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Of Writing Formulas, Personal Biographies And Finding Information

This question came in recently:

Hi Anne:

I LOVE your blog …I’ve been a fan for a long time!

I’m curious if you have a formula for writing short personal biographies?  I’d like to start focusing on writing stories about individuals with dynamic life stories but writing short and long bios seems to stump me.

I can write a professional bio, but I’m not sure how detailed personal bios should be when submitting them to magazines, etc.

I looked all over your blog, but I didn’t seem to see anything so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.

Thanks so much!!


Hi TK,

I’m glad you find the site useful. I’m also tickled that you’ve looked for information about a specific kind of writing and, since you didn’t find it, emailed me with your question.

First, let me tell you that if I ever wrote a short biography it was for a magazine I was editing and was ages ago. It’s just not something I’ve been interested in.

That said, if I woke up tomorrow and wanted to write them this is how I would go about it:

I’d find several published samples of the kind of biography I had in mind. I’d be looking for two things – magazines that paid for them and a look at what was included in the published bios.

Since you say you already know how to write professional biographies it should be fairly easy to take a professional bio and compare it with a published short bio and see what the differences are.

For example, I would guess that the professional bio for a movie star would be quite different than the short bio of a star that was written for a women’s magazine you might pick up at the supermarket. In the former a list of all credits would probably be included; in the second only the starts most recent or most recognizable show would be mentioned. For the short bio, since it’s written for women, things like favorite foods, number of children, favorite activity with kids, and such might well be in order. Very few of those personal details if any would be included in the professional bio.

In other words, you actually have the information you need to write what you want almost at your fingertips.

You can find the magazines that pay for your type of article in Writer’s Market or, maybe, with a google search.

You can study how to read and use the market listings you find.

You can then study the magazines you want to submit to – remembering that, in a way at least, imitation is often a way to sales.

Not studying the magazines you’re aiming at is one of the biggest mistakes writers make. The goal isn’t, of course to copy what they’ve done, but discover the magazines style, to become acquainted with the reader they’re writing for and present your article in much the same way.

I’m also leery of the term ‘formula’ in your question. Each publication is different, even though some seem to have some surprising similarities. And each story you write will be different too, reflecting you and your research. Formula writing rarely works.

But I suspect you know that.

If you’ve got a question about freelance writing email me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to answer you.

Do you have suggestions for short personal biographies? What’s your thinking about formula writing?


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by trindade.joao

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Loved reading this question and your comment, Anne, as well as Barbra’s comment above. On first glance, this genre of writing isn’t my field at all, but I was fascinated to hear about it! Plus, as I thought more about it, especially after Barbra’s comment, I came to realize that it could be something that I could tap into – from the academic/science writer perspective. I could be writing bios for doctors, scientists etc! How fun! Thanks to the 3 of you for opening my eyes a bit more.
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Check Your SkinMy Profile

  • Here’s another tip: When writing your author bio, give readers a sense of what to expect from your writing. Tailoring the tone of your author biography to the content and style of your work. If you’re a humorous or satirical writer, include some humor in your author bio. If you’re an academic writer, your author bio should reflect the academic world. The tone you take in writing your bio creates expectation of your written work.

    Here are two contrasting examples:

    Norman Langford grew up spying on the neighbours and taking notes in a little black book. No surprise that he ended up writing spy novels!

    Dr. Laura Smith has been writing on gender studies for over 20 years. Her research interests include mothering, gender roles and media representation of women.

    My site http://www.WriteABio.com provides fill-in-the-blank bio templates for a wide variety of professions, including authors.

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