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Writing a biography? What are publishers looking for?

A select group of publishers were invited by the The Biographer’s club to discuss do’s and don’ts. Here’s what they had to say.

1. A quick turnaround.

Authors no longer have the luxury of 12 weeks in which to write their book. ┬áIf you’re a good biographer, a speedy writer, who can research and deliver a book with time to spare, publishers will love you.

2. Likeability.

It’s not enough for someone to simply exist in the public eye. If you want the attention of the book-buying public, they have to be well liked too. Everyone knows Mick Jagger but in terms of book sales, he comes a poor second compared to Michael Caine who is universally liked.

3. Find a gap in the market.

Before Katie Price’s first book sold millions, no one believed that there was a gap in the market for ‘glamorous working class women’. And they weren’t convinced that sales to blue-collar working-class men was worth going after either until a biography about an East End bare-knuckle fighter outsold its first print run. Learning point: assume nothing, put your prejudices to one side and find a gap in the market.

4. Say something new.

Rehashing old ideas mined from the same primary and secondary sources used by everyone else isn’t going go down very well. Far better to find something new and bring your imaginitive, fresh voice to it.

5. Go for authenticity.

The success of the misery memoir means it’s ok to admit that life wasn’t always easy and that there were obstacles to be overcome, better still if those obstacles were encountered throughout childhood and adolescence. It seems that autobiographies that have focused on those areas have done particularly well.

You can read the full transcript of the discussion here.

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