Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

My first story will be published by a small on-line magazine. They've asked for a biography. What should I include? Should it be written in first or third person? I asked the editor and he wrote back saying there were no real guidelines, just to keep it brief.

Congratulations on the publication! You made a good decision to ask the editor for advice. Some journals have specific ideas about biographies and may ask you to include anything from unexpected details about your life to information about what inspired the story. The journal that will publish your story has just one request—keep it brief. So, make sure you do that. One to three sentences should do it.

Take a look at some of the biographies for authors who have recently published in the journal. This can give you ideas about what to include and illustrate different approaches. In general, biographies are often written in third person. (However, there are exceptions to this. Again, check the archives to see if there’s a standard for a specific journal.) Writers usually choose to focus on their writerly accomplishments. Since this is your first publication, you might include any awards or accolades your work has received or any writing degrees you hold. You can even state that this is your first published piece, if you wish. If you’re working on a longer project—a story collection or a novel—that’s fair game, too. Some writers will include a bit of personal information at the end, like this: “She lives with her husband and two German Shepherds in Providence, Rhode Island.” Or this: “When she’s not writing, she leads research projects and tours at a small historical battleground in Indiana.”

As you start paying attention to biographies in various journals, you’ll begin to notice a lot of differences. Some biographies are downright quirky. Others are straightforward and professional. Some focus on the story that’s been published and others cover more general writers’ territory. Follow the specific journals requests and, within those parameters, decide what personality you want to emerge for your biography. Professional with a touch of the personal—to show you’re a human and not just a list of credits—is a popular choice.