Your biographical sketch is more than a résumé of writing and life experiences. For the writer, it is an integral part of a book proposal because it is your opportunity to introduce your talent and voice. It might not be what you know, but who you are that will mean success for your proposal. Publishers call this “your platform.”
Tip 1: No name, no gain. What if your life has been totally boring? You can still put together a fascinating biographical sketch by highlighting the uniqueness of what may seem commonplace experiences. Instead of describing your most exciting daily event as “watching pigeons drop on the town statue,” you might say, “I know people. My characters spring from real life. My next-door neighbor, a war bride from England, raises piglets in her kitchen after the mama pig rejects them. Up the street is a seventy-nine year old grocery store owner who won a million dollar lottery, but is afraid to spend the money because he might need it in his old age. And the town cop is nineteen, not even old enough to go into the local bar to arrest drunks.”
This bio sketch might not have anything to do with the subject of your work, but it shows an editor that you have imagination, a way with words, and a sense of humor.
Tip 2: Who do you know? Even if you don’t have writing credentials, remember writers are first readers. You can boast that “Nora Roberts and I are best friends, even though I have never met her. I’ve studied every one of her books. I know how she puts together a story.” Follow up with an example of what you have learned by studying another author. Extra points if your choose an author the agent represents, or the editor publishes.
Tip 3: Interview yourself. Writing your biographical sketch in third person is both the correct style and the easiest way. Pretend you are an interviewer for the local paper and interview yourself. What do you want readers (and publishers) to know about you? Use the sketch also as an introduction for future projects. Perhaps the editor isn’t interested in the project you are proposing today, but notices something in your background that could become the source of a best seller.
Tip 4: Sell yourself. If you do have any writing credentials, awards or publications, be sure to include them. Even if they aren’t related to the proposal, they demonstrate that you can complete a project. Membership in a writing organization is also helpful in establishing yourself as a serious writer. Selling your book or article includes selling yourself as the author of that work. Your biographical sketch is an integral part of any proposal.
Tip 5: Relate your bio to your manuscript. The bio introduces you as an expert on the subject of your book. Be sure to tailor your bio to your book. When I wrote a novel in which the heroine was a Vietnam-era Army nurse, my bio included my experiences as an Army nurse. When I wrote books about science fair, my bio decsribed my years of experience as a science fair judge. Your bio is not the story of your life, but rather, of your expertise, knowledge and experience related to the subject of your book.
Tip 6: Relate your bio to the reader. If you have something, anything, in common with the agent or editor you are targeting for your project, mention your connection in your bio. When my writing partner and I were seeking an agent to represent one of our books, our research of one agent uncovered his travels in China and interest in that country. My co-author had spent one summer there. Even though our book had nothing to do with China, we briefly mentioned her travels in her bio. It never hurts to make a personal connection.
Tip 7: Write in third person. The correct format for a bio sketch is to write as if you are describing or interviewing another person. So, rather than “I was born a baby…”, you would write, “Jane Smith was born a baby.” This makes the bio more readable and is the format for the inside cover of the book.