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Author Biography: What to write when you haven’t been published

This question came up recently in one of the writing groups I’m honored to be a part of.  One of the members asked: If I haven’t published anything yet, what do I write in my author biography? My response was: Make something up.  Don’t worry about whether or not you have any bragging rights to mention.  Until you’re published, you are the product you’re marketing. If people like you, they’ll be more inclined to read your books/short stories/poems. And when you’re trying to gain an audience on your blog, an entertaining and engaging author biography could be just the ticket to get people to stick around and read what you have written.

Always remember, creating an author biography should be fun – so have fun with it.  Start out with something long and then take your favorite highlights from it and shorten it. Remember – a lot of social media sites limit how many characters you can have in the “About Me” section.

Here’s an example of one of the longer author biographies I wrote:

A. Marie Silver was kidnapped by the Griswold family when she was five years old. Forced to join their disastrous quest to find an elusive theme park, she spent the better part of her childhood and early teens learning how to hide from Cousin Eddie, chase squirrels out of Christmas trees and navigate her way through European traffic circles.

After living in the backseat of the Griswold Family Truckster for 13 years and seeing the sights; such as Big Ben and Parliament, her captor’s finally figured out how to exit the traffic circle. It was then she made her escape.

Fleeing back to the United States she attended college in the Land of Enchantment where she majored in the art of eating enchiladas and burritos. Her final exam before graduation consisted of one question: Red or Green? Her answer: Either as long as they’’re both flaming hot. She graduated with honors.

When asked to describe herself, A. Marie will tell you she’s a klutz, suffers from very public and extremely embarrassing brain farts, and she gets lost walking out to her mail box – a true talent on her part considering her mail box is located at the end of her driveway.

Frustrated with life’s mysteries, A. Marie spends her days avoiding reality by plunging into a world where psychics are well respected, Santa Claus exists, and poltergeists are neutered. Learn more about her and her misadventures at amariesilver.com or pilcrowdagger.com

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

I took my favorite parts of this biography and shortened it to this:

A. Marie Silver was kidnapped by the Griswold family when she was five years old and was forced to join their disastrous quest to find an elusive theme park. She spends her days avoiding reality by creating worlds where psychics are well respected, Santa Claus exists, and poltergeists are neutered. Learn more about her and her misadventures at amariesilver.com or pilcrowdagger.com.

I used this condensed version for a while but eventually switched it out with something different.  That’s another fun part about author biographies – they shouldn’t stay the same forever.  Keep things fresh and every so often, come up with something new.

Here’s an example of a more recent author biography I wrote:

A. Marie Silver has a three-year-old who growls for no particular reason, and a two-year-old who chews on the furniture. She spends her days wondering when her kids will figure out they’re human, writing letters to Ellen DeGeneres, and working on her novel. Learn more about her at amariesilver.com or pilcrowdagger.com.

The current author biography that I’m in the process of spreading around my social media accounts is this:

A. Marie Silver is a wife and mother of 2.5 kids (or three, depending on when you read this.) She spends her days writing letters to Ellen DeGeneres, conversing with her toaster, and editing Pilcrow & Dagger Literary Magazine. She can be cyberstalked at amariesilver.com and pilcrowdagger.com.

For more information on how to craft an author biography visit Kristen Lamb’s Blog. I also highly recommend her books: We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media Rise of the Machines: Human Author’s in a Digital World, and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer

 

Pilcrow & Dagger is now accepting submissions for its April issue. Theme theme is “Dirty Little Secrets.” Have you ever killed someone? Had problems hiding the body? Had an affair? Cheated on your taxes? Robbed a bank? Tell us all about it!  We want to know about the skeletons in your closet. The deadline for this issue is March 1, 2017.

You Have To Break A Few Eggs To Make An Omelet

Hi! It’s me again. It’s been a while since I wrote a blog and I left off in covering the different ways to publish your story. I promise to get back to that next time. But what has been going on since November has been a LOT! It was Thanksgiving. Mom wanted everyone to gather at her house BUT she didn’t want to cook or have a big mess in the kitchen. If it was just me, I’d say sure let’s get a pizza. However, with family traveling from as far as Rhode Island, I didn’t think that would fly. Besides, Thanksgiving is all about the food. After giving thanks of course. So, I had the responsibility of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 10 here in Georgia and taking it to North Carolina for the family dinner. I know.

