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…

1. “Creative”
“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.

3. “Genius”
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.”

6. “Resides”
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!

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13 Responses to “Words to avoid using in your biography…”

  1. Colin Will Says:

    “I’m writing on behalf of one of my students, who has had a lot of personal problems in her/his life…”

    “These poems always seem to go down well with audiences, although none of them have been published.”

    “I don’t like the current fashion for poems which don’t rhyme. All of my poems rhyme.”

    “I don’t know what kind of poems you usually publish, but…”

    “Of course, I couldn’t do any readings in public.”

    “I love villanelles, don’t you? I’m enclosing 50 of them.”

    The list goes on…

  2. H. Says:

    Haha love this post!
    Rattle actually forces you to do a first-person bio and it was really weird to do. So instead of writing about my ACCOLADES (hahaha) I wrote about my Grand Canyon hiking trip. It seemed less … “I am a genius” hahaha!!

    People write about their world domination??? HILARIOUS!!

    I actually used to write ALL my publications and then once I got some well-known ones, I cut out all the “little mags” (sorry to the little mags!!) I generally include around three publications now and inclusion of my books. I think marketing yourself is hard for most people and they get really excited when they have been published in like, more than five magazines and then they start to think anyone cares. I highly doubt anyone cares at all, unless you are writing that you were published in POETRY or something.

    Anyway, I like this post a lot … I think bios can be especially difficult, and almost impossible for the people just starting out. Thanks!

    -H.

    p.s. sometimes I read other people’s bios in magazines and even well known big-time writers do these no-no’s, which always makes me laugh. Though I am still waiting for Billy Collins to say he is out for poetry world domination!

  3. Gareth Says:

    Haha, “oh yes, I just love residing in London!” really made me chuckle!

  4. Regina Says:

    Oh, this is good- and I think I may have to run- rather quickly- to check out my poet bio!
    I think no. 16 is good advice, but when you are a poet and the hard won publications start rolling in, I just want to shout it from the rooftop! But I get your meaning here- just don’t over do it!
    Thanks, Claire!
    x

  5. morganne Says:

    Haha I love these!
    Good laughs, Miss Claire.

    I believe I will revise my bio:
    Morganne Couch, a student residing in North Carolina believe that her poetry sucks, in spite of being published in over 4,000 various magazines and winning hundreds of accolades, which just emphasizes her massive amount of creative genius, INTENSELY.

  6. Colin Will Says:

    Main advice on bios - keep it short and tell the truth.

  7. swiss Says:

    i hate bios. they make me lose the will to live. you could read the most fabulous anthology imaginable then you’d turn to the bio section and be confronted by its antithesis. it’s like being choked on dough.

    is it not enough the writer gives you some poetry. oh no, we have to suffer some dull little potted history. ‘please describe your life in 50 words or less’. i think not.

    as far as i know i have only one accurate bio and i didn’t agree to it (it may well contain the word ‘resides’). the rest are obfuscatory at best or complete fiction.

    poets should rebel against these strictures!

    ; )

  8. Col Says:

    Cool post, I loathe writing my bio, and have yet to write one that I am even in the least amount satisified with. Whats wrong with name rank serial number anyway?

  9. Rachel Fox Says:

    Funny post. Do some blokes really put ‘wine, women and song’? That’s fairly non-creative.
    I did a bio for’t book and just looked and didn’t blush with shame about any of it.
    They can be funny too. My all-time fave poet bio is Matt Harvey’s “He is married with one wife”. Makes me smile every time I pick up the book.
    x

  10. deemikay Says:

    :)

    As well as the noted, here are phrases I don’t like:

    - “loves language”
    - “playful and musical use of language”
    - “wordsmith”

    I don’t think I’ve ever written a bio of me other than “I’m me, I’m 32, I’m from Scotland.”

  11. Dawn-Marie Oliver Says:

    Yes, but if I put “world domination through obfuscation in documentation,” is that OK?

    :)

    ——————-

    I personally find bios that are nothing but lists of publications BORING. Who cares? I haven’t heard of 99% of them, as I have not yet gotten the publishing bug. Tell me instead why I should find your writing compelling. Tell me why I should find YOU compelling. Bios should tell a story, not be this brag sheet.

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    I am your next stalker! Subscription is the beginning x