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How to Write the Best Author Bio

To help promote your book, you need an author bio. The purpose of an author bio is to persuade readers to buy your book. Or put another way, an effective author bio is one that has a positive influence on the purchase decision.

Focus on the Purpose of Your Author Bio

This same sales principle that applies to the book cover, the design of your book, retail features on the cover (price, shelving category, barcode, publisher identity), and all the other back cover texts (book description, endorsements), applies to your author bio. All the design work, texts, and retail elements serve one primary purpose which is to generate book sales.

To achieve this goal an author bio must convince your audience that you are authoritative—meaning that you have the experience, talent, qualifications, or credentials to write about whatever topic you have chosen.

Another important purpose of an author bio is to convince book industry professionals and event planners that you are capable and available to market your book by giving book readings, participating at book signings, speaking to audiences, doing workshops or seminars, etc.

Start with an Outline

Compile a list of your achievements, experiences, and credentials. Consider mentioning

  • past publications (articles or books), including blogging experience;
  • relevant experiences and accomplishments;
  • any awards won;
  • workshop and speaker experiences;
  • membership in relevant organizations; and
  • any important volunteer work you’ve done.

If you have given workshops in different cities or countries, list them. If you have relationships with people who are important to your story, mention them. If there are notable cases or projects you have worked on or completed, mention them.

Include certification credentials next to your name if they are relevant and especially doctorate level degrees (MD, PhD, EdD, etc.). If, for example, you are writing about health or nutrition include any appropriate credentials (CNS, CCN, RD, CNC, CN, MD, ND, etc.).

Remember that once you publish it, it will always be out there and you can’t make it disappear—so be truthful and consider how the author bio might be understood in the future. Your author bio is a critical pillar in your personal brand.

Identify and prioritize those features of your author bio that are most likely to persuade readers to buy the book and believe in your abilities. Put the most important details at the start of your author bio. Eliminate details that are unrelated to your qualifications to write about your chosen topic. Avoid, for example, any information about hobbies, travels, interests, household pets, etc., that are unrelated to the book.

If humor is important to your book, a humorous author bio may help persuade readers that you can and will deliver humor in your book.

If the primary purpose of your book is to generate speaking engagements, then shift the focus of your author bio more in that direction by stressing your credentials and experience as a public speaker.

Formulate a Mission Statement

Whether you have a long list of credentials or none at all, formulate a mission statement. A mission statement is a short summary of your aims and values.

Use the mission statement as a lens through which to view all the statements and claims in your author bio. This will help your word and phase choices and the overall focus and unity of your author bio.

Let’s assume you have written your first sci-fi book and there is nothing in your job history or experiences that relate to your new literary aspirations. In this situation, your author bio can consist of a type of mission statement that allows readers to understand your aims and values. Of course, you only want to mention those aims and values that help attract readers to the actual genre and story you are publishing.

Keep it Short

Two to three short paragraphs are sufficient. A good bio does not need to be long. 400 words or less is fine. Once you have completed the author bio, create several edited versions, one that is about three sentences long, and one that is only one sentence. You will need the different lengths for different purposes.

Ways to Use Your Author Bio

You’ll usually need a very short version for the back cover of paperback editions. This back cover bio can be as short as one to three sentences that focus on your credentials.

I’m often asked by authors: “Should I include an ‘About the Author’ page at the end of the book if I already have an author bio on the back cover?” The answer is yes. The back cover bio is usually very short because of limited space. Reader endorsements are more valuable than the author bio. If you have two or three reader endorsements and a short book description, too little space remains for a long author bio. Put a short author bio on the back cover and a longer one at the end of the book. If the back cover bio only includes the most relevant credentials or experiences, then the longer “About the Author” page can mention other accomplishments such as notable speaking engagements you have given or workshops you give.

Use the longer, more complete, author bio for your “About the Author” page, website, and for your press kit. Put a press kit on your website so people can download and print it, or share it as a PDF.

Do You Need to Include an Author Photo?

If you are attractive or have an author photo that reinforces your credentials, you should include it. If you are, for example, writing about mountain climbing and you have a photo of yourself on a mountain in appropriate gear, use it. If you are a business professional, dress in appropriate business attire. Try to use a photo that fits your author credentials.

If you use a professional photography studio to get your photo taken, be sure to let them know that you plan to use the photo for “commercial” purposes. Most photography studios have separate fees for personal and commercial use. You’ll need commercial use.

