Biographies — Writing about the Lives of Others
The public's fascination with learning about the lives of others is voracious, as reflected in the countless stories concerning famous and sometimes not-so-famous people that regularly appear in periodicals, television programs, Internet sites, and even word-of-mouth gossip. Perhaps this is why one of the most popular genres is biographies. In recent years there has existed at any given time well over 15,000 titles to choose from. So, if there is someone whose life intrigues you and you want to immerse yourself in a book-length project to chronicle that person's story, writing a biography is a good idea.
In writing a biography, the research and reliability of the facts must be impeccable. However, you don't have to be a scholar or an expert in any given field. What matters most is that you know how to do the research (which you'll learn in Chapter 5 and then more specifically in Chapter 12) and that you apply all the relevant techniques of nonfiction writing, which you'll acquire in the next chapter.
While biographies do not have to be about famous people, most published biographies do have well-known individuals as their subject. In the United States, biographies abound regarding former presidents like John Adams, Washington, Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, it is possible that more biographies have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person in history.
Biographies about prominent persons cover the full spectrum. One bestseller list includes individuals as diverse as Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Frederick Douglas, Warren Buffet, Robert Kennedy, and Madonna. However, you need not limit yourself to well-known individuals. As long as there is an audience for a particular person — frequently someone recognized in a specific community — a publisher can often be secured. You also should not be dissuaded from undertaking a biography simply because biographies have already been written about the subject of your proposed book. Indeed, there have been occasions when two or even three biographies about the same individual were published within weeks of each other.