How to Become a Biographer / Biography Writer


Biographers, also known as biography writers, compose compelling and accurate accounts of the lives of individuals. If they are able to get their works published, they can earn a modest income from doing so.


However, biographers usually aren’t in it for the money; they enjoy research as much as they enjoy writing, and they are fascinated by certain historical or modern figures, and want to share that fascination with a broader audience.


You might find success in this profession if you’re someone who wants to convey to readers the passion you have for your subject, someone who is willing to sacrifice their personal political agenda for the integrity of the work, and someone who is persistent and patient enough to see a work through from concept to publishing.


If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to become a biographer/biography writer, read on below! We’ve prepared an overview of what it takes to set the foundation for a career in this field. We’ve also included actual job postings (where available), as well as a list of relevant scholarships for helping you earn the necessary education.



Education Required to Become a Biographer

To get into this profession, you'll likely need at least an undergraduate degree, as it will help provide you with the skill set to perform the heavy amounts of research and writing you will be doing. In addition, employers or publishers may also want to see such credentials.


The area in which your education should be focused will depend on the area in which your will focus your biographical works. For example, if you plan to write about historical figures, a history major could be appropriate, whereas if you plan to work more with general biography subjects, you might be best served by obtaining a degree in literature, communications, or journalism.


Finally, if you want to write biographies about modern subjects, gaining proper interviewing skills may be as important as learning how to research, so pursuing a journalism or a communications degrees could be beneficial.





Experience You Might Need

As with many other artistic fields, refining your skills as a biographer is very important. To increase your proficiency in research, writing and possibly interviewing, there are a variety of options you can exercise.


For example, you can start a blog, or make guest contributions to existing blogs or other online publications. You could also make guest contributions to newspapers, magazines and other online and offline publications.


This will not only help you further develop your skill set, it will help expose your work to the audience of the publication to which you are contributing, which can help you establish a name for yourself, as well as professional creditability, and could eventually lead to more job, higher sales, or a bigger following for your own blog or website.


It’s also important to note that it’s not entirely unusual for biographers to start out as journalists, especially if they’re planning to work as a biographer of modern subjects, as this helps them make a name for themselves, make valuable contacts, and refine their interviewing skills.



What is a Biographer?

Biographers are responsible for creating written summaries of a person’s life. They must compose a compelling and accurate account of an individual’s life, which outlines specific elements of that individual’s life. Their work may focus on general biographies, modern figures, or historical figures.



What Does a Biographer Do?

In general, biographers are responsible for the following:


• Assembling biographical materials from various sources

• Researching biographical materials such as diaries, news accounts, personal correspondence, interviews with the subject’s associates and other sources

• Interviewing and liaising with subject of biography

• Relating the subject’s activities and actions with pertinent events during their life

• Applying psychological analysis and subject’s environment in portrayal of character

• Working with editors, publishers, proofreaders and other stakeholders

• Possibly marketing and selling the biographical work(s)





Is This Profession a Good Choice for You?

Just as important of an asset as having the proper skill set for a career, is being emotionally, intellectually and professionally interested in performing the daily work. It will help ensure that you’re motivated, competent and able to handle the many ups and downs that will come with it. Having the following skills, interests and personal traits will be crucial for your success as a biography writer:


1. Passion: You can 'thrill to your subject’, which in turn helps the reader to do so. If you don’t have a passion and deep fascination for the subject of your biography, there will be a good chance that it comes across to the reader, and makes for a dull and uninspired read. Career suicide.


2. Research: You’re willing to make research the name of your game. There can be a lot of mundane work involved in performing first and second hand research, although it’s paired with some exciting discoveries and rare opportunities. How would you feel if you had the chance to personally inspect the single surviving Wardrobe Book of Marie Antoinette in the ‘Archives Nationales’ in Paris, or interview Elon Musk at the Tesla factory?


3. Integrity: You’re willing to set aside your personal views and points of principal in order to objectively and accurately set historical context. For example, when writing a historical biography, you’re willing to not simply dismiss an activity such as 16th century bear baiting as ‘disgusting’ since it was a common activity then, but generally abhorred now, for the sake of the integrity of historical context.