Be sure to read my blog Tips For Writing The Best Back Cover Copy

The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know! (Part 2)

Let’s assume you are publishing a simple book that is 6″x9″, 250 page, B&W interior, full-color cover. The cover price is $19.99. This is the same example used in part one of The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!

When do you start making a profit?

You only have to sell around 270 books to cover all your start up cost. That’s all—even though you’re following publisher best practices by actually hiring a professional editor and designer! Sell just 270 books and then you’re on your way to making a profit.

The initial costs (editing, design, etc), plus the first 300 printed books look like this:

300 x $19.99 = $5,997

 

Editor                                             $1,500

Pre-press                                   $2,280 (Design, page layout, file prep)

Printing and shipping            $1,620 (The POD print unit costs is $5.40. 300 x $5.40 = $1,620)

Total cost                                  $5,400

$5,997 – $5,400 = $597 divided by 19.99 = 30 copies

300 – 30 = 270 copies to break even.

$5400 divided by the cover price $19.99 equals only 270 books sold before you start making a profit. (This assumes the books are ordered and shipped 100 copies at a time. If for example, all 300 books were ordered at once, the print costs drop to $1441.93. This slight savings changes the equation like this: $3780 + $1441.93 = $5221.93 divided by $19.99. Now only 261 books need to be sold before making a profit.)

After selling 270 books, your only remaining costs are printing and shipping more books to your office. The next 300 books (ordered 100 at a time) costs $1620.27. Sold at $19.99 each, the total income is $5,997, leaving a profit of $4,376.73. Remember, when the publisher sold 600 copies, you made only around $420. In fact, with 4000 books sold by the publisher, you only made around $2800. To make the same amount, you only have to sell 463 books, which is 3,537 fewer books than the publisher! If you publish independently and sell 4000 books, you get $54,576.40!

What if you sell more than 4000 books?

Let’s assume the book is a great success and you start selling more than 4,000 copies. Here’s the math based on the model outlined above (initial costs of $3780, plus low-risk print-on-demand method for 100 books ordered at a time costing $540).

Net profit after costs:

4,000 books sold = $54,576.40

10,000 books sold = $145,891

100,000 books sold = $1,458,910

If the book proves too difficult to sell, you can cut your losses early by not ordering more books. However, because you only need to sell around 270 copies to cover your costs, it is unlikely you will lose money.

Let’s now assume that you want better printing. Instead of print-on-demand, you decide to use offset printing to get better overall quality and more special print features, such as a gate-fold cover (French flaps), a metallic ink or gold foil title, embossing, a second color in the interior, etc. Unlike print-on-demand, you need to print more copies, usually more than 1000 copies to make it worthwhile, so you have to invest more money up front, but bear in mind that the total overall investment is less, even though you are getting much higher quality.

You decide to spend $12,000 on printing 4000 copies. With the similar editing, design, and a few additional costs (special effects templates and print management), the total investment is now $16,000 or $4.00 per book. Profit per book is $15.99, almost 15% higher than when using print-on-demand. You now make 15% more and the book is a much better quality product that will be much more likely to make a good impression and sell.

$16,000 divided by $19.99 means 801 books must be sold before profitability.

This leaves 3,199 books in your inventory. 3,199 books sold at $19.99 = $63,948.01 total profit. This is $9371.61 more profit than you made selling the print-on-demand books.

When many people think about profits from publishing, they are only looking at the book sales. For business owners and entrepreneurs, the profits from the book sales are often just the beginning. In fact, some businesses and entrepreneurs can profit from publishing even if they give away the books. Be sure to see read my post Benefits of Publishing for Businesses and Entrepreneurs and The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing.

The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know! (Part 1)

We have all heard stories about authors who receive million-dollar advances. Unfortunately, the author deals with huge advances are extremely rare. Around 300,000 books are published by the better-known publishers each year in America. Few become best sellers, some never get carried by bookstores.

Typically, an author makes only 7–10% net from the sale of a book. Net sales are the actual profit from the book after wholesaler discounts, distributor fees, and retailer fees. Retailers typically take 40–50% of the cover price. So 7% net is not 7% of the cover price.

