A few months back I accidentally agreed to help out with the social media for Bouchercon 2013. Mostly, this has meant managing the Facebook page...digging up answers to questions, sharing information, and trying to come up with interesting posts that will make attendees' and authors' Bcon experience better.
To that end, I've begun posting tidbits about some of the authors who will be on panels.
Side note: The above is "some" and not "all" because I'm one person doing this on a volunteer basis and it is a time-consuming endeavor. It is worth noting here, though, that Kris from BOLOBooks volunteered to help me gather stuff to post and has been a godsend.
So I've read a ton of author bios recently. Some of them are terrific. Some are, well, less-than. Your bio is probably the second most-important piece of content in your marketing arsenal, so here are a few of my observations...
Everything I'm about to say assumes that you have a website and said website includes a bio. If you're missing either of the two, you're doing it wrong.
I am shocked at the number of author bios that contain grammatical errors. Stray commas are rampant, but this is not the only issue. Random capitalization, missing words, misspellings...I've seen 'em all. You guys are authors. You know that editing and proofreading matter, right?
I Don't Care
The group of people who care about things like who your publisher is and your book's ISBN number is specific and doesn't include the majority of your readers. When this information is needed, it can be easily found. But more often than not, it's not needed and it certainly doesn't belong in your bio. Same with book release dates.
We're All Bestsellers
The problems with the term "bestseller" are too numerous to detail here, but suffice to say that the word doesn't belong in your bio. If you're a bestseller, anyone reading your bio who cares will already know that you are. It's completely extraneous in this context (I do, for the record, think the term has a place in the marketing lexicon, but this isn't it).
It's Not A Novel
I'm all in favor of having a long, detailed bio providing it meets two criteria. First, the initial paragraph needs to be able to stand alone. Second, it doesn't include a bunch of extra, irrelevant crap (see above).
This is tricky. If you are a new, mid-list, or self-published author, mentioning awards you've won can work well in your bio. But they don't belong in the first paragraph.
Don't Bury the Lede
You are an author. The most important thing I care about in your bio, therefore, is what kind of books you write. If you write a series, give me a few words about your lead character. If you write gritty police procedurals, tell me that. Don't assume I already know.
I'm reading your bio because I want to know a little bit about you. I don't really care where you went to college (if you need to include this for those who do, it also doesn't belong in the first 'graph), but if you were a body piercer before you became an author, I want to know that. If you published your first book as a first grader, shout it out.
I'm amazed how many author bios I read that are out of date. The title of your latest book should be in the first paragraph. If you've had 10 books published and your bio says you're the author of 9, it's time for an update.
I hate to have to write this, but in this day and age, including your kids' names and ages is just not smart. Don't do it.
Now, all of that said, back to reading author bios...