How to Avoid the Tragic Writer Mistake That Reveals You’re a Noob

Carol Tice

Writers excel in crafting compelling stories about issues, and companies, and people.

As long as that person isn’t you.

I’ve read a lot of marketing emails and query letters at this point, since I review them all the time in Freelance Writers Den.

Many writers can research and pitch a snappy story idea.

Or they can write a letter of introduction to a marketing manager or trade-publication editor, describing what they’ve learned about the prospective client’s needs and how they could help.

But when you get to that bio line where you sum up who you are and why you’re the writer for the gig, it’s often a mess.

Especially if you’re a new writer.

Where writers go wrong in pitch emails

Here are just a few of the problems I commonly see in marketing letters:

  • All about me. You take as many paragraphs to talk about yourself as you do to describe your story idea or how you could help a company with their marketing.
  • Worst foot forward. Here’s a comment I’ve seen in a writer bio: “I’ll be traveling in Europe for six months starting shortly.” Really? Guess you won’t have time to take on any clients! Don’t share information that would make a prospect think you won’t be available to do their work.
  • Sharing your sob story. One writer noted, “I got fired and couldn’t find another job, so I started freelancing as a last resort.” Way to convey your passion for your new career…not. Seeming desperate or depressed is not a great way to get gigs.
  • Spotlight your shortcomings. Two popular ones in this category are: “I don’t have any clips yet” and “I’ve just graduated from college.” If you present yourself professionally, prospects may never know you’re new to this. But if you broadcast that you’re a newbie, you may scare them off.

The solution to awkward writer self-descriptions

One overall tip on writer bios: Keep it short.

I find that pro writers are very concise in their bios, and amateurs are very wordy.

For instance, I might write, “I am a Seattle-based freelance writer. I’ve written for Alaska Airlines Magazine, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Costco, American Express and many others. Check out my portfolio here.”

That’s it. Ba-dum-bum. The end.

If you’re a new writer with few clips, you might say, “I’m an Austin-based healthcare writer and former nurse. I write the nutrition blog”

This is one of those situations where the more you lobby about how great you are, the more bogus you look. So be brief.

The big rule of writer bios

If you follow this basic rule, you’ll be well on your way to writing a better, more confident-sounding bio paragraph:

Don’t tell prospects what you don’t know or can’t do.

Marketing is all about emphasizing your strengths. Did you used to work in a bank, and this magazine is about personal finance? Mention it. Provide links to your best clips.

Show your writing skills in the most flattering possible light, and you’ll be surprised how many clients will want to hire you.

What’s your bio line in query letters? Leave a comment and tell us how you describe yourself to editors.




  1. Terri H

    The the wording of the bio has never been a problem for me. The need to be brief in that portion always seemed to lessen stress levels when dealing with it. However, it’s the placement of the bio that always seemed to slow me down. I’ve always been told to add your bio at the end of your pitch. However, I seem to have more success in which I place my bio at the top and then mention my website towards the bottom.

    • Carol Tice

      Interesting! This is why I tell writers to experiment — every writer seems to have their own style that works for them. As long as you keep it short about you, and long on how you can help, I think it can work.

  2. Luana Spinetti

    I don’t ramble a lot in my bio, unless there’s a specific need for details– i.e. the prospect is asking for a detailed background. Other than that, I never write more than 2-3 lines about myself and my credits. I always thought of it as a lack of modesty and a blatant show-off. 🙂

    ~ Luana

  3. Amandah

    Great tips!

    I can’t believe some writers would include a sob story or spotlight their shortcomings in their pitch. Yikes! You always want to present yourself in a professional manner. Remember, it’s not about what the client can do for you, but what you can do for the client. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Those are all actual quotes from letters of introduction I’ve reviewed, Amandah. I think there’s a thing with new writers where many are nervous about this part of the LOI, where you say who you are. You feel like you don’t have enough to say…and then you end up saying way too much.

  4. Lisa

    Love this. It was such a relief to me when I realized I didn’t have to list all my credentials (or lack thereof!). Short is simpler in this case. Two sentences is plenty!

    Also, totally off topic, but I had to tell you how much I love this headline. “Tragic” and “noob” in one headline — brilliant! I saw it in the sidebar of the Freelance Writer’s Den and HAD to click. Then I saw it in my inbox and had to click again. Even though I already read it. I was compelled by your headline magnetism.

    Sharing your sob story in your bio really is tragic, though.

    And I now have a goal to use tragic in a headline, so thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      I do work hard on headlines, Lisa, so glad it’s paying off! Headlines need to be intriguing. I’ve been leaning a lot from Jeff Goins on how to inject emotion into my headlines…think that’s starting to work.

      And glad you bring up the “list all my credentials” issue, which is another common problem I really should have listed.

      Nobody wants to read your entire resume in an LOI! Also, so much of why businesses hire writers is because they have trouble being concise and need a pro who can sum it up. So by presenting that pithy bio, you’re helping to demonstrate you’re a writer who can get that done for a client.

  5. Amandah

    @Carol… My rule of thumb is…less is more. I think most editors are concerned with hiring writers who can follow guidelines, meet deadlines, and write. All you need is a couple of solid clips (or even a blog) and great headlines to get noticed.

  6. Debra Weiss

    I think writers should sum up who they are and what they do in one sentence. My one sentence bio is this: “Debra Weiss is a freelance writer and speaker who loves to encourage teens and twenty somethings.”

    Then I add a second sentence that mentions where I’ve been published and I customize that second sentence depending on who I’m pitching to and what the publication style is.

  7. anne grant

    That pic of the little noob cracks me up!
    About all most clients want to know is “What’s in it for me and can you deliver?”, whether you are a writer, an attorney or selling plumbing supplies.

    • Carol Tice

      I know, isn’t he adorable? I actually did a lot of search for the right image on this one before hitting on the idea of a kid in a business suit — there were actually quite a few on istock to choose from, but I fell in love with that guy.

      It’s true — I think writers want to go on about me me me often, but what the client wants to know is “have you written about healthcare, or do you know about it? And have you done white papers before? Also, what’s your personality like — would I like working with you?” Straightforward stuff.

  8. Lucy Smith

    And spell stuff right! I once had a guy email me wanting some copywriting work, and at the end of his email, he put ‘Thanx’.

    I didn’t even bother to reply to that one.

  9. Charley

    This is practical advice well conveyed. Most of the mistakes you mentioned can be noticed in bios on article directories like ezine, and to think that I used to look there for inspiration whenever I’m unable to form a bio… I know better now, and I can’t thank you enough for the beneficialness of this article :-).

  10. Angela

    I read the tips in this post several times while putting together an email query offering my writing services to a local business. Excellent advice about what not to do. I kept it concise and more about them than about me. I stuck to a short description of my experience and specialty area, so we’ll see. *deep breath *clicks “send” to the prospective client 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Good for you, and good luck with it!

  11. Ronald

    Carol, much respects! believe me I’ve found excellent solutions to the problems I’m getting stuck to start freelance writing. For me,You’re like someone who takes off hurdles in front of a child! Much Thanks!

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