Words to avoid using in your biography…
Over the past little while I’ve been really enjoying GoodCopyBadCopy’s lists of words you shouldn’t use — here and here. Most of them are corporate but I started thinking about words people use in relation to their poetry, and which words put me off as an editor. I thought this information might be useful to you when you’re writing about your work or putting together your biography to accompany a submission, so here you go: words and phrases that would put me off publishing you are…
“X is a highly creative individual” or worse, “X writes highly creative poems”… you’ve sent me a poetry submission, so I know you’re creative — and is there such a thing as a non-creative poem?! Biographies are short, so use those few words to tell me something I DON’T know!
2. “Intensely” (see also incredibly, astoundingly, and other hyperbole).
Yes, your bio should hype you up to some extent, but if you start telling me your performance style is “astounding” or your poems are “intensely complex”, I’m going to think ‘who says?!’ Unless you’re quoting someone — and preferably someone I’ve heard of — please don’t over-gild the lily.
See point 2 — only use “genius” (and “legend,” “visionary”, etc) if you’re talking about someone else. And they deserve it.
4. “Well known”
e.g. “X is a well-known performance poet” or “X’s poems about cats are widely known.” Just be careful with this one. Are you well-known country-wide, or just in your local area? If it’s the latter, there’s no shame in that. Better to say “X is well-known in the Skegness area” than say “X is well-known” and have me thinking “really? I’ve never heard of you!”
5. Use of the first person
The vast majority of publications print bios in the third person (”X is…” rather than “I am…”), and having to change the tense is a real pain in the butt. Particularly since I always seem to miss something and end up with someone’s bio reading “X is from Grimsby and mainly writes poems about my dog.”
Come on, you mean lives, don’t you? “X currently resides in London” — you’re just trying to sound poetic, aren’t you? You live in London really, don’t you? (Tip: if you wouldn’t say it aloud to someone — “oh yes, I just love residing in London!” — then don’t write it in your bio)
7. “Seeking representation”
Please don’t use my magazine as a classifieds section. If you’re looking for an agent/publisher, do it properly. Don’t just say “X is seeking representation for his novel” in the hope that someone will pick up your novel based on one measly poem in a zine. That never happens, so go through the motions like everyone else, and tell me something meaningful in your bio!
8. Use of bullet points
If you write your bio in bullet points, I will want to kill you — particularly if those bullet points are in the first person. “Am 22. Study at Uni. Like writing.” Come on, people! That’s not a bio!!
9. “Accepted for publication”
Just say published. OK, it might not have actually physically happened yet, but if you’ve had the acceptance letter, it’s probably a safe bet. Same goes for “works published or forthcoming” — again, just say published and save the word-count. By the time I go to print, after all…
10. “World domination”
This phrase appears in every other bio I see — literally. If you think it’s original to pretend that “world domination through poetry” is your goal… oh dear. And if you think that “world domination through poetry” is actually possible… oh dear oh dear. Either way, saying something that I haven’t seen a thousand times already would be good!
11. “X enjoys reading and writing…”
This is a no-brainer, people.
12. “My poetry sucks.”
Please don’t tell everyone your poems are bad. If I’m publishing them, they aren’t, and if you’ve sent them to me, you probably know that. Being all ‘modest’ and saying “oh my goodness how do I get published when I’m so shit?!” aint cute. It makes both of us look a bit weird, so shhh.
13. “Various accolades”
I always get a bit suspicious when I see “X has won various accolades for their writing.” What does this mean? When people don’t specify, I always assume that what they call “accolades” are not neccessarily what I’d call “accolades.” If you’ve won something decent, own it — if you haven’t, don’t pretend you have.
14. “For your reading pleasure”
OK, I use this expression occasionally, but I would never, ever use it in a bio. “X writes poems for your reading pleasure”?! Um… I’ll be the judge of that, thanks!
15. Use of big, unrealistic numbers
“X has had over 600 poems published in over 300 publications worldwide.” And how weird — I’ve never even heard of you, X! Come on guys. Please don’t lie.
16. Long lists of totally unknown magazine titles.
Similarly, my heart always sinks when I see a poet launch into “I’ve been published in [insert 30+ magazine titles, none of which anyone's heard of, here]” in their bio. 1. This is a waste of your limited space. 2. It looks like you’re boasting. 3. It looks like you’re really not picky about where you send your stuff and/or potentially (read: probably) a simultaneous submitter/serial submitter of the same pieces. 4. It annoys me, and everyone reading. Don’t do it.
17. “X believes poetry is…”
You may have some very valid and fascinating ideas about what poetry is, what it’s for, or why we should all read it. However, your bio is not the place. Write me a ONS guest-post instead, yeah?
18. “enjoys wine, women and song…”
I see this phrase SO OFTEN, you wouldn’t believe. Dear Male Poet, my zine’s Contributors page is not the personals ads. It is also not advisible for a poet to deliberately employ/participate in such a huge cliché! Say something original!
19. “I am inspired by life/the everyday/the world around me”
Erm… who isn’t?
20. “Aspires to being a full-time poet.”
I’m not saying this isn’t possible, but… saying it in your bio just perhaps makes you look a tad naive, is all.
Any poetic words/phrases that make your teeth itch? Are you guilty of any of these? Am I out of order here — is this stuff OK? Comments box ahoy!