Once you have written a book, you are always approached by people who want to write, or want you to write, about a case they have always thought would make a great book. The self-publishing world means anyone can write true crime. The BIG question is, should they?
An award-winning author and I were discussing this recently; he made a comment about "authors" who gleaned their information from online resources, stole phrases and paragraphs from other writers, wrote it all down -- and called it their "book." Then there are the "books" citing the exact information that can be recited by hardcore crime junkies, chapter after chapter, of the same perpetrators that have continually made the Killer Hall of Fame (They are known by last name: Bundy, Manson, Dahmer...). Chapter 1: Manson. Chapter 2: Bundy... And the reader gets to re-read the same information that has been recited in the other twenty-odd books. Information regurgitated for no other purpose except to shock and sell books.
My pal, author Lowell Cauffiel, and I agree a true crime book needs to have a "behind the scenes" story. Lowell's book "Forever & 5 Days" is about two female serial killers preying on victims in a nursing home, but it is also about how we, as a country, treat our elderly. It is one of the best TC books written, in my opinion. My own book "The Devil You Know" was not just about the murder of a boy in a small town, but how society treats crimes against children in general, particularly in small communities.
A good author, a true TC author, goes into the trenches to get their story. Ron Franscell grew up with the victims in his book "The Darkest Night" and he interviewed one of the perpetrators. He is able to give a first-hand account of how the crime touched his neighborhood, the community, the town. Mara Leveritt immersed herself in writing "Devil's Knot," living in a Motel 6 during the lengthy trial. As a reporter for almost three decades, she knows the real story isn't found behind the safety of a computer desk, but on the streets where it lives and breathes, where people might - and might not - talk to you.
A good TC book is not written in a few months, only to sell for pennies. "The secret to a great crime book," best-selling author Lowell Cauffiel told me once, "is to write, rewrite, rewrite, then write it again." Anyone can churn out an eBook a month. They can turn around and sell it for .99 or give it away for free. This tells a lot about quality. Those of us who take pride in our work know its worth. Why spend two years of your life, thousands of dollars in editing and production, only to sell the book for .99?
TC authors make mistakes. When I released "When Nashville Bled" I was contacted by several people telling me there were a few glitches: incorrect name spellings, a few minor historical inaccuracies. This happens with writing. It can be edited over five times (as WNB was edited) and facts checked against facts (as all my books are done); information slips by. But when the inaccuracies are glaring -- multiple spelling, grammar, factual errors; information keeps changing, opinion becomes fact -- its time to check yourself.
Every crime has a perpetrator. More importantly, every crime has a victim. The word "victim" is ever-changing; it can mean the families, friends, community, town, neighborhood, anywhere and anyone close to the person slain. "Victim" can mean those close to the perpetrator: the mother who never knew their son was a pedophile, the sibling who never thought her sister could kill a child. As a true crime writer you owe it to the victims, both living and dead, to do their story justice. This means making it professional, making it real, making it the absolute best it can be. Do not treat their story frivolously or else you will be re-victimizing them all. By telling their story, you are taking on a huge and somewhat terrible responsibility. If you cannot grasp this concept, then think of it this way: Imagine for one moment your deepest, darkest secret is now open for all the world to judge; who would you want to write about it, The National Enquirer or The New York Times?
If you still don't understand the enormity of what you are about to do, then stick to reading about true crime.