Writing an Author Biography

I recall the first time an editor asked me to write a byline for a magazine article. It was a frantic time. What could I say about myself in a few short lines?

After much thought, frustration and drafts, I came up with something like this: Diane Lynn Tibert is a freelance writer living in central Nova Scotia.

I know…pretty boring. I honestly didn’t know how to write a byline or create a biography. From the examples I seen in current newspapers (this was 1998), most of them were this simple. Being new to publishing, I was a little weary of being too different from the rest.

After having a few articles published, I added another line: Her work has appeared in Saltscapes, Canadian Gardening and East Coast Gardener.

Still…pretty boring.

I didn’t loosen my stance on bylines until I entered a children’s book in the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia writing competition. For some reason, the personal restrictions for writing bylines were lifted, and I felt free to be more of myself…after all, I was using a pen name (which was necessary for judging purposes). No one would tie the silly stuff I wrote back to me.

I continued with this philosophy for my first book. I wanted something playful because it was a kid’s novel. Listing where I had been published didn’t pertain to the subject, so I left it out. Here’s what I wrote instead:

Candy McMudd has been telling stories since she tamed a wild dog named Sam and raced through the forest searching for hauflins. Not content to sit and listen, she spent her childhood exploring the Secret Pond and climbing forbidden trees.

Candy was born into a large family and spent the first 29 years of her life in Cole Harbour, Halifax County, Nova Scotia. She currently lives in Milford Station. Although she loves walking along the beach collecting rocks and shells, searching for ship wrecks and sneaking up on fairies, her passion is writing.

Around this time I read that biographies should reflect and be in the same tone as the novel. The Candy McMudd bio fit well with Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove.

When I wrote the biography for Shadows in the Stone, a fantasy novel, I stuck with this theme and added a plug for the future books in this series.

Here is the first paragraph:

Diane Lynn McGyver was born in Cole Harbour, NS, and spent her summers running barefoot along the shores of Liscomb Harbour and rowing her small boat across its still waters. She remembers her first trout caught in the river by the same name and the feel of the soft black mud as it curled around her toes. Back at home, she found solace in the trees and travelling the footpaths to the Secret Pond, The Falls and The Rocks. At every corner, beneath every branch and on every ripple, the spirits watched her and sometimes shared their stories.

Recently, a member of our East Hants Writing Group spoke about the trouble she was having writing her first biography. Jayne Peters recently signed on with Bryler Publications to publish a children’s book, Messy Jessy.

Here’s Jayne’s first biography. It’s has a professional tone and lists her credentials:

Jayne Peters is an elementary school educator who has been teaching in Nova Scotia for the past twenty years and in 2012 was presented with two Teaching in Excellence awards.

The joys of reading and writing are a daily part of Jayne’s life both in her classroom and at home. When she isn’t teaching, reading or writing she enjoys practicing yoga and spending quality time with her family.

While watching her youngest daughter, Jessica, go about her daily activities Jayne was inspired to capture Jessy’s zest for life in her first children’s picture book, Messy Jessy. 

Through Messy Jessy it is Jayne’s hope that readers are able to witness the virtue of joyfulness, as well as the importance of being in the moment and living life to the fullest. Jayne hopes that Messy Jessy will be a book enjoyed by both parents and children and that it will help foster a love of reading. This book allowed Jayne to combine her joy of writing with her affection for children. She encourages everyone to explore “What if…?” 

Jayne is a member of the Nova Scotia Writer’s Federation and resides in Lantz, Nova Scotia, with her husband and their three children: Emma, Nathan and Jessica.

Here’s is Jayne’s second biography, whimsical and playful:

Jayne Peters understands that getting “messy” is part of having fun. As a child she loved sneaking up on tadpoles, walking in the rain, and covering herself in mud when the tide went out. She currently lives in a house full of red heads, loves molasses on “Grampy’s” homemade bread, enjoys puffy blankets but wants the covers to stay neatly tucked in at night. Her cold feet love to snuggle into colorful fuzzy socks but Jayne gets tired of trying to find the pairs (of socks) and is forever wondering where those naughty fairies put them. While watching her youngest daughter, Jessica, go about her daily activities Jayne was inspired to capture Jessy’s zest for life in her first children’s picture book, Messy Jessy.

What do you think?

As an adult buying a book of fiction for a child, which of the two author biographies—the professional or whimsical—would entice you to buy? These biographies are the ones which appear within the book or on the back cover, not a publisher’s website.

Would you feel differently if it was nonfiction, say a book about animals or the planets?

Do you judge a book by the author blurb on the cover? Or do you not even read the biography before buying a book?

Messy Jessy by Jayne Peters

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15 thoughts on “Writing an Author Biography

  1. Here is the newest one…

    Mindy Lee George grew up in the little town of Canso, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. Her love for writing came as a little girl of eight years. Mindy Lee started taking her writing seriously after winning second place in a Remembrance Day poetry contest and has been writing inspirational poetry for loved ones ever since. Mindy Lee realizes reading and storytelling play an important part in the lives of children. When Mindy Lee and her children look out their kitchen window they see both real and imaginary critters covering the landscape. She was inspired to write Alphabet Zoo when her youngest son, Jaxon, asked what letter “deer” began with. As she recounted the story, amid crazy actions and silly voices, Alphabet Zoo was born. Mindy Lee currently lives in Belnan, Nova Scotia and writing poems and rhyming stories is her temporary escape from her everyday life of a wife and a stay at home mom of three boys; Donavin, Lane and Jaxon.