Then, there was December. Aside from the preparations for Santa, my job, Husband’s job, Husband’s birthday, cards, decorations, and the typical chaos of the season, we suffered a huge tragedy. My father died. It was coming. It had been coming for a while. My hope was that he’d live until after the first of the year. In fact, we were heading up there with Christmas presents in hand a couple of days after Christmas. I missed seeing my dad for the last time by 7 days. I’m still sad. Devastated. I was Daddy’s Little Girl and he was my hero. And now….. And now life has to move on. Mom has been taken care of and she’s recovering and settling into her new role in life. And so must we. Even after that big egg break, there will be an omelet.

We, Husband and I, have been fixer-uppering our fixer-upper for the last almost 5 years. Little by little, room by room, we have mad progress. We took out a falling fence and an overgrown former spice garden and replaced it with grass. We found and pruned a crab apple tree in the overgrown spice garden the blossom of which adorned the cover of our May/June 2016 issue. We pulled out the dead azaleas in the front “yard” and the dead hedges along the foundation in the front of the house. We also cut down 5 HUGE pine trees in the front yard. We ground the stumps and dug out roots and replaced the “yard” with an actual yard. The hedges have been replaced and are thriving and the grass has come in and we added 2 ornamental trees to frame the house – a Japanese maple and a cherry tree – neither will get HUGE. And if you’ve ever done landscaping you know that digging things out, and cutting things down makes a big hot mess. And eventually, slowly, the mess gets cleaned up and the wound heals. Voila! Omelet!

Inside we’ve stripped wall paper (don’t get me started on that), painted, repaired walls, replaced tile, repaired woodwork, installed woodwork, changed light fixtures and fans, and replaced some windows. Now it’s time to break a few more eggs. Our next omelet is the kitchen. Yes, it’s time. We started by removing a rear staircase so we can open up a dark narrow hallway (which made me hum Hotel California every time I did laundry). It took only a couple of weeks to get it done and it took me a couple of weeks to clean up the drywall dust and the the tile dust where the tile had to be taken out. Next up is the rest of the tile floor. All I know is that I’m looking for ways to keep the incredible amount of fine, gritty dust out of the rest of the house before the first tile comes out. And I’m packing up stuff that needs to come out of the kitchen before the cabinets can come out. And the biggest reality check is that I will be out of a kitchen from the end of February to possibly the end of April. That includes not having water available! Anyway, with the dozens of eggs that will be cracked on this project, the omelet will be big, beautiful and fluffy!

It’s like this with any project or change in life. Eggs break, omelets are made. How’s your writing going? is your first draft crap? Of course it is. That’s where the egg-cracking comes in. It’s called editing and revising. And it is just as messy and nasty as drywall dust.

In case you haven’t heard, we are accepting submissions for the April 2017 issue. The theme is Dirty Little Secrets. Bwahaha! Do you have any skeletons in your closet? Do you know where skeletons are? Did you put them there? Have you cheated on your taxes? Cheated on your spouse? Cheated on your spouse’s taxes? Did you go to confession? Write it down and send it in! We accept pen names!

Forget the Rules!

At some point, every writer has experienced frustration while trying to develop a story that follows all of the writing rules.  I know I have and at times its been enough to make me want to quit writing altogether. And yet, it seems like just when we have the rules figured out, someone else has gained fame and fortune from breaking those rules.  So why is it okay for them to break the rules but not the rest of us?

We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed this.  The writing experts themselves have and now when they publish a book on the rules of writing, they’re trying to compensate for it. So, when you go to read one of those rule books, you might find something like this:

  • Don’t write in first person/present tense. Unless you’re Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (The Divergent Series), or Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave); and then it’s okay. But if you’re not one of these authors you should stick with writing in 3rd person past tense because it’s easier for your audience to read.
  • Don’t use prologues. Unless you’re Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Michael Cunnigham (The Hours), or Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island). As long as you’re one of these writers, it’s okay to use prologues because they did it well. Otherwise prologues are seen as a lazy writer’s way of conveying information about the backstory that they should work into their novel in other ways.
  • Steer clear of flashbacks and dream sequences. Flashbacks and dream sequences cause discontinuity within your story line and can make it difficult for your readers to follow. But they’re okay to have as long as your write like Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Paul Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), or Gayle Forman (If I Stay), because these authors did it well.

With these rules it’s no wonder writers get so frustrated.  The sad reality is, none of the writing rules are bad but all of them can be broken as long as the exception to the rules are executed well and that’s the trick: executing your story so well, nobody cares if you broke a few rules.

