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Publishing Credits: The Best To The Not So Best

how to weight your writing credits

Which of your writing bio credits have the most weight, and which are, well, a little fluffy? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

Generally, when we advise our clients who are putting together their writer bios, we tell them to “give ’em the old razzle-dazzle” right off the bat.

There is a certain hierarchy in terms of which credits impress and which are so-so. If you’re trying to determine the best way to organize your author bio, the list below will help.

CAVEAT: There are nuances that are missing from our list (because each writer’s situation is different). Also, keep in mind that this list will shift a little depending on what genre you’re publishing in (for example, few poets publish collections with major publishing houses, so not having such a credit isn’t unusual).

Bio Credits: From Gold, To Silver, To Bronze, To Tinfoil

gold, silver, bronze medals

Bestsellerhood. If you’re some kind of New York Times best seller, that should probably go first. No need to be modest! If you worked hard enough to get there, go ahead and boast!

Book publications with a major publisher. If you’re with a big, name-brand publishing house (one of the “big six”), that’s pretty high on the list of things that impress.

Publications with a major indie press. Independent publishing houses are taken seriously (some more than others, of course).

Impressive awards. Even if you don’t win, there are some awards that are cool even when you’re just nominated (we’re looking at you, Pushcart Prize!). It’s a good idea to lead with them. See our awesome, free list of writing contests.

Publication in awesome, um, publications. Ploughshares, The New York Times, even Vogue and Esquire… There are some magazines that are the crème de le crème. If you’re not alphabetizing your list of credits, lead with those.

Publication in reputable venues. Solid, middle-of-the-road publications, whether online or in print, can be the bread and butter of a life’s work.

Readings in well-known venues. Some writers are asked to read at places like Housing Works (a famed nonprofit bookstore in NYC where big names make regular appearances). And if you’re in a particular genre, there are probably reading salons that are well-known in your niche (for example, Lady Jane’s Salon is becoming the reading franchise for the romance/women’s fiction crowd).

Writing residences. Most residencies (like Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center) are pretty competitive. So if you’re selected to participate in a reputable residency, sing it from the rooftops, baby! Find writing residencies here.

Publication in so-so venues. Everyone has to start somewhere! Your town-wide literary journal may not have a huge following, but it counts!

Minor awards. Some awards aren’t very well-known or reputable. Some writing contests are for writers who are at the high end of the craft spectrum (these contests usually have impressive editors), and others are more suitable for beginners. Just be sure that you’re not boasting about winning a disreputable who’s who award or a shady poetry contest. They can be hard to spot unless you know the signs. Proceed with caution.

Professional writing groups. Listing the groups you’re active in may help your cause, especially if those groups have national recognition (like Mystery Writers of America or Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

Professional writing conferences. If you’ve been given a full fellowship to Bread Loaf, that’s seriously worth prioritizing. If you’re going to a local writers conference that isn’t really well-known, that information can still be helpful (to show you’re serious), but that credit may not be quite as impressive as attending more celebrated conferences. Find a list of great conferences here.

Readings in amateur venues. Asked to read at a small coffee shop? Go you! Are you a regular at the local open mike? Also might be worth mentioning.

Amateur writing groups. If you’re meeting with neighbors to talk poems, that can show you’re serious about craft.

Learn more: No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast

Other Variables

Depending on your goals and intentions, the following may be more (or less) important in your bio when you’re making submissions.

Blogging. Mention your blog to entice readers, to demonstrate that you have a strong platform, to show you’re savvy. (Agents especially love bloggers.) And if you have many readers, brag about them! If your blog is a big part of your author platform, it may float to the top of your list. But keep in mind that anyone can publish a blog. You’ll have to decide if your blog has a big brag factor. Perhaps it does!

Self-publishing. We’ve dedicated a whole blog article to whether or not you should mention self-published books in your query or cover letters. So check it out!

Writing-related careers. Unless you’re a senior editor at Random House, your career may reflect your talent as a writer, but it probably isn’t as impressive as having actual publication credits and awards. You’ll have you use your judgment on this one, as every career is different. It’s all about recognition. How recognized is your career in writing? You may want to include career information to make yourself seem like a “real” person, publishing credits aside.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you think agents and editors put too much emphasis on a writer’s publishing history?

9 Responses to Publishing Credits: The Best To The Not So Best

  1. Sonia, these publications would be acceptable to use, however, we would suggest only including one or two of the more reputable/important publications (possibly also indicating “among others”). We would also suggest indicating the publication only and not the title of the pieces.

  2. Your comments and advice are incredibly helpful. Thank you.

    My question: my sole fiction publication was with a middle-level print journal (last year) and was nominated for a Pushcart. Prior to that, I published thirteen pieces on health care. My health care pubs are unrelated to either an essay in progress (which I’ll submit to you) or to a book in progress. Is it appropriate to include the health publications in my writer’s Bio? Should titles be included or should I just refer to the publications?

    Many thanks,
    Sonia

  3. I have a BA Degree in Journalism but until today I’m battling to get my work published because publishers charge too high prices to get your work published as a struggling author of two poetry script, my wish is to see my work and my book on the book shelf and it furstrates you as a poet who have every thing ready to get you work published but publishers promises dream come true but they charge too much to get your work published.

  4. There are two things that I consider my superior skills in writing. One is that I was professionally published before I graduated college and was only 19 years old. The publication was the West Virginia History Journal.

    The second is that my dissertation is in the West Virginia University Appallachian Archives. The dissertation was titled “Feminist Therapy in Appalachia.” I wrote it in 1978. It was 28 years later when I was asked if it could be included. That means to me that my work is of historical significance in both cases!k

    I’ve won plenty of other things, but these are the things that have helped to make me the woman I am!

  5. Thanks for these great tips! Right now, I don’t really have enough publishing credits to worry about the order or whether or not to include them, but what a great problem to have, right?!

  6. I hope editors don’t put too much emphasis on authors’ publication histories, since I don’t have any yet. All I can talk about is my career and education background. I’m really looking fowrard to adding that first credit.

  7. SallyOn, College and even high school lit mag publications can be important. However, an adult writer would be best served by having publication credits in adult, reputable mags. College lit mags that draw submissions only from a small group of students are a great resource for writers who are learning the ropes. But those credits aren’t necessarily the best choice on cover and query letters. Older authors who are listing their high school lit mag as a writing credit may appear to be out of touch. New authors who are trying to put some distance between “amateur” status and the professional work they’re doing now might not want to list undergraduate lit mags. All that said, it’s not “wrong” to list such publications. It’s a matter of personal choice.

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