"How do you decide what case to investigate for your true crime books?"
is an important question. Quite often, it is not I who decides, but
rather my publisher. The same is true for other true crime authors.
There is a "True Crime Checklist," and while this "checklist" may vary
slightly from publisher to publisher, the requirements remain much the
1. Recent case—preferably in the last 5 years, 10 on the outside if it’s a prolonged case.
2. Must involve a murder. No bank heists or other crimes, no matter how colorful.
3. No career memoirs by law enforcement professionals.
4. Killer must have been convicted.
5. Hot themes: women who kill; teens who kill; moms killing kids; husband/wife killings; serial murderers.
6. Shock value is a must. Interesting story with many twists and turns.
Must tell the full story objectively showing the case from many
angles—families, law enforcement, investigation, legal process—not just
one party’s point of view.
8. Not a family member’s memoir.
9. Must take a documentary, journalistic approach. No fictionalized scenes from the point of view of the deceased.
10. Must have at least one interesting female character.
11. Also needs compelling law-enforcement figures (DA’s, cops, investigators).
12. Author needs access to prime sources for interviews and photos.
13. Book should draw on court documents and testimony, letters and diaries if available.
14. Author should try to “sew up” sources exclusively to minimize risk of a competing book on the same case.
15. Author must provide written releases from sources for interviews and photos.
(30 – 35 photos suitable for cover and 16-page insert.)
16. Length: 90,000 to 100,000 words (occasionally longer).
fascinating cases have come to my attention that sadly do not fit the
"checklist" — murder cases more than 10 years old, astonishing stories
of elaborate scams — even a sixty million dollar con pulled on the
United States Department of Homeland Security — and many more…but
while these would make great reading for a lengthy magazine feature,
they don’t have the "ingrediants" of a best-selling true crime book.
I’m fortunate that my "disturbing" true crime books in the Pinnacle
True Crime series continue selling well internationally,
and proud that
the one true crime book of mine that violated almost everything on the
checklist (MAN OVERBOARD: The Counterfeit Ressurection of Phil
Champagne) was nominated for Best True Crime Book of the Year by the
World Mystery Convention. The funniest true crime aspect of that
publication, which was not by Pinnacle, is that the publisher went to
prison. That’s a great story too, but not one that meets the true crime