In honor of a new year, I recommend we all forget the rules.  Throw caution to the wind. Write your story the way you envision it. If you want a prologue, have a prologue. If you want flashbacks, write them. If your story doesn’t work the way you wrote it, your beta readers will tell you and then you can try something else.

Happy New Year

I’ve been writing with purpose for five years next month.  I remember attending my first writers group meeting totally unsure of what was ahead.  Was my writing any good?  Did I have anything to offer other people in terms of critique?  Could I be a writer?

As it turned out, a lot depends on how you define writer.  At its most basic level, being a writer means only someone who writes.  That could be little Elsie with her diary, Suzette with her blog, or even Ralph with his constant Facebook rants (all names are fictitious, I don’t know anyone with those names).  Anyone who has written essays as part of their school work is, technically, a writer.

What I think is meant by writer in the context of “can I be a writer” is the notion of writing for a broad audience.  So, no to the diary, no to school papers, yes to blogs and Facebook rants, provided you have a more than, say, fifty followers.

I write for publication in magazines and ezines.  Yes, I write for myself, in the sense that I write what I want to write and not what someone else tells me to write, but my purpose is to be published.  To get a piece past a slush pile reader, and past however many editors are involved in the process, and get that piece between the covers of a magazine (or on the website, as the case may be).

To that end I’ve had a moderately successful year.  I’ve been published six times against ten rejections, a phenomenal ratio I think.  I was even paid for one of them.  The pieces that are still in progress have been well received by my critique circle and I should be shopping them around this coming year.  So, it appears that I do, indeed, have what it takes to be a writer.

As I reflect back today over the past one and five year periods, I look ahead to 2017 and think this is the year that I switch from writing with purpose to writing with a goal.  You see, I have my own Mt. Everest to climb.  I want to get a full-sized short story into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (AHMM).  Which is fine, except I haven’t been writing any mystery or crime fiction over the past five years. I’ve been honing my craft on general fiction pieces that are more accessible to a wider audience.

This year I wrote my first police procedural type story and now I’m working on two crime based short stories. This vastly reduces my chances of getting published because there are limited outlets for crime fiction (six that I know of).  I have to live with that limitation, though, if I want to concentrate on getting good enough for AHMM.

I try to keep these posts to 500 words, so I have to sign off now, but I think I’ll develop this theme of writing with a goal a little more next time.  A happy and prosperous new year to you.

Bartleby the Scrivener

Since the day I read it I’ve been haunted by Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.  It’s the story of a man who hires Bartleby.  Bartleby starts work at his new office and shows great promise, only to stop working bit by bit while uttering the phrase “I would prefer not to,” when asked to perform a normal work task.

It’s an implausible story as any normal boss would just fire the worker, but this boss ends up moving his offices to get away from Bartleby.  The story goes on at length about their relationship and it shows through its wonderful prose the worldview of the boss more than it tells the story of Bartleby, though the two are inextricably entwined.

It’s a bleak story and not to everyone’s liking.  If you haven’t read it, it can be done in one sitting, but it’s a novella so be ready.  Also there have been a few movie adaptations of it.  I own one starring Crispin Glover as Bartleby and David Paymer as the boss that gives the feel of the story in a more modern setting.  Glover gives his usual creepy performance which is perfect for the creepy character of Bartleby.

I posted a story to my online critiquing group that was supposed to give a sense of the bleakness of Bartleby The Scrivener, but I didn’t quite pull it off on my second draft.  But that’s what critique groups are for, pointing out where you’ve failed and offering suggestions for making it better.  I have to admit to a certain amount of trepidation trying to emulate a master like Melville, but at the same time it made me very intentional about the writing of that story.  We’ll see if that helps me turn a corner in my writing.  I need to be stretching myself a bit more if I’m going to go to the next level.

The competition I’m writing for is The First Line’s spring 2017 contest.  Entries are due February 1.  Go to The First Line’s webpage for more information.

Submissions for the February/March issue of Pilcrow and Dagger close January 4!!  Not much time left, so be working on those stories about Armageddon.

A literary plug

NaNoWriMo has come and gone.  If you were working on a novel for the month, how did you do?  I often wonder what percentage of people who start NaNo finish their 50,000 words over the month.  Nowhere on the website (www.nanowrimo.org) do I find anything that tells me even how many people participated this year, much less how many people “won.”

I know I didn’t “win,” for a couple of reasons.  One, I didn’t decide until late into October to participate.  Novels require planning and I only had half an outline ready to go by the time I started. Not too surprisingly I got a little over halfway to my 50,000 word goal and fizzled.

