from Agent Manners files

Dear Agent Manners:

I know that agents prefer a writer with along list of publications in their biography. So many of us don’t have that. What is the best way to present this? Some writers-help pieces say, “If you’ve nothing to list, skip this part.” Others say, acknowledge it straight away, “I’ve nothing to list here of significance but I have written this, this and this and am in the submission process.” And one site, whose advice I most certainly wil lnot be following said, “Make something up. Everybody does.” I prefer to think that is untrue.

What is it that an agent really wants to see in that bio line or seperate biography, if a writer doesn’t have a list of publications or awards? I know we all have to start somewhere. So how do I communicate that I’m a serious writer, as committed to selling the books as I am to writing them?

Thanks for any advice you can give.


Dear Limited Bio:

Credits are certainly nice. Every beginning agent would love to have a string of sales to shore up their resume. But, as you say, one has to start somewhere. I would certainly never recommend lying. Who wants to begin any relationship with falsehoods? (Rhetorical question.) My recommendation if you’ve nothing to list is to go right into the pitch that will hook your reader (AKA the agent) into the story and let the writing do the work for you. If you have any relevant life experience to personalize it, include that too. But remember that, in the end, you’re a writer and the writing is the thing. And, between you and me, if you’ve actually managed to finish a manuscript and submit, that already shows you’ve made a commitment.

6 responses to “from Agent Manners files

  1. LOL! This post could have been written specifically for me. I am the officially bio-less first time author. No previous pub credits at all–zero, zilch, nada–no relevent education, etc., etc. I agonized over this! Then I found out it didn’t matter. 🙂

  2. Dear Agent Manners,
    This brings to mind a tangential concern of my own that I have tried to ignore for awhile now: When is an award or pub credit substantial enough to include? I had a small weekly column in a small-town newspaper almost twenty years ago. Is that too remote to include? I won a number of college-wide writing competitions when I was in school 15 years ago. Are they too localized to include? I won an industry press award when I worked on a trade magazine 10 years ago. Is it too who-cares to include? I have assumed that all of these are not to be included, so I go the unpublished/unlauded route and just keep the bio info to a zilcho. ‘Zat right?
    Self-limiting Bio

    • Oh yes, I want to see this one too. Maybe my bio doesn’t have to be as empty. If I worked as a reporter ten years ago, etc. Sadly, the one item I wrote that has been published was not published by me or even under my name. F@#&ing English Teacher.
      *Glowers apologetically* Sorry.

  3. And, between you and me, if you’ve actually managed to finish a manuscript and submit, that already shows you’ve made a commitment.
    Since you said that, now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t help to mention that I’ve finished more than one manuscript. I usually mention that the whole trilogy is done, but perhaps it would be encouraging to agents to see that I’m capable of more.
    Honestly, it’s a funny thing. All my life I’ve heard people say they’re writing a book. First draft of my first book was done in 44 days. All of them have been like that. My mss exchange friends are almost all behind by entire books. I’m like a volcano that way — it all bursts out, leaving behind entire new countries of rich creation while my friends struggle to keep up. I jokingly offered to start a novel in fifty days club, but was informed I’d be the only member.

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