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Author Biographies

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This month of November, I’m going to explore some marketing issues I have involving literature. Essentially, I want to explore with you authors and readers whether the personalization of marketing converts writing into a performance art. While it may seem like some of these opinions tread close to the personal attack grounds, I want to make it clear from the outset that what I am examining and what I am inviting you to examine is the author as an advertisement for her own books and not the author as a person.

Today’s topic is author biographies. Almost every book contains some sort of author biography whether it is a page devoted to “About the Author” or whether it is simply a one paragraph on the book flap or on the inside of the back cover. Knowing something about the author is evidently important for readers. Why is that?

In other words, if a book is all about the book regardless of the creator then why the need for the “About the Author” information? I always find it fascinating to read the bios because of what they say. Some talk about their husbands, cats, dogs and children. Some talk about their shoe addiction, their childhood music lessons, their researching skills. Some claim that the author began writing at the age of five, ten, or the common “as early as she can remember.” If the author is more successful, it usually states what kind of bestselling novelist she is. (As an aside, many of my ebook copies don’t contain “about the author” sections particularly if they are Penguin, Pocket or Harlequin books. Almost all Avon books included a small “about the author” section.

In the recent poll at Dear Author, the votes laid out like this.

[poll id=”113″]

Many commenters liked the “facts” such as geographical location and educational background but bemoaned the cutesy stuff.

Commenter Lori quoted from the Kenyon bio on her desk and said:

But a lot of bios are like that it seems and it makes me squeamish because it’s usually not cute, not endearing, not funny and not professional.

I just hate stuff like that because it’s so high school. And the ability to write a book takes so much hard work that it just seems degrading to try and cute it up.

Tthere was one author bio that I read on the author’s site that was so closely matched to the book itself that it made me uncomfortable. It was one of those mystery chic lit stories featuring a single mother of a toddler, recently divorced, and having very similar physical characteristics to the author who was also a single mother of a toddler, recently divorced. The villain in the story was the ex husband and well, I just couldn’t read the rest of the series. Cecilia agreed with me in a sense that a bio can make you feel like you are peeking too closely into someone’s closet.

Weak as I am, I find that I am always compelled to read them, but I’m grateful when they’re not there. Anything that makes me feel like by reading the book I’m getting a view into a lonely person’s fantasies just makes me way too uncomfortable.

There is something about an author bio that is engaging for the reader but why is that? It’s not like a host of authors live in my state so I don’t have a geographical connection to most authors. I don’t read many books by Asian Americans as there are only a few of them that I know of that write romance (Gennita Low, Jade Lee come to mind). I’ve really only had one job my entire working life (if you discount the waitressing and store clerking that I did in high school and college) so a person who played the violin, worked as an airline pilot, or danced in Vegas has little “just like me” affectation. Yet, there is something about them that I find interesting, particularly if I am strongly moved by a book, one way or another.

If I really like a book, I might wonder who is this amazing creature that penned this fabulous book that made me laugh and cry and run out to buy her backlist. If I don’t like the book and think it is full of errors or bad writing or both, I might want to know who is this amazing creature who wrote this wallbanger of a book and what could her credentials possibly be to write about __________ (fill in the blank). In fact, if the author has certain credentials in the back of the book that aren’t seen in the story, the biography can work to create a more negative view of the book itself. For example, as Cecilia pointed out, if the author has a PH.D. in history and the book itself is riddled with historical errors, that reflects a more negative light onto the author’s work. For me, it decreases the likelihood I’d pick up another book by that person.

Objectively, I think that if a book is measured solely on its own merits and not influenced by the biography of the author, then we readers should not care who wrote the book, where she lives, or what kind of marital status they have. So I’m interested to know a couple things. First, why do readers respond to the author biography? and second, if we don’t respond, why are they included? Does the author biography, particularly in genre fiction, make a book have more authenticity? Is it important for the author to establish their credentials in the field in which they are writing and if so, how does that translate for an author? If the biography, or personal information of an author, makes a difference in how a reader views a book then isn’t what is being sold both the author and the contents of the book?

Next week will be the dreaded Author Photo and whether looks matter in the selling of books.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

84 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 07:58:42

    I only ever read a bio after I’ve read a book or story. I simply have no interest in the author before I know if they can write. Once I find out they can, then I want to know why, or what influences they bring to bear on their work. I am really not interested in whether an author is married or has children or cats or ponies. I *do* want to know about their sordid years as a chicken sexer, how long they spent in a high security prison, or just how many people they actually killed as a covert CIA operative. Preferably in a way that makes me grin, if not laugh out loud.

    But I can’t say a bio affects my reading or purchasing habits. It’s just an amuse-gueule, something to enhance my enjoyment of the experience, rather than a predicator of the experience. I see them as separate, though loosely connected pleasures.

    Or pains. Plowing an appallingly bad m/m with copious, raunchy yet curiously uninvolving sex and then reading the bio which proudly proclaimed the author was a happily married grandmother, made me want to bleach my brain. I do *not* want to think about grandmothers and grandchildren when I read erotica (even good erotica.) TMI!

  2. S.W. Vaughn
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:06:04

    Someday, if I have an author bio, I’d like to keep it simple.

    It shall read:

    “S. W. Vaughn wrote this book, and some other books.”

    :-)

  3. J L
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:10:46

    I guess it depends on how extensive the bio is — if it’s a 2 paragraph throwaway in the back of the book, I skim it but it doesn’t affect my purchase. I seldom go to an author’s web site to seek out more info.

    Since I buy so much on the Kindle now, I usually download the sample then decide whether to buy or not. So I often don’t see the bio until I’m done reading.

    My bio on my web site is really more for FFF&F (far-flung friends & family) who wonder how I got published, etc. I doubt many readers know it’s there unless they’ve sought it out. My ‘throwaway’ bio is to let readers know why I write what I do (older heroes and heroines), but it’s pretty bland, I think, and certainly not meant to influence purchases!

  4. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:21:02

    I honestly can’t recall the last time I read an author bio. I’m one of the authors who wince when somebody asks me for a bio. I don’t see how who I am relates to what I write. I love my life, but I don’t know that my life would translate as fascinating to others.

    I’m kinda curious to see where this discussion goes. I’ve got a short and sweet bio on my site I use when people request one and they do request it. I just wish I knew why.

  5. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:44:48

    I always read the author bio/photo because a) I’m curious about the person who wrote the book and b) so I might recognize them if I ever see them at a conference.

    I think including author bios is done for the same reason we include personal info in newspaper stories — we want readers to have someone to identify with, to connect with, even if it’s only for the time they’re reading the story. Just like we want folks to connect with our fictional characters — that’s why we give them quirks and hobbies and whatnot.

    Identifying Joe Smith as simply Joe Smith makes him rather anonymous. Telling me that Joe Smith, 55, of Smalltown, USA, has two kids and is a master carpenter who makes rocking chairs in his spare time makes him more of a person, more like somebody you might know — and not just a name. When I read a great book, I want to know a little something about the person who wrote it. I think most of us are mildly curious that way.

    Do readers actually respond to/connect with author bios? I don’t know. As a reader, I look at the author bio, but it’s not going to make me buy another book by the same person unless I enjoyed the first book I read. To me, the bio is just a little bonus blurb that tells me something about the author — nothing more.

    I think credentials have some importance in non-fiction books; not so much in fiction. But there are also things like imagination and research that you have to take into consideration. Sure, it’s great if you’ve actually climbed Mount Everest, but that doesn’t mean a writer who’s done his research can’t write about climbing Mount Everest.

    As far as the cuteness factor of the bio, it doesn’t bother me. This is a person who sat down, wrote a book, and then had enough gumption to stick out the long process of getting it published. They can write whatever they want in their bio, as far as I’m concerned. What ultimately matters to me is the story they’re telling.

  6. Anion
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:45:56

    I just had to write a new one for myself and I loathe them. Is it too dull? How about if I add some levity–no, that looks unprofessional and silly, right? So I’ll take that part out, but now it’s only a sentence long. So I have to add something to it, because I don’t want to sound like I think the readers don’t deserve any information about me (note: other writers can do one-line bios, and I think that’s great, they’re just not me, if you know what I mean).

