The author bio is a curious thing. For the most part it’s a standard formula, a brief biographic sketch of the person:
Ludlow Belknap is a manic-depressive failed journalist who lives in Dubuque, Iowa, with his wife, son, and flatulent golden retriever, named Pffft. He is the author of Cornholed, a book of short stories. Shuck Off is his first novel.
In principle there’s nothing wrong with this formula. If Shuck Off is a hot, hard stiffy of a read, then the author bio will helpfully inform us that Cornholed is out there waiting for our greedy eyes to devour it.
But lately the author bio has been creeping into children’s books–and not just the bio either, but the photo. And I have hard empirical evidence of this, since over the last five years I’ve read over a thousand of these hardcover buggers. Trust me; I’m not just licking my finger and sticking it up to test the wind. This here’s a trend.
As evidence, I trot out Good Morning Garden, text by Barbara Brenner, art by Denise Ortakales. Good Morning Garden has 95 words (I charitably counted “forget-me-nots” as three instead of one).
Here’s Barbara’s author bio (which I laboriously typed, though I won’t be the slightest bit offended if you choose to skim, especially since I couldn’t be bothered italicizing every last freakin’ kids’ masterpiece):
Barbara Brenner is an award-winning author who as written more than eighty books for children and a dozen non-fiction books for adults. Her book on the frontier with Mr. Audubon is on the master list of the William Allen White Award Books and was selected by school library journal as the best of the best among the books published for children throughout twenty-six publishing seasons. Ms Brenner as won the ALA Notable Book award for Wagon Wheels, Snake-lover’s Diary, and Voices: Poetry and Art from Around the World, which was also an ALA best book for YA in 2000. Wagon Wheels was also a nominee for the William Allen White Award and is a Reading Rainbow selection, as is the Tremendous Tree Book. The Falcon Sting was a candidate for the Edgar Allen Poe Award given by the Mystery Writers of America. In 1986, Ms. Brenner was elected distinguished Pennsylvania Author of the Year. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Fred.
That’s 165 words!! Her author bio is actually longer than the book itself! Add Denise’s bio (66 words plus one URL), and the ratio of author bio to book is over 2:1.
But that’s not all! See, those whopping bios are actually on their own page, but there are separate, truncated bios (Brenner: 57; Ortakales: 56) on the inside of the dust jacket. That’s right, two bios and two photos. Just in case you missed it the first time, I guess.
Total author verbiage: 344 words
Total book text: 95 words
Bio-to-Book ratio: 3.62 to 1
Let’s contrast Babs with Anthony Lane’s book Nobody’s Perfect, a collection of his writings from The New Yorker. My thumbnail estimate: 740 pages; 42 lines per page; 12.5 words per line; a given page is about 85% full (this accounts for white space at the beginning and ending of many short pieces). The tally: 330,000 words, give or take.
The author bio:
Anthony Lane was born in 1962. He joined The New Yorker in 1993.
Just 13 words!! True, Anthony’s heroically terse, author-bio-wise, but still. That’s a Bio-to-Book ratio of 1:25,384.
Attention publishers (and publicists): let’s trim the bloat, shall we? Your author may be the Barbara Brenner of Pennsylvania, but c’mon–nobody’s perfect.