How to Write Your Author Biography

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Harry: “Why don’t you tell me the story of your life.”
Sally: “The story of my life?”
Harry: “We’ve got eighteen hours to kill before we hit New York.”
Sally: “The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.”
Harry: “So something can happen to you?”
Sally: “Yes.”
Harry: “Like what?”
Sally: “Like I’m going to journalism school to become a reporter.”
Harry: “So you can write about things that happen to other people.”
Sally: “That’s one way to look at it.”
When Harry Met Sally

It’s strange but the one thing writers seem to struggle with the most is the subject they know better than anyone else: themselves. Perhaps that’s because writing an author biography is about finding the balance between arrogance and unworthiness (something everybody struggles with, of course, but only writers have to put the results down on paper). Toot your own horn without at least a smidge of self-deprecation and potential readers may write you off as a narcissist. Fail to toot your own horn enough and potential readers may write you off as a nobody who doesn’t have the right to ask them for an hours’ long commitment.

Perhaps it’s also because an author biography tends to be something we dash off at the last minute instead of giving it the thought and attention it really deserves. You’ve spent months, possibly years, polishing a piece of writing and now that it’s being published, you need a few paragraphs that will be appended to the end of it to enlighten readers about the person it came from. But if you feel like “nothing’s happened” to you, then it can be tough no matter how long you spend on it.

There is no foolproof template for writing an author biography but here are a few things that might help get your creative juices flowing about your least favourite topic. Continue reading

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A Little Too Close to Home: When Fantasy Becomes Reality

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“Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind.”
From “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur

I mostly follow other writers on Twitter, people I’ve never met or generally even heard of but who are the most supportive community you could ever hope to be a part of. There are also a few people I follow that I do actually know.

One of them, a friend and former non-writing colleague who is obsessed with things like renewable energy, electric cars and advances in technology, recently tweeted a link to a Gizmodo article with the headline “China claims to have a real-deal laser gun that inflicts ‘instant carbonisation’ of human skin”. His accompanying comment was, “Sounds too good to be true. The ability to put such an effective laser in such a small form and to be able to fire it, at least multiple times, have to be questioned until we see it.” A picture of the laser assault rifle, which looks a lot like those brick mobile phones from the 1980s except with a scope attached, was also included.

I’d seen a less descriptive headline and the same image on another website and scrolled past it earlier that same week. But the additional information in my friend’s tweet piqued my interest. I responded to him, “This sounds a lot like the storyline of a certain debut novel of mine…” He replied, “Ha ha yes.” Continue reading

Naming Your Evil Fictional Corporation

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If there’s anything that capitalism has taught us, it’s that all companies are evil. They don’t start out that way, they don’t intend to be evil but somewhere along the corporate path they take, they all seem to end up not very nice. They pollute, they steal (from their workers, from their customers, from their competitors, from taxpayers and many, many others), they manipulate, they plan obsolescence, they cover up management misconduct, they are just generally bad.

Regardless of all that, there comes a time in every writer’s career when one of these evil corporations is exactly what a story needs. You can use the Jennifer Government (brilliant, brilliant book) method in which Max Barry uses actual big name corporations to skewer the path of consumerism that we’re on but his publisher was required to include a long-winded disclaimer that the references to real companies were “used simply to illustrate the increasingly important role played by large corporations in the future and not to denigrate them in any way. However, some people (whom we shall call ‘lawyers’) get very uptight when you describe large corporations masterminding murders. So let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction set in the future.” So maybe the way forward is to come up with a fictional corporation of your own. Continue reading

It’s a Fine Line between Pleasure and Pain: Dedicating Your Book

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All writers devote an enormous amount of time, effort and passion towards writing their books. And while finally holding a completed book in your hands is right up there, one of the other most emotional moments usually comes just before the end of the process: deciding on a dedication.

They aren’t compulsory but they appear in almost every book. As a way of showing our loved ones, our peers, our mentors, our inspirations just how much they mean to us. In recognition of a particular period in our lives. As an inside joke. Continue reading

Mistaken Identity: When Something You’ve Written Shares Its Title with an Infinitely More Famous Work

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Hard to believe but this is my 400th post! Where did all that effort come from? A little bit here and a little bit there. Thanks for reading!

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In 2004, I wrote a category romance novel (Harlequin, Mills & Boon, whatever you call them in your region) called Liberty’s Secret. It was the story of a woman named Liberty Freeman who had successfully reinvigorated a serious magazine from low circulation to being the talk of the industry. Now she was asked by the publisher to do the same thing for a publishing company he had just bought with the help of a financial whiz named Quinn O’Connell. Cue pounding hearts, stolen kisses and Liberty’s insistence that she wasn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. And her secret was the reason why.

Liberty’s Secret was the last romance book I wrote. By the time I finished writing it, I knew I didn’t want to continue writing romance or be known as a romance writer. So I shelved it. I put it aside, choosing not to publish it, and I have barely thought about it since.

When I started writing Single White Female Writer, I was constantly trying to figure out ways to repurpose all of the many, many things I have written. So when I wrote a blog post about writing sex scenes for fiction and admitted that this wasn’t a strength of mine, I also posted the sex scene I had written for Liberty’s Secret to prove it was true.

Since I posted it, the sex scene from Liberty’s Secret has averaged one view per month. Like I said, it’s not great. And because it’s just that one scene, completely out of context from the rest of the missing novel, that makes sense to me. Also, because it was an example of something I didn’t think I did that well, I didn’t mind that much.

So imagine my surprise when WordPress notified me of the following: “Your stats are booming! Single White Female Writer is getting lots of traffic.” And when I checked to find out why, it was all because of the sex scene from Liberty’s Secret. In one month, my average views from that post had increased significantly. And in just one week, the average views had increased 4,100%!

What the heck was going on? Continue reading

Project January

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This is the titular chapter from my latest book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing.

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If you’ve read my book Project December: A Book About Writing or the various Project… blog posts on this blog, then you’ll know Project October is about intensive writing, Project November is about editing and revision, and Project December is about getting your book published. And, of course, I hope it makes sense that Project January is about starting all over again.

The pride and relief at finishing and finally publishing a book is wonderful. But the realisation that all that hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears that it took, all the back and forth, all of the begging for beta readers, all the doubt and belief and doubt again, the realisation that all of it simply rewinds to deposit you back at the beginning again can be hard.

Some people only want to write one book, only have one book in them. If that’s you and you’re okay with it, great. For the rest us who don’t want to be one-book wonders, we’re confronted with an entirely different set of problems from when we began writing our first books. So here are a few things to consider to help get you back on track to another Project October, Project November and Project December. Continue reading

Infusing Your Characters With Cultural Identity: Does It Have to Be Your Own?

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In 2016, Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk about Kevin, Big Brother and The Mandibles, delivered the keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival. The topic was supposed to be “Community and Belonging” but she opened her address by admitting she would not be sticking to the proposed subject. Instead, she would be delivering her thoughts on “Fiction and Identity Politics”.

To boil it down to the most simple premise, her thoughts were that she shouldn’t be restricted from writing about cultural identities other than her own and that if she were, all her characters would be “an ageing five-foot-two smartass” and she would have “to set every novel in North Carolina”.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied was in the audience listening to Shriver’s speech. An Australian born in Khartoum to parents of Sudanese and Egyptian backgrounds, she is a mechanical engineer, activist and founder of Youth Without Borders and last year released her memoir, although she is not a fiction writer. After twenty minutes of listening to the speech, she walked out, unable to listen to what she called “a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension”, continuing, “The reality is that those from marginalised groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal.” You can read her full response here. Continue reading