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MarkEsq
10-31-2007, 11:36 PM
I am mulling the idea of adding a true crime work to the list of litereary to-dos. But then I got to wondering - do they sell well? Is the massive amount of research/interviewing rewarded by sales? Not even in terms of money necessarily, I'm thinking interest, too (I supppose they amount to one and the same).

Also, how do you know when a crime is interesting enough? How does this sound: nice, clean cut college kid gets into drugs and one night kills a female friend. Then he cuts her up in the bathtub and flees to Mexico with his new girlfriend. They are found, brought back, and he gets 50 years (she 10 for helping). No great twists and turns, no real mystery about who did it... but it might be a compelling tale, no? I have access to the cops, prosecutors and judge, for sure, and as a former crime reporter have some sort of platform/ability.

Any other true crime writers here? What think you?

DeleyanLee
11-01-2007, 12:01 AM
I don't write true crime, but I read it.

It's not just the crime that can intrigue a reader of this genre, but the length, depth and twists and turns of the investigation--how did the authorities figure it out, make the arrest and bring them to justice?

And the genre doesn't seem to be doing badly for Ann Rule, among others. *shrug* The fascination with bad people is pretty universal, after all.

Darguza
11-01-2007, 12:46 AM
If I have a choice, I'll read true stories before fiction. It's a bizarre reality check to know it could happen to you.

Uncarved
11-01-2007, 12:54 AM
I read it and I'm working on a true crime book myself.

Arisa81
11-01-2007, 01:20 AM
I read it too and have had book ideas running through my mind, like a collection of female criminals of the early 1900's, something like that. I wouldnt' even know how to get started or if it's something I could do, but the fascination is definitely there.

SHBueche
11-01-2007, 02:01 AM
Mark, I didn't read your avatar but I was reading the story and thought, "Hey that crime occurred in Austin," then saw that you live in Austin. Going to the Book Festival this weekend? I enjoy true crime, especially the books that delve into the persons involved and don't focus on the court transcripts, as much. Some true crime books merely transcribe public documents. Anyway, I think there is a big readership for true crime, especially those that are written well. It's not the crime, per sa, it is more the details in the story that lend themselves to a well-crafed book/read.

Soccer Mom
11-01-2007, 05:36 AM
I've been toying with the idea for one on a case I worked. I think it will have to wait until I leave the DA's office (and I don't plan to do that anytime soon.)

Jack Olsen comes to mind as another successful True Crime writer.

Like Shelley said, the crime itself is merely the framework for your story. Even though it's nonfiction, it's still a story.

Will Lavender
11-01-2007, 06:53 AM
I think they do sell.

Harold Schechter's The Devil's Gentleman got him a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review last week. I'm in the bookstore weekly and see quite a few true crime stories on the front shelves. There are as many true crime books as there are any nonfiction category with the exception of history. (And it has to be said that a lot of big-time true crime books are historical in scope.)

Seems like platform is highly important in true crime. It's important in all nonfic, of course, but perhaps even moreso in true crime. A lot of historians, professors, journalists who originally covered the crimes discussed in the book.

But I think the Capotesque "nonfiction novel" is still alive and well. I read it (got Linda Spalding's bizarre and wrenching Who Named the Knife on my bedside table right now, in fact), and I'm a big-time novel guy.

rugcat
11-01-2007, 08:33 AM
If youíre not a name author, it usually takes a crime that people have at least heard about to catch the publicís interest. But in that case, thereís usually competition.

Back in the mid eighties, when I was a police officer in Salt Lake City, a man named Mark Hoffman was involved in forgeries of LDS historical documents and murder, by means of bombs. It got quite a bit of news play.

I thought seriously of doing a true crime book on the case Ė two of the lead investigators on the case, one on the murders, one on the forgeries, were close friends of mine. I also knew most of the other key players.

But I hadnít yet published anything, and there were at least three separate people, with credentials, all working on books about the case. Not only did they have names, they also were able to pay some of the principles for exclusivity in interviews.

I regret not following through, but it was probably for the best. All the books were excellent, considerably better than anything I could have done at the time.

AnneMarble
11-01-2007, 08:34 AM
I would suggest joining some of the true crime mailing lists or reading the true crime blogs. Some well known true crime authors hang out in those groups, so you can learn about their work and read their thoughts about the true crime field. The TrueCrimes Group at YahooGroups is a good start: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TrueCrimeGroup. Another possibility is the Crime and Criminals group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Crime-and-Criminals/) as lots of TC writers belong to that group.

Some of the major true crime blogs include Crimerant (http://www.crimerant.com/) (M. William Phelps' blog) and In Cold Blogger (http://incoldblogger.blogspot.com/) ("A True Crime Compendium From the Leading Voices in the Genre"). Crimerant also includes links to the True Crime Blogroll, which includes lots of other great true crime blogs. Oh, and though it concentrates on historic true crime, Clews (http://laurajames.typepad.com/clews/) is also good for reviews, etc.

From what I've read in these groups and blogs, true crime authors are often frustrated by the lack of respect they get. While the Schechter book did get reviewed, and by the NYT no less, it's actually very rare for most true crime books to get reviewed. Even Publishers Weekly doesn't seem to review many of them, or if they do, their reviews don't show up on Amazon.com. Publishers don't help their image with tacky titles (such as "Kill Grandma for Me"), covers that proclaim "Eight Pages of Shocking Pictures," and horrid covers with grainy photographs. (Pinnacle, can you hear me? :e2Order:) All factors out of the hands of readers.

