View Full Version : Non-fiction Crime Drama?

08-10-2005, 12:34 AM
I'm thinking about putting together a book proposal. This is a real newbie's question, but here goes: Is it OK to write (non-fiction/true-life) about a crime, which deals with people who are still alive? I mean, what are the legalities involved? Does it matter, as long as there is no libel involved?

08-15-2005, 03:40 PM
This is absolutely useless but it really depends. Have these people been convicted of a crime? Did being convicted of this crime or at least being accused of it make them public figures? And if they weren't actually convicted or even charged, do you have law enforcement officials publicly saying they commited the crime?

The less public and the less guilty someone is in legal terms, it becomes shakier and shakier to write about them.

08-20-2005, 07:14 AM
Among other things, I write about true crime cases (3 books published thus far) though these have all concerned crimes between 60-150 years ago. When I proposed a trilogy of cases to my publisher about a fairly recent case, I was referred to the legal department to go over just this concern. If the crime is solved, you don't have as many problems. If YOU propose to solve it, there are resounding liability issues. Maria Flook, in her book INVISIBLE EDEN, managed to write a book about an unsolved case without problems -- she used her own story/background as the framing device for the case. You might want to take a look at it. It's not my proverbial cup of tea, style-wise, but it's interesting.

In his book WRITING BESTSELLING TRUE CRIME AND SUSPENSE, Tom Byrnes has a chapter on this issue. A good resource.

Good luck!

08-21-2005, 07:24 AM
I did some research on libel not long ago, and here is what I found:

You can't get hurt writing the truth. Just make sure it IS the truth.

The person you're writing about must have a reputation to protect (income) and must be able to prove that you damaged it to the tune of X number of dollars. It seems funny, but in a libel suit they are required to prove you did something wrong, just like in criminal court. You don't have to prove anything. Most libel suits are filed against tabloids and a few legitimate newspapers who have let their reporters run wild. I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Perdita, may we know the names of your books? I love true crime and would love to read them.

08-21-2005, 05:20 PM
In an ideal world, maybe. I was sued by someone on the periphery of a criminal investigation and though I ultimately prevailed, I spent a small fortune in legal fees. Now I get "pre-approved" by my publisher and it's THEIR lawyers that handle the legal issues.

You need to clearly document EVERYTHING you uncover and keep clear records of interviews and your chain of "evidence". True Crime books are not afforded the same rights as journalists no matter what the First Amendment says.

In regards to my books -- I'm NOT one of the big three in this genre and though I appreciate your interest in my work, I prefer the anonymity of this forum. I'm not supposed to talk about this lawsuit, for example, mentioned above by court order and so by keeping things vague, I can speak freely. But thank you.

08-21-2005, 06:41 PM
In an ideal world, yes. I agree with you, Perdita. If you paid only a "small" fortune you are fortunate!

Sorry I can't read your work. Most true crime writers are not in the Big Three (let's see, who would that be...Ann Rule, for sure, Carlton Stowers and Aphrodite Jones? or Jack Olsen?) I think I have read every true crime book ever written, and am constantly searching for new ones. My dream is to write one some day.

I appreciate your desire for privacy. Thanks for writing.