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Where Marketers Go to Grow

July 30, 2015 // 6:00 AM

How to Write an Author Bio That Doesn't Suck 

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If guest posting is part of your content distribution and promotion strategy, you’ve probably experienced this frustration.

Here’s what happens: You write a great article for a guest publication, and at the end, you’re compensated with a tiny, little paragraph about you. 

Unless you wrote the article for purely altruistic reasons, this paragraph, although little, is actually very important. Not only does it connect your name with the article, but it also provides space for links back to your website or social profiles. (Who wouldn't want that little bit of glory?) Download our free guide to copywriting here to learn how to be a better  copywriter yourself. 

But what are you really supposed to write in that little paragraph? How do you make your author bio compelling, powerful, and effective without a whole lot of space?

Read on. You’re about to find out.

How to Write an Author Bio That Doesn't Suck

Step 1: Write in the third person.

Different publications will have different standards, but the general practice is to write your bio in the third person.

Readers will know that you’re writing in the third person ... and that’s okay. You can just come out and say it, like Mark John did:

If you find that you start overusing “he” or “she,” try supplementing it with your name to improve the flow.

(Note: Some publications, like Forbes, require that your bio be in the first person.)

Step 2: Remember that it's not really about you. 

Even though this paragraph is allegedly “about you,” it’s actually not about you at all. It’s about your reader. Sure, you’re the object, but your reader is the subject.

Here’s how Matt Southern created a bio that focuses on him, while also focusing on the reader: 

By explaining that he is in a position to help businesses, his bio serves as a nod to his readership.

Readers are the ones care about it, and act on it. Write for them.

Step 3: Establish credibility.

Why are you qualified to write on this subject? Why should readers believe you?

Your bio should establish credibility. If you write, for example, on conversion optimization, you need to explain that you have some experience with conversion optimization. 

If you have academic degrees, list them, but only if it matters. Typically a bachelor’s degree is not considered outstanding enough to warrant a mention in your bio.

Forbes contributor Ian Morris wrote an this article on Windows 10:

Why is he qualified to write on this subject? Because, as his bio explains, he “covers mobile, internet services and the good and bad of tech.”

Step 4: Explain what you do.

In social situations, people are interested in knowing "what you do."

Aware that this is a popular question to ask when you’re getting to know someone, think of your bio as an opportunity to answer it. After all, it’s a meaningful fact, and it deserves a line.

Patrick’s bio covers this in the opening sentence:

And Kiel does the same thing in his Harvard Business Review bio:

Step 5: Be personal ... if it’s appropriate.

“Cat lover.”

“Coffee addict.”

“Avid outdoorsman.”

You’ll often read bios with little personal tidbits thrown in. But is this okay? Is it smart?

A better question: Is it appropriate?

Not every publication is going to need information about your feline affection or love for craft beer. With that said, tailor your tidbits to the audience and be sure to keep them at a minimum. Readers are only marginally interested in your personal life -- this is not the place to divulge everything.

Kevan Lee of Buffer uses his bio to share his hobby: watching football. By placing this bit in the middle of his bio, he's able to show personality while front loading his credibility and closing with a CTA:

And if it's not the time or place for personality, don't hesitate to keep things strictly professional, like Greg Finn: 

Step 6: Focus on value.

It’s tempting to turn your bio into a trophy case -- you’ve won awards, started a billion companies, been published in every awesome journal, etc. 

But who cares?

Readers want to know what's in it for them. They may be impressed by your epic status, but they don’t really care unless it somehow connects with them. That’s where the idea of value comes in.

You want to write a bio that communicates what you can do for them. Peep Laja of ConversionXL does this really well:

Notice that final line: “Peep can help your company grow via his conversion optimization agency.”

That’s the kind of value that will connect you with readers in meaningful ways.

Step 7: Don't be afraid to brag.

If done right, bragging can be appropriate. (I will say, it’s much easier to brag if you’re doing it in the third person.)

So don't be afraid to toss out a few awards that you’re proud of. Just make sure that they’re relevant to the subject matter and the publication.

Barry Feldman recently wrote an article on Kissmetrics explaining how to get to the top of Google in 10 minutes.

Is this legit? Is Barry even for real?

As it turns out, yes, we can trust Barry’s article, because Barry bragged:

 Sounds trustworthy to me, wouldn't you agree?

Step 8: Avoid writing something obnoxiously long.

Writing a super long bio makes you seem full of it. If all the other authors on the site have three lines, and you have thirty, this places your sense of self-importance front and center.

Richard Ridley, an award-winning author, recommends that you “keep it brief.” Here’s how he explains it:

Brevity is the soul of wit. Even if you're William Shakespeare, you don't want to write an author bio that fills up the entire back cover. In an odd twist of logic, the more accomplished you are as an author, the shorter your author bio can be."

You have an ego. That’s okay. Just don’t let it show that much. Here's a great example of a short-and-sweet bio from Orbit Media Studios' Andy Crestodina:

Step 9: Customize it.

If the publication allows it, customize your bio. A universal bio that you copy/paste everywhere is okay, but you can squeeze a few more ounces of power out of your bio by tailoring it to your specific situation. HubSpot's own Lindsay Kolowich does a great job customizing her bio:

lindsay-author-bio-example.png

By fine-tuning it to resonate with the summer season, Lindsay's bio stands out against the generic messaging we've grown used to seeing. 

Step 10: Create an accompanying CTA.

The CTA is an omnipotent force in the marketing world, and it’s no different in your bio paragraph.

After reading your bio, you want your audience to do something. To start, hone in on what action you want them to take. 

The most common techniques are following on Twitter or visiting your blog. And while these options are effective, you want to be sure that your CTA is strategic given the context in which they are presented. 

For example, the author bio of Heather Hummel contains a link to her Amazon page, thus creating a source of possible sales:

Not a bad idea, right?

Step 11: Steer clear of the word "freelance."

Freelance writers are an exceptional group of people who are skillful, qualified, and expertly positioned to write great content. But with that said, I need to provide a warning ...

Being a freelance writer is not the best way to establish credibility. Often times, a “freelance writer” is understood as a generalist -- you may be good at writing, but are you good at the subject matter?

If you’re a freelance writer, you can say so in your bio, but take out the “freelance” and put a point on it. Here are some examples:

  • Fred is a conversion optimization writer, specializing in split testing best practices and cognitive biases.
  • Angie, a Portland-based author, helps people unleash their inner interior designer.
  • As a marketing writer, Todd’s favorite place to publish uncensored marketing content is his own blog.

The term “freelance” can sometimes weaken your bio, so avoid using it when possible. 

Ready to Write?

The best way to create a meaningful bio is to write it carefully and intentionally. Think about your readers, establish some credibility, and make it memorable. But go ahead and have some fun -- you want to prove that you’re human, too.

At the end of the day, your little bio matters. People care. They’re going to read it. Make it matter.

And please don’t judge me by my bio.

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Topics: Professional Development

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