Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't clutter your bio with irrelevant crap

It's common to have an "about the author" section on the back cover and/or inside a book, as well as on booksellers' and publishers' websites.
  • For a nonfiction book, the primary purpose of the "about" is to convince prospective purchasers that the author has appropriate experience and knowledge so the book can be relied on.
  • For fiction or nonfiction, the section may reveal a bit about the personal life of the author. It may even be entertaining if entertainment is appropriate to the mood of the book.
  • The section may also list awards the author has won.

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The back cover excerpted above is from Confessions of a Disco Queen...30 Some Years Ago by Veronica Page. 
  • Is the fact that Veronica now lives (or previously lived) in Phoenix an important reason to buy a book about what happened in New York City four decades earlier?
  • Should potential readers care that she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture?
  • Does her "Certificate of Completion in Independent Filmmaker and Producer's Diploma from Dov S-S Simens" mean she is a good writer?
  • Should we care that she has been in Los Angeles and Brussels?
  • Does her ownership of two hair salons imply writing talent?
  • Should we ignore the sloppy writing in the bio?
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The text above is from 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing by Kevin Sivils.)
  • Knowing that his teams won 464 times does not mean he knows a lot about book publishing. Or anything about book publishing.
  • Knowing that he had studied social studies and kinesiology does not imply that he knows a recto from a verso, or a recto from a rectum.
  • Knowing that Kevin is happily married does not guarantee that he knows a serif from a fleuron.
  • Knowing that he taught gym and that his wife's maiden name was Green and that she comes from Jackson, Michigan does not mean that we should believe him when he says that the copyright page often goes opposite the title page. (It does not.)
  • Knowing the names of his kids and dogs, or that he thinks that Texas is great (actually he uppercases it as "Great"), provides absolutely no reason to buy, read or believe the book.

Eunice Owusu wrote the awkwardly named, physically ugly, poorly written and unedited The Truth and the Corruption of the American System. The 95-page hardcover sells for (OMG!) $24.99. The author has some important things to say but her message is diluted and distorted by bad presentation, and lack of help from publisher Xlibris. Sales are apparently infinitesimal. 

Eunice tells us on the back cover, and inside the book and on multiple websites: "I was born in Ghana and came to America about twenty-five years ago. I was married for twenty years and now separated with one child, who is seventeen years old. He lives with me in Houston, Texas. I attended Northern Virginia Community College and graduated in the year 2002 with Associate Degree in Legal Assisting. I transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, Texas Southern University in Texas, and now I am in my final year at the University of Houston in Texas, major in Political Science and eventually transfer to Law School." 
  • Does any of this provide a reason to buy a book about what's wrong with America?
  • Do we care about her bad marriage?
  • Do we care about her bad writing?
  • Are we impressed by Northern Virginia Community College?
  • Do we care about the age of the author's son?
  • Do we know or care how old he is now, or that at one point he lived in Houston?
  • Should we have to do research to determine if the author graduated from the University of Houston and actually went to law school?

Jamie A. Saloff wrote the useful-but-sloppy book shown above. The title is so long (more than 260 characters and spaces), I don't feel like typing or even pasting it in here.
  • Jamie tells us that she is a graduate of the Fellowships of the Spirit. That's not the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Yale University School of Art or the Rhode Island School of Design. Does that information convince you that Jamie knows about preparing a book for printing on demand?
  • Also, if you have an abbreviated credential that needs explaining, such as Jamie's "CM" (Certified Metaphysician, or maybe Certified Manager or Condition Monitor), either explain it or delete it.

The websites of businesses, including publishing companies, frequently include bios of executives. The "Meet the Executives" section of the Morgan James Publishing site provides the following useless information:

  • Cindy attended Elim Bible College in Lima, New York . . .  Cindy and her husband, David, live in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
  • Rick and his wife Robbi live in Long Island, New York with their two Havanese puppies, Cody and Cooper. They have three children: Adam, Rachel, and Stephanie.
  • He has appeared on stage with notables such as Sir Richard Branson, The Dalai Lama, T. Harv Eker, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Tony Hsieh, David Bach, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and Brendon Burchard.

If a life experience is not related to the subject of your book, leave it out (or make it the last part of your bio).

Avoid the presentation of stale news. Maybe you were a student at the Vermont Academy of Veterinary Dentistry when your book was written, but if someone reads your bio a decade later your situation will probably have changed.

1 comment:

  1. It's the names of their pets that get me, especially when teamed with the wince-inducing "...is owned by three adorable cats..."

    I have to admit I found it interesting that one author appeared on stage with the Dalai Lama. I immediately imagined them doing a comedy sketch together, or possibly juggling.