    I usually go through four or five different versions before I pick one, and that one is usually based on the hope that readers might think I seem likeable. Like the kind of person they could talk to at a con, you know? The kind of person who has a reputation for being friendly and cool and funny, and not for being pretentious or egotistical or snobbish or taking herself way too seriously.

    I don’t think the bio makes a difference at all in deciding whether or not to buy the book; I just hope that, having finished and (hopefully) enjoyed the book, they read the bio and think, “Cool book, cool writer.” And feel good about the whole experience.

    That could very well be wishful thinking, of course. But it’s the way I look at it anyway.

  7. Teddypig
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:56:13

    Teddypig was born and raised in The Sodom & Gomorrah of California, otherwise known as Frisco, surrounded by “fake” “terrorist loving” Anti-Americans. After wandering far far away he turned to a life of grime and writing Gay Romance Reviews online.

    Teddypig reviews whenever the urge strikes him, as he likes to call it, often called “that fucking pig”, his favorite expletive. He enjoys reading, meeting others who can also read, and knowing that they totally consider him a whack job.

    Teddypig currently lives in exile in Wilmington NC, where he terrorizes the local Religious Right and threatens their sacred marriage vows by providing a sure fire “Ticket Straight to Hell” and a free blowjob to the good looking men folk. His latest project is convincing the local Republicans that a Sarah Palin/Fred Phelps 2012 ticket is a “really really” good idea and would surely “fire up their base”.

  8. Victoria Janssen
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:00:32

    Maybe, sometimes, people are just curious? If the bio is there in the back of the book, I generally glance at it. If it wasn’t, I doubt I would miss it, though sometimes I’m more curious about the author than other times.

    Not much help, I know….

  9. Corrine
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:08:25

    I like author bios because I’m just a curious person. It’s usually the second thing I check out (after the book summary) if it’s an unknown author. I can’t stand not knowing things; for instance the Lisa Marie Rice bio was driving me crazy because it was so mysterious – until I found out her alias. It’s just part of my Sagitarrian nature.

    Plus there’s the fact that as an aspiring writer who may be asked to provide one of these someday, I like to read what kind of interesting (or as noted above, completely ridiculous) facts other writers include.

  10. Jody W.
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:13:02

    As a reader, I find them interesting for a variety of reasons. I have just spent X number of hours involved in a world this person created…so who is this person? I don’t find it unprofessional for an author to be jokey in the bio because I don’t think the only “professional” way for an author to portray himself is with robotic seriousness. I like a book bio to be short but a website bio has more leeway with length and detail before I raise my eyebrows and wonder why this individual is going on and on about himself. Surely the publisher didn’t request something THAT long winded.

    As a writer, my publishers ask me to write bios and, while I don’t enjoy self-talk, I do enjoy fulfilling my publisher’s more reasonable requests :). I think, because I always look at the bio as a reader, I would probably put SOMETHING were my publisher to leave the decision to me.

  11. shenan
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:18:14

    I’m curious — is the author bio a relatively new marketing ploy? Or has it been around forever? Is it a genre thing or is it the norm for mainstream and literary pieces as well? (Obviously I don’t pay much attention to bios.)

    Personally, I generally prefer my own vision of authors. A bit of mystery (or a lot) goes a long way. Reading the mundane truth about an author tends to be a bit of a letdown for me.

    I don’t want to be an author’s friend. I don’t feel the need to identify with them. And really, learning too much about them can sometimes turn me off their books completely.

    I don’t get the business of marketing an author as well as the book. Or instead of the book. Whose idea was that anyway? Publishers? Authors? Readers?

  12. Lori
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:23:50

    Many, many (trust me it was a lot) of years ago I had some poetry accepted for publication in a (think pretentious literary) publication and they asked for a short author bio. I sent something I thought was rip-roaringly funny and they posted something very different including the words this is her first publication. Whenever I read the cutesy stuff I think of that.

    If you worked in a different type of business and spent months preparing a presentation that could make or break your career with the company, and then the big day comes and you present your work … would you then end it by putting on a clown nose and spraying yourself with seltzer water?

    If you take your work seriously, why not demand that you be taken seriously too?

  13. GrowlyCub
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:28:51

    What strikes me the most is that while Jane sets out to discuss this topic in general, I see an underlying assumption that romance readers (aka women) relate differently to the authors whose books they read than non-romance readers, since the examples she gives seem to be exclusively from romance author bios.

    I read author bios, after I read the book: to find out more about the creator, just as I will seek out information about a sculptor, painter, musician or actor, if the piece of art or their performance of art intrigues me enough.

    Just like any other piece of creative expression, a book does not come from a vacuum, it’s created by a fellow human being and as a human being I’m curious about how their experience differs from or synchs with mine and how it may have influenced the creation of the piece of art that I either just enjoyed, felt blah about or was disappointed by.

    That said, I also understand the question of whether it’s a good thing that readers connect the writing with the author’s personality.

    As somebody who has stopped reading quite a few authors because of their bad behavior or opinions, experienced either via print interviews, online blogs or in person, I’ve had people tell me I should be able to separate the writing from the author.

    Obviously, I disagree with that assessment, because the book would not exist if not for that author’s personality and experiences. Coulter, Crusie, Deb Smith and several others will never get another penny from me, nor will I buy their books used.

    I do not believe that author bios are marketing items that sell books. If anything, they may keep a reader from buying a book if they are too cutsy, too boring, too something else (there’s no winning in this).

    I think author bios are included to satisfy the readers’ curiosity about the person who imagined the world in which they just spent several hours of their lives and fulfill this function, some better than others.

  14. ME
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:36:15

    I think it’s just human nature to look at the inside back cover and read a little about the author that wrote the book you just read. I do…I like to see what they look like etc. Does it influence me to buy a book? Not at all….The blurb on the back cover is what convinced me to buy.

  15. El
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:51:24

    I’ve always wanted to have at least a vague view of the person behind the book, or Internet persona, or whatever. I first got into local computer bulletin boards over 20 years ago, and met as many of the more vocal people as I could. I think this is part of why it matters–I would meet someone whose real way of speaking or presenting was drastically different from the way I’d pictured them, and all of a sudden everything I’d read would shift on me. It felt unfair to both me and them to have an inaccurate picture. A couple of examples–a guy who posted prolifically and who in my head was a fast-talker turned out to be a slow, leisurely “Ayup” kind of speaker, so everything I read of his became less urgent. A gal who was uber-cutesy turned out to have a hint of vitriol in everything she said, so the meaning of the cutesy things suddenly shifted into sarcasm.

    I can read without the info, obviously, but I much prefer to have it. I’m fascinated by artistic process, and to me the artwork is not truly separable from the artist. Any information I have on the author informs the experience of reading the book.

    Does it affect my enjoyment of the work itself? Absolutely, sometimes in positive ways and sometimes in negative. I consider this a good thing–makes for a richer reading to know more about the person telling the tale.

    As I think this through, I realize that I don’t agree at all that I should only judge the book by the book. If I have no other info, sure; but if I can find out more, understand more what the author is bringing to the book, why not? A book is the product of a mind, a person, a lifetime of experiences. It wasn’t created in isolation, and I don’t see why I should ignore the things that made it what it is. It may not matter to others, but it does to me.

    I also read the ends of books as soon as I have enough info on the plot to make sense of it, because I want all the context I can get. I don’t much like surprises, but I very much like seeing how things fit together, and you can do this more fully if you know what’s coming. I’m an inveterate re-reader, nearly always prefer the second read to the first–sometimes the 15th is even better. I’ve been known to watch the DVD commentary version of a movie first, and I’ve never been sorry I did.

    I’m in a minority opinion here, from what I gather, but I’m okay with that–it’s all part of understanding where *I’m* coming from as well. I like to know.

    I think I voted for “somewhat,” which now that I really look at it isn’t true. Hmm.

  16. Anion
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:54:10

    That said, I also understand the question of whether it's a good thing that readers connect the writing with the author's personality.

