This, oddly, is one of the questions I receive the most from readers: how should I list my publishing credits in a query letter or otherwise construct my bio?
Why do I say “oddly?” Because agents don’t care about your publishing credits that much.
If you’re writing nonfiction, particularly prescriptive nonfiction, they care about your platform, which may or may not include publishing credits.
If you’re writing fiction or a memoir, publishing credits can help. A bit. Sort of. But the current project you’re querying about is by far the most important thing.
Don’t believe me? Check out this survey of literary agents.
Still, I try to alleviate writers’ anxiety on this blog by any means possible, so I’m going to go ahead and give you some advice on listing your publishing credits in a query.
Also, don’t miss my online classes on finding a literary agent, and if you need help, reach out for editing or book a consultation!
What to do if you don’t have publishing credits
It’s totally fine if you’re writing a novel and don’t have a shred of publishing credits to your name. Just use these magic words: “This is my first novel.”
How do I know this? I didn’t have a shred of publishing credits to my name before I found a literary agent. Here’s my bio from my query letter for Jacob Wonderbar. Are you ready?
I’m the author of an eponymous agenting and writing blog.
(Seriously. That’s all I said.)
Just give the agent a sense of who you are, whatever that means to you. Don’t over-do it because the most important element in a query letter is the plot description, but it’s an opportunity for you to give the agent a sense of who they’d be working with.
If you’re writing nonfiction you’re going to want to give some thought to your platform, but no one really needs a super elaborate bio.
What to include from your bio
That said, it’s totally okay if you want to tell the agent a bit about yourself. This can give them more of a sense of your personality.
Just don’t go overboard. Keep it concise. Remember, your goal is to give more of a sense of who you are and your personality.
Lisa Brackmann had a pretty great bio paragraph in her query letter for Rock Paper Tiger, which made her sound like an extremely interesting person (which, by the way, she totally is):
I have a background in politics, Chinese history and the entertainment industry. I am working on a pop biography of Zhou Enlai for a small press and with a partner wrote a feature screenplay based on a series of Taiwanese fantasy novels, THE IMMORTALS, which was optioned by ActionGate Films. I was also a contributing editor for TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: RESPONSES TO OCCUPATION, a collection of essays about the American occupation of Iraq (Perceval Press, 2004). I lived in China, travel there often and speak decent, if not quite fluent, Mandarin.
Things that don’t really belong in a bio:
- Why you started writing
- How dedicated you are to writing
- How many rounds of revision your book has been through
Trust me, agents have heard all of that a million times before.
Also, if you’re planning to use a pen name, query as yourself but you can include your pen name if you want to. (All about pen names).
Include all of your books
If you’re previously published, you should include all of the books you have published and/or self-published, along with the publisher and year. This is important. Don’t make the agent go hunting for who published them.
If it’s just a few books you can probably weave them into your bio paragraph, but if it’s a bunch you may want to just list them below your signature and point to them in the bio.
Only include publishing credits that directly relate to your project
As a general rule of thumb, only include publishing credits if they’re relevant to your book project. Don’t include publishing credits for the sole purpose of trying to show you write well.
That means if you’re writing fiction, published short stories in reputable journals are relevant. Academic papers or unrelated articles in a magazine are not.
The exception to this is if you’re, say, writing a novel about a very particular subject like poisonous mushrooms and you happen to have written some great articles on poisonous mushrooms. Then… sure. Include it.
Also, only include publishing credits that have at least a regional audience. Publishing a letter to the editor in your local paper isn’t quite going to impress.
Don’t overthink it
At the end of the day, this is the least important paragraph in your query letter. A great idea for a book trumps everything else.
Don’t agonize over this one. Just be concise, punchy, and focus the rest of your energy on your making your book sound as amazing as possible.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Diogenes by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Lisa Brackmann says
One of these days I’m going to write that pop biography of Zhou Enlai. I swear!
Naomi Lisa Shippen says
I have been wondering about this as I get ready to query my novel. I have a couple of publishing credits and was going to try for more with some short stories I have written. Your article is very reassuring as I would rather get on with writing my next novel than spend time with my short stories. Thanks for sharing your industry knowledge – this is certainly good news for me.