How to Write a Biography: The Proven 5-Step Ultimate Guide

Posted on May 16, 2024

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Have you ever wondered how to turn someone’s life story into a page-turner? Writing a biography can be both exciting and challenging. Over the years, we’ve helped over 7,000 aspiring authors just like you get published. Using what we’ve learned and examples from some of the best biographies out there, we’ll show you step-by-step how to research, write, and publish a captivating biography. Let’s get started!

Biography Writing Steps:

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Biography Basics

What is a Biography?

A biography is a detailed account of someone’s life written by another person. It covers the major events and experiences of their life and gives insight into their character and achievements. Think of it like telling your friend’s story, but in more detail.

Biographies can be about famous people like scientists, artists, or political leaders. They can also be about everyday heroes like teachers, firefighters, or family members. The focus is on presenting an honest and engaging portrayal of the subject’s life.

TIP: The goal is to make the reader feel like they know the person, including personal stories and unique details. The best biographies capture the essence of the person, not just their actions.

Why Write a Biography?

Writing a biography can be rewarding. It can preserve the history of someone important, or help others learn from their experiences. Imagine reading about someone who overcame significant challenges. Wouldn’t that inspire you to face your own? Sharing these stories can motivate and educate others.

Biographies can also honor the memory of someone who’s passed away, keeping their legacy alive for future generations. Think of a biography as a bridge that connects the past with the present.

Start by listing the main events and themes of your subject’s life, then break them into chapters or sections to give your biography a clear direction.It allows you to explore someone’s life deeply. You might discover new things about them, and yourself in the process. This journey can be both enlightening and fulfilling.

Plus, biographies are a valuable addition to literature. They contribute to our understanding of history, culture, and human behavior. Your work could become a vital resource for others.

What Makes a Biography Interesting?

The best biographies go beyond just the facts: It paints a picture of the person’s life. It includes vivid details, personal stories, and unique insights. 

  1. Use anecdotes and quotes to bring your subject to life. These elements can make your writing more engaging. Reading a funny or touching story from your subject’s life makes the person feel real and relatable.
  2. Include sensory details. Describe how things looked, sounded, smelled, or felt. This helps readers immerse themselves in the world of your subject. Did they have a favorite place? What was it like? These details add depth to your narrative.
  3. Balance facts with storytelling. While dates and events are important, it’s the stories that captivate readers. Use the facts to support and enhance these stories. This combination makes for a compelling read.
  4. Engage the reader’s emotions. Write about moments of joy, sorrow, triumph, and struggle. Emotional connections make memorable biographies. Readers are more likely to remember and reflect on stories that moved them.

EXAMPLE: Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday begins with a shocking statistic about Mao Zedong, immediately grabbing readers’ attention and setting a serious tone for the biography.

Who Can Write a Biography?

Anyone! You don’t need special training. If you have a passion for storytelling, you’re already halfway there. Many famous biographies were written by ordinary people with a strong interest in their subject.

Biographies can be written by family members, friends, or even fans. The key is having access to information about the person’s life, so you might need to do some detective work.

You can start small. Maybe write about a family member or a local hero. As you gain confidence and experience, you can tackle more complex subjects. The important thing is to start. Every story deserves to be told.

Step 1 – Choosing Your Subject

Find Someone Inspiring

Think about people who inspire you. It could be someone famous, like an inventor or a leader. Maybe it’s someone less known, like a local hero or a family member. The key is to choose someone whose story you feel excited to tell. After all, if you’re not interested, your readers won’t be either.

Reflect on the impact this person has had on you. This will help you convey their significance. Remember, the more passionate you are about your subject, the more engaging your biography will be.

Consider what makes them unique. Did they overcome obstacles? Achieve something remarkable? Live through an interesting time? These elements make their story compelling.

Take your time. The right subject will spark your curiosity and drive your research. Their story should be one you’re excited to share with others.