But even not having an outline wouldn’t have been fatal all by itself.  I could have pantsed it for the remaining 15 days and still come out with something usable, but my work schedule got confused and overwhelming with Thanksgiving and that drove the final nail into the coffin of my ambition to complete NaNo.  Total bummer.  I didn’t even try to pick it up again after the holiday, and still haven’t.  I started a new project, a short story for The First Line’s new contest.  I’m bad about that.  Finishing another novel appears to be a pipe dream for me.  I become accustomed to the idea that I’m “just” a short story writer.

An interesting side note to my The First Line entry.  I had in mind to do something similar to Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener but set in modern times with modern language.  Not that I have the kind of skill it takes to pull off a major piece like that, but within my own parameters I am going to give it a try.  The point is, I re-read Bartleby and found it once again an entrancing book.  It has no action to grip you, no discernible movement in places, and a thoroughly depressing plot, yet it moves along well and you start to feel a kinship with the narrator which helps you get past the undeniably poor decision making skills he has.  That’s my literary plug for today, go read Bartleby.  It’s short enough to do it at one sitting if you want.  There’s also a movie adaptation starring Crispin Glover that was equally bleak, depressing, yet still riveting. I only bought it because it has Glover and Maury Chaykin in it and I particularly like their acting.  It’s a hard movie to find nowadays, though.

Did you get your copy of the November/December Pilcrow and Dagger yet?  Really good issue!!  Enjoyed all the stories in it.  I hope you do too.

Life’s short.  Read fast.

Twenty-eight thousand words and counting?

So, as I wrote earlier, I’m doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year.  I hadn’t planned on doing NaNo, but at the last minute I decided to go for it.  So I’m humming along, getting about 2,000 words a day down, and I’m at 28,000+ words on November 16 and BAM.  I hit the wall.  I overwrote what plot I had planned and now I’m stuck.

I had hoped that when I got to the point of the story where I hadn’t planned it out that it would just come to me.  Kind of a hybrid planner/pantser model of writing.  It usually works for me, but this time it didn’t.  I have to wonder if that’s because of the compressed time frame for writing. It’s a lot of pressure to keep to that kind of writing schedule.

If you’re going to churn out 1,667 words per day (the target word count for NaNo), you’d better have a plan or be really adept at writing by the seat of your pants.  I didn’t, and I’m not.  So now I’m bitter and disappointed.  It’s not like I’ve lost anything by not completing the challenge, by the way.  There’s no money involved and no prizes to win.  You just come out of the month with 50,000 words of a novel complete and the feeling you get from accomplishing a pretty significant goal.

Of course, I haven’t lost yet.  There’s time to come back, pound out over 2000 words per day and still “win.”  But with Thanksgiving coming up and a crazy work schedule before then, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll complete the challenge.  And now I’ll have to wait until next year to try again.  Oh well.  I’ll have a better plan in place next year if I decide to do it again.

And, of course, one doesn’t need a novel writing month in order to write one’s novel.  One just sits down and does it.  NaNoWriMo simply generates an extra burst of excitement and creates a small community so that the writer doesn’t feel so alone all the time.  It’s comforting to think that, all over the world, a lot of like-minded people are doing exactly what you’re doing at that time, perhaps suffering the same setbacks, maybe experiencing the same exhilaration, all working toward the same goal.  The same can be done with any competent writers group, though.  And I’ve got several of those.

Still, it would have been cool to complete NaNo.

What About Vanity Presses

In my last blog, I reviewed Self Publishing. Which means you, the author, does all the work. But what if you don’t have time to do all the work or know what to do and where to find the professionals you’ll need? You may be tempted to turn to a Vanity Press. And that may not be a bad thing if you know how to navigate the waters.

Just like Self Publishing, with a Vanity Press you pay for everything. Many Vanity Presses offer levels of service, or packages of service. These services, such as editing, cover art, obtaining an ISBN, printing, and so forth are still paid for by the author. The likelihood is that you’ll pay more through a Vanity Press for the same services than if you Self Publish. That’s not unreasonable because the VP is the middle man and they need to get their share too. And with packages, you can choose the level of monetary investment you want to invest.

So why do some Vanity Presses have a bad rap? The devil is in the details. First, you may not have the creative control you’d like. You won’t have control over who the editors are or the cover artists or the level of detail you may want or need from them. The result could be errors in the editing or covers that just aren’t quite right. Second, some VPs require that they obtain the ISBN and you may have to sign a contract relinquishing your rights to your work. The Press could end up keeping the profits to your book instead of you. Third, any changes you opt to make during the process can result in up-charges, or change order costs. Forth, the quality of marketing services may not be worth their cost. Many VPs dont even offer marketing packages.

