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How Do I Become a Biography Writer?

Certain niche book markets like biographies can be easier to enter because there are fewer of them published each year.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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To become a biography writer, you should consider what you will need to know and be able to do in order to be a professional writer. While the book publishing industry is quite competitive, certain niche markets such as biographies can sometimes be easier to enter since there can be fewer of these types of books written each year than subjects like fantasy or mystery. You may want to get an educational background in a related field to become a biography writer. This means that if you want to write modern biographies, then you may want to have a degree in English or literature. A degree in history may serve you well if you want to be a historical biographer.

A biography writer is someone who writes books or short works that generally relate the life story of a particular person. These are often written for famous people such as actors, musicians, politicians, or religious and spiritual leaders. While memoirs seek to relate the experiences of a person often through personal details and a style of writing that may seem prejudicial or affectionate toward the subject, biographies are more often neutral pieces that commonly explore the weaknesses and mistakes of a person as much as his or her merits.

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If you wish to become a biography writer, then you should focus on your abilities as a writer. Even the most interesting subject can be made unapproachable or dull if written about in a way that does not appeal to a reader. Similarly, the best writer can be rendered mute when attempting to write about a subject that he or she does not care about, so you should already have an inherent interest in history or people.

While formal education can typically help you develop your abilities as a writer, you may also want to consider more practical and active ways to make yourself a better writer in general and a biography writer specifically. You should read and write as much as you can. Take every opportunity to read. If you are interested in biographies, then read biographies, learn how other writers approach their subject and how you can use their techniques in your own writing.

Do not underestimate the importance of actually writing as you work to become a biography writer. When you are not reading, you should be writing. Just like any other skill or ability, you can best refine your own talents through continual practice. Try writing short biographical pieces for celebrities and see if you can get your work published in magazines or websites. Even if it is unpaid, every opportunity for you to hone your talents should be pursued.

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irontoenail
Post 3

@Fa5t3r - That's what we learned when I did a short course on writing biographies. The mistake a lot of people make is to try and just write out anecdote after anecdote without tying them together into a greater narrative. It's better to find an underlying thread and concentrate on that than to try and stuff every single interesting thing about a person into a single book.

If people wanted to know the facts, they would look up the Wikipedia page. If they want to know the story, they read the biography.

Fa5t3r
Post 2

@umbra21 - It is usually up to the publisher to make sure that there won't be any legal problems. As long as you don't say anything that could be construed as libel, or put anything in the book you might not have the rights to print, it should be OK. There are laws in place so that people can have the freedom to write the truth, after all.

But I have heard of biographies that published letters they weren't actually allowed to publish and had to be recalled and destroyed. So it does happen and it is something to think about.

Mostly, though, you should just think about telling the best story you can without fabrication.

umbra21
Post 1

Often celebrity biographies have been commissioned, either by a company or by the celebrity themselves. So you might have to prepare to be a ghost writer if you want to write directly for a celebrity. Ghost writers generally get a flat rate, which can make it a safer job than writing under your own name, where you would only get a percentage of the royalties until you are famous enough yourself to warrant a large advance.

It's a very tough job and a tough field to get into, particularly since, if you are writing about modern figures without their permission, you can end up with legal troubles.

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