Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bio Critique #3: Jo Eberhardt

My apologies to all for disappearing! I’ve just gotten back from a week of traveling on business—and I was swamped for several days before that with trip-related details. I hate it when bloggers go on about the “guys, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while,” but I felt I owed a bit of explanation for leaving our third contest winner, Jo Eberhardt, waiting on her bio critique for so long!

Without further ado, let’s jump in. Here’s Jo’s original bio paragraph:

I live on the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia with my husband and two young sons. My greatest ambition as a child was to grow up to be the lead singer of a heavy metal band. Sadly, by the time I was ten, the whole neighbourhood knew I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. So I took my love of entertaining and inspiring people, and turned to storytelling instead. Earlier this year I had a story shortlisted for the Stringybark Speculative Fiction Award and subsequently published in the anthology A Visit From the Duchess. Over the last two months, I've won two of Chuck Wendig's weekly Flash Fiction competitions, as well as this competition on your blog. I'm a member of the local Writer's Group, am an Emily contest judge for the West Houston RWA in the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal category, and blog about life, the universe and everything at http://thehappylogophile.wordpress.com.

Overall, Jo, I really like this one—the “I’ve always wanted to be a writer” bit is kind of clichéd, but you’ve nicely turned it on its head a bit with the joke about wanting to be the singer in a heavy metal band (especially because it’s often unclear whether a metal singer can, in fact, sing!).

Generally speaking, you’re covering all my usual points here: where you live, your professional (writing) credits, your professional (writing) affiliations, a link to your blog, and a funny detail that gives me a stronger sense of your voice… and proof that there’s a real person behind the sometimes-dry details. This is a solid start.

Now, then, where to improve?

When I get a bio like yours, I often find myself doing a lot of googling to learn more about the credits the writer lists. It pains me a little bit to admit this so publicly, but I am definitely guilty of assuming that if a credit doesn’t have an Internet presence (no Google hits whatsoever), I, um, assume it’s fictional.

However, that’s not the case with yours! Here are links to Jo’s credits, for anyone who is less…what’s the word? DILIGENT, I’m sure that’s what you were thinking, right?, than I am.


http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/77531 (the anthology, on Smashwords)

http://terribleminds.com/ramble (Chuck Wendig’s blog-- I leave it up to you whether to point the link to a specific post announcing your contest wins.)

To sum up this point, which has gotten a little ramble-y, if you were querying me and included the links in parentheses after the description in your bio paragraph, I'd be grateful, and your chances of my giving your sample pages a thorough and careful read would go up.

The “life, the universe, and everything” moment: My geek cred is often called into question, with good reason, but I can certainly recognize this as an homage to Douglas Adams. Given your involvement with FF&P RWA, even without any details about the project about which you are querying, I’m guessing that any agents and editors reading your query are also supposed to “get” the reference here.

I have some concerns, though, about leaving this phrase in. It’s cute and it’s clever, but it also means that you’re encouraging any and all readers of the query to directly compare your work to that of Douglas Adams, who has more or less achieved nerd sainthood at this point, I’m pretty sure. The publishing industry’s full of direct comparisons to other people’s work, but we usually phrase it as “This Famous Book meets That Other Famous Book” or “will appeal to fans of This Famous Book and The Other Famous Book,” so that you’re never inviting a situation where you’re asking someone to decide whether your work is better or worse than the work to which you’re comparing it.

Your work may well be as good as Douglas Adams’s—and far be it from me to say otherwise!—but it should be the work itself which encourages this comparison, not the query letter. Yours is a very mild version of this phenomenon, but I can’t tell you how many query letters I’ve seen which asserted that the novel in question was better than Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Da Vinci Code. Seriously. I’m not paraphrasing here.

My best advice on how to fix? Swap out “life, the universe, and everything” for a line elsewhere in the query that says “my novel TITLE will appeal to fans of Douglas Adams and [this is my geek cred failing me again, because I cannot think of another example of humorous SF that’s not Doctor Who, which just seems like too obvious of a reference].”

Otherwise, if the novel is half as good as the bio paragraph, I think you’re in very good shape here.

Thanks for your patience, and thanks again for playing along with the contest!

I’m open to ideas for a new contest—should we do another writing contest (in these waning days before NaNoWriMo begins)? A randomly selected winner from comments? What should the prize be?


Jenny said...

I have no time to do any writing, I have so much to do before NaNo starts! But random selection works for me ^_~

Jo Eberhardt said...

Thank you so much for this critique, it's incredibly helpful.

As a note, while I was certainly aiming for a homage to Douglas Adams, I am rather intimidated about people comparing my work to Douglas Adams. So I will definitely be removing that line!

Thanks again for the opportunity.

As for ideas, I'm always open to a writing contest. (If time is a difficulty, there's always the 100-word story option.)