Many readers are humanistic, meaning they are curious and they are people-persons who want to know something about the author before they read a book. People buy books from people they like—or at least think they would like—based on what they know about the author from his or her biography. Creating an effective “About the Author” page is a way to let people virtually meet and decide whether they like you so they will buy your book, and it gives you the opportunity to let readers know you are an expert on your topic, so your book is worth spending money on.
Your “About the Author” or “About Me” page is one of the most important pages on your website, perhaps second only to the page that allows people to buy your book. Why? Because your potential readers want to know you are human and to be reassured that you know what you are writing about. They also want to put a face to your name, so that means using an up close and personal headshot.
Before you rush to put up that “About the Author” page or you go to revamp one you already have, here are some key Do’s and Don’ts for creating your “About the Author” page, including what to include and what to leave out.
Your Bio Content
Your bio needs to accomplish several things and in a small space. Here are key things to include:
- Where You Were Born: Your city, state, or country if you were born outside the United States. This simple fact helps to start building a relationship with people. If a reader is from the Midwest and you were born in Ohio, the reader might feel a connection to you, or the reader may have visited and liked Ohio. That connection makes the world a smaller place. If you were born in Sri Lanka or Germany or Australia, the American reader might find you a little exotic or intriguing and want to know more about you and how you ended up living in Delaware, thereby piquing the reader’s curiosity about you—and your book.
- Your Education: You don’t need to include every school you went to, but simply any universities or programs relative to what your book is about. For example, if you wrote a novel, mentioning that you have an MFA in Creative Writing is important. If you are a novelist, a degree in computer programming may be less relevant, unless maybe you’re writing a science fiction novel about people who get sucked into a video game they are playing, which may reflect that you know something about how computer programs or video games operate.
- Your Experience: As with your education, your experiences might be noted. For example, if you’re writing about health and nutrition, then your experience as an Olympic athlete is definitely relevant. If you’re writing about the Civil War, that you belong to a battle reenactment group is interesting and gives you some expertise for writing battle scenes.
- Previous Books You Have Written: If you haven’t published any other books, no problem, but you could say something like, “Joe has been writing stories since he was eight years old” or “After fifteen years of researching his topic, Mark finally published his book.” If you have written several books, go ahead and list them all. Readers may not know your name, but they may know the title of one of your books, which may make them more willing to take a chance on buying your newest book, or even an old one.
- What You Stand For: Perhaps you want to mention groups or causes you are involved in, preferably not controversial ones, unless relevant to your book. For example, if your book is about teaching sexual education and you’re involved in a Planned Parenthood group, it would be appropriate to mention it. However, if your book is a fantasy novel, Planned Parenthood may be irrelevant, or it might even hurt you if people have different opinions than you on birth control and then don’t want to buy your book. If your book is about education, by all means, mention the teaching association you belong to. Stating that you’re a Republican might make you lose most of the readers who are Democrats, or vice versa, so pick and choose who your audience is and avoid anything that will isolate potential readers.
It’s more important that you come off as a real person than that you come off as intimidating or overly knowledgeable. Depending on your topic, that you have three cats might help you sell more books than that you have five Ph.D.’s. People want to read about people like themselves, or whom they perceive to be a little smarter, more advanced, or more successful than themselves; they want to feel good about themselves and believe that you have been where they are, but that you have gotten farther than them and maybe can help them to do the same. In short, you want to inspire people. Try to come off as a real person your readers could sit down to chat with, not someone too stuck up to talk with them or who will intimidate them. Write like you talk so the reader can resonate with you. Be human.
The tone you want to convey may also influence whether you title your page an “About the Author” page and write it in third person, or an “About Me” page and write it in first person. Either can be fine, but a first person page that lists a lot of accomplishments may sound like you are bragging, so be careful how you word it. At the same time, you can sound more human and friendly in first person. You may want to write two separate bios, one in each voice, to see which one feels more comfortable to you. Then get some feedback from others to see which one resonates with them the most.
I just gave you a bunch of things to include in your bio, but remember to include it all in a short space. You’re not writing your life story, just enough information to interest the reader. No one wants to read a long biography of you. Aim for about three paragraphs or a page at most, and less than five hundred words. You probably want a bio that will fit on a website page without the viewer having to scroll down much, and you may want to include the same bio on the back page of your book, generally so it fills one page while leaving room for a photo.
Remember that online, people tend to skim, so if you really want them to read your bio, shorter is better. You might also consider breaking it up into bullet points or a timeline, such as for listing all ten of your books or some other key information, so it’s easier to read.
Finally, consider that the media may need just a short blurb about you if they interview you. Keep it short and to the point so they can just copy your bio from your website without their having to do a lot of rewriting. You may also get requests from the media to email them your bio, in which case, you may want to keep a copy of it, maybe even a shorter version, on your computer to have handy when they request it.
It’s imperative you have a good, high resolution, author photo. That doesn’t mean a photo taken with a cell phone that is blurry, dark or small, nor a mug-shot or driver’s license looking photo. And not a photo of you with your spouse, three kids, and two dogs where the viewer has to pick you out from among several people. You want a headshot of yourself that is large enough that it makes the viewer feel like he is making eye contact with you. It doesn’t have to be a fancy studio photograph, and you don’t have to get all dressed up for it since it’s a headshot that will at most only show your shoulders. But you can wear a tie if you like, or a necklace, or whatever clothing you feel will project who you are as an author in relation to the kind of book you have written. You basically want to look like yourself on a daily basis.
Consider also the background of the photo and how it reflects your author image. If you’ve written a business book, you may want to wear the suit and tie and have a plain background. If you’re writing a vacation or travel book, you may want to wear a Hawaiian shirt and have the ocean in the background. If you’ve written a book about dog training, you might be holding a puppy, but if your book is about gardening, trade the puppy for a gardening smock and some greenery in the background. Remember, you’re telling the reader through this photo who you are so the reader can resonate with you—at the same time, you don’t want to disappoint readers when they meet you in person, so make sure it’s a current photo. A photo of you at twenty-five may look nicer than a photo of you at sixty, but if you’re sixty, use a current photo. Stay current by updating your photo at least every few years.
You may have a separate page for contacting you on your website, but it doesn’t hurt to include your contact information on your “About Me” page. Once readers see and resonate with you, they may feel a desire to contact you, so it’s best to have that information on two pages. A lot of authors have contact forms on their pages, which works to decrease spam. Be sure if you are going to give your readers a way to contact you that you respond to their emails, and make sure your contact information (email address or phone number) is always current.
Remember it’s an honor to have someone interested in you and your book enough to want to write to you. Be polite and friendly by responding. Your “About the Author” page can become the stepping stone for building a relationship with your readers, and a simple personal email can be the second step toward a lasting relationship. Not only will you sell more books to the individual reader by letting him or her contact you, but you never know what information or stories readers may have to share with you that will lead to new ideas for future books or speaking engagements.
A Final Note: Does Your Reader Know Who You Are?
By following the advice above, you can create a simple and effective “About Me” page. When you are done, ask yourself and some friends/potential readers:
- Does the page tell my potential readers who I am?
- Can the reader resonate with me?
- What is on the page that makes me human?
- Is there something on this page that will make my potential reader say, “Yes, I want to read this author’s book! This author sounds like someone I can relate to”?
If the answer to all those questions is “Yes,” you’ve created a successful author page. Just remember to update it (information, photo, contact information) as needed so it stays effective. Now, you’re ready to meet your readers online.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.