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NF PB Biography: When to get blessing?

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Hello all-

I have seen some of the previous posts about obtaining permission from individuals or family members about writing a biography, but wanted to ask questions about my specific case.

I believe I have enough primary and secondary sources to  write a PB biography about my person of interest, especially as I will likely hone in on a particular time and accomplishment, versus telling their whole life story to date. I'm worried about getting "permission" b/c I would like to write the book on my own given my unique professional experience and perspective as POC. The subject has co-authored  and produced various adult media/books, is already agented and published, and has broad celebrity appeal. I'm concerned about the idea either getting usurped or a proposal to enter into a co-author relationship I'm not sure I would need nor want. While well known, he has no presence nor dominance in the children's publishing industry.  But, he is a savvy business person with his own adult lit agent who can navigate the field advantageously.

So my feeling is I should stay true to my vision/project and get it into the best shape. And if/when I receive any serious interest on the manuscript, alert the subject then for their blessing? At that point, the story is already written. If he says no, then basically I can still publish, but without his support and flurry of potential PR opportunities. But if he says yes, it's a potential goldmine of opportunity.

I'm usually not such a suspicious person, but certain industries can be more "shark-y" than others, and the subject of interest comes from an industry that can be more opportunist in nature. So I feel I should navigate these waters more carefully than my other fiction or narrative nonfiction books...

I welcome any advice or experiences you can share. Thank you!
#1 - April 08, 2018, 12:42 PM

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Generally, no you don't have to ask permission or get a "blessing." Unless you find a publisher who specifically asks for it. As long as what you are writing is true, well researched, & not defamatory you should be fine. I have no words of wisdom for your particular situation though.
#2 - April 08, 2018, 04:55 PM
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I know someone who couldn't sell their manuscript because she had no permission from the living person it's about. (She's sold other nonfiction picture books and won awards for them.) Some people don't like the whole unauthorized biography idea. It's just a factor for you to consider.

But you always have to be true to your vision first.
#3 - April 08, 2018, 08:18 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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This probably won't be any comfort to you, but there is always a risk that you'll get scooped when writing a picture book biography. It happens all the time. Sometimes being first to market is the only way to get published, but often there is room in the market for more than one biography and approach (Katherine Johnson, Ada Lovelace come to mind.) Obviously a subject writing about himself/herself has an advantage. Just know that nothing guarantees that you won't get scooped. It hurts when it happens, but it does happen.

So with that said, write the story you want to write. There's never any guarantee anything you write will be published, so do what satisfies you. There may be publishers who refuse an unauthorized biography, but if it's well-written, not libelous, and is likely to sell, my bet is that it could probably find a home. But honestly, you'll never know unless you try.

Best of luck.
#4 - April 09, 2018, 06:12 AM
« Last Edit: April 09, 2018, 04:12 PM by kwlarson »
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Everybody's given you great advice. I'm definitely in the camp of writing what you want to write and when a publisher expresses interest, have them get the permissions. You'll need them for things like pictures, art, etc. And sometimes it's even difficult for the publisher--this is one of the reasons one of my articles was never accepted. It was going to be too expensive to get rights to show his art. So you never know. But I also think there's no such thing as wasted writing. It's all good practice. Good luck with your project!
#5 - April 10, 2018, 09:35 AM
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Thanks all! Very good advice and things to think about. According to kwlarson, seems like my fear of "scooping" is very real, but to everyone's point I should write the book I envision, without fear! Thanks for the reminder that writing is never wasted...  Should I get the opportunity, seems I could figure out the sticky details of permissions/blessings later if there's any real interest. Thanks again!
#6 - April 12, 2018, 08:25 AM

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After my picture book biography, ADA LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, came out two and a half years ago, three more pb bios about her have been released. It's certainly nice to be first, but it's more important to make sure your book is the best it can be.

As far as getting a blessing, that's one of the reasons I choose to write about, as I call them, dead women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
#7 - April 28, 2018, 05:25 AM
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