Biographers tell the stories of other people. Some have narrated the lives and times of great men like Abraham Lincoln – stories that could otherwise remain hidden from newer generations. Biographers strive to craft a detailed summary of the person’s life, and compile it into a book. To be a biographer, you must possess an excellent command of the English language and be a skilled communicator.
What do Biographers do?
The day-to-day duties of biographers include:
- Visiting libraries and other places to assemble biographical materials such as diaries
- Verifying the authenticity of the assembled materials
- Interviewing the subject of the autobiography, as well as his or her family and close associates
- Compiling the information and presenting it in a chronological order
- Working with editors to ensure the information is presented in a grammatically correct manner
- Submitting the compiled information to publishers for publishing.
Biographers are primarily self-employed, so they work in private offices or from their homes. This also means they have control of their work schedules.
The work may involve some travelling, especially when assembling biographical materials.
The following table highlights the average annual salaries for biographers in various states:
Source: Salary Expert
Although no specific major is required to become a biographer, you should have a solid background in communications and writing. To get you started, pursue a bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields:
- Communication studies
- Professional writing
- English language
You may also enter the profession with a degree in liberal studies or history.
The University of Hawaii also offers life writing courses that cover several aspects of ‘writing about the self’. The courses will improve your ability to acquire and analyze information, as well as the skill to integrate creative writing into non-fiction writing.
The skills and abilities you need to excel as a biographer include:
- Strong research skills
- Excellent analytical skills
- Superb writing skills
- Strong active listening and speaking skills
- Good computer skills to use writing and editing programs
- Social perceptiveness
- Creativity and critical thinking skills
- Good interviewing skills
- Good library skills
- Good interpersonal skills
- An interest in studying history.
As a novice biographer, you can find writing jobs at companies that publish newspapers, magazines and books to gain some relevant work experience.
When you are ready to move into biography writing, you can start by writing biographies for little-known people, such as local politicians. This will help you build a portfolio that you can use to secure more lucrative projects that may involve working with prominent figures.
The City University of New York also offers a graduate program in biography, autobiography and memoir writing that can greatly improve your competence and reputation.
Although biographers are primarily self-employed, few fulltime job opportunities are available in companies that offer writing services.
With vast experience and a graduate degree, you could secure teaching jobs in colleges and universities that offer biography witting courses.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a slower-than-average job growth (3 percent) for all writers and authors, including biographers. As a result, many biographers often provide other writing services, such as speechwriting, to supplement their income.
True, it is a field with minimal opportunities, but if you are passionate about studying and recording lives, and are deeply interested in helping others tell their stories, you can succeed as a biographer. Good luck!