Friday, June 29, 2012

Writing a 50-word Biography

Writing a 50-word Biography

We interrupt the blog scheduled for this time for Breaking News

Dot Dee Dot Dot. Dot Dee Dot Dot. Writing short is hard.

Authors in the Guppies anthology, Fishnets, are being asked to provide a 50- word biography in preparation for publication.  A number of authors have mentioned that it is difficult to summarize a person’s life in 50 words or less.  Some have set off emergency flares.  I thought I would see if I could offer examples and information to see if I can help.

For the anthology I wrote: the following 47-word bio. 
Warren Bull, a multiple award-winning author, was nominated for a 2012 Derringer award. He has more than forty short stories published. His novels ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, HEARTLAND, MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT available at and a short story collection, MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE available at

It’s not exactly scintillating reading but it is an example of some basic ideas.
It is within the word count.
It is written in the third person.
My name is on the first line.
Awards and publications are noted.
The bio has a clear target audience. 

In this bio I want to reach readers.  I want to say, “If you enjoy this story, you might want to find, buy and read my other work and then write glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  Here’s a map to my works.” (I might mention blog readers are also invited to do the same.) 

Awards and publications say, “Look, dear readers, I know my way around a paragraph. I’ve worked with a thesaurus, a dictionary, an eraser and a red pencil many times before.”

What did I write before I had publications and awards?  I tried to give readers a little background and taste of my word-smithing. For example:  “Warren Bull is a psychologist in his ‘day job.’ He comes from a functional family and is a fierce competitor at trivia games.”

A biography gives you the opportunity to address the most important people in the writing world — readers. So write, polish, re-write, run it by people whose skills you respect and keep your audience in mind. 

Does this help?


  1. Warren,

    For me writing the brief bio is really difficult. I have hundreds of publication credits and they all matter to me.

  2. I'm looking for meaning in dot dee dot dot, dot dee dot dot.

  3. Jacqueline,

    That's because you are a successful writer. When I write for a publication or editor that published me before, I mention those publications. Otherwise I try to mention publications in venues similar to the new venue.

    It's a nice problem to have

  4. Peg,

    That's the sound of a ticker tape printing out breaking news. You're probably too young to remember the sound.

  5. Warren, nice post! Writing that brief bio is always a problem for me. I try for it and go over, then cut this book or this award or combine these two until I get down to the word limit. I hate it--and I don't even like long bios of myself.

  6. Linda, It is hard. And the more you publish, the harder it gets.

  7. Excellent! I'm printing it out so I can write a good short bio. Many thanks for the good example!
    Pat Browning

  8. Good and timely blog, Warren. Thanks for reminding me it's something I should do today. Could I copy yours changing the name and publications. Do you think anyone would find out I'm not published as widely as you are?

  9. Gloria,

    Please feel free to use mine as a template. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel.

    As for publications, I won't say anything if you don't. How would anyone know?

  10. I'm 15 and have known for 5 years now that I want to be an author and be published, but this article on a 50 word bio confuses me. Does it have to be previous publications or could it be like a prologue and set the general setting to the story?

    I'm trying to write small time currently for like Cleis Press stories and such, start small. One asks for a 50 word bio for a strong story of resistance, so I'm not quite sure about a bio for that. Can you help and explain in some detail for me please?

  11. Dear Ambitious,

    I would not recommend using the bio to describe your story. When someone asks me to review their work and then wants to tell me about it first, I always tell them that the work has to stand on its own as words on paper (or in the the ether.) If further information is absolutely required then the story is not yet ready for publication. You can't sit next to everyone who reads your work and explain it in person.

    The bio should be about the writer and his or her publications or classes taken, workshops attended and so forth.

    Good luck!

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  13. Yo--Tom. We're writers. What's the point if we can't do it ourselves?

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