EXAMPLE: The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes explores the life of a man with multiple personalities, a unique and compelling subject that was thoroughly researched through interviews and psychological evaluations.

Research Their Life

Start by gathering as much information as you can. Look for books, articles, and documentaries about them. Libraries and online databases are great places to begin. These sources provide a solid foundation of knowledge.

If your subject is still alive, consider interviewing them. If not, talk to people who knew them well. Personal interviews provide unique insights and anecdotes. This firsthand information adds depth to your biography.

Don’t just stick to one source. Use a variety of perspectives to get a well-rounded picture. Look for little-known facts and personal stories to make your biography stand out. Imagine finding a rare interview or an old letter that sheds new light on your subject! 

Keep your research organized. Use notebooks, digital files, or whatever works best for you. An organized system will save you time and frustration later. Think of it as building a strong foundation for your writing.

Double-check all the information you find. Accuracy is key. Cross-check dates, names, and events with reliable sources to make sure your biography is credible and trustworthy.

Create a timeline of your subject’s life. This can help you visualize their story and spot any gaps in your research. It also provides a handy reference as you write.

A Young Man Does Research In A Library. The Sun Shines Through A Large Window Behind Him.

Consider Accessibility

Think about how easy it is to find information on your subject. Are there many resources available? If not, you might struggle to gather enough material. This doesn’t mean you should give up. Just be prepared for a challenge.

Sometimes, less famous subjects have less documented lives. This can be tricky, but also rewarding. You’ll get to uncover hidden stories! Local libraries, historical societies, and old newspapers can be gold mines for this kind of research.

If information is scarce, consider widening your search. Look for related topics or secondary sources. For instance, if your subject was part of a particular movement or community, research that context. This can provide valuable background information.

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Decide on a Focus

Not every detail of a person’s life needs to be included. Choose the most important events and achievements. Decide what aspect of their life you want to highlight. Is it their career? Their personal life? Their struggles? Having a clear focus will guide your research and writing.

A clear focus helps keep your biography engaging. Readers won’t feel overwhelmed by too many details. Instead, they’ll get a well-rounded picture of what makes your subject unique. Make sure your focus aligns with what inspires you about the person. This connection will come through in your writing.

Think about the audience. What will they find most interesting or relevant? Tailoring your focus to your readers’ interests can make your biography more compelling. 

Think about the message you want to convey. What do you want readers to learn or feel after reading your biography? This can help you decide which parts of your subject’s life to emphasize.

Create a list of potential focuses:

  • Key accomplishments
  • Personal challenges
  • Relationships and family
  • Impact on their community
  • Legacy and lasting influence

Review your focus periodically as you research. You might discover new information that shifts your perspective. Stay flexible and open to refining your focus as you learn more about your subject.

Make Sure There’s Enough Information

Before you start writing, be sure there’s enough material to work with. A biography without enough information will feel thin and incomplete. If you find gaps in your research, see if you can fill them. Sometimes, you might need to change your focus or subject. It’s better to find this out early.

If you run into a wall, don’t be discouraged! Look for new angles. Maybe there’s a period in their life that hasn’t been explored much. Sometimes, you might find a treasure trove of information in an unexpected place. Be flexible and persistent.

Consider reaching out to experts. They might have insights or resources you haven’t considered. This can add depth and accuracy to your biography.

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Think about people who inspire you.
  2. Reflect on the unique aspects of their lives.
  3. Determine the availability of information on your subject.
  4. Choose a focus for your biography.
  5. Make sure there’s enough material to write a comprehensive biography.

Step 2 – Doing Your Research

Read Books and Articles

Start with the basics. Look for books and articles about your subject. Libraries and online databases are great places to begin. These sources provide a solid foundation of knowledge.

Biographies, autobiographies, and historical texts offer different perspectives. Some might be more detailed, while others provide a broader overview. Use a variety of sources to get a well-rounded picture.

