A biographer is a writer who chronicles the life or certain segments of the life of another person. The subject of the biography may be dead or alive and is normally famous—or infamous—for his or her career, accomplishments, personal triumphs or inventions. Certain biographies may focus on a no-so-famous person but illustrate a particular political or social atmosphere through telling the story of the person’s life.
The biographer may write a paragraph or up to a series of books on one person. Very brief biographies typically accompany a subject's work and generally include the his or her most basic statistics, such as place and year of birth. Book jackets and art or photography collections frequently contain these short biographies.
For more involved accounts, the writer normally delves into personal details of the subject’s life. Popular book-length biographies are often constructed like novels. These lengthy works generally have evolving plots along with a variety of interesting characters that interact with the subject of the biography.
When a person is famous for a particular act or period of life, the writer may focus on that instead of chronicling the subject’s entire life. This is particularly true in biographies of military or political figures. If the person’s life has interesting aspects from the cradle to the grave, a biographer typically embraces these curiosities to add to the book’s appeal.
If a biographer writes about a person who is still living, she has the advantage of confirming facts with them prior to submitting her work for publication. Her interpretation of events may still influence the tone of the work, but it is generally considered important that no facts are distorted for sensationalism or titillation. The subject of a biography may dispute its content subsequent to publication, even if the work was reviewed by him or her beforehand.
When the subject of the work is deceased and notorious for negative reasons, it is fairly common for the biographer’s account of the person’s life to be disputed by surviving friends and family. This usually occurs when the subject is portrayed in questionable or sensitive situations. A reputable biographer normally has her multiple sources repeatedly verified to avoid disputes or lawsuits.
A biographer typically finds success in writing about people or subjects for which she has passion. This fervor could be admiration or disdain, neither of which is normally acceptable as part of the biography’s content. Fans of biographies are generally drawn to stories that are as factual as possible. Readers often reject works that present as character assassinations or fawning narratives.
There are normally no educational requirements to become a biographer. A solid background as a professional writer or journalist is generally preferred. Experience in research is often considered an asset. Literary agents representing biographers frequently require proof of the validity of a writer’s sources before marketing a book to publishers.