Crime does pay: for writers

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The Independent Online
HOWARD OGDEN, former solicitor for Frederick West, the alleged mass murderer, could console himself this week with a little light reading, as his reported plans to make pounds 1m from the events at Cromwell Road, Gloucester, collapse. In his local bookshop he will find three new books on the most recent cause macabre to reach the shelves - the brutal murders in Jersey of Elizabeth and Nicholas Newall.

For the Newalls, as for every killing that captures public attention, there waited an army of authors. The higher the body count, the more lurid the details, the bigger their payday - hence Mr Ogden's reported intention to retire on the proceeds of his intended project.

Few things can snare public interest like sons battering and burying their parents, so Blood Brothers, A Blood Betrayal and Murder in the Family are all expected to sell well, arriving in the shops within two weeks of Roderick and Mark Newall being sentenced.

Murder publishing is a market worth hundreds of millions of pounds worldwide. Ten years ago, few authors wrote true crime; now, multitudes do. Nick Robinson, who publishes a wide range of true-crime titles, including one of the best about Jeremy Bamber, says: 'The market is large but very crowded so we have to be careful. Research shows that the majority of the readers are women.'

Not all publishers are so sensitive. Headline Publishing, which launches Murder in the Family this week, offers a range from Holy Killers, 'true stories of murderous clerics, priests and religious leaders', to Means to a Kill, a comprehensive encyclopaedia of murder methods and corpse disposal'.

One commissioning editor, who did not wish to be named, said he was surprised by the appeal of true crime: 'Many books are just 'here's a lot of blood and guts' but we wrap it up with 'this is an investigation into the mind of a killer'. To make money from these books you have to have a bestseller or get your money back on a serialisation deal. Either that or you can commission a 'hack job' for pounds 5,000 and make sure it comes out first.'

Sales of murder 'encyclopaedias' seem to be tailing off. Colin Wilson, author of several murder anthologies, said the boom period was 10 years ago: 'At the moment, what's wanted are books about single killers. It's terribly important to have psychological penetration of the subject.'

Books thatoffer insights into the motivation of individual notorious killers remain huge moneyspinners. Dennis Nilsen, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Moors Murderers and Charles Manson were selling well last week, according to Thalia Proctor at the bookshop Murder One in central London. 'Most of the time they are bought by fairly ordinary-looking people,' she said. 'Then you get the 'mental'-looking ones. They have a lot of piercings and tend to go purely for the serial killers, the more sick the better.'

Multiple deaths with a kinky or violent sexual element boost the market value further. The West case has sent journalists, authors and publishers into a lather. The race is on to see who can produce the first book; then the fight will be to see who can produce the best.

At least six have been commissioned. Gordon Burn, author of Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son, about the 'Yorkshire Ripper', is said to have been paid a pounds 200,000 advance. A work by Brian Masters, author of two popular books on Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer, is reported to be worth an advance of at least pounds 150,000.

And Frederick West's oldest surviving children, Steven and Mae, are believed to have signed a pounds 100,000 deal to help with a book.