Coaching Program

BIO’s coaching program, a benefit for members only, is designed to help biographers at all levels of experience, from those writing a first biography to veteran biographers who would like to share pages or a writing dilemma with a colleague. BIO offers two ways to request advice from another biographer: 1) face-to-face coaching at BIO’s annual conference; and 2) year-round coaching by phone and email.

To request a session with a BIO coach, send a brief summary of your project and a statement about your goals for the coaching session(s) to Michael Gately.

BIO coaches can provide feedback and advice in areas such as the following:

  • preparing pitch letters for potential agents
  • shaping a book proposal and sample chapter
  • improving interview skills
  • using libraries and archives effectively
  • dealing with subjects’ families and associates
  • creating a narrative out of the facts
  • publicizing one’s work
  • building an author platform

Conference Coaching

At BIO’s annual conference in May, participants may sign up to meet face-to-face with an experienced biographer. Each session lasts 30 minutes and costs $30. Anyone wanting a coaching session should sign up during registration. See the conference registration form (available in early February) for details.

Year-round Coaching

The coaches below are available for consultation with BIO members by email and phone. The discount fee for the first hour is $60. Subsequent hours will be billed at competitive rates set by each coach. The hourly fee includes time spent reading materials as well as time spent coaching by email or phone. For those seeking expertise beyond what the listed coaches can offer, BIO will attempt to find a BIO member with that expertise.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the fee for the first hour of coaching will be waived for up to five first-time biographers who need the financial assistance. Please verify that you qualify for the award in your email to Michael Gately.

Anne Boyd Rioux is the author of three books on women writers, including the biography Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, published by Norton in 2016 and chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the 10 best books of the year. She is also the author of a biography of a book, Meg, Jo, Beth Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, published by Norton in 2018 and chosen as one of the best books of the year by Library Journal, A Mighty Girl, and The Daily Mail. As an English professor for twenty years, with a Ph.D. in American Studies, she is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, one for public scholarship. She can offer assistance on archival research, narrative structure, writing a proposal, pitching agents, publicizing your work, and developing a platform. You can find out more about her at

Kate Buford, founding partner of Biography by Design LLC, is the author of Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe (Knopf 2010; U. of Nebraska 2012) was an Editors’ Choice of The New York Times and won awards from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the Professional Football Research Association (PFRA). Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Knopf/Da Capo 2002/Aurum UK 2000, 2002,2008) was named one of the best books of 2000 by The New York Times and others. Buford has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, and was a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition and APM’s Marketplace. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cathy Curtis is a former journalist and author of three recent biographies of twentieth-century artists, all published by Oxford University Press. Her book A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick, the first biography of the celebrated novelist and essayist, is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in 2021. Curtis’s current project is a biography of Edna O’Brien, the great Irish novelist, short story writer, and playwright. During the past few years, Curtis has mentored dozens of biographers working on a wide range of subjects, including a US president, religious leaders, artists, a porn star, a history-making attorney, a famous comedian, and a clinical pathologist. She can help you with all aspects of conceptualizing, researching, and writing your biography, including: finding the throughline for your book; writing your proposal; interviewing sources; using your time wisely at archives; selecting and honing your sample chapter(s); and fine-tuning your manuscript.

Gretchen H. Gerzina has written or edited nine books, several of which are biographies. Her first book was Carrington: A Life, a biography of the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington (Norton, John Murray, Chatto & Windus). Her second book was Black England: Life before Emancipation (Rutgers UP and John Murray); followed by an edited book Black Victorians/Black Victoriana (Rutgers UP); and Frances Hodgson Burnett: A LifeThe Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden (Rutgers UP and Chatto & Windus), and several editions of The Secret Garden. Her latest biography, Mr. and Mrs. PrinceHow an Eighteenth-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and Into Legend (Amistad) was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright award. Her latest edited book is Britain’s Black Past, based on a ten-part radio series she presented on the BBC. She hosted the nationally-syndicated author interview radio program  The Book Show for fifteen years, and has appeared many times on American and British radio and television. Currently the Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she was the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography at Dartmouth College, and the Eastman Professor at Oxford University. She has won two grants from the NEH and was a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar to Britain. In 2018 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2019 to the American Antiquarian Society.

Carl Rollyson is the author of fourteen biographies for adults, and four biographies for children. His biographies of Rebecca West and Amy Lowell, and his study, A Higher Form of Cannibalism? Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography, were supported by NEH Fellowships. Three of his biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Dana Andrews, and Walter Brennan are part of the Hollywood Legends series published by the University Press of Mississippi. As editor of the series, he welcomes proposals for biographies of actors, directors, producers, and other legendary Hollywood figures. His two-volume biography, The Life of William Faulkner was published in the spring and fall of 2020. He has advised writers about researching, writing, and promoting biography for the last four decades, and he maintains a presence on Facebook and Twitter. A good example of one of his shorter biographies, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, was published in March of 2020.

Founding partner of Biography by Design LLC, Abigail Santamaria is the author of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), a biography of the communist poet Joy Davidman, perhaps best known today for being portrayed by Debra Winger in the Oscar-nominated film, Shadowlands. She is currently at work on the first adult biography of Madeleine L’Engle, under contract with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and has written for numerous publications including Vanity Fair. Abby earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, was a 2019-2020 Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellow, and has received grants from the NEH and Sustainable Arts Foundation. She is an experienced editor and coach, equipped to help fellow biographers address a full range of bio-centric needs, from research quandaries to chapter structure to proposal writing.

Carol Sklenicka’s two full-length biographies of American fiction writers—Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer (Scribner, 2019) and Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life (Scribner, 2009)—have received national acclaim and multiple awards. To research her proximate biographies of recently deceased subjects, Sklenicka has drawn upon personal interviews, social media, periodicals, cultural history, and archival collections to write densely layered first biographies. She began writing biographies after earning her Ph.D. in literature from Washington University in St. Louis and teaching writing at Marquette University and The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. She can assist other biographers with research techniques (including interviews, archive and library work, and online searching), dealing with subjects’ families and associates, and creating a narrative.

Will Swift, PhD, a co-founder of the BIO coaching program, writes on American leaders and British royalty of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the author of The Roosevelts and the Royals, The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm and Pat and Dick: The Nixons, A Portrait of a Marriage. He has been interviewed about political, presidential, and royal history on prominent radio stations across the country, on a variety of television programs, and he has been a featured speaker at the Richard Nixon, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy libraries. Dr. Swift has been in private practice as a clinical psychologist and marital therapist in Manhattan for over thirty-five years. He is open to coaching beginning as well as experienced biographers on all aspects of the art and craft of biography including writing and editing proposals, sharpening book themes, approaching sources, developing interviewing skills, obtaining blurbs and promoting a book.