Hill is the second child of authors Stephen and Tabitha (Spruce) King. He was born in Hermon, Maine, and grew up in Bangor, Maine. His younger brother Owen is also a writer.
At age 9, Hill appeared in the 1982 film Creepshow, directed by George A. Romero, which co-starred and was written by his father.
Hill chose to use an abbreviated form of his given name (a reference to executed labor leader Joe Hill, for whom he was named) in 1997, out of a desire to succeed based solely on his own merits rather than as the son of Stephen King. After achieving a degree of independent success, Hill publicly confirmed his identity in 2007 after an article the previous year in Variety broke his cover (although online speculation about Hill's family background had been appearing since 2005).
Joe Hill is a past recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship. He has also received the William L. Crawford award for best new fantasy writer in 2006, the A. E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize in 1999 for "Better Than Home" and the 2006 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella for "Voluntary Committal". His stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, such as Subterranean Magazine, Postscripts and The High Plains Literary Review, and in many anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (ed. Stephen Jones) and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (ed. Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant).
Hill's first book, the limited edition collection 20th Century Ghosts (published in 2005 by PS Publishing), showcases fourteen of his short stories and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, together with the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story for "Best New Horror". In October 2007, Hill's mainstream US and UK publishers reprinted 20th Century Ghosts, without the extras published in the 2005 slipcased versions, but including one new story.
When he began writing, Hill was well aware of the inevitable comparisons that would arise between his own work and that of his father, Stephen King, one of the world's best-selling and most-recognized living novelists, with the name "King" being synonymous with horror fiction. Stephen King had himself used a pen-name, Richard Bachman, after he had become well-established, explaining later in the short essay, "Why I Was Bachman" that he felt he had to know whether he could "re-achieve" success as an author purely through the quality of his writing, as opposed to what perceived as the "brand" that had become established through his own name. Joseph King chose to take the same approach; although many readers (and most reviewers) are now aware of the connection, his fiction has been widely praised, and many critics have stressed their own objectivity and lack of preconceptions when reviewing his works.
On September 23, 2007, at the thirty-first Fantasycon, the British Fantasy Society awarded Hill the first ever Sydney J. Bounds Best Newcomer Award. Hill's first professional sale was in 1997.
Among unpublished works is one partly completed with his father, "But Only Darkness Loves Me", which is held with the Stephen King papers at the Special Collections Unit of the Raymond H Fogler Library at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine.
Hill is also the author of Locke & Key, a comic book series published by IDW Publishing. The first issue, released on February 20, 2008, sold out of its initial publication run in one day. A collection of the series in limited form from Subterranean Press sold out within 24 hours of being announced.
"Fanboyz", a comic script, was written for Spider-Man Unlimited 8 (2005). The story was illustrated by Seth Fisher.
"The Saved", first published in The Clackamas Literary Review in 2001 and also as part of the bonus material included in the 2005 deluxe slipcased edition of 20th Century Ghosts, was reprinted in December 2007 as part of PS Publishing's annual Holiday Chapbook series, available, free of charge, to subcribers of the quarterly magazine Postscripts.
"Thumbprint", first published in Postscripts #10 in 2007, was reprinted as a chapbook in summer 2008 to accompany the anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy published by Subterranean Press.