Insecurity and the Third-Person Bio

Having just written about how bigger is better, I want to say that longer is not. Something possessed me to start an art and literary magazine, which I am excited about, and an unintended benefit is that I also get to read numerous bios. I've written about artist statements before, but having bios directed at me is quite different. I have to tell you, the longer it is, the more insecure the person looks.

Most of the time a publisher will want you to write your bio in the third person. It is tempting to get cute and write "Alisa often refers to herself in the third person," but it has been done. In fact, the good thing about having to write about yourself as a she or a he is that it gives you some distance. Use the distance. Stay far away from too cute, too earnest, too anything. What's that phrase you always hear? Oh yeah, be yourself.

"Yourself" should be crystalized in about 3-5 sentences or about 50-100 words. These sentences should say why you are you and not someone else, and what is it about you that is distinctive. What do you do? Where? What else is different or interesting about you or makes you particularly qualified? Does your degree make it better or worse? Keep it simple, flavor it slightly, if you like.

Some strange examples I've seen are huge paragraphs listing every website, every publication, and a person's business venture in detail. The long lists of publications are not very interesting. Pick a handful and say "among others" or something similar. In a magazine I once read, a bio said the writer had been published in over one hundred other magazines; I couldn't help feeling sorry for her—wasn't it time to move on?

If Dr. Seuss were here (1904-1991), he might write something like this (no, maybe not, his would probably rhyme). But anyway, I've written up a simple possibility, with info gleaned from this article.
Theodor Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, is a writer and artist, best known as the author of numerous children's books written in rhyme, including One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Green Eggs and Ham. He has an extensive hat collection and often puts on skits with knives and spoons. He lives in La Jolla, California.
What do we learn? He writes under a pen name. His work rhymes. He is also an artist. He has an extensive publishing background, but he's modest about it. He is playful. He lives in California. I mentioned his hat collection, in this case, because it seems to inform his work and the skits because they give him a human dimension. 58 words. It doesn't have to look like this, but this is one way to do it.

Okay, so you're not Dr. Seuss. All I can say is be confident. Your bio is there to put you and your work in context. You are worthy. Your work is worthy. It will shine on its own.


india flint said…
excellent advice. short, sharp and shiny works best.
Lindy said…
Helpful advice, Alisa. I'm just about to update my - moderately pathetic - artist statement, so will look for your article on that. Found your blog by accident, which is a good find, because I write as well as the sort of art activities. Thank you. Now to get past the proving I'm not a robot....
Thank you for this good advice. I've always tried to be concise in writing CVs, bios, and artist statements as I know people don't have the attention span to read pages and pages.

Your advice will spur me on to review my artist statement again and make it better.
I'm not understanding what is wrong with someone publishing in over 100 mags....perhaps she could have written something more descriptive about the kind of writing she does, what makes it distinctive rather than the emphasis on quantity? Not sure she necessarily needs to move on.
Alisa said…
Hi Valorie,
Nothing wrong with publishing in tons of mags—some people want to keep their work out there and current—but yes, emphasizing the quantity is not necessary and can be off-putting. It's a strange kind of backhanded bragging and makes a person look more insecure than successful. New magazines are being started daily, the field is now huge because the barriers to starting a mag are lower, so the count doesn't actually mean what it used to mean. That's one reason why I suggested listing just a few. The work included in the issue will speak for the quality.

Thanks for pointing the "moving on" part out. Not everyone has the same goals. Perhaps I should have said "moving forward" or taking on a new challenge. After being published in many magazines, working toward a chapbook or book publication is usually the next step.
Thanks Alisa, now I get it. (About publishing in over 100 mags...). Thanks for all of your posts about submitting and publishing, they are excellent and useful.