Monday, August 16, 2010

Do you know who I am!?

Self-important author goes to the check-in and demands a business class seat on the plane.
The young lady dealing with repetitive idiot-work for a living puts on her best regretful expression and says: "Sorry, Business class is full, but there is space in cattle class..."
Mr Bumptious (NYT bestselling Bumptious) leans over the counter and says: "Do you know who I am?"
The check-in lass smiles brightly at him, and says: "Oh, I am so sorry, I didn't realise. Hang on a moment and I'll see what I can do to help."
Bumptious leans back on his heels with a self-satisfied smile on his lips, as she picks up the microphone for the PA system and announces: "We have a gentleman here at check-in who doesn't know who he is. Can anyone help him?"

Yeah well. While some of us may be vain enough to delude ourselves that all and sundry will recognise us - possibly from the mugshot - perp 245345 common assualt on the English Language - on the book cover (ha. Most of these relate to someone a lot younger and thinner for some reason. Must be that posing for studio cover pics has a terrible aging and plumpifying* effect on us.) And maybe in some other better organised world business-class would be something we could afford (I probably wouldn't spend the money anyway, because of ingrained Scots Calvinist waste-not, want-not genes) but it does bring me to my topic for today. Sooner or later you will have to tell people who you are. Probably repetitively because as they say: 'once is never enough with a girl you.' I don't think that was orginal sentiment of the song, but it seems to apply to me, because I think I've written about 50 bios by now. Heh. Am I that instantly forgettable? Should I change my name to 'Watchamacallit Thingamagig... You-with-the-skew-nose-and-hairy-knees', just so people can get it right?

Seriously - biographical inserts are something you will have to do, and, because of the nature of publishing you will have to do in a major hurry, although the book has been in prep for 7 months and with 20 minutes in hand before the cover absolutely has to be in (or the text for the short stories need to be at the printer) they have suddenly discovered they don't have it. This is normal. If it doesn't happen prepare for some other even more awful disaster. Trust me on this. So: wisdom has any writer at least thinking about the subject before it is flung at your head, because when it is done on the spur your bio tends to be short, factual and boringly instantly forgettable.

And you cannot afford this.

Like it or not, the reality is NAMES sell books and stories. Part of your job is (no matter how self-effacing and humble you are) is to make readers remember your name. Your name is your trademark, your potentially most valuable property. And your bio is your one brief chance at doing something for yourself, not the publisher, distributor, retailer, or any of the other normal major beneficiaries. Grab it.

Almost all short stories will require a bio from you. Typically they will give you a word-count (often 200 words IIRC). You do not have to write all 200. You do not get paid per word of the bio. You just have to be remembered. If you have some other work out, it pays to advertise. But otherwise I try to tie it to the story, and make the reader smile if not laugh. And I never use the same one twice. Here are a few examples:

For PIRATES OF THE SUARA SEA: Freer grew up as a fisherman's brat, spending his time in trouble on the boat and in the harbour (sometimes the wet part of it) or diving for spiny lobster with other reprobates. He went on to become an Ichthyologist, ending up as the Chief Scientist for the Commercial Shark Fishery in Western Cape, South Africa. This actually meant he spent a lot of his time at sea with people just one step from pirates. (Not sure if it was a step up or down). He drifted into writing because he heard the spelling requirements were easier. They lied. Since then he's authored or co-authored more than twenty works of shorter fiction in various anthologies and leading magazines, and written nine novels some with Eric Flint or Mercedes Lackey, with the tenth, SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS coming out in October. You can find more on

For SOOT (about a cat): Dave Freer is a former Ichthyologist/Fisheries Scientist turned sf/fantasy writer. He now has ten books in print, a number of which are co-authored with Mercedes Lackey and/or Eric Flint. He is also the author of about twenty other short stories, and a teens novel. He lives in Zululand, South Africa, where he is permitted to serve four cats. They say he wastes entirely too much time on other things like the writing, cooking, cuddling his fellow cat-slave Barbara, and of course we will not even mention the dogs. Yes, cats do talk.

For the Poet Gnawreate and the Taxman:

Dave Freer: "Hello, my name is Dave and I'm a poet."
"Don't be ashamed Dave. Here at Poets Anonymous you're among friends. And with the sonnet programme and accepting that you were in the grip of a muse greater than yourself, you can free yourself."
"Um. Okay. I used to write meaningful epic poetry during class at school and inflict it onto my unfortunate girlfriends. Yes, friends, there really are such sick people at large out there. But I'm reformed now and with 10 sf/fantasy novels in print which I have either written or co-authored with Eric Flint, or Eric and Mercedes Lackey. I also accept moral responsibility for an increasing number of short stories. All of the above I blame on my cats. Or even in extremis the Old English Sheepdog. I would blame my sons, but they're taller than I am now. What about rock climbing as an excuse? Or having been a Fisheries biologist? Perhaps I can claim it was the influence of the African sun that I live under?"
"Part of freeing yourself of the grip of poetry is accepting responsibility for your own actions."
"Really? Well. I... I like writing. I love amusing and entertaining readers. And writing about the living dead was just perfect for me. They say you should write about what you know about, and until the third cup of coffee I am a zombie."

Anyway, I don't know if those are good or bad examples (I am a wonderful bad example. It is my purpose in life. Every night I can go to bed, satified, knowing that somewhere out there a mother just said to her obnoxious offspring: "If you don't eat your delicious boiled brussel-sprouts you'll turn out like Dave Freer." An awful threat that is followed by frantic gobbling and gagging noises.) I've always hated talking about myself, but the reality is 1)it has to be done. 2)if you want to sell books, people want to know about you. Some of your privacy just left the minute you put that story in the mail.