There are a lot of people who give the genre no respect at all, or give their respect only to a few rare books, such as In Cold Blood, and treat the rest like garbage. For example, a bookseller recently blogged about (http://booktrout.blogspot.com/2007/10/pruning-bookstore.html) how he contemplated getting rid of his true crime section because everyone who visits those shelves is a "weirdo" who freaks him out. Also, many true crime writers have complained that the TC sections at most stores are getting smaller. :cry:

melaniehoo
11-01-2007, 08:44 AM
I'd read a true crime anytime. I admit I don't actively seek them out, but I'm always thrilled when I come across one that sounds interesting. I look to the back to see what it's about, not the author's name, so I hope you don't let that deter you.

Good luck!

Zelenka
11-01-2007, 11:52 AM
I don't write true crime but I read a fair bit of it. Those sorts of books seem popular over here in the UK, and especially here in Glasgow - a large proportion of the books in my local booksellers are about Glasgow gangland, murders, heists, that sort of thing. I've been reading a lot of books by James Morton recently too for research for a fictional book, but he does a lot of gangland / true crime stuff.

MarkEsq
11-01-2007, 07:54 PM
Thanks for all the input and suggestions. I assume that TC is like other non-fiction and that one queries it the same way - i.e. before writing it. If so, I would also assume a TC agent would only say "yes" if he/she thought it would sell. Hadn't thought of that before, but it seems like a good way to know, would y'all agree?

AnneMarble
11-01-2007, 08:08 PM
I don't write true crime but I read a fair bit of it. Those sorts of books seem popular over here in the UK, and especially here in Glasgow - a large proportion of the books in my local booksellers are about Glasgow gangland, murders, heists, that sort of thing. I've been reading a lot of books by James Morton recently too for research for a fictional book, but he does a lot of gangland / true crime stuff.
I've heard the market for true crime is much better in the UK. As a reader, I'm envious. :cry: Finding books on notorious UK crimes is really hard here. Most people in the U.S. don't even know who Myra Hindley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myra_Hindley) is!
:Wha:
(BTW I added a link.)

I think it's telling that True Detective magazine ceased publication in the U.S. years ago. But their UK editions were still successful, so IIRC a UK company bought True Detective and the other magazines in its fold, so they are still published in the UK. I think they even have weekly true crime magazines! This is their website (http://www.truecrimelibrary.com/trolleyed/index.htm) if you're interested in them. Too bad it costs too much to subscribe to them in the U.S. (There is supposed to be a monthly or quarterly U.S. magazine, but I haven't seen it.) I'm not sure if they accept submissions from freelance authors. If so, they might be a good market.

nerds
11-01-2007, 08:11 PM
re: the crime in question - I actually followed that case in the online Austin papers pretty closely because I was so spooked by Laura Hall's aspect. I'm not a crime person, I'm too squeamish for it, but she is one spooky chick, and I couldn't look away.

The one true crime writer I'm crazy about is the late Tommy Thompson, who was brilliant at getting at the backgrounds of people and leading you deep into their webs. If it can be shown how the principals in the Austin case arrived at such a point, such a deed - not just at the moment but over the course of developing their personalities - I think it would be a good read, yes.

Will Lavender
11-01-2007, 08:57 PM
If youíre not a name author, it usually takes a crime that people have at least heard about to catch the publicís interest. But in that case, thereís usually competition.

Back in the mid eighties, when I was a police officer in Salt Lake City, a man named Mark Hoffman was involved in forgeries of LDS historical documents and murder, by means of bombs. It got quite a bit of news play.

I thought seriously of doing a true crime book on the case Ė two of the lead investigators on the case, one on the murders, one on the forgeries, were close friends of mine. I also knew most of the other key players.

But I hadnít yet published anything, and there were at least three separate people, with credentials, all working on books about the case. Not only did they have names, they also were able to pay some of the principles for exclusivity in interviews.

I regret not following through, but it was probably for the best. All the books were excellent, considerably better than anything I could have done at the time.

Do you know Simon Worrall's book The Poet and the Murderer that was based on this case, John? Highly recommended. Not only one of the best true crime stories I've read, one of the best books I've read period.

Worrall uses the theme of forgery and works it beautifully. (The story begins not with the Hoffman case, but with the story of a fake book of Emily Dickinson's poetry.) His examination of how Hoffman forged those books is unbelievably interesting.

SHBueche
11-02-2007, 05:59 PM
Speaking of Austin and crime, did you know that Jack the Ripper supposedly struck and committed a crime in Austin? I agree about the UK market being a larger true crime market (and no, I'd never heard of Myra, but checked out the link) but unfortunately we still have quite a few lurid stories in the U.S. Stacy Peterson is only the latest one, but Mark, please write that book!

rugcat
11-02-2007, 07:55 PM
His examination of how Hoffman forged those books is unbelievably interesting. I have not read it but I will, should I ever have time to read again.

My best friend on the SLCPD did extensive work on those forgeries and told me a lot about them over the years, including the reactions of Mormon higher ups to the investigation.