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