TIP: Take notes as you read! Highlight key events, quotes, and interesting details. Organize your notes by topic or time period. This makes it easier to find information later.

Create a research log to track your sources that includes:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Publication Date
  • Key Information

Check out book reviews and summaries. They can provide insights into the most important aspects of your subject’s life. These summaries can also point you to other valuable sources.

Watch Documentaries

Documentaries can be a treasure trove of information. They combine visuals, interviews, and narration to tell a story. Watching a documentary can give you a sense of your subject’s personality and environment.

Pay attention to interviews and archival footage. These elements provide firsthand accounts and visual context, and can reveal nuances that written sources might miss.

Take notes on important details and quotes. Documentaries often include experts’ insights and eyewitness testimonies, which can add depth to your biography.

Interview People Who Knew the Subject

If you can get them, personal interviews are invaluable. They provide direct insights and stories that may previously have been unknown and add a rich, human dimension to your biography. Start by identifying people who knew your subject well: Family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances can offer unique perspectives.

Prepare your questions in advance. Focus on significant events, personal anecdotes, and character traits. Be respectful and sensitive. Remember, some topics might be difficult for people to discuss.

Record the interviews if possible to make sure you capture every detail accurately. Transcribe the interviews for easy reference later. 

Follow up with your interviewees if you need clarification or more details. They might remember other stories after your initial conversation. Show appreciation for their time and help! Their contributions are central to your work.

Create a list of potential interviewees:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Mentors
  • Community members

Consider group interviews for multiple perspectives. This can lead to a more dynamic and comprehensive understanding of your subject. 

Be prepared for unexpected insights! Sometimes, an interviewee might reveal something surprising or new. These moments can add depth and authenticity to your biography.

Visit Important Places

Seeing places where your subject lived or worked can be enlightening. It gives you a sense of their environment and helps you describe settings more vividly in your biography.

Take photos and notes during your visits. Observe the details and atmosphere. Try to imagine how your subject experienced these places. What did they feel? Did they find comfort, challenge, or inspiration there?

EXAMPLE: The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro is a detailed biography of Robert Moses, where Caro spent years gathering extensive interviews, documents, and visiting locations pivotal to Moses’s life. 

A Person Standing On A Dirt Path Leading Up To A Historic House. Trees Are Behind Them, And A Graveyard Is Further Down The Path.

Look at Pictures and Artifacts

Photos, letters, and personal items can reveal a lot about your subject. They offer a glimpse into their private world. Look for pictures of them at different stages of life. Notice their expressions, surroundings, and companions.

Personal artifacts like diaries, clothing, and awards provide context. They can show what was important to your subject, add texture to your narrative, and make your subject more relatable and real to your readers.

If possible, visit museums or archives that hold relevant collections. Seeing these items in person can be powerful. It helps you connect with your subject on a deeper level. Include descriptions of these artifacts in your biography to enrich the reader’s experience, or even images of them if you can.

Check Dates and Facts

Accuracy is paramount in a biography. Verify dates, names, and events from multiple sources. Mistakes can undermine your credibility. Cross-check information to make sure it’s correct. Use reliable sources whenever possible.

Create a timeline of your subject’s life. This helps you keep track of important events and their sequence. A timeline also makes it easier to spot inconsistencies. Double-check your notes before writing each section so your biography stays factual and trustworthy.

EXAMPLE: G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage involved meticulous research into Hoover’s life, examining personal papers, FBI files, and historical archives. 

Organize Your Notes

With so much research going into a biography, good organization is essential. Sort your notes by themes, events, or time periods. Use folders, notebooks, or digital tools to keep everything in order. An organized system saves time and reduces stress when you start writing.

Create a master document with all your research. Include citations and sources to make it easy to reference your material as you write. Update this document regularly.

Color-code or label your notes for quick access. For example, use different colors for personal anecdotes, major events, and quotes. This visual system can make your research more manageable.

