Improve Your Freelance Writing Bio With These Tips

Gone are the days when freelance writers journalists can hide behind their typewriter or computer in relative anonymity. Now, with the advent of social media, writers need a snappy bio and eye-catching headshot. In fact, even traditional publishers sometimes request a bio and headshot from contributors, so it’s smart to have both pieces at the ready. Here’s how.

Match the tone to the platform.
Some people use the same photo and bio for everything to maintain a consistent brand. But if you’re writing for a variety of publications on a variety of topics, then one size may not fit all. I keep a few different versions of my bio for different types of publications (business, lifestyle, blogs) and different lengths, playing up the credits or tidbits that are most relevant to those readers. Ditto on photos. You might use a casual, friendly photo for your Twitter profile and a more formal, professional-looking headshot for a trade publication.

Get creative.
Headshots and bios tend to be formulaic (“She has written for X, Y, and Z magazines”), so mix things up by varying the sentence structure or mentioning something that sets you apart. Have you worked as a foreign correspondent? Scored an exclusive interview with Michelle Obama? Started a popular blog that’s been optioned for a movie? Include that! To make your headshot more memorable, think about what settings or props you could include without distracting too much from your face. When a photographer friend agreed to help with my headshots, I got permission for us to shoot at a writer’s space that features old-fashioned chalkboards, rows of bookshelves, and other writerly backdrops.
Nix the nerves.
I know several writers who hate writing bios or posting for photos, and unfortunately people can sense that discomfort. Hate writing about yourself? Ask a friend to help or pretend you’re writing a bio for a client to give yourself some distance from the project and relieve self-consciousness. Not ready for your close-up? Enlist the help of a photographer with experience putting clients at ease so she can help you loosen up. Alternately, find a candid photo of yourself that you love (ideally one without lots of other people or crazy backgrounds) and crop it as your social media avatar. Better to use a candid photo where you look like yourself than a headshot where you’re clearly uncomfortable.
Keep it up to date.
To keep it from getting stale, update your social media bios every few months or whenever you have an exciting new accomplishment to add. And reread your bio before sending it to an editor. Photos are a little tougher to update as often, but certainly make sure it still looks like you and avoid anything that feels dated (shoulder pads, scrunchies, bleached denim, unless that’s what you’re going for). Speaking of which, I need to revisit the bio and photos on my website now …

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.