The Burdens of Self-Promotion: the Bio Problem

Designer Jane Pellicciotto recently commented on “The Third-Person Bio Problem.”

She wasn’t referring to biographical books, but the short blurbs we post to our web sites for the purpose of self-promotion. Jane suggests that it’s pretentious. I had to wince because, yes, I’ve done it too.

But I think there’s more. I’ve been asked to provide biographical blurbs for conference proceedings, or work-related uses. In the interest of expedience, we create that third-person bio, something simple and modest, knowing it will be pasted verbatim into a program or web site. And because writing bios is a tedious task, it may be revised for other uses, but seldom rewritten.

To Jane’s point, that’s the problem. We recycle a text written for one purpose, rewrite, fine tune, and recast, when sometimes what’s needed is a complete rewrite. It’s the metaphorical remodel that involves stripping the bio down to the studs and rebuilding from the inside-out. That’s a task that requires tremendous creative energy. Moreover, when it’s autobiographical, it requires a certain chutzpah.

Jane’s points are excellent: That stale, third-person biography does little to advance a business identity. As a writer, however, the challenge may be more complex. Our business is writing, but increasingly our business also entails crafting an identity, a social media presence that can be branded along with our writing. I’m never sure who I may be at any given moment. How can I commit to a history?

As I play with my writing, noodle with styles, forge alternative identities, I am perpetually vexed at the need to commit to a story about myself. So my biography varies. Under one name, I offer one twist on my work history. Under a pseudonym, another. The facts may be the same, but the spin differs.

Jane recommends that we rely on testimonials to avoid the need to boast about accomplishments. That, of course, assumes that we’re capable of asking for such things – a task that I’ve always loathed. I wonder if I could do what public radio does during pledge drives: invent smarmy and glowing testimonials.

Slayton Gibbs exemplifies the light hidden under an elegant, though aging, bushel.

I wait for Slayton’s blog posts with the anticipation of a child awaiting Santa Claus.

I’ve know Slayton for 25 years, and look forward to her accomplishing something of great significance.

Maybe that’s the best path to a biography. If it strays too far from truth, call it a fiction.



2 thoughts on “The Burdens of Self-Promotion: the Bio Problem

  1. THE Jane here, who would like to thank you for mentioning her blog post. She does eagerly await new posts from Slayton Gibbs. Jane had to get over asking for testimonials. The push she needed was seeing how effectively they were used on other people’s websites. That, and websites like LinkedIn have a structure set up to ask for recommendations that, even though issued by you allow you to feel removed from the process.


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