Often, the question of whether or not your author bio matters has no single, simple answer. Most editors and agents—especially those interested in fiction, poetry, and memoir—rightly focus on the quality of the work being submitted, not the author’s bio.
That said, while lacking a fancy-pants author pedigree won’t necessarily hold you back from getting published, an impressive track record can certainly help your cause.
Here are a few advantages of having a great bio: If an agent or editor is on the fence about your writing submission, having an impressive background could tip the scales in your favor. Plus, networking possibilities could arise from serendipitous connections discovered in your bio. Literary agents like seeing that an author has established a precedent for quality writing and can command critical and popular attention. Editors of lit mags sometimes enjoy knowing that a work was written by an author who has an advanced degree or has put extra effort into honing his or her writing skills. Publication credits are more than superficial, show-off badges of honor—they’re proof you’ve done your homework and learned to craft works that people want to read.
Your Author Bio Really Matters When…
Joining a professional writing organization or trade group. Many top-level writing organizations have some requirements for membership: For example, Novelists, Inc. requires members be traditionally published and/or meet certain milestones for self-publishing.
Querying a literary agent with a self-help or how-to manuscript. Writers of nonfiction, especially prescriptive nonfiction, must establish themselves as experts in their field in order to attract the attention of a lit agent or traditional publisher. For nonfiction authors in search of book deals, building an author platform is essential.
Querying a literary agent with fiction or memoir. While your story is what matters most, your author bio makes a case for the quality of your writing. Some literary agents request that you send only a query letter. Without your manuscript pages to speak for your writing skill, your author bio becomes the agent’s only window into the proven quality of your talent. Agents and editors also like to see that a writer has the personality to carry off an appealing social media persona. So even if you don’t have any publishing credits, you can make a case for your future stardom using your personal story and voice in your author bio.
Your Author Bio Won’t Be A Deal-Breaker When…
Publishing independently. If you’re taking charge of your fate by self-publishing, the success of your book will depend primarily on your marketing savvy and the appeal of the text itself.
Joining a local writing group. Small, local writing groups may not have restrictions that limit membership based on publishing credits. In fact, you might find a group specifically for pre-published authors!
Submitting to literary journals. While having a strong author bio is definitely a plus when submitting work to a lit mag, most literary journal editors prioritize talent over publishing credits.
Entering a writing contest. Some writing contests are “concealed”—that is, judges have no information about the entrants. In these cases, your author bio will have no bearing on how you place in the contest.
The Bottom Line About Your Author Bio
If you’ve been fretting about your biography being a bit too “light,” you can relax (a bit). Yes, it can help your career to have some great publishing credits. And yes, you should absolutely pursue publication (especially in literary magazines and journals) because having a great track record can give you an advantage. Here are a few ways your author bio can help you shine.
QUESTION: What’s your advice to authors who are concerned with building their publication credits?