View Full Version : Books on writing biography?

01-26-2006, 05:13 PM
Hi, all! I'm finally feeling inspired about a biography idea I've been kicking around for a year or two, and I was wondering if anyone could recommend some good books about writing biographies. Also, does anyone have any tips on how to begin? Thanks!

03-01-2009, 10:09 PM
Hello there,
I'm a first-time biographer as well and I'd like to share some of the books that helped me. Any book on nonfiction, biography or book proposals will give you some sort of helpful tip, but here's the basic few that I found most useful.

How to Do Biography: A Primer by Nigel Hamilton is a good introduction, a primer, as it says. It provides some good basic advice about the traditional structure of a biography (birth, career, love, twilight, death) as well as a quick chapter about the afterlife of the biography (the critical reception of your biography). A very basic book, good if you need general guidance but probably redundant if you have a good handle on how to begin thinking about your story.

Biography: A User's Guide by Carl Rollyson was more useful, to me. It is laid out like an encyclopedia so it's a strange read from start to finish. The book lays out the basic history of the genre and provides examples of different sub-genres (political biography, religious biography, musical biography, literary biography, intellectual biography, among others). Rollyson talks extensively about the differences between authorized and unauthorized biography, the ins and outs of fair use policy and the ridiculousness of so-called 'definitive' biography. A good book, incredibly useful.

Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, contains a few useful essays. The first, As Time Goes By: Creating Biography primarily talks about going beyond chronological order, finding truth in interviews, and using archives. The second essay, Twelve Years and Counting, is a shorter essay containing some good advice about interviewing, archives and the balance between research and writing. The rest of the book focuses on other nonfiction mediums but contains some useful advice.

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson contains much of the same advice as similar books, but is organized in a way I find most useful. A solid introduction to writing proposals for any nonfiction book.

If you want some more info about any of these books, drop me a line.

I have a blog on blogspot about my own process of writing biography and am looking for other biographers to share stories, advice, encouragement, etc. My blog address is: notpaulavery.blogspot.com (http://notpaulavery.blogspot.com)

Hope some of this helps!
-- Britta