Is It Time to Rethink the Third-Person Author Bio?

Editor’s Corner

This morning I was looking at a writer’s website and once again wondered about an anomaly I see all the time in author bios. You know what I mean: those short blurbs that appear on book jackets, at online bookstores and fan sites, on guest posts, conference programs, and other hangouts where writers need to be identified.

It’s traditional in a bio for a third-person narrator to describe your work and qualifications.

Gladys X. Tringle is author of the popular A Bio Better Than Your Self.

This fictional third-person authority also tends to have knowledge of your personal life and achievements and permission to spill and brag a bit, even though we know darned well that you actually wrote—or at least drafted—the statement yourself. That doesn’t bother me; readers are curious about writers, and we expect to learn something from your bio.

Novelist Gladys X. Tringle, author of the new book A Bio Better Than Your Self, lives in a Virginia farmhouse with her husband and two border collies, Ham and Cheese. Publishers Weekly calls her “the professional writer’s best therapist.”

But these days, it’s becoming de rigueur to give readers a more personal glimpse into the writer’s life:

Gladys X. Tringle, author of the new book A Bio Better Than Your Self, lives in a Virginia farmhouse with her husband and two border collies, Ham and Cheese. When she isn’t in her converted barn studio plotting another instant bestseller, she can be found working culinary magic in her 400-year-old kitchen. Publishers Weekly calls her “the professional writer’s best therapist.”

The quirky, self-deprecating approach is also hugely popular, and at this point, the third-person voice begins to sound suspiciously similar to the voice of the writer. I get an image of Gladys grabbing the keyboard from the narrator, annoyed with the objectivity:

Novelist Gladys X. Tringle, author of the new book A Bio Better Than Your Self, lives in a Virginia farmhouse with her husband. For exercise (when she’s not stuck under the sofa looking for chocolates and loose change), Gladys chases her two border collies around the barn at bath time. Publishers Weekly calls her “the professional writer’s best therapist.”

That’s where the third person seems to fail. Who is this narrator who knows Gladys intimately enough to write in her voice?

In some contexts, Gladys could simply write in the first person (“For exercise—when I’m not stuck under the sofa looking for chocolates and loose change—I chase my border collies around the barn at bath time.”) But when it’s time to list her publications and other achievements, it’s more modest and appropriate for someone else to speak for her.

What’s the solution? Do you notice this kind of thing? Do you find it anomalous?

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Carol-SmallSCE2 thumbnail with borderHi! I’m Carol Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, now in its 2nd edition. My Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk are my own opinions and not necessarily those of my colleagues at the University of Chicago Press. You can also find me online on Facebook and Twitter (@SubvCopyEd).

(You see what I did there, right?)

 

Top photo: Missy and Harley, by Shirlz.

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7 thoughts on “Is It Time to Rethink the Third-Person Author Bio?

  1. I’ve never found the third-person convention distracting, even if it is artificial. I like Brian Doyle’s style: When things get awkward, ramp up the absurdity: “Brian Doyle is a hirsute shambling shuffling mumbling grumbling muttering muddled maundering meandering male being who edits Portland Magazine …His greatest accomplishments are that a riveting woman said yup when he mumbled a marriage proposal, that the Coherent Mercy then sent them three lanky snotty sneery testy sweet brilliant nutty muttering children in skin boats from the sea of the stars, and that he made the all-star team in a Boston men’s basketball league that was a really tough league, guys drove the lane in that league they lost fingers, man, one time a guy drove to the basket and got hit so hard his right arm fell off but he was lefty and hit both free throws, so there you go.” http://actapublications.com/authors/brian-doyle/

  2. There’s nothing inherently wrong with first-person bios. They might give readers a hint that the book is self-published, but if the author doesn’t mind people knowing that (and the book as a whole is attractive and professionally edited) it won’t necessarily affect sales.

    That said, I like humorous third-person bios that were obviously written by the author. It’s a treat when I expect basic information conveyed in a boring way, and the bio surprises me with something more human.

  3. I find third person bios distracting because I can picture the author writing them and it seems disingenuous.

  4. I’ve become bored by typical bios. I was amused by a colleague’s quirky bios, so I’ve started adding a fun line to mine. “I like to collect things, including squirrels, tiny books, and articles on the singular they.”

    And I really prefer them in first person. Because of the reasons you gave. And third person sounds so stuffy.

  5. I prefer first person bios. I don’t understand why it is more modest and appropriate for someone else to speak for the author when it comes to listing publications and achievements. A simple, short list is direct and matter of fact and authentic in tone, not something to be afraid of.

  6. Why not combine the two just as you would in running text? Use third person, but mix description, indirect speech, and direct quotations. Bios already include quotations from other people—so why can’t we include quotations from the author too?

    Novelist Gladys X. Tringle, author of the new book A Bio Better Than Your Self, lives in a Virginia farmhouse with her husband. For exercise, Gladys says she chases her two border collies around the barn at bath time when she’s “not stuck under the sofa looking for chocolates and loose change.” Publishers Weekly calls her “the professional writer’s best therapist.”

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