What does a Biography Writer do?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2017
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A biography writer is an author who writes a non-fiction work about the life of a significant person in history; this person may be a famous entertainer, politician, or scientist, or the person may be part of the writer's family. A biography writer may write about whomever he or she chooses using various methods. Biographies may be broken into two categories: authorized and unauthorized.

In an authorized biography, the biography writer has been given permission to write the biography, either directly by the person who is the focus of the work or by his or her family/estate. Generally, an author writing an authorized biography also has more access to primary sources, such as personal letters, diaries, or interviews with the person's family members. An unauthorized biography writer has not been given permission, but chooses to write the biography anyway based on public records.

When an author decides to write a biography, it is necessary to begin with extensive research. If possible, the writer may want to meet and interview the subject of the biography, as well as some of his or her friends, family members, and colleagues. These types of interviews are invaluable at compiling interesting and informative personal data that goes far beyond a simple listing of accomplishments.

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In addition to interviews, a biography writer may need to look at personal documents, such as a family history, journals, photos, letters, or anything else that may be relevant to the writing of the biography. This is why it is ideal to write an authorized biography. In addition to these personal items, the writer will research public records, as well as the subject's career, significant accomplishments, and contributions to his or her field, if applicable. The research that goes into a biography is typically the most time-intensive part of the process.

The next step is to write the biography. A biography writer may focus on the subject's entire life story, significant events throughout the subject's life, or even just a few years in the subject's life, such as the important political years for a politician. The writer needs to do more in the biography than simply transmit facts to the reader; he or she needs to make the subject come alive, and write the work in an entertaining manner.

Publication comes next for a biography writer. He or she may already have a contract with a publisher, or may need to begin querying various publishers or agents. This may mean sending a query letter and some sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. Successful biography writers may write a number of biographies throughout their careers, either on the same person or a sampling of different people.

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browncoat
Post 3

@bythewell - I guess it depends on how you want to make your money though. I'm sure there are plenty of authors who think it's all right to sell carbon copies of biographies (although they would definitely run into trouble with plagiarism laws if they aren't careful) and just put some kind of shocking revelation in them in order to make sales.

But biographies are an art form. And a truly good biography, one that will be kept on the shelves for more than a few weeks at a time, is going to be one that stands on its own merits.

bythewell
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - I think what usually happens is that someone writes an authorized version and then someone else takes that information and adds to it in order to write the true version, without any pandering.

Once you've released information into the public, its not like you can take it back again. An unauthorized biography writer might not be able to see the source material, but they will definitely be able to quote with relative impunity from any other biographies that exist. So, really, half their job is done for them already.

lluviaporos
Post 1

Sometimes it's better to read the unauthorized version as well as the authorized version. You might learn about things that the subject would otherwise not reveal in the authorized version, and you might learn about things the subject would never reveal in the unauthorized version. If I was a biography writer, I think I'd rather write the latter, because you'd have the freedom to really portray people as they were, rather than how they'd like you to see them.

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