    See, but this has always happened, to some extent. Perhaps not as much as it does now, when writers have to invest a lot more in a “persona” online, but… Hemingway certainly had a persona. So did Fitzgerald. So did Faulkner and Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell and Oscar Wilde and all the Romantic poets. Authors of books set in and around the military have always had their own military experience in their bios; writers of medical thrillers have medical training mentioned in theirs. There has always been a drive to connect writing with the writer and to market a writer as more than just a book; heck, look at people like Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins.

    Maybe the smaller or mid-list writers didn’t have this as much, but there have always been speaking engagements for writers at libraries or reading groups or book clubs or schools or whatever, and those things have always been viewed as promo opportunities, and as occasions where it’s important for writers to be personable and likeable in order to help sell books.

    I’m not disagreeing with the main thrust of your point, just the idea that it’s something new.

  17. GrowlyCub
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:58:12

    Anion,

    definitely, that issue has been around forever. While I understand why the question comes up, I do not feel that it’s a necessary or good thing to separate author from work. I reiterate that since from your reply I may not have made that clear in my first post.

  18. Diana Peterfreund
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 09:58:49

    I love author bios. I’m always disappointed when books don’t have them. Author bios in YA and children’s lit are usually really interesting and connected to the books — but I feel that there is more of an attempt to make a personal connection in those cases (often, you are more likely to meet your readers because of library and school visits).

    This was an interesting post, given Jane’s very public stance on author backgrounds. Was it Eudora Welty who said she was disappointed when first she learned that books didn’t spring out of the ground fully formed?

  19. Jane
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:01:03

    @DianaPeterfreund – I don’t know what you mean re: my very public stance on author backgrounds? Perhaps you can elaborate.

  20. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:03:17

    TeddyPig, I love you.

  21. joanne
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:03:59

    I don’t care about the author’s life and or lifestyle unless they are participating in some kind of a criminal activity ….. and I assume if they are they will lie in the bio anyway.

    I can see I’m in the minority with that opinion but honestly, why should I care about their personal life or history? Unless their bio includes the information that they are retired/retiring from writing after this particular book so that I’ll know not to look for more work from them, the rest is extraneous.

    Did the author give me a product that I like/love? Did the author give me a story worth my time and money? If they did then “Yea!” & their personal life has absolutely nothing to do with me or my life…. and if they didn’t then I really don’t care what they do with their free time.

    I also think the bios might allow some readers to have expectations of friendship/kinship with the author now or in the future. That seems to be a quick jog toward disappointment for one or both and just not necessary.

    Of course, there is always the exception and I’m thrilled to tiny pieces that Teddypig and I have a commonality….

    After wandering far far away he turned to a life of grime

  22. Jane O
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:15:32

    An author’s bio is important on a nonfiction book to show that the author has enough background to know what he’s talking about, so I always check it before I read the book.

    In fiction, I would just as soon not know anything about the author. No bio can tell me whether or not the author has a vivid imagination or a decent writing style. All it can tell me is stuff I don’t need to know to enjoy the book, and may tell me stuff I didn’t want to know that will interfere with my enjoyment of the book. That’s why I am also wary of authors’ blogs.

  23. Aoife
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:40:21

    How interested I am in an author’s bio depends on who the author is, and what he/she is writing. Authors such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Laurie King, Barbara Hambly, Sharon Shinn: their biographies enhance the reading experience for me, and interest me enough to seek out their blogs, web pages, etc. Within Romance, not so much, and I’m not sure why that is. It might have to do with the fantasy element that is attached (again, for me) to much of my Romance reading. Most of the cutesy, self-consciously clever author bios make me cringe because they strike me as either presupposing a degree of intimacy with the reader that makes me uncomfortable, or they are of the Look-at-Me-Aren’t-I-Adorable variety. Either way, if there is going to be a bio attached to a Romance, I would prefer that it be short, direct, and not loaded down with gimmicks.

  24. shenan
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:45:32

    I get that readers might be interested in knowing more about authors. But what about authors? How many are interested in having readers know more about them? How many would prefer to keep their private lives private? Is that even an option? Are publishers interested in authors who aren’t interested in promoting themselves? What about readers? Do readers expect authors to make themselves more accessible?

  25. Phyl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:55:31

    I think WordPress ate my earlier attempt. Apologies if this ends up being a duplicate.

    When you think about it, aren’t author bios everywhere you go? Jane, you have one on your blog, right here at the top of these comments (that you seem to have edited for this conversation). I took a look around the house and paged through some magazines. There are brief bios that accompany the articles and patterns in my quilt magazines. They’re in my husband’s woodworking & biking magazines. They are part of being introduced as a speaker at a conference or convention. They’re in art galleries, literary exhibits, sports museums, etc., etc. I think it’s all a part of how we connect as human beings… “Tell me a little about yourself” or “Let me introduce myself.”

    Whether we look at these personal tidbits or not seems to vary from person to person. I like to read them. Others don’t. There’s nothing value-laden in that. I think it’s just who we are as individuals and how we relate to other individuals. But I don’t see them as any way special in genre fiction, because really, they’re everywhere.

  26. Jessica
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 10:58:49

    Aren’t there two or three separate questions?

    One is the question that has already been hashed across blogland, and at DA in recent weeks — whether a reader does or should change her view of an author’s books because she doesn’t like the author’s political and social positions.

    A second question — also recently discussed — involves whether authors themselves should be worried about the first question, and if so, what they can or should do about it, if anything.

    But I took it that this new post was asking a related but distinct third question: whether a reader getting to know an author, in particular via bios, is necessary, important, or helpful, or whatever — regardless of whether the reader likes what she finds.

    I do read author bios — it takes about 1.3 seconds usually — and I can tell you as I type this that I can only remember (perhaps not even accurately) a few things: Lisa Kleypas was Miss Massachusetts, Julia Quinn went to Harvard, and Diana Gabaldon was an ecologist. These facts, while interesting to me, had absolutely no bearing on whether or how much I enjoyed those books.

    Everyone else? As far as I can recall every other blurb I’ve read has a geographical location, a former career, some family info (married, kids or not), an assertion that the author began writing at age 3 (or 5 or 7), and sometimes a cutesy factoid, about cats or spicy food, for example.

    They just don’t matter to me at all.

  27. rebyj
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:00:00

    I only read them if after I read the book, I am wondering what planet is THAT author from?

  28. Maya M.
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:27:28

    I am completely ambivalent on this topic. On the one hand, I really like to preserve the lofty, enigmatic author persona, especially of books I adore, thinking of those geniuses in their ivory towers attuned to the gentle breaths of their Muse, with perhaps harpmusic in the background. The thought of such uberpersons being impatient or doing laundry or saying things they might regret later (as opposed to the polished gems that flow from their quills – and it is quills in my vision, keyboards just don’t fit) makes me unhappy.

    Yet whenever there is an opportunity for online chat with someone whose work I like or am curious about – I’m so there.

    The one sort of negates the other. Sigh.

    And bios? Love them (though strangely, the author photos I can 100% do without) though I admit to being pleased on the rare occasion I come across one that is unusual in some way.

  29. kirsten saell
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:30:36

    A bio is like a cigarette after sex–not necessary as a capper, but if it’s there on the nightstand, I’m going to smoke it.

    Often, when I finish a good book, I’m in that glowy place where there’s no more story to read, but I’m not ready to put it down yet. The bio is a transition beween the glowy place and my own sucky life with its sinkful of dishes and bickering kids. It’s like cleansing your palate with a glass of lemon water between the white and dark chocolate mousse and the Buckley’s cough syrup.

    If I think of any more lame analogies, I’ll write them down, lol.

  30. Jeanette
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:43:14

    When Lysay Sands wrote “The Deed” there was nothing about her. Drove me and my book lady nuts. Is she new? is it a pseudonym? who was this person? So I do like to see the author bio. I don’t care if it says much but I do like it to include pseudonyms so I can check out other books especially if they are writing in another genre.

  31. Lucinda Betts
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:57:17

    Teddy, I want to buy whatever book that bio went with.

  32. amberwitch
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 11:57:51

    Generally I only read author bios in books if I’ve run out of other reading materials, or on rare occasions if the book was something special. And when I do, I always spare a sympathetic thought to the poor author having to write it. The only autobiographical writings in a book that have made a difference in whether I would read more by the same author has been an afterword by Scott Card, and a thank you by Julie Czerneda (both religious).

