Writing a bio: who am I and why should you care?

Annie Allen wrote a good post about how to write an author’s bio.
Abraham Janssens (attr) Sight

That got me thinking about how I should write my own bio. I had to supply one for Harlequin. It not only gets posted up on Amazon, but it also is included in the back of the book and on the Harlequin website.

An author’s bio is not a résumé. It’s a quick burst of info that tells the reader about you not only by what details you include but how you write the bio. It needs to be short, lively, and interesting.

The trouble is, I find it so much easier to talk about someone else than to talk about myself. Imaginary people are so much more interesting. And does Evelyn Hill like talking about herself in the third person? No, Evelyn Hill does not. But that is the standard format for a bio.

For Harlequin’s purposes, the whole bio has to be no more than 500 characters, including all words, spaces, and formatting. That’s dancing on the head of a pin territory. You don’t have much space to express yourself, so every single word has to have a good reason to be there.

I tried a couple of different versions.

Version 1 (too horse oriented and a whopping 585 characters)

According to family tradition, Evelyn Hill is descended from a long line of Texas horse thieves. (But when your family is not only Texan, but Irish, tall tales come with the territory.) This might explain why she grew up reading stories about horses, writing stories about horses, and when possible, even riding horses. Once she grew up, the stories naturally featured a handsome cowboy as well. Or a handsome knight. Or a handsome spy. Or even a handsome lawyer. She’s broadminded.

She lives at the end of the Oregon Trail, where she gets to do all her historical research in person.

Version 2

According to family tradition, Evelyn Hill is descended from a long line of Texas horse thieves. (But when your family is not only Texan, but Irish, tall tales come with the territory.) This might explain why she devoted much of her childhood to writing stories about horses. Once she grew up, the stories naturally featured a tall, handsome cowboy as well.

She lives at the end of the Oregon Trail, where she gets to do all her historical research in person.

At 461 characters, this one might be too sparse, but it fits the space and hopefully sets the right tone. I’ve written a western, so horses and cowboys come with the territory. I like it when a bio tells you something of the geographic location of the author.  I think this might work. What think you?

Here’s an additional link. It recommends writing a different bio for different environments: author-author-writing-your-bio

Bad Reviews & How to Handle Them

Cartoon of Christina Rossetti having a tantrum after reading 'The Times' review of her poetry, 1862 (pen & ink on paper)
A cartoon caricature of Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, reacting to a review of her poetry.

I’m pleased to say that I haven’t gotten a single negative review of my book.

That is largely due to the fact that it is still in production and no advance copies have gone out, but hey, not one single bad review. (You have to take your positives where you can find them.)

It is possible to give a book a rating of three stars or more and yet still write a negative review: [This book] is utterly adequate. It has a beginning, middle and end. Ouch.

I am preparing for how to handle the bad reviews when they come. (I gather they’re not avoidable.)

  • Read negative reviews of books I really, really liked. Not for schadenfreunde* but for perspective. It’s Not Just Me.
  • Read articles like the one from Literary Hub, where publicists advise on how to handle a negative review.
  • Read satirical articles like this one from J.A. Konrath, which contains a lot of really bad ways to handle a negative review.
  • Climb on the elliptical and fire up the Rejection playlist. I’m still putting it together, but so far I have collected the following songs:
    • As tears go by
    • I’m still standing
    • Handle me with care
    • (It is time for you to) Stop your sobbing

Do you have any good songs for a Rejection playlist? Or other coping strategies?

Of course, there is always the approach that Nora Roberts uses.

How can sensitive writers steel themselves against the negative reviews? Stop reading reviews. Stop now.  -Nora Roberts, ‘A Chat with Nora Roberts’, RWA 2015

*If you’re interested in writerly schadenfreude, then you might like Clive James’ poem, The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered.

It’s not my fault, but I still feel guilty

John Bauer 1915

So a couple hours after I posted about seeing my book up for pre-order on Amazon, Harlequin announced that it was closing the line. No more Love Inspired Historical.

I try to tell myself that those two events are not connected, but I still feel a bit guilty.

My subconscious: SEE? What did I tell you? It’s a hoax!

Me: No, not really. They still intend to publish my book in January. They’re going to stop publishing these books in June.

Ego: So, what you’re saying is… once my book is out, there’s no point in publishing more? They can’t top it?

Me: No. The line probably isn’t as successful as they’d hoped.

My subconscious: Which is All My Fault!

