Biography Writing: The Art of Letting Others Toot Your Horn

I’m always amused when I see someone with hardly any credentials at all drone on about their illustrious lives with platitudes and white noise, while globally renowned figures like John Grisham keep their bios to 20 words.

Having written scads of bios over the past 20-plus years, and seen others’ work both stellar and abysmal, this Fast Company piece on biography writing is spot-on.

Here is one of the best lines from Jonathan Rick’s “The Art of Writing Your Own Bio: How to Toot Your Horn Without Sounding Like a Blowhard”:

“To be sure, the problem isn’t with boasting. It’s with who’s doing the boasting. Boasting is best when validated by a third party. Otherwise, you’re just another self-proclaimed guru in a field that’s long on salesmanship and short on specifics.”

Rick’s article has other very good insights about how to take distinctive approaches to bio writing, such as having colleagues help tell someone’s story.

In writing my own bio, I have sought a balance between professional, personal and off-beat (such as noting my once driving an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile as a reporter and my ambidextrous free-throw shooting zeal).

The random inclusions are not for their own sake, either: they help paint an accurate reflection of who I am, in all my off-the-wall reality.

That, too, is why my bio photo shows me dressed up as Super Shopper Spotter, with the caption, “It takes a courageous man (or at least a brazen PR guy) to wear red boots, mask and cape in front of a flower shop–or anywhere else for that matter.”

Related Posts:
Get Your Own Inside Edge: Biography Writing Service
Writing Biographies & Profiles: Navigating Around the Self-Modesty Mask

Introducing the Inside Edge Biography Writing Service

Three years ago, in writing about the importance of writing your business biography, my tone was almost apopleptic as I related the widespread absence of such bios.

At the time, I conveyed three big reasons why it behooves you to craft your story:

1. Distinguish yourself from the competition.
2. Develop a deeper connection with your prospective clients.
3. Lay the groundwork for news releases that help promote your product or service.

That covers some of the “why,” but much more elusive is the “how.”

How exactly do you boil down your life and career path and, furthermore, how tight should you write? Is 750 words just right or too much? Is 500 the magic number? What if some contexts enable space for only for 50 or 100 words?

These are among the most frequently recurring questions that I field, often during my “PR Secrets From a Media Insider” workshops. In response, I have developed a special rate for biography writing–click here for more details.

Biographies Help Differentiate and Connect

What’s your story?

If you run a business, do you have a well-written biography on your website and in any other communication materials? I am continually astonished by the prevalence of successful professionals who don’t have a bio.

Then there are those who have poorly crafted bios that appear to have been scrawled hurriedly as they strolled the aisles of a Whole Foods, hunting for milk and eggs. (Sometimes, it’s better not to have a bio at all than to have something slipshod that reflects poorly on you.)

If your biography (often found in the “About Us” section of websites) falls into either of the above camps, you are squandering a huge opportunity to:

1. Differentiate yourself from the competition.
2. Forge a deeper connection with your prospective clients.
3. Lay the groundwork for news releases that help promote your product or service.

A case in point: a month ago, I wrote a biography of Denise Hauser (pictured), a talented kitchen and bath designer who for 18 months had been running her Oak Park-based business, Denise Hauser Design, without the benefit of a concise, compelling bio.

Less than two weeks after I crafted her story, the bio formed the bulk of a news release on Denise’s recognition in a local charity kitchen walk.

The story (“Longtime biz exec carves out kitchen and bath design niche”) is on and was prominently placed on page 2 of TribLocal’s weekly print edition, which went to some 10,000 subscribers in the three-town area (Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park) that is in the heart of Hauser’s suburban Chicago market.

Without the bio in hand, the article would have been considerably less effective and much less likely to have gained inclusion in the Trib’s print version.

To see biographies embedded in other Inside Edge PR news releases, here are pieces on Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors and another on Five Accessories.