  2. Hi Diane…
    I have been working on my bio for my children’s book, Alphabet Zoo which will be out in September. I was wondering if you would mind giving me your opinion.

    Mindy Lee George grew up in the little town of Canso, down in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. Her love for writing came as a little girl of eight years. Mindy Lee started taking her writing seriously when she entered a Remembrance Day poem in a community poetry contest in 1997 where she won second place. Since then, if someone close to Mindy Lee died, got married, had a baby…she wrote a poem about it; or if it was just someone who she thought special came into her life – they got a poem too. You see the pattern!
    Mindy Lee realizes reading plays an important part in the lives of children. She remembers as a child, sitting her Cabbage Patch dolls along her bed and reading to them as if she were their teacher. But she didn’t just read the story…she had fun with it. While reading to her own children, Mindy Lee would use crazy actions and silly voices just to hear the sound of pure belly laughter. Mindy Lee was inspired to write Alphabet Zoo when her youngest son, Jaxon was asking what letter “deer” began with. And so Alphabet Zoo was born.
    Mindy Lee currently lives in Belnan, Nova Scotia and writing poems and rhyming stories is her get away from her everyday life of a wife and a stay at home mom of three boys; Donavin, Lane and Jaxon.

  3. Mindy George, a friend of mine and a member of our writer’s group, is publishing a children’s picture book. We have been discussing bios and I have encouraged her to share what she has started in this blog. Here is what I ended up with after combining my two bios together:

    Jayne Peters is an elementary school educator who has been teaching in Nova Scotia for the past twenty years and in 2012 was presented with two Teaching in Excellence awards. The joys of reading and writing are a daily part of Jayne’s life both in her classroom and at home. When she isn’t teaching, reading or writing she enjoys practicing yoga and spending quality time with her family.

    Jayne understands that getting “messy” is part of having fun. As a child she loved sneaking up on tadpoles, walking in the rain, and covering herself in mud when the tide went out. She currently lives in a house full of red heads, loves molasses on “Grampy’s” homemade bread and wants the covers to stay neatly tucked in at night. Her cold feet love to snuggle into colorful fuzzy socks but Jayne gets tired of trying to find the pairs (of socks) and is forever wondering where those naughty fairies put them. While watching her youngest daughter, Jessica, go about her daily activities Jayne was inspired to capture Jessy’s zest for life in her first children’s picture book, Messy Jessy.

    Jayne is a member of the Nova Scotia Writer’s Federation and resides in Lantz, Nova Scotia, with her husband and their three children: Emma, Nathan and Jessica. She encourages everyone to explore “What if…?”

      • I do have a site, Diane but I feel a little like I am struggling with what to include on it. I keep my facebook page”up to date” and it feels very repetitive to include the same info on my website. I understand some people don’t have facebook but they can view my page without logging in. Any advice on content for my website? I would love to discuss how teachers (and parents) can use picture books to help students write. That might be a good place to start 🙂

        • I was like you, not wanting to post duplicate writing on my blog and my Facebook. I blog about everything, but my Facebook gets only short snips of things, such as writing quotes, interesting pictures, a sentence or two from my book (usually the one I’m writing) and links to my blog post.

          I think your idea is a good one. Anything to do with writing, reading and kids will be great for your blog.

          Thanks for commenting, Jayne.

  4. Thanks very much, Laura and Diane. I will certainly mention that I am from Nova Scotia. For me the more serious one was easier to write at first. Then Diane mentioned writing a whimsical one. So… I thought about the fun things in “Messy Jessy” and how they relate to me. That made writing the second bio more meaningful. Messy Jessy always has mismatched socks on and she eats molasses on her bread etc… (Just like me). Since I am a first time author I will combine the two biographies together and wait to see what my editor thinks.

  5. First of all, congratulations Jayne on the publication of Jessy Messy! Myself, for this book, I kind of like the whimsical biography. It just made me happy. However, I do think that mentioning you’re a local author would prove to be attractive to those wishing to support local authors and there are many people out there who do. That might be something to consider adding.

    Diane, why are bios so difficult to write? Mine is about as interesting as white bread. I think part of the reason is that I’m afraid to let go and just write. Sounds silly doesn’t it?

    • I agree, Laura. I think it’s important to state you are local because if I had to choose between two books I wanted and one was by a local person and the other from ‘gosh knows where’, I’d choose the local author. I can only imagine others would feel the same way; it goes hand in hand with the ‘buy local’ campaign.

      As for bios being tough: Perhaps we don’t like to talk about ourselves. As I mentioned, the pen name for the WFNS competition seemed to cure me of this.

  6. Hi Yolanda,

    Thanks for your comments. I am leaning toward a combination of both the professional bio and the more whimsical one. In light of your comment about the cover, I asked Diane to include a picture that includes the front and back cover (see above).

    Looking forward to more comments.

    Jayne

  7. Well, I like the professional bio myself. It gives you a better idea of her over-all life and sounds well, a little more professional. I am always interested to see if the author has a personal connection to the contents but that is really secondary. For me, subject matter would be primary. I do read the jacket summary not only to see the plot but also the calibre of writing I will be reading, which I think shows in the writing on the jacket. Even when you get to know the author, the jacket would tell you if she is writing this book in the same vein as you enjoy. For example, I used to really enjoy Catherine Cookson but she did write many books which were not the exact thing I was looking for. So, by reading the jacket, I was able to tell that. But I will bet you 10-1 that most people are engaged by the actual picture on the cover! And that’s my blurb for today lol!

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