Build a Better Author Bio for Twitter

Jane's Twitter bio

Before you decide to follow someone on Twitter, what’s the first thing you look at?

Probably the bio.

Let’s assume you’re on Twitter because it’s part of your author platform—whether you’re in relaxed mode or professional mode. Have you written a bio that’s likely to attract followers or turn them away? Let’s look at four basic components:

  1. Photo
  2. Name and handle
  3. 160-character bio
  4. Link

Photo

Your photo will be showing up in a tiny, tiny square. For that reason, I recommend a clear and closely cropped image of your face, with good contrast. Here are a few examples.

Head shots for Twitter

L to R: Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn), Kevin Smokler (@weegee), Dan Blank (@danblank), and Liz Castro (@lizcastro)

I’ve also seen successful use of illustrations, cartoons, and logos for Twitter avatars—and of course some kind of recognizable logo is usually the default for companies and organizations.

Illustration Twitter avatars

L to R: Maria Popova (@brainpicker), MediaBistro (@mediabistro), and April Hamilton (@indieauthor)

Name and Handle

Choose a handle as similar as possible to your actual name, or to your other social network account names. You may need to be somewhat creative (add underscores, initials, numbers, etc).

Even if your handle becomes alpha-numeric soup, you can and should add your actual name. Again, we’re discussing the Twitter account as a component of author platform.

I do not recommend adding “Author” to your actual name. I don’t recommend it for the handle, either. Save “author” exclamations for the bio.

Bio

Here we get to the real meat of the issue. What do you say in so few characters? Sometimes it’s easier to show you what to avoid rather than what to do. See below—name and handles removed to protect the innocent.

Bad Bio #1

The Inspirational (or Witty) Quote or Aphorism

 

 

 

 

Bad Bio #2

I Get the Feeling You’re on Twitter Only to Market Your Book

Bad Bio #3

The Bio That Tells Me Nothing

A strong bio will give people:

  • information about your industry or work, if that’s why you’re on Twitter
  • a good indication of what you’ll be tweeting about (explicitly or implicitly)
  • a little personality and/or where you might find common ground
As far as that third item, it’s popular for people to mention their hometowns or states, the universities they graduated from, or other things we share in meet-and-greet environments. That little bit of personality is more often than not what starts a conversation on Twitter. For me, it’s bourbon and usually my city of residence. (I do highly advocate listing your location—again, it’s likely to spark more connections.)

Notice what I did NOT say was part of a strong bio:

  • a list of every book you’ve ever published
  • exhortations to go to Amazon to buy your book
  • a laundry list of all your hobbies and interests

There’s nothing wrong with putting your most recent book title in your bio. Just don’t make your bio sound like your book release is the only reason you’re on Twitter.

Link

Twitter gives you the opportunity to list one link in connection with your bio (though you can stuff your bio with more—not recommended, since you may come off as a promotional whore).

The best place to link is almost ALWAYS to your own website. If you don’t have a website, and you’re a serious author, then what are you waiting for? Your efforts on social media will go much further if you have some place for people to visit and uncover more about you and your work.

For unpublished writers

People often ask if their bio should say something like “Aspiring writer looking for agent.” That’s not a horrible thing to state, but if it were me, I’d say, “Working on [X book/genre] about [Y topic].” Few people clamor to meet more aspiring writers. Interesting people working on interesting projects: Yes!

What kind of Twitter bios do you like or dislike? Share your tips in the comments.

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Master the Principles of Social Media Without Feeling Like a Marketer

Jane's newest online course focuses on how to take a holistic and strategic approach to social media that’s based on long-term reader growth and sound principles of online marketing. You won’t find gimmicks or short-term approaches here. Rather, my philosophy is that (1) your work—your writing—is always central, and (2) you have to enjoy what you’re doing on social media for it to be sustainable and eventually become a meaningful part of your author platform.

A big challenge for authors is deciding what types of marketing will work for them strategically, and figuring out what will be effective in cutting through the noise without consuming huge amounts of time. Over the course of 12 weeks, our goal will be to answer this question for you, eliminate as much guesswork as possible, and retain your authentic voice regardless of your strategy.

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
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64 Comments

    • The first line is great! After that, it succumbs to what I sometimes call “laundry list” syndrome (“language, photography, vodka, food, science, fitness …”), where my eyes glaze over. My preference is for bios to say something rather than offer a list. BUT: I have to emphasize this is my perspective. I’m not going to remember the list of things you mention; I’m more likely to remember 1 vivid detail.

  1. I have problem with coming up with a suitable bio too. But the first example seems like a suitable example to follow for me. Thanks Jane.

  2. Great post! I’m sharing this with my writers group. We often discuss short bios for different sites. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Great post, Jane. In branding circles they often talk about the importance of sending subtle clues about quality and relevance via a combination of visuals and verbal content. You’ve helped authors create a brand that drives sampling (following) and reputation. Thanks again for such a help to authors and Twitter users alike.