Your Royalty from a Publisher

Let’s say, for example, you spend a year writing a book and a publisher agrees to publish it for you. The cover price is $19.99. The publisher prints and sells 4,000 copies over a period of four years before no longer promoting the book. The publisher sells 1200 copies the first year, 2000 copies the second year, 600 copies the third year, and 200 copies the fourth year. Sales peak the 2nd year and then sharply decline the following two years. After the fourth year, the book is old news. The publisher is focused on selling new titles and, if your book is reprinted soon (unlikely), it is only selling a few copies per year—small pocket change with regard to royalties. Bear in mind that small publishers are more likely to print 2,000–4,000 books, rather than 10,000 or more.

When the books are sold the distributor/retailers will usually take 40–50% of the cover price. The publisher is then left with the remaining 50%. Of that 50%, the publisher pays out a royalty to the author of 7%. How does this add up?

4000 copies sold at $19.99 = $79,960 gross profit (profit before publisher expenses)

Distributors/retailers take 50%, leaving $39,980

Your royalty is 7% of $39,980 = $2798.60

The publisher has expenses, but likely netted around $30,000–35,000, while the author only got $2798.60. This is why publishers who publish many books with short print runs can still make a worthwhile profit, whereas most authors never make enough to cover their time.

A 7% return is on average, $699 per year over the course of the four years. This assumes the publisher didn’t offer any discounts on the cover price that reduce the profits and royalties further, as often happens. In total, the author makes $2798.60. With only 200 copies selling in the last year, the publishers doesn’t have enough demand to justify a new print run. The publisher controls the license agreement and will hold on to the book until there is an opportunity or enough demand to print more copies or the publisher may decide to sell the license agreement to another publisher.

In comparison, the total return on the same quantity independently published by the author and sold directly by the author at the full cover price ($19.99) is $54,576.40 (the profit after basic expenses). Which would you rather have: $2798.60 or publish it yourself and get $54,576.40?

Here’s another way to look at this: The publisher sells around 4,000 books and you get $2798.60 or on average $699 per year for four years. You personally sell only 35 books and you already get $699 minus your own publishing expenses.

Your Royalty if You’re the Publisher

Let’s take a closer look. Assume you have a simple book that is 6″x9″, 250 page, B&W interior, full-color cover.

You could do it yourself—the editing, cover design, and just flow the texts onto the pages with no regard for layout problems. Instead, you decide to follow publishing best practices. You hire a skilled editor for $1500. You hire a creative and skilled book designer for $2280 to do the cover and interior design, plus typesetting and professional press-ready files. You use print-on-demand (POD) to only print and ship 100 copies at a time, shipped directly to your home office. Just counting printing and shipping, the unit costs (cost per book) is $5.40. Let’s now scale this up to match the publisher who published 4000 copies.

The total unit costs for 4000 books is:

Editor                         $1,500

Pre-press               $2,280 (Cover, interior design, page layout, and professional press-ready files)

Printing                 $21,600 (printing 100 at a time, including shipping and handling)

Total                         $25,380 (editing, design, pre-press production, press-ready files, and printing)

Remember, you don’t have to write a huge check for $21,600. You only print 100 books at a time, so the costs are more likely around $540 each time.

These are average prices that could vary depending on the book’s complexity and print method used. (In this scenario, I’m using print-on-demand. I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages, best uses, and when not to use POD in another blog post.)

Based on these estimated costs, the total investment is $25,380. The per book costs (unit costs) including editing, design, and printing is $6.34, and the cover price is $19.99, so the profit is $13.65 per book. This means the maximum possible net profit is $54,600 (meaning profit after editing, design and print costs are deducted).

 

Cost per unit book                        $25,380 /4000 = $6.34

Net profit per unit book            $19.99 – 6.34 = $13.65

 

Therefore for a 4000 print run

Gross Income                        4000 x $19.99 = $79,960

Total Cost                               4000 x $6.34 = $25,360

Total Net Profit                    $79,960 – $25,360 = $54,600

A note on shipping costs: In this scenario, the assumption is that you, the publisher, are selling the books directly at workshops, seminars, and events and not through bookstores. If any copies are sold online, you are doing the order processing (known as “fulfillment”) and the buyer is paying for the shipping from your warehouse (which might be your home office). If, however, you were doing all the sales through your own website, you could eliminate all up-front printing cost and the costs of shipping books to your home office and just allow the POD provider to do the order fulfillment and print the book “on demand” as orders are made by buyers.

Be sure to read Part 2 of The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know! to find out how quickly independent publishing can become profitable.