4. Persistence: You can handle the idea of working a second job, or doing whatever it takes to establish a career in a competitive, yet low-demand career. It may take a while to get your first biography published, or first idea even sold to a publisher for that matter. Will you give up, or see it through?



How To Get A Biographical Work Published

The process of getting a biographical work published can be put into motion in a variety of ways:


Self-publishing: Having a biographical book self-published in e-book form is considered a ‘low hanging fruit’ method. It has a smaller barrier to entry, as you don’t have to sell the idea to a publisher, but it will involve more cost upfront and out of your own pocket, and you will mostly be responsible for sales of the book.


Submitting Work/Hiring an agent: You can always try to approach a publishing house, big or small, with your biographical work, or simply try to pitch them an idea, to see if the publisher is interested. However, without a history of success or an agent this could be an unfruitful quest. Hiring an agent may be your best bet if you’re trying to get a top-tier publisher on board with your project.


Being approached: If you maintain a blog with your writing, and/or you have developed a reputation by being a contributing writer to various online and offline publications, then someone who likes your style and appreciates your talent will eventually notice you, and may approach you with an ideal project, or at least with an offer to work together, which can help form a long-term professional relationship and possibly lead to ideal writing assignments or opportunities down the road.



Average Salary Level

As with any other career field, the level of pay you could earn as a biographer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• The amount of biographies you publish and the circulation you receive

• The size of the publishing house you write for

• Whether or not writing biographies is your full-time profession (many biographers are university professors or lecturers or journalists, or work primarily in other professions, and write biographies and other works on a 'part-time' basis)

• The structure of your employment, such as if you are working on a freelance or permanent basis

• Your professional reputation

• Many other factors  


Biographer Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2018 Wage and Salary Survey of the Government of Alberta, the average salary level of Albertans working in the Writers & Authors occupational group is $58,979 per year. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, similar statistics were not available for other provinces or territories, or the whole of Canada.


Biographer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Writers & Authors - Information occupational group is $58,590 per year.


Please Note: These figures are only intended to provide a baseline idea of what you could earn, based on industry averages collected by government salary surveys. They should not be taken as direct representations of what you will earn in this field, should you choose to become a biographer. The figures are likely heavily skewed by the existence of journalists, advertising copywriters, best-selling authors, and other types of higher-earning writers in the "Writers & Authors" occupational group figures.



Biographer/Biography Writer Jobs

Check our job board below to find current job postings in your area. Formal job postings in this field are rare, but it's worth a quick search!




Career Advancement Possibilities

If you’re able to become a well-respected and established biography writer, there will be plenty of ways by which your career will grow.


If you and your work gain a following and a reputation within the world of writing and publishing, your works would get more sales, which would lead to an increase in pay, as well as an increase in contract offers. You would also have the opportunity to take on more complex writing assignments and get published in more prestigious publications and markets.


You may also have the opportunity to appear on televisions or radio programs or podcasts as a guest speaker or interviewee as an expert on those you profile for you works.


Another form of career advancement could be for you to shift gears and move into editing or publishing. If you are particularly gifted at identifying stories, correcting writing style and interacting with writers, you may find yourself interested in these types of roles.



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'biographer', in that they are in the same field, or they involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities.



• Book Critic

• Comedy Writer

• Historian

• Journalist

• Novelist

• Playwright

• Publisher



Scholarships for Becoming a Biographer

The "Relevant Fields of Study" section below shows fields of study relevant to this profession. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a biographer:


Wages and Salaries in Alberta: “Authors & Writers.” (n.d.). Government of Alberta - Alberta Learning and Information Service. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2018.

Occupational Employment and Wages: “Writers and Authors.” (April 13, 2018). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2018.

Books: How to Write Biography Books.” Antonia Fraser. (September 24, 2008). The Guardian. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2018.

Writing Resources: “Tips on How to Writing a Biography.” Mary McVicker (October 29, 2011). The Writer Magazine. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2018.



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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