Review your notes periodically. This helps you spot gaps and areas that need more information. It also keeps your material fresh in your mind. A well-organized research process sets the stage for a smooth writing experience.

TIP: Backup your notes and research regularly! You don’t want to lose valuable information because of technical issues or accidents. A well-organized and secure research system is the foundation of a successful biography.

Consider using digital tools like Evernote or Scrivener that can help you keep track of your research and notes. These tools offer features like tagging, searching, and linking notes, which can streamline your workflow.

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Gather books, articles, and documentaries about your subject.
  2. Conduct interviews with people who knew your subject.
  3. Visit significant places related to your subject’s life.
  4. Collect pictures and personal artifacts.
  5. Verify all dates and facts with multiple sources.
  6. Organize your notes by themes, events, or time periods.

Step 3 – Structuring Your Biography

Create an Outline

An outline is your roadmap. It helps you organize your thoughts and structure your narrative. Start by listing the main events and themes of your subject’s life, then break them into chapters or sections to give your biography a clear direction.

Decide on the overall structure. Will it be chronological, thematic, or a mix of both? Chronological is straightforward, moving from birth to death. Thematic focuses on different aspects of their life, like career, family, or challenges. Choose what best suits your subject’s story.

EXAMPLE: John Adams by David McCullough is structured chronologically, providing a comprehensive look at the second U.S. president’s life. The use of a clear timeline and the blending of personal anecdotes with historical facts make this biography an excellent example to learn from.

Include subheadings under each main section. These can help break up the text and make it more readable. For example, under “Career,” you might have subheadings like “Early Career,” “Major Achievements,” and “Legacy.”

TIP: Keep your outline flexible. As you write, you might discover new details or decide to change the focus. A flexible outline lets you adapt without losing your way. Think of it as a living document that evolves with your project.

Here’s a sample outline format:

  • Introduction
    • Hook
    • Overview of subject’s life
  • Early Life
    • Family background
    • Childhood events
  • Career
    • Early career
    • Major achievements
    • Challenges and setbacks
  • Personal Life
    • Relationships
    • Personal interests
  • Legacy
    • Impact on others
    • Lasting influence
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of life
    • Reflections

Using this format, you can make sure you cover all of the most important aspects of your subject’s life in a structured manner.

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Decide on a Timeline

A clear timeline helps readers follow the story. It shows the progression of events and the subject’s development. Start with major life events: birth, education, career milestones, personal achievements, and significant challenges. Fill in smaller details around these events.

Use flashbacks or flash-forwards sparingly. They can add depth, but may confuse readers if overused. Keep the timeline logical and easy to follow to make your biography more engaging and readable.

Consider creating a visual timeline. This can be a simple chart or infographic that highlights key events. Visual aids can help readers understand the sequence and context of events better.

Here’s a simple timeline example:

YearEvent
1950Subject is born
1972Graduates from college
1980Publishes first major work
1990Receives significant award
2005Retires from professional career
2020Passes away, leaving a lasting legacy

Include dates and descriptions. This format makes it easy to reference important events while writing and helps keep the narrative organized.

Balance Facts and Stories

Facts are the backbone of your biography. They establish credibility and context. But stories make it come alive. They add personality and emotion. Strive for a balance between the two. Too many facts can be dry, while too many stories can seem ungrounded.

Include personal anecdotes, quotes, and vivid descriptions. These elements bring your subject’s experiences to life. Imagine describing an important moment in their career. A detailed, personal story can make this event memorable for readers.

EXAMPLE: The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge uses vivid anecdotes and historical context to bring the Grimké family’s story to life, showing how to use personal stories to illustrate broader historical themes.

Use facts to support and enrich your stories. For example, if your subject overcame a significant challenge, provide the context and consequences of their actions. This combination creates a compelling and informative narrative.

Consider using sidebars or call-out boxes for interesting facts or quotes. These design elements can highlight important information without disrupting the flow of the main text.