Benefits of Publishing for Businesses and Entrepreneurs

When you think about profits from publishing, don’t just think about book sales if you’re a business owner or entrepreneur. The profits from the book sales are often just one aspect of a book’s value. In fact, some businesses and entrepreneurs can profit from publishing even if they give away the books. Books are, for example, a good way to increase speaker engagements and that means more opportunities to promote one’s products and services.

Reasons independent Publishing is so Profitable for Businesses

Independent publishing is especially profitable for businesses and entrepreneurs because they are often in a unique position to sell direct and not have to rely on retailers who take 40–50%.

If you are, for example, a restaurant selling a cookbook to clients, a gift shop selling a photo coffee-table book to tourists, a local museum, etc., you have your own point-of-purchase with lots of high-value prospects—more than enough to sell your inventory of books. Likewise, a speaker selling books at events often has no need for an ad campaign. Businesses and entrepreneurs may already have a special website or blog. These factors reduce setup costs and increase income. For authors in these situations, the math shown my posts (The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!) will fit your situation well.

Sell Your Advertising!

If you are publishing a business book, then the costs of $16,000 or $20,000 (which is mostly print costs), divided by 4 years, is an advertising budget of $4,000–5,000 per year assuming the unlikely event that you make nothing back from selling the book.

Because the book is advertising for your business and you are selling it, your advertising actually makes you money rather than costing money.

Publishing is one of the best low-cost forms of advertising. The value is particularly clear when you add the profit from selling the book with how the book is generating additional revenue by increasing the cache and visibility of your business services and/or products. This makes independent publishing a very powerful and effective promotion strategy.

Give It Away Free and Still Make Money!

In many cases, it is worthwhile for businesses to publish books, even if they decide to just give away the books for free. The free book strategy is not just a good idea when publishing PDF eBooks that go viral on the web—books that have no print costs. Free books can be a beneficial strategy even when publishing very nicely printed books. It really depends on your business, the type of book you are publishing, and your clientele. Auto showrooms, for example, have long understood this. They give away small, but nicely printed, booklets that show off the cars. People take these, show them around to friends, and have a physical reminder of the product. This booklet is a low-cost way to influence a high-cost purchase. The same is true for free tour guides that feature local businesses.

Some books can also be used as a type of upsell, such as when a customer buys a subscription, product, or service, and gets the book for “free.” This too helps influence the purchase decision.

If you’re a business, be sure to read my post The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing.

The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing

For anyone who want to benefit from publishing, and especially businesses, it is critically important to follow publishing best practices to ensure quality and control costs. Get an editor who understands proofreading and a designer who is experienced with books and knows how to prepare reliable press-ready files. The same is true with printers. Only use a printer who understands books.

This advice is true even if you plan to sell your books directly through your own business or website. Even if you don’t need a win over distributors, book reviewers, or store owners, printing a book with embarrassing mistakes or paying for files that don’t work correctly is just bad business practice.

If you do want a book distributor, and book reviewers and store owners do matter to you, then it becomes even more critical to make sure your book is trade quality, meets retail requirements, and meets industry expectations. Find someone experienced who knows the process and can guide you through each step.

When you look at the costs outlined in my post The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!, you’ll notice that cutting out quality production and quality controls—the professional editing, design, and typesetting—doesn’t save much money, certainly not enough for the increased difficulty of selling a less attractive and less professional product.

For businesses, a DIY book is an especially high risk that can involve embarrassments and brand damage. I know a guy who self-published (no professional editor or book designer) and the largest American membership-only warehouse club was ready to carry the book until the buyer saw that the foreword in the book was spelled “Forward.” Seeing that one error, they suspected it might be DIY quality and dropped the offer. All it took was one word and it wasn’t even misspelled to undo the deal. Quality matters! He came back with a second book project done right, and they carried it, agreeing to start by taking 1700 copies. Persistence and a new commitment to quality paid off.

Remember, you may only have to sell around 280 copies to cover your costs for B&W books and around 550 for color books. His book was a hardback picture book, so he needed to sell slightly more. Of course, if you are not confident that you can sell more than 300–600 copies, using print-on-demand and/or publish ebook editions may be safer strategies for you. To learn more watch for my forthcoming post, Picking the Right Publishing Strategy.

Tips For Writing The Best Back Cover Copy

Authors put a lot of creative energy into writing stories and instructions, so writing a few paragraphs of texts for a back cover might seem easy. But is it? Normally, the back cover copy is written by marketing specialists—sometimes a person who only does that one task. If you’re an author who is now publishing independently, you must hire someone with the right skills or do it yourself. Before you do attempt to do it yourself, here are some basics worth considering.

