How to Write Your Third-Person Bio

This ought to be self-explanatory, but I’m always surprised at the number of submitters to Poetry South who either ignore the bio that we request or don’t write it in third person. There are times when I simply don’t read a submission if it doesn’t have a bio because I don’t want to have to ask for one later. If I do read it, your submission had better be fantastic because I’m less likely to vote for it if your bio isn’t there or if it doesn’t follow our guidelines.

Start with your name. Most magazines will use the bio in contributors’ notes and want to list them alphabetically. Though we can edit your bio to put your name first, we’d rather not. Start with your first name and end with your last name and or anything that should follow like “Jr.” list your name the same way you want your name to appear on your work and in the table of contents. If you write under a pseudonym, use that name here.

Pretend you’re someone else writing about you, and use he, she or they to refer to yourself, not I. It’s good to say something interesting about yourself, but you don’t have to get too personal. Maybe mention what you do for a living or a hobby or where you’re from. It’s fine to mention family or pets if you are comfortable with that. It’s also fine to mention if this is your first publication or if you are involved in any literary events.

Then list recent publications. Just don’t list every place you’ve ever published, and if you have more than a few books, you might want to only mention two or three, depending on the length of the titles. I like mentioning other magazines I’ve published in recently because I like to read about those in others’ bios. It’s a great way to learn about cool new or unusual places to publish. But a long list will just get ignored, or even more likely, edited down.

Don’t bother mentioning your Pushcart or Best of the Net nominations because so many writers have those. Do mention if you’ve won an award or been a finalist, especially if it’s a recent accomplishment. If you have a lot of awards, maybe just list a couple. This a bio, not your cv.

Stay within the guidelines. At Poetry South, we want a bio of 80 words or less. We’d probably like at least 30 words from everyone, but if you go over 80, we’ll edit it down, and if you go way over 80, we probably won’t accept your submission. Is that harsh? Maybe, but that’s the reality at most magazines.

Speaking of guidelines, some magazines will tell you what kind of bio they want. If they request a funny bio or a quirky one, then do your best to comply. They probably don’t want a list of other magazines and awards. If they don’t tell you what to write, then these suggestions will help you write one that looks professional.

Don’t stress too much about your bio, though. I don’t think anyone has been accepted solely on what they say in a bio, though they might have been declined because their bio was too wordy, too pretentious, or nonexistent. Just follow the magazine’s guidelines, be yourself, and know that we probably want your bio up front because we don’t want to ask for it later. It won’t be the biggest factor in our decision unless you don’t include it, or you ignore our guidelines.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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