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Don't Write A Bio, Write A "why Me?"

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Don’t Write Your Bio, Write a “Why Me?” by Bob Hostetler
08/08/2018

 

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, writers who were pitching their articles or books to editors and agents included in the query or proposal a “bio” paragraph. These writers would include such things as their education, previous publishing credits, and whatever other claims to fame they could cite.

Some still do that, but for many years now my recommendation has been not to write a “bio” paragraph for your pitch, but a “why me” paragraph. What’s the difference?

It’s right there in the name. A “bio” tells the story of your life—in a few sentences, of course. But a “why me” paragraph answers the question, “Why am I the perfect person to write this?”

This “why me” paragraph may include your degree in Medieval German…if your degree pertains to the project you’re pitching. It may include previous publication credits, but it may not. It’s more important that this paragraph—like your whole pitch—be extremely well written and compelling enough to close the sale.

How are you supposed to do that? I suggest four ways:

Leave out the wrong words.

Mark Twain famously said, “Writing is easy. You just write down all the words you know and cross out the wrong ones.” Many writers inexplicably fail to do this. They say things like, “I don’t really like fiction, but—” or “I’ve never published before” or “God gave me this.” Those are the wrong words. They don’t create a positive, professional impression.

Tailor your “why me” to the pitch it accompanies.

If your novel involves Amish vampires, don’t forget to reference your childhood in the Amish vampire community. Are you pitching a parenting book? If so, the fact that you raised ten children to adulthood without any of them doing jail time might merit a mention, while your ten years in the aeronautics industry might not.

Be strategic with publishing credits.

Having a few articles or books under your belt isn’t a bad thing if you’re pitching a new idea, but it’s not everything. And many aspiring authors shoot themselves in the foot by how they refer to their past publishing successes. And others feel defeated because they never published in The New Yorker. But you’re a writer, aren’t you? So put as much effort into crafting the “why me” paragraph as you invest in the rest of your pitch. And if you really want to write that Quilting Your Way to Mental Health book, think through what sort of credits would make your pitch more compelling, and then start querying those markets so that in six months or a year you’ll have a more persuasive answer to the “why me” question.

Don’t be boastful, but don’t be falsely humble, either. Be professional.

Many of us struggle to write a great “why me” paragraph because, well, we don’t want to brag. But your choice as a writer isn’t between “prideful” or “modest” but between professional and unprofessional. And a well-written “why me” paragraph can leave the impression that “I could say more, but modesty prevents me.”

So let’s try it. This is how some of us might write a “bio” paragraph:

I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother, and homemaker for forty years and though I’ve never published a book, my husband read my manuscript and gave it to a pastor friend who also loved it. He said it should definitely be published. The group of pastors’ wives I meet with every Tuesday and my weekly Bible study said the same thing. I was even asked to share some of my experiences at my mother-in-law’s church in Poughkeepsie. I earned a bachelor’s degree in German from McTavish Bible College while also working as a waitress to help my husband earn a seminary degree. The only writing I’ve done has been for my church newsletter over the last seventeen years. However, I once had a letter to the editor appear in the newspaper and sold a devotion to The Upper Room in 1985 for $7.

That’s not the worst I’ve seen as an editor and an agent, but it could definitely be improved, using my suggestions above. How would you change it? Here’s one possibility:

Forty years of heartache and happiness—from seminary days to senior pastor’s wife—have supplied the hard-earned wisdom I share in Don’t Get the Paper in Your Nightgown (And More Wisdom for Pastor’s Wives). The book’s insights have already entertained and helped pastors, wives, churches and Bible study audiences as I’ve spoken on this topic around the country. In addition to being a long-time columnist for The Bell Tower, my writing has also appeared in The Upper Room and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

That’s just one possible approach. It uses much of the same information as the first example, and doesn’t even include what that writer could add in six or nine months after strategically selling an article to one or two targeted markets that would make it even better with just a little more patience.

What about you? Would you suggest other changes? How would you make it better?

 

The post Don’t Write Your Bio, Write a “Why Me?” appeared first on The Steve Laube Agency.

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I realize Bob Hostetler is making a point about the 'bio.' In his example of that bio, he includes things that we know we shouldn't. I heard him speak last year and know he wrote this 'bio' in this way to make a point. I would not include that I've never published a book before and that my husband and our friends like it. The "Why Me" paragraph is more inviting. It piques my interest.

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8 minutes ago, quietspirit said:

I realize Bob Hostetler is making a point about the 'bio.' In his example of that bio, he includes things that we know we shouldn't. I heard him speak last year and know he wrote this 'bio' in this way to make a point. I would not include that I've never published a book before and that my husband and our friends like it. The "Why Me" paragraph is more inviting. It piques my interest.

I don't think he is suggesting that we write it the way he gave the first example but to write it in the more intriguing second example.  I agree that all our info is not always helpful.

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Thanks, Rita. He makes a good point. One thing with this: there are a few reasons for writing a bio:

 

1) to send to an agent as in this article

2) for your website

3) for writing on another's site, or a magazine, etc.

4) for the back cover of your book.

 

However, these cannot all be the same bio. Just thought I'd toss that out there.

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Oh, I forgot to add. Another way to look at this "why me" paragraph is to call it a resume paragraph, since it is to be professional.

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18 minutes ago, lynnmosher said:

Thanks, Rita. He makes a good point. One thing with this: there are a few reasons for writing a bio:

 

1) to send to an agent as in this article

2) for your website

3) for writing on another's site, or a magazine, etc.

4) for the back cover of your book.

 

However, these cannot all be the same bio. Just thought I'd toss that out there.

 

Thanks for the additional insight!  They surely are not the same and this is a reminder that to "copy and paste" my already written general bio to wherever it is required is NOT a short cut! LOL!

 

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I bet I can write a great one because I get so much practice. Every day I ask the Lord, "Why me?"

 

- Paul

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Would the opinions of other writers help?

I've written a 26 chapter novel about global warming titled "A Gatored Community"; which I first posted on the writers website webook.com,. There, all the chapters together, received about 100 "Good" or "Excellent" reviews from other writers who are members of that website. 

Would stating that be helpful?

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12 hours ago, William D'Andrea said:

Would the opinions of other writers help?

I've written a 26 chapter novel about global warming titled "A Gatored Community"; which I first posted on the writers website webook.com,. There, all the chapters together, received about 100 "Good" or "Excellent" reviews from other writers who are members of that website. 

Would stating that be helpful?

 

That would be considered an endorsement and usually those come from known writers, celebrities and/or people who are experts in the field you are writing about. So for other writers to like your writing doesn't really count unless you win an award or are voted best of . . . . 

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