    I find that the people that are thanked in the foreword often tells me more about the author than a bio might – like thanking the author endorsing the book on the cover (bad) or another author I read (interesting how little the world of writing is).

  33. Jessica
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:07:17

    I find that the people that are thanked in the foreword often tells me more about the author than a bio might – like thanking the author endorsing the book on the cover (bad) or another author I read (interesting how little the world of writing is).

    That is a great point, and I agree: I devour those acknowledgements like Halloween candy. They are way more telling than the bio, IMO.

  34. Fionn J.
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:12:28

    Me, personally, I don’t give a flying f*** about who they are, as long as I enjoyed the book. I don’t care if the protagonist sounded strangely like the author or what. It’s none of my concern if they’re anything like their heroines. After all, who doesn’t want to be a heroine?

  35. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:29:16

    I agree with Anion that there has always been plenty of author persona to go around. Hemingway. Twain. That creepy Patterson. It’s not a new thing. And there have been author photos on books since before I started reading, certainly. Arguably, photos have a lot less relevance than bios.

    As far as the tone of the bio… Well, that should depend on the tone of the book, imho. Or the attitude of the writer. That’s the point of the bio, after all. *g*

  36. Kathryn S
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:42:40

    Well, my two cents is as follows:

    — Readers don’t need to care what we look like or about our lives, but the info is there should you want to know a little bit about the person who wrote the book you hopefully just enjoyed. I’m not sure if the bio is meant to be a selling point, or just a little something extra because authors can be so totally faceless. I think as humans we have a need to connect. You like a band, you want to know if that lead singer looks as good as he sounds, so maybe it’s the same with writers? If you loved a book, don’t you want to see the person who created it? See if he or she matches the image you have in your head?

    — Often the ‘cutesy’ info in there, like the fact that I have three cats, or a husband I consider the most amazing in the world is there because we want to at least sound like we’re normal people rather than someone who spends more time inside her head than out of it. Also, those nice bios sound better than, “Kathryn Smith spends so much time alone that she drinks more than she should and her best friends are four-legged. She often begs her husband for a trip to Walmart just so she can get out of the damn house. She writes because she loves it and because she’s too socially inept and flighty to do anything else. Pathetic and attention hungry, she hopes you admire her photo and think she’s witty.” And no, I’m not admitting just how much of that is true and how much was written so you will indeed pay attention to me and find me clever.

    — Seriously, I don’t know what benefit the bio serves, but I like them, especially ones that list other books/series the author has written that I might not know about.

    — Oh, and I’m a snob about photos. I want authors to look nice in them. I always try to look presentable in mine because that’s the face I’m attaching to my work. And if you see me at a conference, I’m going to look like that photo, unless I’ve dyed my hair again.

    Okay, I’m done rambling. I’m going to Walmart. :-0

  37. Tina
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:48:45

    As a reader, I read the author bios after I’m done reading, even if I didn’t like it. I find it interesting how people perceive themselves.

    As an author, I didn’t mind writing my bio because it was about “Paige” not me, per se. Nothing about “her” bio wasn’t true, but it was almost like writing for your split personality. :)

    Now, writing my Publisher bio killed me. Took me two weeks, because this was me, this had my real name on it and I didn’t want to sound stupid, flighty, over the top, full of myself, blah blah blah. *shudder* Still pains me to think about it.

    Does an author bio make me buy or not buy a book? No, but to me it is an added bonus. And as a publisher, I do like to read them as they give a little insight into an author that’s submitting.

  38. Shreela
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:59:11

    The main thing that bothers me about bios/abouts is what “person” they’re written in. If it sounds like someone else is writing about the author, then it doesn’t bother me when they refer to the author by their name, or as he/she. But if the bio sounds like it was written by the author while using their name, or he/she, I can’t stand that. I can’t decide if I think it sounds narcissistic, pretentious, or if they suffer from multiple personality syndrome.

    I like professional info if it’s pertinent to the book, or personal info if it gives some insight to the book.

  39. MB
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:00:48

    Oddly enough, I am one of those people who go out and research authors that I like and admire. Since I have the facilities and skills to do so, this is not hard for me. Bios are appreciated.

    I find that who they are, what they’ve done, and what they think is important and informs my reading and understanding of their materials. I tend to do this more for non-romance authors because complicated plots intrigue me and romance novels tend to be more “on the surface”. (This is not meant to be a slam to romance novelists at all–it is just that usually there is not a lot of doubts or questions left for me after the HEA! I either like it and want to read more by this author, or hated it and don’t.)

    I actually have a folder saved of all my favorite author’s websites. I check them every so often to see what is new and whether they have new books coming out.

    For instance, there is one particular sci-fi author whose books I love that I find extemely frustrating because there is almost no biographical info out there about her. Yet she has an extremely intriguing worldview and her novels are written extrapolating on ideas and views that are very obviously from her worldview & experience. I would love to know more about her and her background, education, and career history just because of that influence on her writing! Her books are extremely complicated, with a breadth of knowledge on science, religions, social structures, ecology and civil government, cultural differences and history that amazes me. I wish I knew more about the author!

  40. Lori
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:01:23

    Well damn Kathryn Smith, I might hate cutesy but I just went to Amazon and ordered your book because you made me laugh. And it sounds good. I might end up changing my mind *big grin*.

  41. Anion
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:02:19

    I find that the people that are thanked in the foreword often tells me more about the author than a bio might – like thanking the author endorsing the book on the cover (bad) or another author I read (interesting how little the world of writing is).

    I’m confused; why is it bad to thank someone who took the time to read your book and pay you a compliment? Isn’t that simply standard politeness?

    I had a good friend who gave me a blurb; should I not thank her even though she’s my friend? She did read the book; she acted as a critique partner on it, in fact, and was enthusiastic about it from the first word to the last. Does she not deserve thanks simply because she’s a big enough name for her blurb to be valuable?

    Did I miss something? Are you not supposed to thank people who helped make your book a success now? Seriously. I’m really confused.

  42. MB
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:06:51

    Speaking of Bios, if an author has a website, I strongly recommend that a link to it be included in your Author Bio. That way fans who liked your book can easily look up the rest of your materials and find out what is coming out next.

    It’s free advertising! Use it, you’d be silly not to!

    (I am constantly surprised by how few people seem to include something that seems fairly obvious to me, a reader and customer.)

  43. Lori Borrill
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:18:12

    As an author, I don’t especially mind sharing a few personal details for readers who are curious. As for authors whose bios are mostly silly tidbits, it could be because they’d rather not share anything more personal, but the publisher is requiring something.

    As a reader, I do occasionally check out an authors bio, for the same reason most have said. Simple curiosity. But I haven’t read one yet that has affected my opinion of the writer or my enjoyment of the book.

    Of course, I haven’t come across one that says, “An avid polygamist, Mr. Author enjoys cutting off drivers and kicking puppies. He thinks all readers are stupid but uses the money you provide to support his local chapter of the Arian Brotherhood, and for that, he thanks you.”

    When I do, I’ll probably change my opinion of bios.

  44. Leah
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:29:16

    I like author bios because I am completely nibby. Big-time. When I was a kid, I went through my parents’ stuff. As a teen, I read the names on my siblings’ adoption files when the atty was holding them in the elevator. I listen to others’ conversations in public places. I google people from my past for the heck of it. And, for some reason, I am a woman people tend to spill their guts to. I don’t do anything with this information (I wrote down the adoption info, but blacked it out later in my journal–it’s unreadable now). But I am interested in people. So if an author has a bio, I read it. And unless it said the author was a neo-Nazi pedophile who sacrificed kittens to Satan (or something like that), it would not affect my reading experience (Ann S. made a good point though). If I ever get my stuff published, my bio will be pretty boring. What I stress about is the photo. I need to get a bunch of weight off and a good haircut!

    Oh, and TeddyPig, I am so jealous! Wish I lived in Wilmington!

  45. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:39:01

    My issue is not with author bios, per se. Besides my natural curiosity about people in general, I have done in depth biographical research on numerous subjects of academic study over the years.