This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop writing. It does mean I’ll stop sending inspirational historical stories to Harlequin. I’m not sure what will happen to Geoff and Lia’s story, but I will find it a home somewhere. I usually vacillate between loving and hating a WIP. This is the first story I’ve written that I loved from start to finish. That either means I’m delusional or it’s actually a good story. (Well, those aren’t mutually exclusive. Could be it’s a good story and I’m delusional.)

I’m not about to say “The End” in regards to my writing. The story goes on.

The first time I saw my book on Amazon

It’s a surreal experience. A book that started with me scribbling down an idea on a yellow legal pad is listed on Amazon. This is just something I made up. But there it is.

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 2.10.05 PM

A strange feeling, but I rather like it.

Me: There. Now do you believe I’m a real author?

My Subconscious: Could be an elaborate hoax. You never know.

Great Opening Lines

Henrik Nordenberg Blick aus dem Entrée

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” – Uprooted, Naomi Novik

“Sabrina had never picked a lock in her life, but it was done every day in books.” – Tryst, Elswyth Thane

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Random thoughts of a problem I’m trying to work out for myself: how to start the story. This isn’t something I worry about when I start writing. The idea is on fire and off I go. But when editing, I come back and look at what I wrote. That’s when I start to question everything.

I love the feeling I get when I open a book and read a great opening line. I want to find a secluded corner and settle in for a good read. The stories don’t always live up to their opening lines, but the promise is there. The promise of a wonderful adventure.

What makes an opening line work? I love the above samples because of their promise. They intrigued me into reading more, which is the basic goal of an opening line.

It’s so simple when someone else does it! It’s harder when I try to do it.

I like to start by grabbing the reader and that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people love a leisurely opening and feel disoriented when they get thrown in the deep end. Plus, there is the plain truth that no matter how shiny and promising the idea starts out in my mind, the actual words on the page are going to look flat in comparison.

The opening of His Forgotten Fiancée:

“Who am I?”

Liza Fitzpatrick dropped the cleaning rag onto the counter of the dry goods store and spun around. A man stood in the doorway, his rough, workingman clothes soaked to the skin. He stared at her as if she were the first woman he’d ever seen.

The opening of Geoff and Lia’s story, tentatively titled A Gentleman of Leisure:

Geoff heard the click of a gun from the bushes behind him, and then a woman’s voice, deadly calm: “Stand up — slowly, now — and keep your hands where I can see ‘em.”

I like to start out in the middle of the action, in medias res, but even so the reader needs some basic orientation. I remember one contest entry that I read. All I knew was that the heroine was near the seashore looking at a ship. I didn’t know if she were sitting or standing or floating sideways. I didn’t know if she were on a dock or standing on a beach or looking out of a window of a house on the shore. I was trying to picture the scene and I was missing fundamental elements, which threw me out of the story at the start.

I want to start with something happening, but while it is happening I have to slip in some crucial details. Just enough for the reader to feel grounded, not enough for them to feel swamped. Argh!

What’s your favorite opening line for a book? Why does it work for you? Do you get disoriented if an author starts out too abruptly?

It’s tricky, achieving that balance between hooking the reader’s attention and throwing too much at them all at once. It’s frustrating, trying to convey an idea from one mind to another through the medium of words on a page. It’s amazing, to look at a whole book and think, “I did that. I want to do it again.”

Why doesn’t it feel real?

Gertrude Kay Alice in wonderland caucusHarlequin includes a Dear Reader letter with its books, a letter from the author specifically for that book’s readers.

It’s a nice touch, I think. At the end of a story, you get to hear from the person who wrote it. Makes you feel as if you’ve shared the experience with them.

The Dear Reader letter is always interesting to read, as it often provides insight into the author’s inspiration for wanting to write that particular story. – SYTYCW.

For some reason, I’d forgotten to take the Dear Reader letter into account. Even though I’ve read them in all the Harlequin Love Inspired books that I have, it hadn’t clicked that I would need to provide one. Dear Reader letters are written by real writers.

My subconscious is stubborn. It doesn’t believe I’m a real writer.

Me: But — but– they sent me a contract, they sent me an advance, they gave the book a publication date. What more proof do you need?
Subconscious: I don’t believe it. You’re not a real writer.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince my subconscious that this really is going to happen. A book that I wrote is going to be published.

I’ve put together a Dear Reader letter for His Forgotten Fiancée. One more stop on the road to publication. I don’t think my subconscious is going to believe until I hold an actual book in my hands. Maybe not even then. I have a very stubborn subconscious.

Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.

-August Wilson