Can you make “believers” out of potential readers?

What do we mean by the line above? Why “believers?”

If you’re a writer of nonfiction, writing well simply isn’t enough to get people to buy your book. Nonfiction requires authors with deep knowledge of their subject matter, an authoritative voice, and unquestionable credentials. Do you have those?

Let’s try an experiment. Write a short bio for yourself – just like the one you’d expect to see on the dust jacket of a book. Now step back and take a look. Do you mention your spouse, children, hobbies, or where you went to school? In most cases, these are all irrelevant (unless, for example, you’re writing a book about legal issues and you just happened to go to Harvard Law School).

If you want readers to “believe” that what you have to say is trustworthy, then you need to:

  1. take whatever steps necessary to ensure that you are the authority your book requires to be taken seriously, and
  2. spell out clearly the details that illustrate your expertise.

Writing the book was hard work. Give your bio the same level of care and attention.

Learning from Real-Life Examples

In recent days, I’ve had two conversations with nonfiction authors who were challenged to write bios for their books and in both cases, they focused on their personal histories first, followed by information relevant to the books they were writing.

Example One: Adjust the Focus

The first author I spoke with was very proud of his book collection, as well as the fact that he’d been a lifelong resident of Maine. Interesting, yes, but the book he was trying to sell was a guide to adventure travel in Colorado. It was only after noting details about his hobbies and home life that the author mentioned his experience as a hiker and competitive fly fisherman. With a quick revision of the bio, the focus was rightfully put on his outdoor adventure experience, with his rustic, literary life in Maine no more than supporting detail.

The “believability” factor can apply to fiction as well. John Grisham is a lawyer. Michael Crichton was a scientist. These backgrounds lend credibility to their fiction.

Example Two: Highlight What’s Relevant

The second author mentioned above had written a mystery. Her bio focused on family life, school, etc. The final line of her bio, however, mentioned very briefly that for many years she’d done research for a law firm. It was an almost throwaway tidbit, buried in the larger bio. With a little prodding, I learned that she’d been conducting such research for decades and had seen all manner of case files and incident reports. With only a slight change, her bio became much more relevant to the story at hand – and a much more compelling reason for readers to believe that she would be able to craft a mystery with authority and the experience of an insider.

Consider that bio you wrote in the exercise above. Is it focused on the best possible experiences of your life, relative to the book you are trying to sell? If not, consider rewriting or getting help from an editor.

Stick to the Facts

Oh, and just so we’re clear – your bio needs to be 100% accurate. Choosing to change the emphasis of your bio so that it’s more relevant to the work you are trying to sell is acceptable. “Enhancing” your bio to make it sound like you have more experience than you do is not. Now get to it!