    My issue is with the way author bios implicitly (or explicitly) seem to authorize books within a fictional genre. In Romance this often results in female pseudonyms for male authors; the insistence of a happy marriage (“she found her own HEA with husband Thor and her children, Brick, Redbull, and Annabelle Lee”); or in the absence of said marriage, some substitutional sentiment like “author X is still searching for her own prince charming.” It’s those “Dear Reader” letters in which the author reaches out to make some personal connection to the reader around the story — as if that makes it more authoritative or relevant or important or truthful somehow. That’s what I find deeply problematic. And I wonder, too, how many authors feel pressured to render their bio in such a way as to buttress those authorizing sentiments — as if someone who has been divorced three times and who has an estranged relationship with her children can’t write the most mind-blowing, emotionally wrenching, powerfully affecting Romance ever.

    Not that people necessarily believe that — that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. My point is that IMO there are certain presumptions about readers of particular books and about the books themselves (and I’m sure this is true in other genres, as well), and that those presumptions make their way into the genre marketing such that certain stereotypes are engendered and perpetuated — stereotypes that feed into an essentialist image of Romance and its female readership/authorship. It makes a huge difference to me if someone writing a book on Supreme Court decisions has some background in the law, but I couldn’t care less if a Romance author is married, has children, loves four-legged creatures, and “can turn the world on with her smile.” But I think author bios are often part of a marketing assumption that I do or should care about those things when reading Romance, and that’s what unsettles me.

  46. Hortense Powdermaker
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:41:59

    No person can be summed up in one paragraph, so I don’t see the value of author mini-bios.

    It’s when I read a longer biography and learn that the author abandoned his children (including a daughter with spina bifada who died at the age of three) that I re-read his novels with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Which is, of course, why he kept that stuff under wraps his whole life.

    But I assume an author bio is on a book because the publisher requests it, and the publisher wants it there because 38% of readers like them and 16% love them, thereby overruling the 46% to whom they don’t matter.

  47. Lori Borrill
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:53:04

    Robin, I don’t think authors or publishers are thinking that deeply about bios. Authors write them because the publisher requests them. We might put, “looking for our own hero” because we’re trying to add a little fun to the wording and make them less boring. While I can’t speak for all authors, for me at least, that’s about all the thought that goes into it. Like Hortense said, publishers put them in because someone did a survey and found most readers like them, and at that point, the “bio” meeting most likely adjourned.

  48. Teddypig
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:53:23

    Robin, why is it you can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
    Well it’s you Robin, and you should know it
    With each glance and every little movement you show it

  49. Lucinda Betts
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:57:47

    # Teddypig on November 4th, 2008 at 1:53 pm:

    Robin, why is it you can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
    Well it's you Robin, and you should know it
    With each glance and every little movement you show it

    Teddy, that could be the dedication/acknowledgement in your book with the fantastic back bio. Now all you need is the story.

  50. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:02:53

    But I think author bios are often part of a marketing assumption that I do or should care about those things when reading Romance, and that's what unsettles me.

    Wow, that strikes me as super-duper conspiritorial.

    Here’s how it worked for me. I wrote four hundred pages of a romance. Then I wrote another four-hundred page romance. Then I wrote a three-hudred-and-fifty page romance. Thousands of romantic pages later, my pub asked me to write a bio. Strangely enough, my bio has a romantic bent.

    When I go to an art showing, there is usually a nice little board there with biographical info about the artist. Same with the Playbill at the theater. It really doesn’t seem very odd to me. And I gather if I wanted my bio to say, simply, “Victoria Dahl writes books,” that’s what it would say.

    Some people like bios. That’s why they are in books. Simple as pie.

  51. amberwitch
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:20:44

    Anion: I recently read a book – which I thought was mediocre at best – with two ringing endorsements on the cover. One of the endorsers was an author who was thanked in the preface for her help, the other was a fellow writer with the same publisher. Having followed the debates about author behaviour here at dearauthor (I don’t recall the threads, but in one of them the author endorsement schtick was dissected at great length), that comes across to me as disinginious. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if the book lived up to its recommendation, but alas, it didn’t.
    I don’t recall off hand which book, and as they are all packed away I can’t go look.

    Regardless of the books quality, I would find it difficult to take an endorsement at face value if the endorser and the endorsee (so to speak) were on such close terms as the endorsee thanked the endorser in the preface of the endorsed product. That is a bit too close to having someone approve of a product whom the product producing company pays, or like company sponsored tests whose results are always in the companys interest. In short, too biased to be of any use for me – and if the only endorsements come from someone who isn’t impatial, what does that say about the product?

  52. Kathryn S
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:21:09

    Thanks, Lori. :-)

    And I have to agree with Victoria that there’s no other agenda for a bio than to have an author bio in the book for those who are interested. They’re not written or printed with any thought as to marketing or trying to convince a reader of anything. I also know that even as I type this, no one who believes the opposite is going to change their mind because of what I’ve said.

    Best advice I can offer is if you don’t like the bios, ignore ‘em. They’re not going to go away anytime soon.

  53. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:21:43

    Lori: I can believe that. But IMO that’s one more reason to take a good look at all the stuff that’s part of marketing the genre. Most ideology becomes so entrenched we no longer need to consciously chew over it to keep it functioning. If, for example, you track genre Romance back through sentimental fiction of the late 18th and 19th centuries, there are so many things that have made their way into Romance — things we don’t always question but that had very specific importance in their earlier form (i.e. the elevation of the domestic as the ideal woman’s work, etc.). I should also mention that I consider the author bio as part of the overall authorial persona and tend to “read” the author through all those different vehicles — dedications, flap photos, bios, website bios, etc., so that may alter the way I see the issue.

    TP: Love is all around, no need to waste it, you can have a town why don’t you take it — You’re gonna make it after all!

    Victoria: Wow, that strikes me as super-duper conspiritorial.
    Actually I think it’s so broadly accepted that it’s probably more super-duper unconscious at this point.

  54. Christine Merrill
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:26:37

    Robin, I don't think authors or publishers are thinking that deeply about bios. Authors write them because the publisher requests them. We might put, “looking for our own hero” because we're trying to add a little fun to the wording and make them less boring.

    I agree. If I mention my husband, kids and pets in my bio, it’s not an attempt to prove that I’m living the correct stereotype for a romance novelist. It’s more a shout out to them than it is a marketing ploy to you. I think they deserve a mention. It will make them feel good to know that they are on my mind. The things in my bio are important to me, and that’s all that matters from this end.

    It’s also a lot less personal than some info I could put in a 100 word bio. Sometimes, it’s better to sound ordinary than to share the things that make us way too unique. And it does sound better than the agorophobic drunk bio that Kathryn suggested. That would be my second choice.

    Bios and head shots have been in books for as long as I remember. If there’s been any change in any of this, it’s in the reader’s reactions to them. I don’t remember as I was growing up, thinking that Leonard Wibberley was carefully wording his bio to make me think we were BFFs.

    I must say that I am totally puzzled, following the last few weeks of threads. Weren’t people worried five minutes ago, that authors were muzzling themselves if they didn’t want to talk politics during an important election? Now I have to worry that if I mention my dog, people will think I am pandering.

    And no matter what I say, it is possible to do something to make a reader hate me forever and never buy another book.

    I’m not really as defensive about this as I probably sound. But from the author end, it’s a can’t win.

  55. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:44:02

    I would find it difficult to take an endorsement at face value if the endorser and the endorsee (so to speak) were on such close terms as the endorsee thanked the endorser in the preface of the endorsed product.

    I totally understand this, amberwitch, but I’d argue the other side. I’ve thanked other writers specifically BECAUSE I was honored and surprised that they would take the time to read my book, and blown away that they liked it. Writers who had no reason to do that for me. The less personal our relationship, the more reason to thank them.

    And Robin, I say again… I’m a romance writer. It’s only natural for me to write my bio in that same style. And only natural to assume someone who’s reading a romance novel won’t mind that romantic style. *shrug*

  56. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:44:11

    Now I have to worry that if I mention my dog, people will think I am pandering.

    Oh, I don’t think it’s about pandering at all. But it wasn’t all that long ago that there was a ferocious debate on this site about a certain Romance author who had moved to another country and left her husband and kids. Some of that discussion turned on the fact that she wrote Romance and how her actions should/shouldn’t impact her career.

