Metadata 101: Should we mention my dog? The Art of the Author Bio

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Rabbi Bob Alper

“Should I mention Barney?” Rabbi Robert Alper asked me as we were proofing his Author Bio (also known in publishing as “Contributor Biography” or “More about the Author”). Each book’s metadata file has a space to describe the author. There are separate spaces for bios of contributing writers.

“Sure! Add Barney,” I said with a chuckle. As Bob Alper’s friend and editor on various books and magazine columns over the years, I had visited Bob’s Vermont home and had encountered Barney in all his lovable glory.

So, Barney made it into Bob’s official Author Bio—and Bob is such a deft wit that he even turned the mention of his pet into a humorous one-liner. Now,I often use Bob’s Author Bio as an example to share with new authors.

Want to see Barney in action? At the end of this column, we have a video!

How Long Should an Author Bio Be?

As Bob perfected his Author Bio, I didn’t mention a word-limit to him—but Bob is such a talented storyteller that he instinctively understood the need for brevity. His text totals 127 words. The current Bible of Metadata for publishers, Ingram’s Metadata Essentialsrecommends “about 50 to 150 words.” So, Bob was in Ingram’s sweet spot.

Technically, the maximum limit for an Author Bio in a Metadata file is a total of 4,000 characters and spaces. Measured that way, Bob’s text is 778 characters and spaces.

Here is what Bob wrote:

“Sure. But this might take a while,” is how Robert Alper responds when the passenger flying next to him asks what he does. He’s a rabbi who earned a doctorate at a Presbyterian seminary, has performed stand-up comedy hundreds of times with Arab comedians, and is heard daily on the Sirius/XM clean comedy channel. Bob is also an author who adores living in rural Vermont with his wife Sherri, a psychotherapist, a pair of affectionate but annoying geriatric cats, and Barney, a lovable rescue dog from Puerto Rico who ignores commands in both English and Spanish. Bob’s unique experiences, from leading large congregations to performing stand-up at Toronto’s “Muslimfest,” make for a wealth of gentle stories that touch people of all backgrounds with warmth, humor, and wisdom.

How Can I Write the Best Author Biography?

In creating an Author Bio, your goal is simple: You’re introducing yourself to potential readers. You want readers to like you, understand that you know your stuff—and ideally leave readers feeling as though they’ve already jumped into your story. All they have to do is click “Add to Cart” or “Buy with One Click” on your book page—and they’ll soon have a whole lot more to enjoy.

In Bob’s Author Bio, his opening line could be the start of any of his delightful, short, true stories in his books like, Thanks. I Needed ThatHis Bio is a perfect introduction to his style—signaling to readers that his style is “clean” (a big issue for someone buying a book for a gift), “gentle” and relies on “warmth, humor and wisdom.” The Bio also makes it clear that he’s famous—a real-life celebrity—and he’s clearly “unique” as a practicing rabbi who performs with Muslims. In this short introduction, Bob is building a case that his book is intriguing—and probably a great gift for a friend or loved one who could use a cheery surprise. 

Where Does an Author Bio Appear?

Many online bookstores will display your Author Bio—but not all of them. The new Aerio-formatted bookstores, including our own FEP Bookstore, don’t yet offer a space for Author Bios, for example. However, Ingram points out that most readers browsing online bookstores will, indeed, see your Author Bio because the two giants—Amazon and Barnes & Noble—both display texts about authors.

And there’s so much more! An Author Bio is the foundation for unlocking all of the valuable extensions in your Amazon Author Page.

A longtime friend of our publishing house, author Missy Buchanan, has published several best-selling books that are spiritual resources for aging men and women. Over the years, we have featured stories about Missy’s projects in ReadTheSpirit magazine, including this one about her calendar-like series called Spirit Boosters.

On Missy’s Amazon Author Page, she has an inviting, casual photo of herself sitting on a railroad track. That’s comfortably in keeping with her Southern style of warm hospitality as she tells her stories and shares her meditations. Her Author Bio, then, flows from her Author Page into her individual book pages as well.

Need a refresher on updating your Amazon Author Page? We’ve published lots of helpful tips in earlier columns—including this one from Susan Stitt.

What Should I Be Sure to Include in My Author Bio?

Metadata Essentials includes a final check list of other details you should consider including:

  • Have you won awards? Mentioning a particularly relevant honor helps show your work is highly regarded.
  • Are you part of a national organization? Depending on the subject of your book, you might attract more readers if you mention that you’re a Lion, a Rotarian or an active part of another popular nationwide nonprofit.
  • Are you part of an alumni group—or a veteran? In some cases, mentioning a major university or your military service could warm more readers to your story.
  • Is your hometown or country of origin relevant? These could be details that are important to making readers feel at home as they read your book.
  • Hobbies? Sometimes, a hobby is a relevant detail. If you’re writing about family history, your experience with genealogy might be a great detail to include. Writing about food? The fact that you also are a beekeeper or perhaps make your own cheese is something your readers will want to know. 
  • Finally, a little name dropping is acceptable. If you have a real and relevant relationship to a famous person, it’s OK to drop that name in your Author Bio. What does “real and relevant” mean? Perhaps your spouse or parent or your adult daughter is famous. Perhaps, when you were young, your beloved mentor was a notable figure. If the writing of your book really did involve a celebrity, make a little room to mention that star.

The Barney Video

Care to Read More?

Here are the parts in this Metadata 101 series:

About David Crumm

David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of Read the Spirit online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website.