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An Author’s Credentials

When you’re reading query letters for fiction books, does the background – or lack thereof – of the writer ever help or hinder a request for a partial? I realize with my query letter it probably helped considering I have a background in the subject matter I’m addressing, but what other things are you looking for that writers should potentially discuss? What would turn you away?

Luckily, for all of you authors trying to find something to put in that author bio section of your query, my answer to this is really nothing but good news.

If you have no background other than working with a critique group or being a member of one of the major writing organizations, you’re in fine shape and have nothing to worry about. In fact, I don’t even care if your only background is that you’ve been writing books. What I care about when it comes to fiction is the book, and if your query resonates with me I might not even read that final paragraph before jumping to request more.

However, if you have a background in the subject matter, writing credentials with literary magazines, have won numerous awards or are previously published that might help, especially if I’m on the fence. If I’m wowed by your query I’m not going to care about you as the author. If, however, I like your query but wasn’t wowed, those credentials will probably push me to request more simply because it looks like you can write, so I’m curious if maybe your book is more impressive than your query.

There are only a few things that really turn me off when it comes to author credentials and most of them are done by those who haven’t properly done their research before submitting. It’s the author who tries to convince me that winning a third-grade writing contest or spelling bee (and yes, it happens) qualifies you to suddenly be a published author, or the author who tells me more about her personal life and how she’s writing to fill the time than focuses on writing.

Jessica

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17 comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I have a related question – what about (professional) freelance writers? I write for a well-known parenting website, and am expanding to other venues as well – but my article topics (for example, "What to Feed Your Baby") are a far cry from fiction writing. Should I include this experience in my query letter, or is it just too much of a stretch?

  2. I have the same question. How do you know what credentials are too much of a stretch. I've had a career in science and have a research article published, but I also have a degree in American Literature and I'm submitting fiction that has nothing to do with my science background. Is mentioning Am Lit. a stretch?

  3. This post is nothing but reassuring. Thanks!

    I had the same question as Empty Refrigerator. Actually, my first thought upon waking up this morning was that. If you've been published elsewhere, either through a freelance column or perhaps in an academic journal, should you mention it in your query letter? Obviously it's not an indication that you can write fiction well, but could it help an agent see that at least you can write something well?

  4. I've been a finalist or received honorable mention in several competitions (RWA, St. Martin's Press Malice Domestic, etc.). I'm concerned that mentioning these "bridesmaid" credits only reinforces I didn't get to be the bride. I've also had several short stories published–but all with tiny magazines I'm not sure an agent would recognize.

    How does one determine what credits are worth mentioning? I don't want to look like I'm making a big deal out of something that's barely notable.

  5. I'm probably all wrong, but I normally stick the same information in my credentials (in terms of short story publications, novels published, etc.) that I use for bio material in magazines when they publish my stories.

  6. Empty Refrigerator:

    I read on another blog for writers (annemini.com) that it's best to include any writing-related credentials, especially if you don't have anything else to include – and it's not necessary to go into huge amounts of detail.

    The idea is that those credentials may not impress the agent because they're relevant to your book, but because those credentials say, "I am a professional who can take direction from an editor and meet deadlines under pressure. I know what I'm doing!"

    That insight into what kind of working relationship the agent can expect from you won't help if the query isn't up to par, but it could be the extra little push that makes an indecisive agent ask for a partial.

    Of course, this is secondhand advice, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. 🙂

    -A.

  7. I am so passing this all that matters is the book response onto my crit group, because half of them disagreed with me when I voiced the same opinion.

    Vindication is yummy. 🙂

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