The foremost purpose of the back cover texts is to influence the purchase decision.

To achieve this goal we want to focus on  (1) The texts: persuading people to buy the book; (2) Shelving category: making it easy for readers to find the book; (3) Retail requirements: Making the checkout process easy as possible; (4) and Design: Having an attractive easy-to-read design that is coordinated with the front cover.

The back cover of your book is too valuable to waste or treat lightly.Writing a great story has little value if no one reads or buys the book. So let’s take a closer look at these 4 aspects of the back cover.

  1. The back cover texts

The back cover texts can be divided into three main parts: 1) Endorsements, 2) description or benefits, and 3) author bio.

Endorsements: The presence of endorsement lets potential buyers know that people like the book. Endorsements are actually more important than a book description because endorsements already contain some descriptive content or mention of the book’s benefits. This is why it is sufficient to put endorsements on the back cover of a hardback and the author bio and book description on the inside flaps of the jacket. This, of course, requires evaluating the strength of the endorsements against the strength of a book’s description or benefit list. See my post on How To Get Quality Book Endorsements

Book description: Short book descriptions are easier to ready. If can help if what you write in the book description connects with the message of the front cover, which is the message that caused the person to look on the back cover.

For fiction, a book description should include content that speaks to the expected audience and category strengths, such as historical, social, or cultural interests. If the book offers a strong message about women’s empowerment, make sure this is not lost in the back cover description. The description should ideally say something that draws the reader into the story concept, but ends with a reason for the reader to want more—“a cliffhanger.”

For how-to and instructional books the focus needs to be on writing a good value proposition and pointing out how the book is unique. That is, why is the content in this book valuable and how is this particular book unique from other books on the topic? For some books, a description can include a list (3–5 short bullet points) that outline the book’s benefits. It is also good to utilize descriptive words, such as “practical,” “cost-saving,” “life-saving,” etc.

Beyond describing the the actual advice or instruction in the book, don’t forget that the book itself has values worth stressing in a competitive category, such as whether the book is full color, has instructional illustrations and maps, useful tips, charts, diagrams, resource guides, a foreword by someone important, etc.

Author bio: When you write your author biography keep in mind the same rule—it’s there to influence the purchase decision. It not there to inform the reader about the author’s personal life. Making it short will make it more readable. Three to five sentences is usually all it takes. The focus should be on credentials and/or experiences that indicate that you have qualifications for writing the book. If the book is not about dogs, no need to mention your dog. Relevant awards, memberships or previous books are valuable to mentioned.

If you include an author photo be sure that it makes you look credible. If the photo can include a setting that fits the book’s theme, that can be helpful. If you are, for example, a mountain climber, an author photo with appropriate mountain gear in a mountain setting is convincing. If you are a financial adviser, be sure to look successful. Photos can be powerful tools of persuasion, which is why some authors place photos of themselves on the front cover. For public speakers, an author photo on the cover is a way of advertising the author and building the speaker’s brand.

  1. Include a shelving heading

You can help bookstores shelve your book where it should be found by including an appropriate BISAC category. The BISAC Subject Heading list “is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors.” These descriptors are often placed on the upper left of the back cover, such as “SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Success.”

  1. Retail requirements

A book cover needs to meet basic retail requirements so that it can be easily tracked and purchased. This includes an ISBN, which allows book retailers to track book sales and inventory. The ISBN also allow people to look up information about available editions (print and ebook). The barcode allows the ISBN to be easily read with a scanner at checkout and for inventory and tracking purposes. It is recommended that the barcode also contains the price. To learn more about ISBNs, see my blog post about ISBNs (https://designforbooks.com/category/isbns/)

You may also want to include other currencies listed next to the barcode (such as the UK, CAN, EU, depending on the language and intended audience). And finally, the back cover should have the publisher identity and location (preferably the publisher web location) so more can be learned about the book and to help convey that the book has been produced professionally.

  1. Design considerations

Avoid having a large block of texts in small type on the back cover. If the texts appears too small you probably gave the designer too much texts. Consider shortening it. Make the three sections (endorsements, description, and author bio) easy to recognize and easy to ready. Consider emphasizing keywords. If it is a self-help book, consider arranging any stated benefits in a bullet list.

Be sure that the designer is maintain the quality of the design by allowing the design on the front to coordinate with the back—colors, images, font choices.