Here’s how you might balance facts and stories in a paragraph:

  • Start with a fact: “In 1980, she published her first major work, which received critical acclaim.”
  • Follow with a story: “She often recalled the late nights spent writing in her small apartment, fueled by coffee and determination. ‘I knew this book had to be written,’ she once said in an interview.”
A Biography Writer Interviews An Elderly Woman In Her Living Room.

Engage the Reader

Books are for their readers as much as, or more than, they’re for their writers. Keep your readers interested! 

EXAMPLE: Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker uniquely structures the biography by blending the life of Ian Fleming with the creation of James Bond, making it both a biography of Fleming and an exploration of his influence on popular culture.

Use a variety of sentence lengths and structures to create a dynamic reading experience. Mix short, impactful sentences with longer, more descriptive ones. This variation makes your writing more enjoyable to read.

Break up the text with subheadings, lists, and visual elements. These tools can make the content more digestible and visually appealing. A well-placed quote or anecdote can also add interest.

Ask rhetorical questions to engage readers’ curiosity. For example, “What drove her to persevere despite so many obstacles?” This encourages readers to think and keeps them engaged.

Use sensory details to create vivid scenes. Describe how things looked, sounded, or felt to help readers immerse themselves in the story. 

Engage the reader’s emotions. Write about moments of joy, sorrow, triumph, and struggle. Emotional connections make biographies memorable. Readers are more likely to remember and reflect on stories that moved them.

Consider using dialogue to bring scenes to life. This can make interactions more vivid and realistic. 

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Create an outline of the main events and themes.
  2. Decide on a chronological, thematic, or mixed structure.
  3. Break the outline into chapters or sections.
  4. Develop a timeline of key events.
  5. Balance factual information with engaging stories.
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Step 4 – Writing the First Draft

Writing the first draft of your biography is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires careful planning, discipline, and a commitment to a regular writing schedule. Here’s how to approach it day-to-day, week-to-week, and beyond.

Set a Schedule

Before anything else, set a realistic writing schedule. Determine how many hours you can dedicate each day or week. Consistency is key. Writing a bit every day is often more productive than long, sporadic sessions.

  • Daily Goals: Aim for a certain word count or a specific number of hours writing each day. This helps maintain momentum.
  • Weekly Milestones: Set weekly targets to stay on track, such as finishing a chapter or a certain number of pages.
  • Monthly Reviews: At the end of each month, review your progress. Adjust your schedule if necessary to stay on course.

Create a Writing Routine

A good writing routine can make the process smoother and more enjoyable.

  1. Choose a Writing Space: Find a quiet, comfortable place free of distractions.
  2. Set a Time: Write at the same time each day to build a habit.
  3. Prepare Mentally: Take a few minutes before writing to clear your mind and focus on the task ahead. 

Break Down the Work

Writing a biography can feel overwhelming. Break it down into manageable chunks:

  • Outline: Start with your outline. Focus on one section at a time.
  • Daily Writing: Pick a specific event, anecdote, or period of your subject’s life each day.
  • Weekly Themes: Each week, concentrate on a broader theme or chapter. This gives you direction and helps connect daily writing sessions.

Stay Disciplined

Discipline is more important than inspiration. Write even when you don’t feel like it! 

  • Set Deadlines: Self-imposed deadlines can keep you motivated.
  • Track Progress: Keep a writing journal to log daily achievements and thoughts.
  • Limit Distractions: Turn off notifications and set boundaries during writing time.
  • Take Breaks: Short breaks can refresh your mind and prevent burnout.

Deal with Writer’s Block

Writer’s block can be a major obstacle. Here are ways to overcome it:

  • Change the Scene: If stuck, move to a different section of the biography.
  • Free Writing: Spend a few minutes writing anything that comes to mind. This can loosen mental blocks.
  • Inspiration: Re-read parts of your research or other biographies for inspiration.