  4. I agree with all your pointers here, and I’m glad you included the tip about not putting the word “author” in your handle. It’s one of my pet peeves and so prevalent.

    I’ve seen bios that are simply a list of hashtags, and I think that’s a huge turnoff.

    Here’s my bio, which seems to get a lot of positive responses:

    @EllenMeister
    I write, I swear, I sing, I dance–all from the front seat of my minivan. My new book, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam), is in stores. I recip most follows. Let’s tweet!

  5. Thanks for this! I just realized my bio could have been an example of what NOT to do :-). Hopefully it’s better now.

  6. It’s sooo hard not to do a laundry list. I want to connect with anyone and everyone with similar interests, which is why I tend to list stuff.

    Thanks for the information! I revamped by bio with this blog post, though my bio is still far from perfect. Is there a Twitter Bio Doctor in the house for me to consult with? :}

      • Thank you, Dr. Jane! ;) Ok, here goes:

        I Tweet, and read Tweets, about: writing/books (kid lit,
        SF), food, science/nature, homesteading, birds, crafts. I dream of UBC Cinnamon Buns & am an IU spouse.

        • If I were to play editor: “I tweet about writing/books (kid lit, SF), food, science/nature, homesteading, birds, crafts. Dream of UBC Cinnamon Buns. IU spouse.” I might take an item or two from your interests list in favor of being more specific about just a few items of *most* importance to you—what you mostly want to talk to people about.

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  8. I really dislike the nonsense bio that is supposed to sound clever. “Obfuscating the universe from here to there” is one I got in my inbox this morning. No. I didn’t follow back. Looks like I may have to rethink my own bio, though. Maybe my pre-publication bio was better.

  9. This was great, Jane. I, too, tweaked my bio. I thought my laundry list of “me” was short, but alas, not so–for I got stuck on astronomy geek…thank you.
    A question I have is this. Both good handles for me were taken when I signed up. That is: davemalone and dave_malone. So I went with dzmalone. My middle intial is S, but I didn’t like that and at that time, Z, sounded good, though I now feel like I sound like a rapper–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Any advice would be appreciated. :)

  10. Afraid I was going to see my bio up there! I like a little personality in the bios I read but I can see that mine is all personality and little else. Off to do a revamp. Thanks!

  11. Author Bios are such a challenge. To get so much information into so few words.

    Does mine work?

    Creator of fantasy worlds, steamy romances, and suspense. A tad high maintenance, but kind, quirky, and able to navigate Disneyland without a map.

    Thanks! Love all your advice and great writing tips.

  12. I’m afraid you guys will find my bio too cutesy, but I ams what I ams:
    “Loyal. Honest. Jumpy. Ready to fill in for your golden retriever. Working on a memoir about raising a son with Borderline Personality Disorder. Expat in Canada.”

    Think it’s OK?

  13. Jane, as always, great advice. I’ve posted a link on my author page for all the IN PRINT writers who are asking me about my introduction to Twitter since last seeing you at MWW12. I know this will help them. I immediately went to my profile to be sure I was in line with all your advice.

  14. Is this too pushy, Jane? Thanks for your help. Hope all is going really really well!

    Carol Buchanan

    @CarolBuchananMT

    Stories of courage, faith, and hope: people
    making dangerous choices in order to survive in the West. Vigilante
    Quartet (4th novel due in 2014)

    Montana, USA

    ·

    http://www.swanrange.com

  15. Yet another fabulous, relevant, helpful post, Jane. Like everyone else, I’ll be skedaddling on over to re-check and tweak my bio. Not a bad maintenance idea from time to time anyway, you think?!!!

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  17. Touched up my Twitter account last night after reading this. Thank you, Jane, for this and all the advice you’ve so freely shared. Aspiring artists, I once read, have been advised to ignore crowdfunding at their own peril. The same should be said of aspiring authors who ignore #JaneFriedman.

  18. One of the benefits of this medium is that it really lends itself to experimentation. It is worth testing out different bios to see what pulls the best response.

  19. Hi Jane!

    Regarding the link, I love it when a Twitter users takes the time to make a special Twitter landing page. That is, the link in their bio does lead to their main site but is a special page just for their Twitter followers. You can customize that quite a bit … special coupons codes, extra downloadable goodies, a list of people you recommend they follow, etc. And of course an invitation/link to look around your main site (If they couldn’t figure it out already from all the surrounding nav …)

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  21. I like Twitter bios that tell something unusual about the Twitter user. Mine is: Interviewed Carl Sagan at Park College (now Park University) in 1962 and asked John Updike the first question following his lecture in Kansas City in 1998. @BarbaraMcDWhitt

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  26. Thanks for your great advice, Jane. I’m off to give a hard look at my bio.

    Here is someone’s bio I saw recently which I think is rather insulting: I don’t have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else.

    BTW, we’re neighbors–I live near Staunton, VA.

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