Bassam:

Thanks again for sending your query about your historical novel.

I also need an author bio. This bio is probably the most important thing you will send me. A manuscript will not be commercially successful, unless the bio is crafted in just the right way.

Readers do not buy books. They buy the story about how the author came to write this particular book.

For me, I am a mountain climber + carpenter in the Pacific Northwest. So, buyers want to hear that I am writing about pioneers, outdoor fitness, home repair, climbing mountains with paraplegics, craftsmanship, radicalism in NW history as reflected in the modern labor movement, etc.
Instead, I wrote a book the three generations following slavery who were the leaders of a small African-American community in Richmond Virginia. (The World of Patience Gromes.)  And then I wrote about hitch-hiking across Syria in 1987.

The public does NOT especially want to read what I have to say about African-Americans or the Middle East, because I do not have a logical connection. Now, if I could have found that my uncle was black but passing or if I had some Jewish great grandparents  . . . then, the African-American or Middle East thing might make sense for readers. But my family history features the normal run of drunk Welsh coal miners, nothing special.

Sorry, there is one more thing. The public does not buy books, even those written by authors with a logical connection to their subjects, unless they are friends with the author.

When I go to the ArabBookfest in Seattle Center every July, I surround myself with the engaging and colorful books I have published over the last 27 years. I am amazed by these authors and I love the art work on their book covers. But the typical response by a visitor is, That's nice. Hey, is that your photo on the cover of The Road form Damascus?"

Why is it that can sell in an instant a book that I wrote almost 20 years ago? Yes, it is a very good book. But the readers are buying a book by the friendly guy standing in front of them. 

What is a great book review? It is a counter at a book fair where a few readers can make friends with you. Once they have "met" you . . . then they are far more likely to buy your book.

So, you, as an author, need to create a little short story about yourself in just 5 or 6 sentences. When the reader is done reading, she or he should love you like a brother, or at least like a rather remarkable tour guide.
Let me recap. Your Bio should have two parts:

a. prior publications and education and sources of cultural knowledge (not a full academic CV)
b. a two paragraph story about how you got to this point in life and why you got so "hung up" on this small slice of world history and knowledge. If you are a woman, which sadly you are not, then you need to mine the Eat, Pray, Love depths of your psyche to craft a mini-story that taps into the current narrative of women's empowerment, initiative, and expertise.
If b) above makes the readers curious, makes them admire you or love you, makes the readers say, Yes, I would also like to know the answer to this question . . . then we might get a sale. If we get 1,000 sales . . . then we can pay some of our bare bones costs and keep publishing "a little longer." If we can sell 3,000 - 5,000 . . .we will have a book that pays for itself and pays a bit toward our overhead.

The reader has to be convinced that, at a minimum, you will be an entertaining companion as you travel together through your book. If your bio is sympathetic and engaging, your book will sell. Otherwise, sales will be limited to your immediate friends and family.

To make these comments just a little more tangible, I want to show you how Carolyn Han, the author of Girl Fighters,  developed her Bio from a standard recitation of education and publications to something a lot more quirky and appealing. She was able to weave in her education to her narrative, but for many authors it will be more powerful to leave the educational degrees and writing credits to a separate section at the end. Note that she is accomplishing both tasks I mentioned above: explaining why an American with no link to the Middle East is writing about Yemen (essentially, she establishes her lust for adventure and solo travel), and tossing in some surprising details that may make you want to spend time with her.

"Carolyn Everett, later Han, started life in Los Angeles (born in 1941). Instead of attending college, she married young, moved to Malibu, raised her husband’s three children—then he asked for a divorce. Reclaiming her life, in 1978 she moved to Kauai, attended college, and later earned a master’s degree in English from San Diego. In 1984, she moved to China, where she taught English in Chongqing and Yunnan and married a Chinese man, taking his name. Then, she lectured within the University of Hawaii system where she published three collections of Chinese folk tales and several children’s books.

"In 2000, divorced again and ready for adventure, she moved to Yemen. Over the next eight years, she studied Arabic and trekked by camel across the Ramlat as-Sab’atayn (desert) as a lone woman with Bedouin guides. Living in Marib, a tribal area (once home to the legendary Queen of Sheba), she instructed doctors and midwives in English. Also, she began her memoir. In Sana’a, she spent time writing and lecturing at the Lebanese University. Then she moved to Muscat, Oman, where she collected folk tales. In 2009, she moved to Cairo, where she wrote and taught at a Canadian college. Next, Kosovo and then Montenegro where she makes her home today.

'I have been a student of many cultures,' says Han. 'I have allowed my life to unfold, trusting that I will receive the lessons I need, but not always those that I want. My journey is not over . . .'”


    --Scott C. Davis
       Cune Press