    For me this all comes down to that issue of personalization. In one sense, if the author comes across as more personalized to the reader it can be a huge boon, creating a stronger bond between reader and book. But IMO there can also be real pressure in a personalized marketing strategy to conform to certain expectations. If you don’t feel that as an author, that’s fantastic. If you don’t think it’s an issue at all, that’s your view of the issue. Mine is different — I am not a fan of the personalized marketing structures in Romance, and I find them problematic in a number of ways. I don’t blame anyone for that (certainly not authors or editors), don’t think authors are necessarily trying to pitch themselves in specific ways, and I have no doubt that many others are perfectly happy with the way things are.

  57. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:53:50

    I am not a fan of the personalized marketing structures in Romance, and I find them problematic in a number of ways.

    Is this specific to romance, Robin? Going back to the example of art (becasue I live in a small town with lots of little galleries), are you disturbed by a showing of paintings accompanied by a biography and a photo of the artist? What if the artist is actually there speaking about her inspiration and/or personal life as it relates to her art?

    I’m just curious. I have no point to make. *g*

  58. MB (Leah)
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 15:19:50

    I don’t read author bios until after I read a book except when I buy from epubs. And I don’t know why I do that with ePubs and not dead tree books.

    Sometimes if I’ve been vacillating on whether or not to buy a book (ebook), a snarky or clever bio might get me to buy the book. It tells me that the writing inside might be unique and interesting.

    If a book is really good, or gawd awful, then I definitely read the bio just out of curiosity.

    One thing I really like to know is where an author lives or is from. Especially if what they write includes details of a specific place.

  59. Miranda
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 15:27:24

    Very timely discussion. I just received an email from my editor asking for a bio. But I can’t say the posts so far have provided a clear way forward (though I’m leaning toward excluding children and animals)

  60. MaryK
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 15:32:47

    Port of Paradise was the first book I read by Lisa Marie Rice. I loved it. Loved the setting. Loved the hero. Back then, she had that non-bio in all her books and it was awhile before real details came out. Now I know that she lives in Italy and that adds a feeling of authenticity to my reading of the book.

    Anything that adds validity to the world an author has created is an aid to retaining me as a reader. On the other hand, anything that indicates an author is pushing an agenda turns me off. So in general, I don’t hold with this:

    Objectively, I think that if a book is measured solely on its own merits and not influenced by the biography of the author, then we readers should not care who wrote the book, where she lives, or what kind of marital status they have.

    I don’t feel an obligation to measure a book solely on its own merits. For every author who writes a book for the joy of the story, there’s one who’s using a book as a vehicle. Everything that goes into my brain has an effect on it so I feel perfectly justified in evaluating a book in the context of the author. I’m more concerned about myself than I am about books and their authors.

  61. JaimeK
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 16:06:43

    I voted that I did not give a fig about author bios, but in reading the posts here and then really thinking about the access we readers have to authors these days I think I am wrong. I know we are speaking specificallly about bios, however, two of my favorite authors would not have even made it to my tbr pile (at the top) if it had not been for their voice here at DA and on their own blogs (Shiloh Walker & Ann Aguirre). It was specifically that voice heard in their blogs that made me ask my local bookstore to get in anything they could. Does that mean the writing was going to be super just because of what I had read here and on their blogs? No, definitely not – but I sure did get lucky!!

  62. GrowlyCub
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 16:25:27

    Is this specific to romance, Robin? Going back to the example of art (becasue I live in a small town with lots of little galleries), are you disturbed by a showing of paintings accompanied by a biography and a photo of the artist? What if the artist is actually there speaking about her inspiration and/or personal life as it relates to her art?

    I'm just curious. I have no point to make. *g*

    I do have exactly that point to make. :)

    It really seems to me that both Jane and Robin perceive that there is a difference in the kind of bio or the function of bios for romance authors as opposed to other books and also that the personalization is only happening for romance authors or happening differently for them as opposed to other genres or other art forms.

    I happen to disagree with that perception.

    I’ve seen bios without the prince charming husband or the expressed hope for said charming husband, but I will admit that in most of those bios either cats or dogs or other pets were featured. Are they included to show that the writer is able to have warm fuzzy bonding going on with at least a four-legged creature if not a two-legged one to explain how come the author can write with confidence about a relationship she herself doesn’t have? Possibly, but I really don’t think so.

    Bios are quick introductions. My cats and husband, job and hobbies come up when I’m introduced to new people. That’s standard when folks who haven’t met before are introduced and does seem no different from romance authors writing about their family members in a short bio included with their book.

    I see what both Robin and Jane are getting at, but I just don’t see that there’s a deeply entrenched subconscious stereotyping going on with the written romance author bios. Personalization happens with any artist because we are human and we constantly seek to connect to other humans and personalization that relates back to the art is common.

    Now, ask me again when we discuss pictures next week and you’ll hear a very different take. :) [Although I have to say it’s more a general dislike for ‘glamour’ shots and not restricted to romance novels.]

  63. Patrice Michelle
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 16:39:10

    I dunno about other authors, but what cracks me up about myself is that I can whip out a book, spinning tales about other people’s lives with no problem, but have been known to spend an hour on a paragraph-long bio. Apparently, I find writing fiction much easier. LOL!

  64. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 16:46:06

    Bios are quick introductions. My cats and husband, job and hobbies come up when I'm introduced to new people.

    Growlycub, i actually typed up a post to this effect and then didn’t post it. Ask me to write a paragraph about my life and I turn to the important things. My husband, my kids, my home. That’s my life. That’s my bio. If other people have awards and degrees and travel and expertise to write about, I’m happy to read about that too. But that’s not me. Am I a walking gender stereotype who perpetuates assumptions about the genre? Apparently. *g* Am I okay with that? Hell yeah.

    And am I okay with readers who prefer not to read a bio? Absolutely!

  65. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 16:57:24

    Is this specific to romance, Robin? Going back to the example of art (becasue I live in a small town with lots of little galleries), are you disturbed by a showing of paintings accompanied by a biography and a photo of the artist? What if the artist is actually there speaking about her inspiration and/or personal life as it relates to her art?

    I think Romance is *specifically* marketed through a(n) (over)personalized paradigm that is perhaps related to the whole relationship focus of the novels. I remember, for example, being wholly surprised when I first started online by the way Romance readers speak of authors using their first names. I still notice it, because it’s something that is so contrary to my own training, although I no longer assume it means that the reader actually knows the author, lol. It’s been difficult enough for me to address authors by their first names in a blog environment, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to refer to authors by their first names in reviews. I don’t see either way as good or bad, but I do think that the first name indicates a more personal address, one used between people who know each other and within a more informal personal context.

    So would I respond the same way to a visual artist’s bio? To answer that I would have to start by going back to my original point which is that I don’t have an issue with author bios per se. I get that authors are simply writing down those things that are part of their lives, husbands, children, dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever. So I don’t read author bios thinking, ‘oh, she’s just trying to sell her books based on her own marriage history’ or whatever. Most bios I don’t register at all unless they are particularly clever or particularly awkward or stand out in some other way.

    So when it comes to reading the bio of an artist of a painting, it would come down to my perceptions of how art tends to be marketed. IMO certain visual arts are marketed with a perception of rarity, exclusivity, scarcity, both of the artist and the work (think about how artists whose work is mass produced can be seen as lesser somehow, as hacks or worse). An individual artist bio would likely have no impact on me, but if I were to take issue with some of the operative stereotypes I see in so-called fine art, I might have a similar analysis of the marketing of art and the role that I see artist bios playing in that marketing.

    To clarify further, let me bring this back to something more overtly in the crosshairs of Romance community analysis — clinch covers. A lot of people like them. Publishers insist they sell. Both of those things I believe. But IMO those covers both reflect and perpetuate certain stereotypes about the genre and about its readers. That doesn’t mean I hate every clinch cover and believe they’re a tool of the devil’s patriarchal plans for the overthrow of women. That doesn’t mean I believe they *shouldn’t* sell or that I don’t understand how people can’t love clinch covers or that I believe people who adore them are submitting to patriarchal authority. It just means that I believe those covers — in toto — have a certain effect and also reflect certain perceptions that may not fit with how readers really view the genre. When it comes to author bios, I see it as part of the way in which *authors* are IMO marketed as heavily (perhaps more so) than their actual books — i.e. that readers are being subtly encouraged to relate to the book *through* the author *even though that may not be the intention of any author*.

