Some people call them portfolios. Some people call them personal sites. Other people call them author pages. No matter what you call them, the first thing I do when I accept a submission is look for one. I’m always looking for people to interview, and sometimes, I get lucky, like I did with David Licata, and discover that a person who has a talent for writing fiction also creates films. It’s like a two-for-one deal. I get to publish a short story and do an interview, as well.

One of the most baffling things about being an editor is getting submissions from writers who have dozens of publications but no portfolio. When I ask them why they don’t have a portfolio, they almost never say that they don’t have the tech savvy to create one. This is good since creating a portfolio requires no more tech skill than submitting to an online journal. Usually, they don’t think it’s important, or they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. This is tragic. A writer without a portfolio is a missing a valuable opportunity introduce themselves to their readers, showcase their work, and (with a little more effort) allow their readers to follow their writing career.

A good portfolio has three elements.

Bio. I’m a fan of elaborate bios (eg. Joelle BergerNeil Gaiman), but a bio can also be very simple. Half of Matt Galletta‘s bio page is the boilerplate third-person bio he sends to journals, but you still get an idea of who he is from his bio page.

Most portfolios have a separate page for a bio, but if you aren’t comfortable sharing that much, or the idea of having an entire page about yourself makes you feel a little narcissistic, you should at least put something short (2-3 sentences is fine) somewhere prominent, something that lets those of us who found your page by accident know that you’re a writer and not a circus horse. Unless you are a circus horse. In that case, never mind. (And why are you reading this?)

List of publications. This is the center of any good portfolio because most of the people who bother to look for a writer’s portfolio have read something they liked and are looking for more. Make it easy for people who like you to find your work. It’s a no brainer, yes? If your work is available online or can be bought from an online store, link to it. If something is only available in print, link to its listing in an online store or the magazine or press’s website.

E-mail address or contact page. The idea of strangers being able to find them online makes many people squicky, but if you are completely unreachable, you might be missing out on messages that you really want to receive.

Unlikely? Maybe not as much as you think. When I was twenty-ish, I exchanged e-mails with an editor who liked my work and found me through my blog. I was (regrettably) lightyears away from ready to publish, but I gained some valuable advice, and remembering that experience has gotten me through some pretty hard times. And gave me the motivation to get an MFA. And now the opportunity to send fan mail is one of the biggest reasons I’m an editor . (Thanks, Andy!)

An e-mail can change your life. It happens. It happened to me. I don’t care how much many hits you have or how well you know your readers or how much market research you’ve done. You have no idea who’s reading your work. Don’t get in the way of people who want to help you by being unreachable. If you don’t want to share your e-mail address, you should at least have a contact form.

These two things are bonus.

Blog. Now, some writers really enjoy the strategy of publishing, and they like to create these elaborate marketing campaigns for themselves. That’s great, if you’re into that sort of thing, but I think everyone should at least have a basic blog that is updated whenever new work is published, and here’s why:  Static pages are fine when readers are looking for work that’s available right now, but if you’re a living, working writer (or a dead writer with an enthusiastic estate) you’re probably going to publish more in the future. If you do publish more, and you only have a static page, how are your readers going to know when to check your page? A blog is kind of like author tracker for people who aren’t published by Harper Collins. But better because a blog allows your readers to be updated the way they want to be updated (by e-mail or a feed reader like Feedly or Flipboard) whenever you publish.

Hire Me. If you’re a writer who edits or teaches workshops on the side, and you’re looking for work, it can’t hurt to mention that you’re available. If you’re up to your ears in work, and don’t want to be bothered, skip it. But, if you’re open, who knows? It might give someone a bright idea.

And that’s the point, really.

A portfolio is like a message in a bottle.

You never know what you’re going to get. Or what someone else is going to get. Or who’s going to pick it up. Or pick you up.

Never mind.

Just. If you are publishing, for the love of editors everywhere, make a portfolio.

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