Review and Revise

Don’t aim for perfection in the first draft. Focus on getting your ideas down. Don’t try to edit while you’re writing! Once the draft is complete, you can start revising:

  1. First Read-Through: Review your draft without making changes. Note areas that need improvement.
  2. Revisions: Tackle revisions one chapter at a time.
  3. Feedback: Share sections with friends or writing groups for constructive feedback.

Sticking to a schedule and breaking the work into manageable pieces will help you complete a compelling and well-structured biography. Happy writing!

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Set a Writing Schedule:
    • Determine daily and weekly writing goals.
    • Schedule regular review sessions.
  2. Create a Routine:
    • Choose a writing space.
    • Set a regular writing time.
  3. Break Down the Work:
    • Follow your outline.
    • Focus on one section at a time.
  4. Stay Disciplined:
    • Set self-imposed deadlines.
    • Track progress in a writing journal.
    • Limit distractions during writing time.
  5. Overcome Writer’s Block:
    • Move to a different section if stuck.
    • Try free writing to loosen blocks.
    • Seek inspiration from research or other biographies.
  6. Review and Revise:
    • Do a first read-through of your draft.
    • Revise one chapter at a time.
    • Share sections for feedback.

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Step 5 – Revising and Editing

Check for Accuracy

Go through your draft and verify all the facts. Cross-check dates, names, and events with reliable sources. This step ensures your biography is credible and trustworthy.

Use a checklist to keep track of what you’ve verified:

  • Dates of birth, death, and major events
  • Names and spellings
  • Quotes and anecdotes
  • Historical and contextual details

Make sure your sources are reputable. Double-check information from interviews, books, and articles. If you find discrepancies, dig deeper to find the truth. This thoroughness shows respect for your subject and your readers.

EXAMPLE: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder showcases meticulous editing and a balanced narrative, making sure the story of Paul Farmer is both engaging and accurate. Kidder’s work highlights the importance of revising and editing to create a polished final product.

Accuracy also means representing your subject fairly. Avoid sensationalizing or omitting significant details. Your goal is a balanced and honest portrayal.

Create a research log to track the sources you have verified:

SourceTypeVerifiedNotes
Interview with John DoePersonalYesVerified key anecdotes
“The Life of Jane Doe”BookYesCross-checked dates
Newspaper archiveArticlePendingNeed to verify quotations

Make Sure It’s Easy to Read

Break up long paragraphs into shorter ones. Use headings and subheadings to organize your content. These elements make your biography easier to navigate.

Vary your sentence length. Mix short, punchy sentences with longer, more descriptive ones. Avoid complex words and jargon. Write in a consistent tone. Use bullet points and lists to highlight key information.

Before finalizing your draft, get feedback. Share it with friends, family, or writing groups. Ask for honest opinions. What parts did they enjoy? Were there any confusing sections? Use their feedback to improve your work.

Edit and Proofread

Consider hiring a professional editor. They can provide expert insights and catch errors you might have missed. An editor can help with structure, clarity, and style. They make sure your biography is polished and professional.

Create a checklist for feedback:

  • Clarity and flow
  • Accuracy of facts
  • Engagement level
  • Grammar and spelling

Review the feedback carefully. Decide what changes will improve your biography. Remember, the goal is to create the best possible version of your subject’s story.

Read your draft out loud. This can highlight awkward phrasing and pacing issues. Hearing your words can reveal problems that aren’t obvious on the page.

Take breaks between editing sessions. Fresh eyes can spot errors you might miss when you’re too close to the work. Editing in stages can also make the process less overwhelming.

Proofreading is the final step. It catches the errors that slipped through previous rounds of editing. Pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Double-check names, dates, and places for accuracy.

Backup your final version. Save copies in multiple locations, such as cloud storage, external drives, and printed versions. Keep your work safe and accessible!