So: what do you want to see in a bio? Do you read them?
What are the best ways to get your readers to remember you, and uh, to care who you are?

*Of course it's a real word. You just read it didn't you? You aren't a submeson quark only reading unreal words are you?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Dave. I've had to train myself to do blogs. And Now I'm Twittering. A sad state of affairs!

Dave Freer said...

Heh, Twittering is hard, unless you are a birdie. How to say anything in so few words?

MataPam said...

For mine, I joked with Jim that it was down to "And her favorite vegetable is asparagus." He added that to the bio. No one ever said a thing. ::Sigh:: I hope more people read the story than the bio.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

On the subject of Twittering, I completely agree Dave - how do you say some, anything, in so few words? A friend pointed me towards a writing contest a magazine was running. The catch was is had to a story told in 140 characters or less.

When it comes to bios, I guess I am pretty lucky - I have a surname which is somewhat unusual. I shy away from making any jokes about it, but maybe I am missing a trick.

I've seen some nice examples of bios. One that springs to mind is Gav Thorpe, who when confronted by the bio decided to credit all his writing to his mechanical hamster called Dennis. Dennis now has quite a following, and each bio updates us a bit on his adventures. A very good hook, I think :)

Anonymous said...

I always read bios. It helps me to remember that this story/book didn't come into being as a happy accident. I like to see that they are regular people like me which somehow implies that I'm at least starting off on the same foot as them.

I like clever bios but I don't like overly clever bios. I especially like pictures of the author with bios, to show me that they're just regular people, someone I might meet on the street.

Which I have to comment that two years ago, Erica and I went to a Neal Shusterman reading in Pensacola here. My daughter idolizes him and his work, most all sf and fantasy. Before the signing, we were looking through the YA section, specifically his books, at that Barnes and Noble. He approached us and began a conversation. He was pleasant and interesting, and it made Erica's night. I thought that was an extremely cool move on his part.

It showed both of us (Erica has desires to write now as well) that writers are just people, too, and with hard work and smart marketing, we might, as regular people, attain such book popularity one day. Since we generally won't ever get the chance to meet that author, bios are a substitute. They've got a lot to cover in their measly 200 words.


WangZheng259 said...

Re: The Title. Yes. You are Doctor Monkey; the Monkey that Swims like a Fish, Fishes like a Seal, Gathers like a Sieve, Cooks like a House on Fire, Climbs like a Vine, and Throws Coconuts like a Human. You also write good stuff.

At one time I had a policy of not knowing about the authors I followed, beyond what books they had written. This was a combination of avoiding learning TMI that would screw up the stories for me, and because I don't need to know the personal life of a complete stranger off somewhere in the distance.

Now, well, I am not following that rule. (Here, the Bar, elsewhere. I gotten TMI this way, but the satus is, on net, a positive.)

What do I want to know about those writers who are strangers to me to the point that I don't even feel a part of the same community?

I'd like the bio to be something enjoyable that shows off some of their skill with writing.

(Dave, your bios do this. They also show a bit of your writing style. I also see strong evidence of writing style in the biography at

I still don't want TMI that would put me off the story. What this is varies from reader to reader. (Kratman is again a good example. People who would get riled at the website would likely have an even worse reaction to the actual books. I find both enjoyable.)

I read bios from time to time, depending.

I currently have four books borrowed. I just checked the bios (and the plural of bio, if it is correct, reminds me of computing), and the best one is in a nonfiction book, that I think I had already read the bio of. (Or at least the information was presented elsewhere in the in book, as it is relevant.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

My bios seem to be getting weirder and weirder. They're now saying things like "Sarah A. Hoyt failed at her ambition of being an angel (falling) and was condemned to take up writing."

I'm not sure exactly what this means, but I suspect it will NOT end well.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave said:

How to say anything in so few words?

I'm very cryptic, Dave.

Not writing, working today. Sad Face.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam: Well, I am very fond of asparagus, although I prefer artichokes I think. (and I remember reading that)

Dave Freer said...

Jonathan - I can do the twitter thing, it's just hard work (like poetry) to do well, and thus difficult to do often. Ergo most people do it badly, and twitter is thus either a string of links or banal inanity, unless your life is a sequence of very interesting things.

Yeah - reality is if you are going to use your name and get snarky comments about it - I do BTW - you might as well capitalise on it. Of course... as De Beer or de Beer is quite a common name in Dutch/Afrikaans circles (my Heroine in Pyramid Scheme) my eye misread your name for quite a few posts :-). The hamster thing is cute and a good idea, but imitation would fail.

Dave Freer said...

WhangZheng259 - I get what you say about TMI - Mind you for a weird idea: I'd rather the bio put someone off the story (which as you say, often reflects the writer's style and interests and attitudes) than the story put them off. I have an unsubstantiatedtheory that it is better to have someone who hates/is bored by your work not read it at all, and certainly not pay for it, as negative word of mouth works too, and people are more likely to be snarky if they paid good money for something they consider to be crap.

Dave Freer said...

Linda, speaking from the other side of the coin, there is almost no writing-related experience quite as lovely as seeing a stranger pick up your book in a bookstore. You and your daughter probably made his night too.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah - it's memorable. That's the important part :-)

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, the line between cryptic and fascinating and obscure and boring is a thin one. You're better at walking it than I am.

Anthony J Langford said...

Haha - very funny Dave.. I hate bios - mine and others, but yours gave me hope.. and a smile..