The Art of Writing Bios & Acknowledgments
I don’t know if you’re like me but before I start reading a book, I love reading the author’s bio and acknowledgments. I think you can tell a lot about writers by what they include in their bios, who they thank and how they do it. Sometimes, I know right away if I’m going to like an author just from these things alone. It’s part of the reason I first became a fan of Harlan Coben and David Rosenfelt—they write hilarious acknowledgments.
But some authors barely include any details in their bios and their acknowledgments are nothing but a laundry list of names, resembling an acceptance speech an Oscar winner is reading from a sheet of paper without any passion or enthusiasm. I think, Come on, these people contributed something so significant that you needed to mention them but couldn’t drum up the energy to say why? Would you send a thank-you note without mentioning what it’s for? And while you’re at it, isn’t there something interesting you’d like to say about yourself besides where you live?
To be fair, privacy could be a factor. Perhaps someone gave the author insight on living with venereal disease and would prefer that fact not be broadcast. Or maybe the writer would like to thank someone for bailing him out of jail but doesn’t want to include too many details about that rough time before he became a published author. Or it could be the reason he’s grateful to someone is so precious he doesn’t want to share it with the world (and shouldn’t have to).
Too much information is a turn-off, too. I once picked up a book with four pages of breathless acknowledgments of everyone the author had ever met since exiting the womb. By the time I got to top of page three and the mention of third cousin Jody’s brother-in-law’s unbelievable generosity in once giving the author a glass of water, I was considering seppuku. I never made it to the rest of the book.
I say all this knowing that being on the flip side isn’t easy. I’ve had to write bios and struggled with how to strike the right tone and how much detail to include without sounding like a pompous windbag or hermit with no life. I usually ended up with something random like, “Elyse likes soup and the Bee Gees, not necessarily in that order. Due to a childhood incident, she’s scared of walking over manholes, even when they’re covered, and was once propositioned by a prostitute in Berlin.” (All true.) I hoped these personal details were more interesting than a dry list of accomplishments but it’s possible people just thought I’m a moron.
So I pose the following questions to you: As a reader, how much do you like to know? If you’re on the fence about trying a new author, is there something that person can reveal in a bio or acknowledgment that would push you over the edge? That s/he loves dogs? Knitting? Is an Ultimate Fighting champion? Knows Oprah? Conversely, could they turn you off by telling too much?
Am I the only nerd sitting around thinking about this stuff?