There’s no template for a life story
Recently, Biograph co-founder Aaron Greenberg sat down for lunch with Peter, a real-estate executive in Chicago. Peter spent his career building an empire of office buildings and condos, scattered across the Loop; he guided his company through the darkest days of the Great Recession, and emerged stronger and more flexible on the other side. He’s in his mid-fifties now, with a salt and pepper beard and an athlete’s body. He’s training for a triathlon, playing tennis religiously, and he’s even started rock-climbing, inspired by the film Free Solo. He has a focused intensity: he’s happiest when he’s tackling a new challenge, planning a new initiative. And, after twenty-five years in real estate, he was getting bored: tired of dealing with unruly condo boards and demanding loan officers. Restless, ambitious, always looking for a challenge, Peter settled on a new project: he wanted to write a book about the lessons he’d learned in his business career. As soon as the waiter put down the rolls and water, Peter cut right to the chase: “Aaron,” he said, “I like your company fine—and I like that you have a PhD and everything—but why should I hire you rather than one of the other guys?”
Biograph isn’t the only company out there helping people tell their stories. A quick Google search turns up scores of companies that offer some variation on a standard set of services: for a fee, they’ll produce a glossy book of family photos and stories. They apply a rigid process that limits the creation of your book: some services even dictate what typeface you can use. What begins as a deeply personal project—telling your life story—turns into a cookie-cutter product, as personal as a Hallmark card. In this crowd of corporate services, with their sleek, but interchangeable products, Biograph stands out.
“Our priorities are different,” Aaron assures Peter. “We work swiftly but deliberately. Rather than crank out books as fast as possible, we partner with our clients to create books that reflect their vision and their voice. We believe that there are as many styles of storytelling as there are storytellers. That really matters to us—it’s not just rhetoric. We’re adaptable and flexible so we can find a style of storytelling that matches your story. And we’ll treat your story with the same care that we treat our own—perhaps selfishly, since we know our stories are intertwined.”
Your story on your terms
Each Biograph book begins with a consultation, like Aaron’s lunch with Peter. We sit down with you and discuss how you want your book to look, sound, and feel. We don’t insist on a standardized process for gathering the materials for your book, as many other companies do. Instead, we design the process together. If you want Biograph writers to channel your voice and vision into a polished narrative, then our team is standing by, ready to help. But if you want to build the book yourself, with occasional editorial help from our team, we can do that too. If you’d like to conduct extensive in-person interviews, we have trained interviewers ready to sit down with you and listen to your story. If you’d rather respond in writing, we’ll work together to develop a set of questions that cut to the heart of your story. It’s your book: we’re here to help you realize it.
In Peter’s case, for example, it was important for him to write the book himself. He welcomed the challenge of mastering a new skill and looked to Biograph for support and troubleshooting. We interviewed Peter and the many people he had mentored over the years, giving him neat, edited transcripts that he could use as the foundation of the book. We provided him with several possible structures for the book, so that he could see how a professional writer might shape the material. And our editors helped him shape and polish his drafts. For Peter, Biograph ’s flexibility is key. It allows him to write the book that he wants to write—and to do so on his own terms—all the while knowing that, if he hits a wall, professional support and guidance is just a call or text away.
Designing your story
Our relationship with clients extends beyond writing and editing. We believe that books are living things. How a book looks and feels is vital: it conveys your vision and your voice to your readers. (After all, they may well judge your book by its cover). For us, book design is not a separate or subordinate task—and we don’t force our clients to choose from a few prefabricated options. We’re ready to nerd out with you about the most minute elements of designing and printing a book. We love thinking about the history of fonts, about paper stocks, about cover design.
For example, when we were designing Magda Riederman Schloss’ long-lost Holocaust memoir, We Were Strangers, we used ITC Veljovic as the font for the book’s headings. It’s a good-looking font, but not particularly showy or ostentatious; few readers will notice or pause over the choice. But the font comes out of a long tradition of Jewish typography, beginning with the Hadassah Printing School. As Magda describes a tradition of Jewish perseverance and resistance, the type of the book quietly supports her message: itself a witness to the continuity of Jewish intellectual and cultural traditions. We apply that level of care to each decision that goes into designing our books, so that your book is not just beautiful, but meaningful: an expression of your values and your voice.
Reach your audience
Some of our clients write for private audiences: their friends and family. Many of our clients have loftier ambitions to publish their stories for a worldwide, generation-spanning audience. Regardless how large or small your audience is, Biograph helps you get your book into their hands. Our team is skilled in navigating the intricacies of publishing and promotion. We can help you line up reviews in major publications; we’ll find a home for your book on the shelves of prestigious institutions. Indeed, our books have been collected in international libraries, like the Library of Congress and the Weiner Holocaust Library in the United Kingdom. Likewise, we’ve successfully orchestrated viral marketing campaigns for our books on Instagram and Twitter: if august libraries aren’t your taste, we can get your book in the hands of well-connected influencers who’ll spread the word about it across the internet. Whoever your audience is, we’ll help you reach it.
A continuum of service
Our services are flexible and collaborative. From our first conversation about your book to the day it lands in your readers’ hands, we ensure that it reflects your aspiration and your vision. And our services are affordable. Some of our competitors charge exorbitant fees to have a writer interview you or to do promotion for your book. Looking at these services, it can feel like you have to settle for less: discarding some services because they’re simply unaffordable. We make sure that the services our clients need are in reach, regardless their budget.
We advertise three different kinds of book—“The Portrait,” “The Book of Anecdotes,” and “The Memoir.” But our projects often don’t fit exactly into any of these three buckets. Peter’s book, for instance, can’t be categorized as a “Book of Anecdotes” or as “Memoir”—it’s an alchemical creation, a reflection of his priorities and his goals for the project. We’ve set up these options to give you a sense of the range of services we offer—not to limit your capacity to shape your own project.
This will be good for the book
These days, Peter is diligently completing his book. Every now and then, he shoots Aaron a text, for writing advice or to bounce ideas off a sophisticated sounding board. His book is slowly unfolding and taking shape. He feels invigorated by the challenge of writing: it has renewed his pleasure in daily obligations. “I feel like every time someone comes in my office with a question, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, can I use this for the book? Will this anecdote enlighten, entertain, or inspire?’” In other words, Peter has become a writer, someone who constantly searches his experiences for new material. He’s already sending emails discussing possible cover designs and typefaces; he’s drawn up a wish-list of the places he’d like to see it reviewed. (Top of the list: The Wall Street Journal, which he reads religiously, every morning).
A singular achievement
Biograph is committed to helping people tell their stories. It’s a great privilege to watch a client like Peter find his voice; to see his story take shape on the page. It’s also a great responsibility. We approach each project with solemn intensity: determined to get everything right, from the smallest detail of our clients’ biographies to the typography of their books. We’re committed not just to telling your story—but to telling it on your terms and in your voice. In order to do so, we’ve built a company that is flexible, adaptable, and collaborative. Unlike the mass-produced books our competitors churn out, each Biograph book is a singular achievement. The book you write with us will reflect the full richness and depth of your individuality—testifying to who you are for generations to come.