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Verify all facts, dates, and quotes.
  2. Ensure readability by breaking up long paragraphs and using bullet points.
  3. Get feedback from friends, family, or a professional editor.
  4. Use editing tools to catch grammar and style issues.
  5. Proofread multiple times, focusing on different aspects each time.Final Touches and Publishing

Add Pictures and Captions

Pictures can enhance your biography by providing a visual connection to your subject. Look for images that highlight key moments and aspects of their life. Family photos, portraits, and pictures of significant places are good choices.

TIP: Include captions with each picture. These should be concise but informative. Captions add context and help readers understand the importance of the images. They also break up the text, making your biography more visually appealing.

Consider creating a photo section if you have a lot of images. This can be a dedicated chapter or an insert in the middle of the book. Arrange the pictures in chronological order or by theme. This organization helps readers follow along with the visual story.

EXAMPLE: Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi (with a foreward by Beyoncé!) includes numerous photos that offer an intimate look at the musician’s life, with captions providing context. This approach exemplifies the importance of visual elements in a biography.

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Format for Publication

Formatting your biography specifically for both print and ebook formats is a required step for a professional look and a smooth reading experience.

Print Formatting

  1. Page Size and Layout:
    1. Choose a standard size, such as 6″x9″ or 5.5″x8.5″. These sizes are popular and widely accepted by printing services.
    2. Set margins for proper binding and readability. Commonly, 1-inch margins on all sides work well.
  2. Font and Typography:
    1. Use readable fonts like Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia, typically in 11 or 12 pt size.
    2. Maintain consistent line spacing, usually double-spaced for the main text and single-spaced for block quotes.
  3. Page Numbers and Headers/Footers:
    1. Include page numbers in the header or footer.
    2. Use headers to include the book title or chapter titles, but keep them simple and unobtrusive.
  4. Chapters and Sections:
    1. Start each chapter on a new page.
    2. Use larger font sizes for chapter titles and a smaller size for subheadings. Bold or italicize these to distinguish them from the main text.
  5. Images and Captions:
    1. Insert images at a high resolution (300 dpi) for clear printing.
    2. Align images with the text and provide concise captions.

Ebook Formatting

  1. Reflowable Text:
    1. Make sure the text is reflowable, meaning it adjusts to different screen sizes and orientations. Avoid fixed layouts unless creating an illustrated book or children’s book.
  2. Hyperlinked Table of Contents: 
    1. Create a clickable table of contents. Each chapter title should link directly to the corresponding chapter in the book.
  3. Font and Typography: 
    1. Use standard ebook fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Font sizes should be adjustable by the reader.
    2. Avoid excessive formatting like drop caps or multi-column layouts, as these can display inconsistently on different devices.
  4. Images and Media:
    1. Use high-resolution images (72 dpi is sufficient for screens) but keep file sizes small to ensure quick loading times.
    2. Embed images properly so they display correctly on all devices.
  5. File Conversion:
    1. Convert your manuscript to an ebook-friendly format like EPUB or MOBI. Tools like Calibre, Scrivener, or Kindle Create can help with this conversion.
A Person Typing Up A Biography On A Laptop. A Cup Of Coffee Steams Nearby.

Choose a Publishing Option

There are several ways to publish your biography. Traditional publishing involves submitting your manuscript to a publisher. If accepted, they handle editing, printing, and distribution. This route can be competitive, expensive, and hard to break into, but offers professional support.

Self-publishing gives you more control. You manage everything from editing to marketing. Platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing make this process accessible. However, self-publishing can require more effort and resources on your part unless you work with a professional.

Hybrid publishing combines elements of both traditional and self-publishing. You pay for some services, but retain control over others. Research the pros and cons of each option to decide what works best for you.

