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8 Great Author Bio Examples, Analyzed

by Writing Workshops Staff

A month ago


by Writing Workshops Staff

A month ago


There’s some awkwardness in composing an author bio, whether you’re an established author or a debut novelist. Its purpose is to concisely share any relevant qualifications or accolades you have, and perhaps show some personality if you feel like it and it’s genre-appropriate. The bio isn’t likely to be the deciding factor when it comes to someone choosing to buy a copy of your book (though it certainly matters more in nonfiction than fiction, where some level of expertise is expected), but it’s very much worth taking the time to write one thoughtfully, even if drawing attention to yourself makes you uncomfortable.

Since there isn’t a single right way to write a great author bio, I've collected 8 case studies that showcase the range you can work within.

1. Ruth Ozeki

“Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the author of three novels: My Year of Meats, All Over Creation and A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and translated into 28 languages. She has also written a short memoir, The Face: A Time Code. She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foundation and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches creative writing at Smith College and is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.”

At this point in her career, Ozeki is a widely recognized writer, so her bio is less about ‘proving’ herself, and more about giving readers a sense of who she is and where her interests lie. She identifies as a filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest, which reflects some of her passions, and prepares readers for the heartwarming, thoughtful storytelling they can find in her work.

2. Jessica Andrews

“Jessica Andrews writes fiction. Her debut novel, Saltwater, was published in 2019 and won the Portico Prize in 2020 and her second novel, Milk Teeth, was published in 2022. She is a Contributing Editor for ELLE magazine and she writes for the Guardian, the Independent, BBC Radio 4 and Stylist, among others. She was nominated for the ELLE List in 2020 and shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction Futures in 2022. She co-runs literary and arts magazine, The Grapevine, and co-presents literary podcast, Tender Buttons. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at City University, London.”

Jessica Andrews is still at the start of a promising literary career, having very recently published two novels. The range of activities she lists in her bio show a writer who’s keeping busy, relevant in the media, and quickly gathering esteem in the literary community. Experience teaching creative writing is always a persuasive note to end on — if young writers are learning the ropes of the craft with your help, that’s something that will make your readers trust your work more.

3. Gretchen McCulloch

“Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist and the author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. She is the Resident Linguist at Wired and the co-creator of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics. She lives in Montreal, but also on the internet.”

This nonfiction bio keeps it simple: the author is a linguist whose life is all about linguistics: it’s her job, as well as her hobby podcast. With the short but intriguing note at the end (“She lives in Montreal, but also on the internet.”) McCulloch succinctly hints at the playfulness and sense of humor that pervades her writing about linguistics, efficiently giving readers an idea of what her writing is like.

4. Bryan Washington

“Bryan Washington is a writer from Houston. His fiction and essays have appeared in, among other publications, the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, the BBC, Vulture and the Paris Review. He's also a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 winner, the recipient of an Ernest J. Gaines Award, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham prize finalist, a National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize finalist, the recipient of an O. Henry Award and the winner of the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize.”

This example shows how little showmanship is required when you’ve got enough accolades to pack your bio. Washington sticks to the facts, which speak for themselves. He’s been published in every writer’s dream publications, and won a series of jaw-dropping awards. There’s really no need for him to try and do anything else in this bio. He’s also writing literary fiction, the genre where prestige is most important, so this summary of his career is ready to impress any intrigued lit fic readers.

5. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

“Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is a writer from Trinidad & Tobago. She is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she is now a Creative and Critical Writing PhD candidate. Her work has been published in Moko Magazine, Small Axe and PREE, among others, and shortlisted for Small Axe Literary Competition and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. When We Were Birds is her first novel; she is now working on her second. Ayanna lives with her husband in London.”

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s bio opens by stating where she’s from, namely Trinidad and Tobago. This isn’t obligatory for all non-US or UK authors at all, but it often feels like an important thing to say if your cultural background is important to you or your work (I do it too). Beyond that, she mentions her education, showing her longtime engagement with literary work. This is a common thing to mention for young or debut authors who haven’t yet amassed award nominations, and in this case it clearly signals that Lloyd Banwo has a strong educational background, a growing publication record, and much promise for the future.

6. Rainbow Rowell

“Rainbow Rowell writes all kinds of stuff. Sometimes she writes about adults (ATTACHMENTS, LANDLINE). Sometimes she writes about teenagers (ELEANOR & PARK, FANGIRL). Sometimes — actually, a lot of the time — she writes about lovesick vampires and guys with dragon wings (THE SIMON SNOW TRILOGY). Recently, she's been writing comics, including her first graphic novel, PUMPKINHEADS, and the monthly SHE-HULK comic for Marvel. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.”

It’s interesting to see how genre affects bios — in more commercial genres, there’s more room for authors to be informal and playful in the way they describe themselves. Here, Rainbow Rowell humorously summarizes her wide range of interests in a friendly, chatty way that appeals best to the readers of her work, be they adult readers of romance, teenage or young adult readers of YA romance or fantasy, or comic fans. She’s clearly keeping busy, and any reader of her bio knows to expect energetic, irreverent writing.

7. Elizabeth Lilly

“Elizabeth Lilly is an author-illustrator, animator, and graphic designer. Elizabeth was a reading, doodling daydreamer in high school, and, unsure of her path, went to architecture school at Virginia Tech for college. Elizabeth graduated from college in May of 2014. She now makes her stories in a little old house in the little old city of Baltimore, Maryland. Geraldine is her debut picture book.”

Speaking of playful genres, children’s books are definitely the part of the literary world where whimsical bios are most tolerated (and encouraged). Here, personality matters more than accolades, as Elizabeth Lilly’s bio shows. Lilly quickly paints a picture of her character: a reader, daydreamer, a human being finding her path. In other words, very much the imaginative and playful company you might like your child to be in, if you’re going to read a picture book together. The “little old house in the little old city of Baltimore” detail captures a sense of what her work for children will feel like: cute, warm, and welcoming.

8. Chris Power

“Chris Power is the author of A Lonely Man and Mothers, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. He lives in London.”

This example is a reminder that bios don’t need to be paragraph-long overtures to your personal accomplishments. If you feel more comfortable keeping your bio as short as possible, that’s absolutely fine — the only two ‘compulsory’ elements are any previously published books, and if you have them, at least one award nomination or win. That’s, essentially, what a bio boils down to: past publications and social validation. If taciturn is more your style, an author bio like Chris Power’s will do the job just fine.

This is a small sample, but on book jackets out there, you’ll find an even greater variety. For inspiration, look for bios in the same genre and career stage as you, but try not to obsess about bios if you can help it. It’s worthwhile trying to write one thoughtfully, but it’s not important enough to warrant an existential crisis!

 

Kleopatra Olympiou is a writer of literary fiction from Cyprus, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Durham University. She’s previously written for Electric Literature, LitReactor, and Reedsy’s blog.