True Crime titles obviously carry weight. The topics are sensitive, and many times, there are surviving family members of victims and perpetrators. Digging up the past can be traumatic for them. In addition, there are many facts to the story, and those must be central to your writing.
In essence, it is the author’s responsibility to ensure the story is told with the utmost accuracy and objectivity, while still maintaining sensitivity to your subjects and your readers.
First, let’s look at the sensitivity to families. The family members will be reliving a traumatic time in their lives, so it is vital to present your story in the most factual way possible. Keep your speculation to a minimum, and make sure that any speculation you include is aware of itself. Make sure it looks like speculation and that you are making a connection. Do not present your speculation as a fact.
You cannot be cavalier with the facts of a true crime story. Not only will this inform your own credibility, it will shape how your reader feels about you. Your responsibility is to the facts – the verifiable facts. Basically, if you stick to verifiable facts, you don’t have to explain why you included a particular aspect. When you stray from that, and include yourself in the story, you are going to run into problems.
Remember, this story isn’t about you as the author. It is about the story, and the victim (in most cases). In some cases, in which someone has been wrongly convicted, your responsibility is to that person. It’s important to remember these are people’s lives that you are writing about. It’s a topic to you, but some people are living this.
You show your respect by doing your due diligence and presenting a fact-based case.
Remember that while the book will read like a mystery, these stories almost always end in tragedy. We aren’t here to sensationalize the story. That doesn’t serve anyone – the author, the families, the victims, and the readers.
If your case is unsolved or cold, and you speculate on the information you have, you must be sensitive. If you speculate on a potential killer, you’d better be correct. This would have a profound effect on someone’s life, so you don’t throw accusations around lightly. At the same time, if someone has been convicted, and you are arguing they are not the perpetrator, be sensitive to the fact that families and many others may still believe that person is the killer.
None of this prevents you from creating a fantastic book with a great story. What it does is force an author to take the project seriously and give it the amount of work that it requires.