A Little Bio, Please

Lit by Susan Bono, 08/15/07

I don't know if I'm the only editor with this problem, but the most forgotten (or ignored) element in the writing I receive for online columns like "Searchlights & Signal Flares" and "Flash in the Pan" is the bio. I happen to be a reader who is eager for those few additional words appearing at the end of a piece of published material. Of course, not everyone agrees, like my poet friend Patti who calls bios "bulls**t" and considers them exercises in one-upmanship. Other writers I know detest writing them, as if they are being asked to expose their private parts, or worse yet, brag. But the way I see it, bios provide opportunities to answer the question, "Who do you think you are?" It's an answer that keeps changing, thank goodness.

But it seems as if most of the writers who submit to Tiny Lights are answering with "I don't know," or "None of your business." This puzzles me, because the writing I receive seems to be coming from fully realized beings, ones I can trust to know the truth and tell it the way they see it. So I'm thinking some of you are modest types using up your small stores of self-confidence just sending me your material. You fear sounding pompous or ridiculous with too many credentials or too few. I want to encourage you to get in the habit of including a bio when you submit material anywhere, because you don't want me or any other editor to think you are aren't a serious writer, especially when the request is listed in the guidelines.

Should a bio be customized for each placement or a one-size-fits-all workhorse? That's pretty much up to the writer, who should pay attention to guidelines and check other bios in the publication for ideas. The only wrong bio is the too-long bio. Writers who send insanely long bios always say they can be cut down to size, but do you really think your editor has nothing better to do? In most cases, one or two sentences should do it.

Generally speaking, I like bios to include where the writer hails from, at least one recent writing project or publication, and something a reader would probably never guess. This last is intended as the element of wry surprise that saves you from sounding bloated with self-importance. Of course, if you are afraid no one is taking you seriously, put the brakes on the quirky. In this age of interactive, interlocking virtual lives, it's smart to include an email or website address, unless you are dodging the IRS or Child Protective Services.

In case you are in need of examples, ranging from the ordinary to the odd, here are a few from an old issue of one of my favorite magazines, "The Sun":

"Brad Bannister lives and writes in Chapel Hill, NC."

"Alison Luterman is a poet living in Oakland, CA. When she isn't writing, singing in a chorus, or working for money, she teaches as part of the poets-in-the-schools program."

"Poe Ballantine is in search of a publisher for his novel 'Beauty Is in the Eyes of William Holden.' By the time you read this, he will be in Odessa, Texas, or maybe Harrisburg, PA, or maybe Great Bend, KS."

"Sy Syfransky is editor of 'The Sun'."

These last bios are from the program for an exceedingly eccentric theatre piece from Austin, TX called "The Broken Clock Cabaret"
www.brokenclockcabaret featuring songs by Tom Waits, "a little dance, some foul-mouthed puppets, and lots of cheap jokes disguised as vaudevillian comedy."

"Shane Kullberg, Ringmaster: As charming as he is modest, Shane is like an adorable boy scout with a canteen full of whiskey."

"Billy Holleman: Drums and Percussion: Well-behaved to a point, Billy collects colorful artifacts from dressing rooms the world over."

"Ken Burchenal: Vocals, Harmonica, Banjo, Ukulele & Guitar: Besides leading Austin's Bellevue 6, Ken takes in soiled laundry (occasionally returning it)."

I could go on about titles, too, but I think you get my drift. Don't think of bios and titles like hats and gloves, which in most modern situations are optional. You are more likely to remember them if you act as if they are skirts or pants. Don't send your writing into the world without them.

Susan Bono, publishes Tiny Lights in Petaluma, CA. Her bio often includes a mention of her chickens.

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