” topics such as linking and black backgrounds with red fonts. And lord help us if we see one more spinning, floating, dancing, blinking thing on a post-2000 website. Especially if it involves unicorns, rainbows, or fairies. There is no reason to exhibit that kind of bad taste in public.

File Under: Back To Basics

10 responses so far ↓

  • Karen // May 17, 2007 at 9:23 am

    I’m stumped over this task. Can you point us to a good one?

  • Mariana // May 17, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    I didn’t think biographies were necessarily meant to “offer insight into the soul of an author”. Especially on blogs. They could be just to show a reader if he has common interests with the author. At least this is how I take them.

  • Kassia Krozser // May 17, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Ha! I would suggest the bio on the brilliant Karen Palmer website, but, hmmm (g). I’d say I like my bio here, but, to tell the truth, it was dashed off (as so many things I do) as I was on my way to dinner with friends. I had resisted the “About” concept forever because I am, frankly, just not that interesting. This is why I’m a proponent of Making Stuff Up. I am lucky in that my mother will wholeheartedly support just about any good lie I create. As long as she looks good…

    Mariana — yes, though I’m not necessarily referring to blogs. I’m talking full-fledged websites. Who is the person behind the book? And why should I, as a reader, care? I won’t bore you with my thoughts on author websites (most are universally bad), but if these are marketing tools, they’re failing at the task. A good, interesting website is so essential. And if you’re a writer, well, you should at least have copy that reflects your talent.

    I should also make a pitch for keeping information up-to-date. I saw a site the other day that had “current” information from two years ago. Sigh. It just reflects badly on the author and tells the fans that this person doesn’t care.

  • David Thayer // May 18, 2007 at 8:22 am

    I cringe at the jobs authors list prior to publication simply because being a bartender is always listed for guys implying, I guess, much is learned while tending bar. I’d prefer to see “I was a fat guy in a broken lawn chair when the whole novel appeared from out of nowhere like on a cloud or something. Yeah, it was a cloud. A big one. The big bartender in the sky was speaking to me.”

  • Antoine Wilson // May 19, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Um, I just realized that while my author site has lots of good stuff (author photos, a brilliant blog, list of publications, a pet Swiss poet and his opaque books), it does not have an author bio.

    No, really, I just realized that. Thanks for the assignment.


  • Kassia Krozser // May 20, 2007 at 9:23 am

    David, you have been knighted “Sir Bio Writer.

    Glad to help, Antoine. If I recall correctly, you sort of need to get this taken care of asap?

  • Antoine Wilson // May 20, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Uh, yeah, like yesterday.

  • Kassia Krozser // May 20, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    See, better late than never.

  • SusanGable // May 22, 2007 at 6:00 am

    I propose that what would be worse in a bio is a writer who DIDN’T love to read as a child. I’ve actually met some of those. “No, I never liked to read,” they’ve told me.

    Then why in the WORLD do you want to be a writer?? Yikes. That’s almost as suspect as an unallergic person who doesn’t like chocolate.

    Still…at some point soon I will accept this bio challenge, BS. I will at least promise to do it if it ever matters. (g)

  • Joe Devon // Sep 13, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I think the simple truth is that writers of fiction can write anyone’s story but their own.