What are the differences between autobiographies and biographies?
The two words are not interchangeable.
And neither is a subset of the other.
Once you get a handle on what sets them apart, you’ll never get them confused again.
You’ll be able to explain the difference between autobiography and biography as proficiently as any publisher or semantics expert.
And you’ll know just how to market your book to get your ideal reader’s attention.
Let’s get started.
- The Difference Between Autobiography and Biography: 7 Distinctions You Should Know
- 1. Autobiographies are written by (or with) the subject.
- 2. Autobiographies are in the first person; biographies are (typically) in the third person.
- 3. Biographies don’t require the permission of the subject.
- 4. Autobiographies can include the subject’s thoughts and feelings.
- 5. Autobiographies are more subjective; biographies are meant to be more objective.
- 6. Autobiographies generally cover the entire life from childhood to the present.
- 7. Autobiographies inform the reader about the subject’s motives.
The Difference Between Autobiography and Biography: 7 Distinctions You Should Know
You’re here for one reason: to finally settle the autobiography vs. biography question. Maybe someone asked you, and you weren’t sure of your answer. Or perhaps you’ve confused autobiography and biography one too many times.
You’re not alone. And you’re about to learn the critical differences and what these two have in common.
1. Autobiographies are written by (or with) the subject.
If you’re writing a book about your own life, you’re writing either an autobiography or a memoir.
Even if you’re paying a ghostwriter to write most or all of it for you, based on conversations with them, you’re still considered the author, and it’s still an autobiography (or memoir).
Every autobiography results from the subject’s own writing or a collaboration between the subject and their ghostwriter.
2. Autobiographies are in the first person; biographies are (typically) in the third person.
With an autobiography, you address the reader using the first-person point of view. You’re telling them a story about your life.
Since someone other than the subject (or their ghostwriter) writes the biography, it’s written about the subject — not from their point of view. The author of a biography typically refers to the subject using the third person.
Using the third person creates distance between the narrator and the subject.
3. Biographies don’t require the permission of the subject.
Before writing the book, the author of a biography may or may not reach out to the (living) subject. They may want the subject’s permission and input.
On the other hand, they may choose to write an “unauthorized biography” with shock value, in which case permission from the subject is more an obstacle than an advantage.
Much depends on whether the biographer has any real interest in understanding the subject and their motives.
4. Autobiographies can include the subject’s thoughts and feelings.
Unlike biographies, where the author typically doesn’t have access to the subject’s thoughts and feelings, the author of an autobiography does.
Because the author is the subject, they know and can share their deepest motives behind the actions they’ve taken. They remember thoughts that came right before they did something they regret (or not).
They remember how they felt during the most significant moments of their lives.
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5. Autobiographies are more subjective; biographies are meant to be more objective.
Biographies are supposed to be objective retellings of the subject’s life or the most noteworthy parts of it.
Autobiographies, by contrast, are more subjective since the one writing them is the subject.
When you write your autobiography, you give the world your unique take on your life, what happened to you, and what you did with it.
Your autobiography is not meant to be objective; it’s meant to be personal.
6. Autobiographies generally cover the entire life from childhood to the present.
Autobiographies generally cover the entirety of the subject’s (i.e., author’s) life up to that point. Memoirs typically focus on a particular part of the subject’s life.
Biographies, too, focus on certain parts or aspects of the subject’s life, whether it’s a scandal, a collection of little-known fact-based anecdotes, or the secret to the subject’s success (or downfall).
The point of a biography is to satisfy the ideal reader’s curiosity about the subject.
7. Autobiographies inform the reader about the subject’s motives.
Autobiographies focus less on facts than on the motives behind them — specifically the subject’s motives since those are the only ones the author knows.
The author-subject writing their autobiography is in a unique position to understand the true motives of their book’s main character.
And readers who genuinely care about that are more likely to take the subject-author’s word than that of an unauthorized biographer speculating as to the subject’s motives..
Now that you know the facts behind the biography vs. autobiography question, we hope you find it easier to explain the differences to anyone who asks.
Whatever type of life story you’re writing, may you have all the information, insight, and resources you need to make it unputdownable — and a credit to your name.