Often when we think of biography we think of the rich and famous. But biographies can be a meaningful way for people to leave a lasting legacy for loved ones. If you’ve been thinking of beginning a biography project, here are a few helpful tips for navigating your biography project.
I offer a number of bespoke biography packages to assist individuals and families in recording the moments that matter in life. I’ll be sharing a little more about this throughout this post.
1. Consider The Goals of The Project
The purpose and motivation which inspires us to create a project, ultimately influences the end result.
As you begin a biography project it’s important to assess your own personal goals you may have for this project. If you are related to the person who’s biography you’re writing this is particularly useful.
Next, consult and discuss the goals of the person whose biography you are writing. This is very important. A few questions you might like to ask your subject to aid this discussion are:
- Who would you like to read your biography?
- Why have you chosen now to begin your biography project?
- How do you want to be remembered?
Asking these questions will help you to identify the direction of your project. You may find that the person provides answers you did not anticipate.
Perhaps you want to write a full-length book memoir featuring your subject, whereas your subject would rather have greater emphasis on photography and thanking those who have influenced their life thus far.
Differences in goals, when not properly resolved can result in tension during the project. It’s important that you show respect to your subject by placing their goals for the project above your own. This is after all, their biography.
2. Decide on a budget and timeframe for the project
Determining a budget and timeframe from the get go can be helpful as you begin a biography project. What is the subject, or yourself willing to spend on the project? How long do you have to complete this project within?
The answer to those questions will give you guidance for the style of project you might to begin. Longer book biographies will typically take longer to produce and be more costly in the production stages.
Your budget in particular will help you determine whether you’d like to outsource any elements of the biography project. Bringing on a writer or a cover designer can add professionalism and quality to the project, but does incur a fee.
Timeframe of the project is a particular consideration for subjects with a life-threatening illness, wishing to complete a biography. Discuss with your subject how long they’d like to spend on this project. This can be helpful in determining the number of interview sessions, and cost of the project.
3. What Style of Biography will you create?
When most people hear ‘biography’ they tend to think of a full length book. While this makes up a great number of biographies, there are other styles which may be better suited to your project.
This is why I call my service ‘Bespoke Biography’ no two people are the same, so neither will their biographies be. The style and content of the biography should be tailored to the individual it shares the story of.
I offer a number of biography styles including:
Children’s books – A great option for parents or grandparents wishing to leave a special message for the children they love. Artistically gifted subjects may enjoy considering the illustration components of this project, or it can be outsourced.
Memory Books – Memory books blend photography and storytelling. This can be one of the most accessible styles, as it allows subjects to share memories as prompted by photography from across their life.
Hybrid Book – Thanks to technology we have many more story-telling options. This style blends traditional print biography with audio and visual components, enabling voice or video of subjects to become a part of the biography.
Full length Book – This is the traditional method of biography for a reason. Typically following a chronological account of the subjects life, these can vary in length.
Once a style has been suggested I work with people to offer them a bespoke, unique biography, tailoring the project to their individual needs and goals.
4. Set up Parameters for your sessions
Determine a day, time and duration of interview sessions for your biography project. This will help you stay on task during these sessions, and meet the end goal of a completed project.
Use this time to seek your subjects permission to either take notes during your time together, or record your conversation to take notes later.
You may find it useful to outline with the subject the boundaries of your discussions. In particular, as to your desire to understand them better, but also as it relates to some subject matter.
There may be some topics your subject wishes to discuss with you that make you uncomfortable. Depending on what these are, it is wise to flag them initially with your subject in one of your first sessions.
Decide ahead of time what you will do if a disclosure is made to you that is distressing because it relates to committed crimes or intended harm. Though this circumstance is uncommon, if it does arrive you will be prepared to respond appropriately.
5. Be Sensitive
Recording a life is often a joyful, wonderful thing and a time of healing through sharing. At other times the process is harder.
You must remain aware that the process can be painful for your subject at times and can bring up unpleasant emotions at times.
All lives have their moments of struggle and pain, so remain sensitive and kind at all times. If your subject does not want to discuss a particular topic, do not pressure them to do so.
If they decide to return to the subject at a later date, it may then be appropriate to discuss it then.
On a similar note, apply discretion when writing. If a particularly sensitive topic is shared with you, ask permission before incorporating it into the final project. It may be your subject was caught up in the flow of sharing and does not intend for some topics to be recorded in their lasting biography.
As a biographer, you also need to be sensitive to your own emotions and take care of yourself. Sometimes your subject may share a story which is distressing to you personally (though not always to them). Strategies to cope with this may include, discussing this with the person, distancing yourself from the person (for a time), or possibly even engaging in counselling.
The past pain of those we create a biography for can be easy to take upon ourselves. Try and refrain from doing so by determining strategies, in advance, to look after the needs of yourself and your subject.
Though the biography process is often a therapeutic process, remember your role and skills lie not in counselling (unless you are a trained counsellor). There may be times when it is appropriate and necessary to refer the person onto additional services.
The process of creating a biography is a unique journey for each individual person. The finished biography is a reflection of the life of a person, so no two will ever be the same.
I hope as you have found this post helpful, whether you’re a biographer yourself or considering having someone document your own story.
Life is filled with moments that matter. I feel honoured to hear these stories and work alongside people to help craft their biography.
If you’d like to learn more about my biography packages or book a free consultation to discuss your project, contact me using the button below.
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I’ve always related biographies to the rich and famous indeed! I didn’t know of bespoke biography packages, and these tips are certainly a great eye-opener into the genre. Thanks for writing this, Steph!
Hi Stuart, thank you for reading today’s post and for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Biography is certainly a broader genre than generally perceived. Bespoke Biography is certainly a great experience overall and a service I’m honoured to be able to offer people.