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Gigi Will Know: What should I put in my bio if I haven’t been published yet?

What’s the best way to make a bio sound interesting and unique?

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Have a query about craft? Need some clarification on an aspect of the publishing industry? Looking for career advice? Email your queries to [email protected] with the subject line “Advice Column.” We can’t wait to read your questions!

 

As an unpublished author, I wonder: What should I include in a bio when submitting my fiction manuscript for contests or a writing residency? I don’t have any educational credentials but did a lot of writing as a certified paralegal and the director of consumer affairs for a national bank. I’ve always been a great storyteller and have written many fictional stories, but I have never tried to publish any of my work before. What’s the best way to make a bio sound interesting and unique?

—It’s Only Just Me

Dear Only,

My darling, dear, Only Me – one does not “make” a bio sound interesting. A bio is either interesting, or it is not. A bio is a reflection of its person, and from what I can see, you are interesting. Lived experience makes for great fiction.

(Readers of this column may want to know what the buckets happened to the normally acerbic Gigi. I assure you, it is me, only I can’t stand to see a person not recognize their own worth.)

In terms of the bio itself, the best thing you can do is to be honest. Include experience that is relevant – that you’ve been a writing professionally for years and have been practicing fiction for at least as many but that this is your first foray into publishing your fiction. I can’t really think of a contest that would care what your publishing experience is. Residencies are another ball of wax, however. The folks who judge those entries will want to see someone who is committed to their practice – the fact that you are applying to a residency is a good sign.

However. Probably the best thing you can do is to put a lot of energy toward looking for a contest or a residency that is going to rely on the quality of your work over your publishing history. With that said, I know a lot of editors who do look at a writer’s track record as a litmus test, if you will, of that writer’s skill.

So I have some thoughts. They are as follows:

I do not think this question is just about your bio. I think this question is about your fitness, your right to apply to either a residency or a contest. Only Me, you are perfectly within your rights to do so. I know a lot of people who write outside of their full-time jobs, which, by the way, are full-time jobs that are totally unrelated to writing. Rest assured on that front.

I did find it odd that your question is about applying to either a contest or a residency. This is not the normal tack one would take to secure more writing experience or publication credits. The odds of admittance – or winning! – are lower, and these can both be very expensive to apply to.

If you are worried about the state of your bio and your list of credentials, I am gently suggesting that you instead put your money and effort into sending your work out to literary magazines and presses. I think this move will do two things for you: First, it will give you something to put in your bio; second, it will stop you from questioning yourself about whether or not your bio is “unique enough” – or, actually, since we’re being honest, it’ll stop you from wondering whether or not your bio is writerly enough.

You are a writer.

—Gigi