Thursday, September 22, 2011

Telling Your Own Author Bio Myth

I'm thinking a lot about myths this month as I teach the Conflicts of Myth online workshop with SavvyAuthors.  Actually, I think about myths most months with my own writing, but this workshop has got me thinking about one slant of myth-telling which we haven't covered in regard to JK Rowling. Her own personal life-story myth.

Now, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. "Myth" is not a synonym for "lie," as many people today believe. Myths are ancient stories, usually involving gods and goddesses, that use metaphor and allegory to tell a deeper truth that's harder to convey with pure historical fact. They are the ancient novels of their day.

JK Rowling's rags-to-riches story has been told and retold so many times because it touches on a a theme that is universally appealing, especially in the United States. And thus, this goddess of authors and children's literature has been immortalized in our time. Which, if you haven't noticed, has been very good for sales.

You can look back to the earliest interviews with JKR in British papers in 1997 and they almost always had the same slant--welfare mom makes it big (or, "on the dole," in British terms). Of course, her “big” then wasn’t as big as it is today. But most of those early newspaper articles were written after she’d accepted the six-figure deal with Scholastic--an unheard of advance for a children’s author.

While I do not believe JKR deliberately crafted her bio as “welfare mom makes it big,” as she was working as a teacher at the time Sorcerer’s Stone sold, she obviously had to have mentioned her prior situation in those early interviews in order for the reports to sensationalize it. The reporters hit on the one item in her bio that they saw as the most marketable, and whether she liked it or not, she had to live with it.

Telling your own author myth is about taking the reins in crafting and discussing your bio. If you prepare yourself in advance, you can guide the media to the parts of your life you want emphasized and away from those you want out of the public eye. Take some time before your first interview, before creating your website, to determine what aspects of your life you don’t mind being put on public display and would make good copy for marketing and promotion. What angle can you play-up to give yourself a hook, an appealing myth that can be easily remembered?

Remember--myths are not lies! As myths are stories that represent a deeper, inner truth, a bio is a summary of the deeper meaning of your life designed for marketing. How can a full life be summed up in a couple of paragraphs? It can't. But a good bio will represent that part of you which is best presented to the public.

So, take a moment and think about your bio myth. What story about yourself best sums up who you are, what you write, and why you write it? Is there a slant you can truthfully give your life story that will appeal to the mass reading public? Determine your myth and present it everywhere that requires a bio, starting with your website and blogs, etc.

You might also want to determine what areas you’d like best left out of public scrutiny--such as the privacy of your children or your past life as an IRS agent. Communicate your wishes to anyone in your circle of influence who might comment on you publicly as well: your agent, editor, critique partners, spouse, best friends, parents, etc. You may not always be able to succeed at this, especially if you make it big, but you can learn to play the politician and stay on message, your message, when presenting your bio to the media.

Remember, your bio is one more arm of your story. It's a way for readers to connect with the storyteller that they most want to listen to. It's wise to craft your bio by keeping in mind appeal to future readers.

For an excellent post on more specifics for writing a bio, I heartily recommend checking out Jami Gold's post What Does Your Author Bio Say About You?

Have you thought about your author myth when constructing your bio?  What aspect of your life story do you think will most appeal to your readers?

Also, if you're almost ready to send out a manuscript to an editor or agent and need a professional read, or if you've decided to publish direct and need a final professional edit, remember that I offer editorial services!

Persephone graphic credit.