Monday, March 30, 2009

When Is It Too Early to Publish a Book?

by Laura James

Long gone are the days when a true-crime author—like William Roughead, or Truman Capote more recently—waited until after the verdict to write the whole story (or, in Capote's case, after the hangings). In the instant era, books speed to release, and the publishers are becoming even quicker about releasing true-crime titles in particular.

Readers seem to be of two minds when it comes to quick releases.

Many say they won't read a book that comes out before the trial even starts. Others hold that a book can be quickly written and still be well done. But if put out early, the timing of the release will dominate all reviews forever.

Some readers are really unhappy.

On a book about Laci and Scott Peterson: "This was obviously written BEFORE the trial and has no pertinent information at all about what happened after Scott's arrest. Hardly the 'whole story' advertised."

On Robert Graysmith's book about Bob Crane: "We learn nothing about Carpenter's trial (an integral part of this entire story) because Graysmith and the publisher couldn't seem to wait until the trial was over, to send this book to the press."

On another true-crime title: "I also don't understand why this book was written before the trial."

The booksellers who specialize in true crime consistently tell me that many true-crime fans buy not the first book about any given case but the fourth or the twelfth or the twentieth. Many of us who study human depravity for a pastime or a career find a case that especially intrigues us, and we read everything we can about it. Some cases that have inspired such intense study are Lizzie Borden, Bruno Hauptmann, Jack the Ripper, and so on. So the first book a reader buys may well not be the last, particularly if the first isn't entirely satisfying.

Readers are fickle and inconsistent, simultaneously lamenting early books while snapping them up. . . .
One writer recently picked up an early book out about Austria's Fritzl case and reports: "If you want to read Monster, I'm afraid I bought the last copy at Borders. But just wait a month or so, and I'm sure there'll be more comprehensive alternatives. It's perverse, I know. But I can't wait."

Though quickly produced true-crime titles will always have their critics, in the end it is the quality of the publication and not its release date that matters the most, don't you agree? Is there a line to be drawn? After the verdict? After sentencing?

Readers, writers, and publishers can't seem to make up their minds, but one thing is certain: more of these quickly produced books will be on the shelves in the future (and Kindles, and cell phones. . . .)


Cheryl Dubey said...

Reading a true crime book before the trial is like watching a movie and skipping the ending.

Most of the key players won't or aren't allowed to discuss the case before a trial and so much more information is released to the public during a trial that its foolish to read a book before hand.

Sibby said...

I am one of those types that will read multiple books on the same crime. One case in particular for me was the Ann Marie Fahey case. There were four books that I found on that case and I read them all. Each one gave a slightly different perspective, which I found helped give me a broader viewpoint of the case.

Leah said...

I never buy a book that is published before the trial. I don't see the point.

Yvette Kelly said...

One tip is that St Martin's Paperbacks is not strict about the trial being over before publishing but Kensington books will only sign a contract with a writer after the trial is done.So for readers who want a proper ending then this is the way to go.I was also disappointed with the Josef mad father from Austria book.I grabbed the first book that came out and was left with more questions than ever.

Kathryn Casey said...

Hey Laura,

I'm a bit slow, so my books are always out after the trials, which I attend and include, but I'm wondering, do you think Capote really needed to wait to publish until after the executions? I don't know anyone who does that today, and I've never felt that was necessary. I've always been of the opinion that Capote dragged it out because of the complicated relationship he had with Perry Smith.

Anonymous said...

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I learned the hard way that a publisher has its own ideas about things and if you want to play with them, you have to make allowances. When I learned what the deadline would be on my own manuscript, I was flabbergasted--it was well before the trial would be finished. What I decided was I had to put my professional training into high gear and come up with both reporting and storytelling that would stand up and be worthwhile no matter what happened next. I think I've accomplished that. We've been able to put the final chapters in anyway before the book hits the stands. I feel proud of what I created and am forced to admit the premature deadline ended up putting me in place for some amazing opportunities in regards to the case and the players. But it was NOT my choice and it was agony at the time. So, when you see an early book, don't write it off immediately and don't be so quick to simply tsk tsk at the author. There may be a lot of forces at play and the story may well be excellent and meaty and satisfying, with a proper ending, too.