    I could construct an argument with different premises and assumptions that is equally critical of certain SF marketing, as well, especially in the days before women were so prominently involved as readers and authors in the genre (the covers alone are quite a study). But since we’re talking here about Romance, that’s where I’ve been focused.

  66. Jessa Slade
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 17:49:06

    Sarah Palin/Fred Phelps 2012

    Teddy Pig, I’d buy this bumpersticker :)

    I read the bio if I liked the book. I just spent hours with that person’s creation, so of course I want to know more about them. If I learn something new or interesting, cool. If not, whatever.

    I’m going to have to write a bio soon and, like Patrice, I’m probably going to spend too long working on it. Mine will probably include mention of my geckos, but I promise I won’t pose for my author pic with hula hands.

  67. GrowlyCub
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 18:04:58

    I conducted a quick survey to address ‘authorization’ via bio as a means to convey the author’s qualification to write about the subject.

    I randomly picked 10 books off my SF/F shelves.

    Five out of 10 had an author bio (Tanya Huff, Robert Heinlein, M.A. Foster, Catherine Asaro and Marion Zimmer Bradley did not).

    Arthur C. Clarke’s mentions where he was born but not where he lives and does not refer to the wife I know he had. Heavy on the qualifications, awards and honors received.

    Sharon Lee/Steve Miller starts with past SF related positions, mentions where they live, that they are married and have lots of cats.

    Robert J. Sawyer’s is heavy on his awards and his TV appearances and mentions his wife’s name and domicile.

    Ursula LeGuin’s mentions her hometown and then concentrates exclusively on honors and awards.

    Jack McDevitt’s lists his past jobs, past novels, his wife’s name and where he lives.

    I was curious, so I checked other books by the 5 authors who didn’t have one in the first title I picked. Asaro’s next two books had one. Heavy on the education, mentions her ballet career and current involvement in both ballet and hard science and her other books. The other four authors did not have bios in any of the books I checked. Interestingly enough, most of those titles were very old and almost all by DAW.

    It definitely seems that the SF/F bios are heavily into ‘authorizing’, showing the reader that the author is qualified to write about the subject matter they have chosen, either by education or by peer recognition.

    For comparison purposes, I picked 10 books off my romance shelves.

    Elizabeth Hewitt’s gives domicile, mentions husband and cats, lists hobbies and previous titles.

    Kate Hoffmann’s mentions how long she’s been published (since 1993) and how many books she’s had published (holy cow, 60!, I had no idea). Goes on to list her hobbies and her location and two cats. No prince charming, husband, or otherwise mentioned.

    Naomi Horton’s lists her birthplace and the fact that libraries were few and far between and the winters long. Includes a quote on how/why she started writing, mentions her engineering degree, her husband and a collection of assorted pets.

    Jo Beverley’s is so short I’ll quote: ‘has won just about every award in the romance field, including 4 RITAs. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.’

    Anne McAllister’s bio mentions her RITAs, points out that she fell in love with cowboys at age 5, but that her husband is a college professor. First (and only) mention of ‘man of her dreams for 30 years’.

    Eloisa James’ bio touts her as the author of 8 award-winning romances, mentions her professorship, her family and domicile. Books must be written in her sleep because of the 2 kids, guinea pig, frog and tumbledown house. Husband conspicuously absent.

    Jill Shalvis’s ’08 Blaze title didn’t have a bio.

    Sharon Sala’s bio tells us she’s a farmer’s child, likes solitude, is a dreamer and likes that her stories have become tools of healing. No princes, frogs or other males mentioned.

    Judith Duncan’s mentions her marriage, kids and domicile, her involvement in teaching the writing craft, her position with the Canadian Authors’ Association and the Alberta RWA, which she founded.

    Rosemary Rogers’ book doesn’t have a bio (very old title.)

    Out of 10 romance books (which slanted heavily into category because I was too lazy to go upstairs and pull more single titles), 8 had bios, but only 4 that may fit the type that Jane and Robin find problematic. The other 4 bios did not mention human males.

    Notabene: none of the 4 bios mentioned the husband or significant other by name, while two of the SF/F ones did.

    Coming down to the nitty gritty we are at the question of whether the fact that women writers mention their family/pet ties as well as awards and positions within professional organizations while SF/F writers concentrate on degrees, awards and honors means that they are using their personal lives as ‘authorization’ for the type of books they write.

    After thinking about this for a while, I have decided that romance writers may very well be doing this (either because they haven’t gotten awards (yet), have no college education or do not consider it relevant to their chosen genre or as Victoria says because the people or pets are the most important things in their lives and they use the bio as a shout-out to them) and that I have zero issue with that and do not find it problematic, negatively stereotyping of females, etc.

    I also have no issues with SF/F writers listing their awards and scientific backgrounds.

    That said, I found the romance writers bios more informative on a personal level. The fact that X author has gotten a million awards really doesn’t do much for me as a reader. I usually get the instinctive ‘man, do you think that head will fit through the door’ reaction to reading bios that focus heavily on that (be they SF/F or Romance).

    I guess now I’ll echo what others have said, at least to a degree. I do not care how the writer is qualified to write about what they write, I read bios because I want to find out more about them, and how they came up with the world I was just immersed in. If a SF/F author can’t write a convincing story, all the Hugos or engineering degrees will not make me like the book better, same with a romance writer, if the couple doesn’t convince as a couple, the fact that the writer’s been married for 30 years won’t convince me that s/he knew what s/he was writing about.

    I think I’ll quit now. Not sure I’m ahead or whether I’ve contradicted myself, grin.

    Thanks for the interesting topic, Jane! Kept me intellectually stimulated on a day when I desperately needed a distraction! And not just because of the election. I’m afraid to turn my TV on…

  68. Patrice Michelle
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 18:06:57

    Jessa wrote:

    but I promise I won't pose for my author pic with hula hands.

    Yeah, but how will the photographer pose you? *g*

  69. Ann Somerville
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 18:30:58

    I think the most interesting, funny and attracting bio I’ve ever read is this one:

    K.A. Mitchell discovered the magic of writing at an early age when she learned that a carefully crayoned note of apology sent to the kitchen in a toy truck would earn her a reprieve from banishment to her room. Her career as a spin control artist was cut short when her family moved to a two-story house, and her trucks would not roll safely down the stairs. Around the same time, she decided that Chip and Ken made a much cuter couple than Ken and Barbie and was perplexed when invitations to play Barbie dropped off. An unnamed number of years later, she's happy to find other readers and writers who like to play in her world.

    It tells me nothing about the author’s private life (in which I have no interest) but *does* tell me she’s been curious about same sex romance for a long time (and hasn’t just picked it up as the next big thing) – plus it’s funny and clever without being too clever. The author, coincidentally, happens to write pretty well too. I liked her ‘bio’ voice enough to pick up the next book, and wasn’t disappointed, even though the the first one was only so so for me.

  70. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 18:43:08

    GrowlyCub: Right now I’m reading David Grossman’s Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics, and here’s the bio:

    David Grossman is the author of seven novels, two works of journalism, and a previous volume of collected commentary. He lives in Jerusalem.

  71. GrowlyCub
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 19:09:19

    Says something about his work and his domicile, but nothing about his person. Since it doesn’t include any personal remarks, one could argue that it’s a ‘professional’ sounding bio, but I would not call it an efficient one. I guess it all comes down to what one thinks the function of a bio is.

    I’d find it really useless if I had turned to it find out more about the writer since it doesn’t list even one of the titles of his other books. If the function was to make me more interested in his work, I’d have to say it failed (this point may be moot if I was blown away by the book I just read by him).

    Here’s a part of the author bio of a molecular biology textbook I just picked up.

    After listing his BA, Ph.D., research, publishing credentials, his particular interests in his field and his teaching career, it goes on to say:

    “Finding it impossible to carry on life as both full-time professor and author, Gerry gave up his faculty position to concentrate on writing. He hopes to revise this text every three years.”