Publishing options at a glance:

OptionProsCons
TraditionalProfessional support, wider reachCompetitive, less control
Self-PublishingFull control, higher royaltiesMore effort, up-front costs
Hybrid PublishingBalance of control and supportCosts, variable services

Design a Cover

A good cover grabs attention. It should reflect the essence of your subject’s life. Even if you’re an amateur biography writer, your book shouldn’t look amateur. Unless you’re a graphic designer, we usually recommend our authors hire a professional for this step. They can create a cover that looks polished and appealing.

Choose images and fonts that are clear and readable. Your cover should stand out, but also convey the right tone. A compelling cover can attract readers and boost sales.

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Book Cover Design Checklist

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Write a Catchy Blurb

The blurb on the back cover is a brief summary of your biography. It should intrigue potential readers. Highlight the most interesting aspects of your subject’s life. Keep it concise and engaging. This is your chance to hook readers from the start.

EXAMPLE: Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere by Maria Bamford is a memoir, not a biography, but shows how you can use an engaging cover and a catchy blurb to draw in readers. 

Market Your Book

Marketing is necessary if you want to reach readers. Use social media, book signings, and press releases to promote your biography. Create a website or blog to share updates and excerpts. Engage with your audience through newsletters and online forums.

Consider these marketing steps:

  1. Build an author website
  2. Promote on social media
  3. Network with other authors
  4. Arrange book signings and events

Collaborate with local bookstores and libraries. They can help you reach a wider audience. Effective marketing means your biography gets the attention it deserves.

Next Steps Checklist:

  1. Add Pictures and Captions:
    • Collect key images with concise, informative captions.
    • Organize images chronologically or by theme.
  2. Format for Publication:
    • Print: Use standard page size (e.g., 6″x9″), set 1-inch margins, and choose readable fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, 11 pt). Include page numbers and simple headers/footers.
    • Ebook: Make sure text is reflowable, create a clickable table of contents, use standard ebook fonts, and convert the manuscript to EPUB/MOBI format.
  3. Choose a Publishing Option:
    • Research and decide between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing.
    • Use platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing for self-publishing.
  4. Design a Cover:
    • Choose clear, readable images and fonts that reflect the essence of your subject.
    • Hire a professional designer for a polished look.
  5. Write a Catchy Blurb:
    • Highlight interesting aspects of your subject’s life.
    • Keep it concise and engaging to intrigue readers.
  6. Market Your Book:
    • Build an author website and promote on social media.
    • Network with other authors and arrange book signings.
    • Collaborate with local bookstores and libraries.

Conclusion

Writing a biography is a rewarding journey. You’ve spent countless hours researching, writing, and revising. Now, you’re ready to share your subject’s story with the world! But before you hit publish, let’s reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what lies ahead:

You’ve preserved a piece of history. 

By documenting someone’s life, you’ve created a lasting record that can educate and inspire future generations. This is no small feat. You’ve turned memories, facts, and anecdotes into a cohesive narrative that honors your subject.

You’ve honed your writing skills. 

Crafting a biography requires attention to detail, creativity, and perseverance. You’ve learned to balance facts with storytelling, creating a work that’s both informative and engaging. These skills will serve you well in any future writing endeavors.

You’ve connected with your subject on a deep level. 

Whether they’re a family member, a historical figure, or someone you admire, you’ve walked in their shoes and seen the world through their eyes. This connection has likely changed how you view their life—and perhaps your own.

Looking Ahead

Remember that your biography has the power to make a difference. It can inspire others to overcome challenges, pursue their passions, and appreciate the richness of life’s experiences. Your work might even encourage readers to document their own stories!

Here are a few final tips:

  • Celebrate your achievement! Writing a biography is a significant accomplishment. Take a moment to acknowledge your hard work and dedication.
  • Stay curious. Keep researching and learning. There’s always more to discover about your subject and the context in which they lived.
  • Encourage others to write. Share your experience and inspire others to document the lives of people they admire.

As you move forward, keep engaging with your readers. Listen to their feedback and continue to share insights about your subject. There are always more stories to tell and new perspectives to explore.

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