Inspired by a tweet of lament from BioWare’s Ann Lemay, I thought I would help those who suffer writing bios out. I’ve had to write several, for anthologies, convention programs, websites, stuff like that. Here’s how I approach it.
First of all, you need to know two things:
- The audience who will read your bio and be interested in you
- The length of the bio
The first part is about knowing the sphere of influence your bio will be presented in. That’s easy if you’re in one sphere, but if you’re in more than one like I am — RPGs, fiction, tech writing/editing, podcasting, occasionally video game work — then you need to know who this bio matters to. That also tells you how dry or colorful you should get.
The second part is dictated by the medium, usually in words or characters. If you’re doing it for yourself, like your own website or book, stick to 100-150 words.
Now, here’s the typical format I use:
- Intro: [Name] is a [profession] from [location].
- Brief credits: [Gender] has worked with [X companies]/on [x projects]. You could start this one off with “You may know him/her from…” (Notice I’m using the third person.)
- Humanization: When not doing that, he/she [hobbies]. This is a place where sometimes I get a little tongue-in-cheek.
- Promotion: You can check out his/her blog at [URL] or follow him/her on Twitter ([@handle]).
And with that, I’m generally done. I can stretch that from 50 to 150 words, depending on what I need to write. Sometimes I cut the humanization part, if the bio needs to be short. Other times, I’ll mix that in with the rest of the bio for padding and flavor.
I wrote for the Cortex Plus Hackers Guide:
Ryan Macklin is an award-winning game designer, writer, and editor. He’s worked for companies from Evil Hat to Paizo, and is always tinkering with a new project. Check out his blog at RyanMacklin.com.
That weighs in at 33 words. Nice and short. For being a Gen Con Industry Insider Guest of Honor last year, they wanted a longer one:
Ryan Macklin is the Creative Director at Evil Hat Productions. He worked on the multiple award-winning Dresden Files Roleplaying Game (Evil Hat), the Leverage Roleplaying Game (Margaret Weis Productions), and several indie titles.
In 2006, Ryan started the first RPG podcast to focus solely on game design: Master Plan. Between that show, the Voice of the Revolution, and This Just In…From Gen Con!, he’s produced over a hundred hours of audio.
He turned all of that time spent discussing & analyzing games and meeting passionate people into the beginning of something more: making games that people love. Since then, Ryan’s been involved in the production of half a dozen Kickstarter-funded games, including Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.
In addition, Ryan was the General Manager of Indie Press Revolution from 2009 to 2010. He’s also one-half of the Random Kindness Foundation, a wildly successful charity drive in 2011 that raised over $15,000 in just four days to cover cancer treatment. His long-awaited game, Mythender, was released for free to the world as part of the charity bundle/
His blog is at RyanMacklin.com, where he frequently writes about being a creator, publisher & consumer in the world of hobby gaming.
199 words. Because I was planning on talking about my charity work and Kickstarting projects as well as editing, I padded the bio with more about that.
Once you’re able to kick out a bio in a few minutes, the formula is something to ignore. But until then, start with a rough draft using the formula, and then revise to taste and need. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to write a masterpiece — the bio is often there to fill up space and justify your existence, essentially a quick CV for whatever you’re doing. So don’t overthink it or put too much effort into it.
Related: the Headshot
Depending on where your bio’s going, it’s good to have a color headshot in the wings. Because I grew tired of hunting my default headshot down and attaching it, I’ve just got it online and send people who need it the URL. Which is:
(It was taken with my old iPhone, so it sucks, but it’s still my favorite pic. At some point, I need to replicate that with a professional photographer.)