So You Want to Write an Author Blurb? Readercon Edition, With Advice from Ken Liu and Don Pizarro

We all know the first step toward getting yourself invited to talk on a panel at a convention like Readercon is to have a really outstanding author blurb. The kind of run-on sentence (or three) that not only conveys your vast experience in talking out loud but that also implies your great range of knowledge*.

Picture it, if you will.

Actually, I did take a picture. Don (left) and Ken (right) in the Marriott bar, July 16, 2011

One hot afternoon in Boston I found myself sitting across a table from Ken Liu and Don Pizarro, brilliant authors and Men of Experience. We were sitting in the hotel bar, like you do at a convention, talking about how awesome I am. Well, how awesome I’m not. See, I’d jokingly mentioned something to my day job boss about my positive attitude and wide set of skills, and while he didn’t seem to be sure if I was kidding or not, I felt a bit embarrassed. I mean, who goes around telling people they’re awesome unless it’s a joke?

But no, these men assured me, I was on the right track. Once they got done laughing hysterically at my faux pas, I was informed that this was the beginning of an author blurb that was sure to get me noticed. Ken had been on a panel earlier in the day, and both Don and I aspire to be on panels in the future (Don also aspires to be famous enough to say terrible things when he’s really old and get away with it, so I think I’m going to need to stick around and write his apologetic morning-after press releases for him). Don stopped giggling long enough to pay attention at what was about to be a very serious conversation.

“You have to start with that,” Ken advised me. “Carrie Cuinn, author, editor, publisher. Then, ‘I’m awesome’.” He made air quotes with his fingers as he said that part. “Or maybe put, ‘I’m awesome’ first.”

I nodded. “Sure, sure,” I said. “And then what?” (Surreptitiously, Don pulled out his netbook to take notes.) The conversation progessed, and with a little help, I now think I’ve figured out how to put a blurb together. The trick is to sound confident and present your writing and experience in an entertaining way, I have learned. Many authors write a blurb which consists only of the basics:

Name, job titles

Recent or important publications

Awards won

Something relevant to the cause (of trying to impress a programming committee)

For example:

“Gardner Dozois’s twenty-year stint as the editor of Asimov’s is one of the great editorial projects in our field. Year after year, he published some truly fine short fiction, including numerous award winners. Thanks to these achievements and his superlative annual anthologies, he has received a record-holding 15 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor. Though his writing career is sometimes overshadowed by his editorial work, his fiction has won two Nebula Awards and a Sidewise Award. He has also served as a judge for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, a project dear to many Readercon attendees.”

My blurb could never be that impressive on my own merits, so the guys helpfully suggested I invent some things. I admit I struggled to work “I’m awesome” into the opening sentence but I was assured that it was a statement to start with rather than end with. I do have some writing and editing credits, but I am near the beginning of my writing career, and most blurb-worthy authors are closer to the end. Well, at least the middle. My special skills department mostly includes things I’d rather the programming committee didn’t remember me for. What could I say?

After some thinking, I came up with the following:

“Carrie Cuinn is awesome (1). She’s also a respected (2) author, editor, small press publisher and amiable raconteur (3). Very nearly about to win some awards for her work (4) in science fiction, fantasy, and tentacle porn (5), she spends her time committing fiction and wrangling sharks (6). Best known for her long-standing offer to bake cupcakes for the programming committee of any convention she’s invited to participate in a panel at (7), she can also sit upright for at least 45 minutes at a time (8).

  1. Just saying.
  2. Probably.
  3. This means I talk, out loud, to other people. An important skill for a con panelist.
  4. Any day now. As soon as I’m up for some.
  5. I swear there aren’t that many tentacles in Cthulhurotica, but almost everyone thinks there will be.
  6. One shark. And he’s stuffed.
  7. Relevant to their interests.
  8. Important to note as most convention panels run at least this long. Falling asleep in the middle is only allowed if you’re very old, or very, very famous.

So, what do you think?

* Which helps if a convention organizer is looking for panelists who actually know things. However, your target convention may merely be looking for a panelist who can sit upright for at least 45 minutes at a time, and that’s something you can practice at home!

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