The other day Lauren Abramo pointed out this piece to me and it brought to mind how much the category of true crime non-fiction has changed over the last twenty or more years.
When I began representing books in this category, they were almost always published initially in hardcover and you could be sure once a high-profile crime was committed and someone arrested for it, there would be three or four authors rushing proposals out to publishers through their agents. I can actually remember one of my true crime writers coming through my office door with the proposal he had stayed up all night to finish just to beat out the next writer. When the Amy Fisher murder case happened, for example, my client’s book was one of three made-for-TV movies that aired.
Advances for true crime in those days could be substantial, which is why so many people wanted to get in the game, so to speak.
Over the years though, these books came to be published only in a mass market paperback format and advances went way, way down. That was the bad news; the good news is that full proposals are no longer necessary, especially for writers who have previously published in the category. Even when there needs to be some kind of a proposal, it nowhere near as complete as it once had to be.
True crime today is fairly formulaic. It must have a sensational murder; the characters need to be people whom the reader can truly relate to and it doesn’t hurt if there is lots of money and sex involved.
We are still handling several true crime titles every year and, though the advances are low, they very often earn out and so the writers earn royalties (which they generally didn’t when the advances were higher). Still, this is a very difficult category to succeed in. It takes someone who is persevering, energetic and patient enough to search out just the right cases.
If you have any questions about this category, I am happy to try to answer them.