    While no babies, wives, hobbies, pets or other cute creatures were mentioned the bio was able to connect me to the author, his personality, his priorities and his future career plans, something the bio you quoted did not.

    I much prefer a bio that gives me some insight into the author’s personality. YMMV and probably does! :)

  72. Christine Merrill
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 19:39:17

    Sorry, but I’m still not seeing how we’re different from other genres. Most SF fans know exactly who you’re talking about if you mention PTerry, Neil or Harlan.

    And the only bio I can remember reading lately was for a male literary author, who mentioned his girlfriend and dog by name.

    I also learned about Stephen King’s wife family and pets from his bio. And Neil Gaiman talks about his family, all the time. I know his pets names, and he lets his daughters blog for him.

    I think the presence of a fandom is what leads to the personalization. And since many writers of romance are women with families, that’s where we’re focused and that’s what we talk about, if someone asks us to crank a bio out on the spur of the moment (which seems to happen a lot).

    Do I have degrees? Yep. And have I held different jobs? Yep. Do I mention them in bios? Some of them, I think. I have a lot of different bios, for every occasion.

    But whatever I say is what I want to be saying, and not a product of any direct pressure to conform to a stereotype. And I got my headshot from Glamour Shots, too. Although it is totally free of boas and glitter eyeshadow.

    And the other authors posting here are saying mostly the same thing. No one is making us act this way. Have I missed someone? Do we have any wirter that wants to be a dissenter?

    If there’s any pressure, it seems to be coming from here. And it confuses me. Because coming to places like this to post creates more personalization and familiarity than an author bio does. You can’t mingle with readers and leave nothing of yourself behind.

  73. Keishon
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 19:55:37

    Next week will be the dreaded Author Photo and whether looks matter in the selling of books.

    Can’t wait to add my two cents to that topic. I think my original comment got lost in the black hole of the Internet.

  74. Robin
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 20:10:03

    Says something about his work and his domicile, but nothing about his person.

    It does say something personal, though, because his work is largely concentrated on Israeli culture and identity. His other works are listed and divided into fiction and non-fiction in the front of the book (a small hardcover published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). The other (front) flap of the book contains a brief explanation of the book’s contents.

    I realize that I can’t hope to make my point particularly clear without it seeming as if I am trying to wring the personhood out of authors. But for me it’s really a matter of degree and of the whole notion of “credentialing.” The SF authors you mentioned in your long post all were “credentialed” or “authorized,” “by showing the reader that the author is qualified to write about the subject matter they have chosen, either by education or by peer recognition,” as you put it.

    Comparatively, what is valued among Romance authors? What is offered to connect with their readership? How are authors being packaged and marketed and what aspects of the author’s personal experience are seen as more “valuable” within the context of the market. Nicholas Sparks, for example, has a “did you know” page on on his website, on which the third item is this: After selling The Notebook, the first thing he bought was a new wedding ring for his wife. Then there are the men who write under the female pseudonym — why is that? To me it’s not personal v. non-personal/impersonal; it’s what aspects of the personal and why.

  75. kirsten saell
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 20:10:50

    There’s a huge difference between not caring for/about author bios and actively disliking them. I think as long as the number of readers who like or love them exceeds the number who actively dislike them, they won’t be going anywhere soon.

  76. Miki
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 20:26:45

    I don’t require an author bio, although if an author doesn’t want to be known, I’d rather have there be nothing than one of those fake bios that make it obvious the author doesn’t want you to know who they are (aka Lisa Marie Jones’ early bio).

    If there is a bio, I usually skim it, even if it’s just to see where they live. “Oh, this one might show up at booksigning nearby some day” or “I’ll probably never meet her at a booksigning around here”.

    Oh, and I really like it when the author includes a website address, especially if it’s not the author’s name dot com.

  77. Kaetrin
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 01:40:40

    I like author bios and I always read them. I don’t buy books because of them but it helps me to get into the book somehow (don’t ask me how exactly!) to know that there is a “real person” out there who had the idea and wrote the words. Somehow it “orients” me in the story but other than that preparation, it has no bearing on what I think of the book. As I read more of an author’s work, I find myself wanting to know more about them – I think this may have something to do with the connection I feel with them (in a totally non-stalker way of course! LOL!) from having enjoyed their books so much.

    As to what’s in the bio, I like to know whether or not they are married, have children, something about previous careers and favourite things – I guess I pretty much prefer a straight and brief bio.

    Oh, and in anticipation of next week’s piece – I like the photos too – again, it helps me to feel that the author is a real person.

  78. Patricia Briggs
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 02:07:22

    Oddly enough, sometimes I like reading bios and sometimes not. My first favorite author, CW Anderson (wrote kid’s horse stories, mostly starring thoroughbreds and he did his own fabulous artwork) had terrific photos of the author with some nifty-looking horse. I would check out the photo before I read the book. Roberta Gellis, one of my all time favorite authors has a degree in (I think) medieval lit and another in bio-chemistry (and isn’t that an odd combination). I love her because not only does she have wonderful characters, but her history is spot-on. That matters to me. Linda Howard occasionally does wonderfully funny stories as her bio. I remember one where she and various siblings set fire to a (I think) tree while her parent were gone. But, mostly I don’t care about them.

    And I hate writing my own bios. On the bio in either When Demons Walk or Steal the Dragon (I’ve forgotten which) it says I graduated from University of Montana. I didn’t. I graduated from Montana State University. I’d have been indignant except that I wrote the silly thing myself. I certainly know where I got my degreed. It must have been Gremlins. And I expect that I’m the only person in the entire universe who cares .

  79. lil
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 17:18:59

    The more books I read by an author, the more interested I am in reading their bio.
    BUT, what I am real crazy about is reading author acknowledgements in the front of the book. I feel that it gives me insight into who inspires them. And what kind of community supports them.
    I especially love when I see other writers acknowledged by the author – especially if it is one that I also read.

  80. Mike Cane
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 17:45:34

    They never convince me to buy a book, but they’re great to have for the reason you cite in the post. I interrupted my reading here to try to find some of the more notorious Harlan Ellison About the Author blurbs (which he usually writes), but only nabbed a rather ordinary one here:

    http://tinyurl.com/6q2ak3

    Which I think would in fact be helpful for someone coming across his work for the first time, to find out how loooong he’s been at it — and to start really saving up those pfennigs for that monster backlist!

  81. Laurie
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 18:10:19

    I’ve never really read an author bio that made me more interested in a book, and I’ve read plenty that have made me less interested.

    A bigger pet peeve for me, though, is when there is a photo of the author and they are dressed like the main character. HATE. Bonus fail points if it’s in a setting from the book.

    I definitely wouldn’t miss bios or photos one iota if they were gone. If I want to know more about an author, that’s what the internet is for.

  82. tricia
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 18:44:03

    I read them if I’m out shopping for books and I haven’t read anything by a particular author. If I find the kind of bio that Anne Somerville quoted here, then I know the cutesy tone of the author’s voice is probably going to be echoed in the book itself–and for me, that’s good news, because that kind of writing isn’t to my taste. I don’t even have to read the first chapter to know this book isn’t for me.

    I mostly read category books, and those don’t have bios (at least, the lines I read don’t). If they did provide them, I’m sure I’d put back a lot more books than I do now, especially when I’m making impulse purchases. If I’m at eharlequin.com and looking to see what’s currently out on the shelves, I read the linked author bios and sometimes make decisions not to buy the book based on what I read there. I am burned out on books that drown in the sort of chatty, faux-humorous tone that is supposed to communicate wit. So, I don’t decide to buy a book because of a bio, but I might decide not to.

  83. kyra
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 04:58:57

    I always look for an author bio before I read a book (not before buying) so I have an idea of the age and location and general circumstances of the author. I never thought about why but I guess I just want to know whether I will be able to relate generationally and culturally with the author.

  84. Sherry Thomas
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 11:03:33

    The only thing my stories have in common–I’ve published historicals, but I also write sci-fi, contemp, and martial-art epics–is that none of them contain anything that could be interpreted as the facts of my life. And that’s how I like it.

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