Oh, I can’t help myself. I just found this bio on a posting for a blog book tour. Within two sentences I thought, “This book has to be subsidy published,”and sure enough, at the bottom I saw a subsidy company (in which you pay the company to publish your book under their imprint). Let’s take a look. (I’ve changed the identifying characteristics).
The original bio:
Ms. Susie Q is the youngest of five children. She was born in CITY, STATE on May XX, 1964, her parents separated when she was very young. She was raised by her mother and grandmother. During the teenaged years of her life certain decisions were made for her life that created problems for her that she never imagined or intended. The book TITLE is the story of what Susie did to save her life from complete ruin.
Here are my impressions:
No typos, misspellings, or glaringly incorrect grammar. This writer is separating sentences by two spaces, not one, after the period. This is a quick-and-dirty indication that the writer has not yet moved to the 21st century standard of professional writing. Still, for right now nothing is a red flag.
SENTENCE BY SENTENCE:
Ms. Susie Q is the youngest of five children.
This sentence is perfect.
She was born in CITY, STATE on May XX, 1964, her parents separated when she was very young.
This sentence is obviously missing a conjunction linking two independent clauses, but if it doesn’t happen again it will probably be OK. While this information has some specificity (location and date), the personal side is general. After all, many people’s parents separate when they are little. It may be early for me to be too critical, but my detector has been alerted to make sure specifics come into play soon.
She was raised by her mother and grandmother.
Yet another statement in passive voice; I am noticing this now since every verb but “separated” so far is passive. The sentence content (raised by mom and grandmom… snore) is also general. I’m waiting for details!
During the teenaged years of her life certain decisions were made for her life that created problems for her that she never imagined or intended.
2. passive voice yet again. Did Susie Q just float through life?
3. repetitious: “her life” and “for her” are both repeated twice in the same sentence.
4. “decisions,” “problems,” “imagined,” “intended”… General information, and this is now the third sentence out of three. There is NO specific information counterbalancing. At this point I’ve decided Susie Q will not have anything worthwhile to tell me in her book, even if I like her topic.
5. “imagined or intended”: this is Noah’s Ark where the modifiers come two by two. Be bold and choose only one.
The book TITLE is the story of what Susie did to save her life from complete ruin.
Sigh. This is again passive voice and general descriptions. I don’t doubt Susie Q has dealt with tough problems, but I don’t know what they might be, or how she might have dealt with them. The editor sez, Pass.
How might one make this bio better?
My first thought is that Susie Q was born in May 1964, which means she now must be in middle age. Yet she talks only about her teenage years, so I’m wondering why she’s leaving out everything after.
I’m also wondering what sorts of teenage problems Susie Q experienced that affected her so strongly. Was she raped when she was 12? Did she get pregnant or even have an abortion when her boyfriend and she went too far? Did she get leukemia, or crash her car, or escape a fire? Did her mom and grandmom lose their income, and Susie Q became homeless? Did she get into taking drugs on the streets? Or did Susie Q live in more privileged living circumstances where she eloped with someone of whom her mother didn’t approve because he didn’t have the correct antecedents (and her mom turned out to be right)?
Susie Q also talks about being “the youngest of five.” So I further wonder, did she grow up with her siblings? What were they like?
Why did her parents separate? Was her mother too involved in her work, or was her father an alcoholic? What was her grandmother like?
OK, let me make up some details to rewrite this bio. Since this was an inspirational-type book I will include those elements in the bio.
Ms. Susie Q is the youngest of five children. After her alcoholic father squandered their food money for the last time, Susie and her mother hid with Susie’s grandmother in a nearby city while her siblings went to live with her uncle. At six Susie didn’t understand the attraction of whiskey; by fourteen, she did. Warnings, restrictions, and even a military-type school weren’t enough to break Susie’s addiction. After narrowly escaping death when she drunkenly drove her car into a creek, at nineteen she ran away to live on the streets.
Susie Q’s book, TITLE, describes the long journey into alcoholism and back again.
Remember that your goal is to intrigue, not just convey information. Especially in something as short as this bio, every word must pull its weight.