Your best bet if you choose to use a Vanity Press is to read the contract carefully. Know up front and clearly what your financial responsibilities are and where the hidden costs could be. Also be sure that you maintain creative control and ownership over your work. And after you read the contract, have an attorney read it just to be on the safe side.

Relationships and writing

It’s November 11.  On this day in 1918 an armistice was signed ending World War One.  In 1954 this holiday was renamed Veterans Day to honor the men and women who have served in our military.  In 1966 my brother was born, making him fifty years old today.  There will be lots of tributes to our military veterans, and deservedly so, but this may be the only tribute to my brother Roger, who also deserves one.  This ties in with my writing, and with writing in general, towards the end, but I have to build up to it.  As always, I hope using myself and my writing experiences in these posts will help inform yours in some way.

Not very long ago, last week in fact, Roger and I were talking about a man who has no relationship at all with his brother.  I found that sad, though far from being an isolated occurrence.  I can’t remember a time when my brother and I didn’t have some kind of relationship.  Even when we were fighting as kids, well that counts too.  That relationship has always been there, it’s something I can count on, something I can depend on, something that serves as an anchor in my life.

I’ll share one story that gives you a sense of Roger’s character and what he’s been to me over the years.  I was getting divorced from my high school sweetheart and preparing to move from Michigan to Florida to get a completely fresh start.  My brother showed up to help me not only make the drive down to Florida, but he ended up packing most of the truck while I was working one day.  Completely blew me away with how generous he was with his time and, well, he packed the truck while I was at work.  I mean, who packs up someone else’s stuff for moving without that person’s help?

So, when I need to write about someone who is solid, dependable, generous, and/or of high moral character, I need look no further than my brother – actually, my parents fall into these categories as well.  I’m surrounded by good, reliably faithful and dependable people.

All writing is about relationships, those interactions with the world around us that define who we are as a person.  Our characters are defined by those relationships as well, even if they interact only with an empty room, there is relationship there (or even the lack of one) that defines that character for your readers.

My writing is informed by the strong bonds I have with my own family, and how important those bonds have been during my somewhat rocky life.  While that gives me a good basis for writing about strong, vital relationships, it puts me at a disadvantage for writing about crappy ones.  Fortunately I managed to pick two wives who gave me lots of experience with crappy relationships, so I got myself covered on that score too (wife number three is a dream and much more in line with my family as being dependably great.)

I can do neither my brother nor writing about relationships justice in the five hundred or so words I allow myself for these posts.  But, besides thanking veterans for their service to our country, I wanted to take a moment and say Happy 50th Birthday to my brother, a good man and a good friend.

It’s November, and you know what that means

I have an acquaintance across the Atlantic who regularly sends me articles and book suggestions about the craft of writing.  I sometimes wonder how to take these suggestions as she’s also privy to my writings – is she telling me I suck and should spend more time learning the craft, or is she just excited to have found another resource and can’t wait to share it with her friends?  I choose to interpret it that she’s just excited to have found a new resource.

Me?  I just write.  I’ve read a few things about writing, and in college I took a creative writing class or two, but I truly believe there is no greater teacher than reading as much as you can and writing as much as you can.  Perhaps I’d be better off if I studied the craft more – Kate, my friend in the UK, is a wonderful writer and she claims she just started in January 2016.  There must be something to these tutorials if they’ve gotten her up to speed this quickly.  I ponder this conundrum sometimes, but whenever I’m reading something about writing I get this overwhelming desire to go and write.  I always give in to it.

This is a good month to give in to the urge to write.  It’s already started, but November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  That’s enough for a complete young adult novel, and a darn good start on any other genre.  To achieve this goal requires you to average 1667 words per day.  There’s a competition and the chance to network as well.

There’s also a Camp NaNoWriMo that meets in April and July.  I know next to nothing about it because none of my writing buddies have participated, but what I’ve learned from their website indicates that these events are good for any work length up to 999,999 words.  But to learn all about both events, head on over to their website to learn more (http://nanowrimo.org/)

I have to confess that I’ve never done NaNoWriMo.  I’m primarily a short story writer and dabble in a novel from time to time.  Perhaps I should do it, even at this late juncture.  Maybe it would be the kick in the pants I need to finish this novel off!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck this week!  May you exceed your word counts and may they all be excellent words!