How to Write and Sell a Book of True Ghosts Stories

The best way to start is to read several books on self-publishing and self-marketing. I recommend The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross. They have also written an excellent book on publishing regional books whose name escapes me. Ask your librarian. The essential books on marketing are 1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer and Publicity for Books and Authors by Peggy Glenn.

Finding Stories

Check newspapers, particularly the week/weekend before Halloween. In my experience, this is when ghost stories are published (at least, from the 1970s on). If your local newspaper is indexed, check under keywords like Ghost (s), Haunted Houses, Spooky, Spiritualism, Folklore, Apparitions.

Check county histories—you can skim through them pretty quickly, looking for headings like “A Curious Appearance” or “Ghostly Doings” or “A Local Ghost”. Watch our for “joke” ghost tales where the apparition turns out to be a white cow seen by a drunkard or something equally silly. Books or pamphlets put together by local groups for community anniversaries may also contain stories. Also the series of state books put out by the US government during the 1930s and early 1940s. Books on folklore may also be mined for material. See if your local library/historical society has ever done an oral history project. Ghost stories often show up there.

A quick note on copyright and using other people’s materials. Generally, anything printed before 1920 is in the “public domain” and you may use it freely. But it is nice manners, as well as good scholarship, to tell where you got the material. Newspapers of any date may be quoted as long as you give credit. If material does not say “Copyright” and a date and name of person copyrighting it, it is not copyrighted and you may quote at will. Again, please give proper credit. Of course, anyone’s material may be paraphrased if you don’t copy it too closely. Don’t steal, but borrowing is OK as long as you give credit.

Visit your state historical society library. Write all local/county historical societies in your state. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If you can, make appointments to visit local collections. There is no substitute for being on the spot. People are much more helpful when you are there in person, than through the mail. You can also ask if they know of any local folklore experts. The state historical society may have newspaper microfilms and indices.

Ask librarians if they have a folklore/ghost story/haunted house file in the vertical file/pamphlet section.

Also ask them if they have access to a computerized catalog of all the libraries in your state. You may be able to search by keyword or subject. The library can then order up the books through interlibrary loan or get photocopies of materials.

Write the editors of all newspapers in your state, asking for true ghost stories. You should give copies of the finished book to all people/institutions contributing stories.

Write the directors/proprietors of all historical houses, state parks, and other sites as well as historical theatres, churches, inn, etc. to ask if they have any stories. College archivists are also sometimes helpful. Again, remember the stamped, self-addressed envelope.

I made a list of famous people from my state, then skimmed their biographies/memoirs for ghost stories and paranormal experiences. Try this with your state.

Post your want for stories on the internet in some ghost story or folklore site. FATE magazine also has a section where they will post your request for free. One very valuable resource is a book called The Geobibliography of Anomalies, which indexes ghosts and other weird things up to about 1970 by state. The author, George Eberhardt, also indexed every story in FATE Magazine up to that date, including names of people involved, locations, and types of phenomena. This book is no longer available, so ask your librarian about getting it through interlibrary loan.

After your first book, you will be swamped with stories so expect to do a sequel.

Writing Your Book

Decide if you will include only true ghost stories or if you will also include “folklore” stories. Will you include historic ghosts (past hauntings that have stopped) or only contemporary ones? Will you fictionalize your stories, adding color and dialog, or treat them in a more straightforward, journalistic fashion? Will you only collect ghost stories or will you include stories of bizarre crimes, UFOs, Bigfoots, etc?

Are you yourself “sensitive”? This is a plus for a ghostwriter.

It is unwise to give locations of private homes or their owners’ full or real names. You are just asking for a liability problem. Ask all contributors what name they would like you to use. I often use first names only or fake names, which were marked with an asterisk.

It is very desirable to give addresses of buildings open to the public or list ghost tours available. Maps are also a plus. The more public buildings you can include, the better.

Readers love to see photographs of the places involved. Drawings are OK, but photos are better. If you have a story about a photo which shows a ghost, don’t you dare write about it unless you print the photo.

I always send contrbutors a copy of the finished story before the book is printed. If something is factually incorrect, you have a chance to correct it. I do not ask for contributors’ approval of the story or the way I portrayed them, just whether the facts are right. People often have second thoughts when they see their stories down in black and white. You will have to decide how you will handle this issue. I suggest taping all interviews with contributors so there are no misunderstandings. If you are truly paranoid, make contributors sign a release saying they will not sue you. Or run your manuscript by a lawyer to see if it contains anything libelous.

Never promise a contributor that their story will appear in their book. It might have to be cut for one reason or another and they will be most unhappy.

Protect your contributors’ privacy as much as they desire. Be suspicious of anyone who wants publicity—they may be making it all up. I never demanded testimony under oath or under the influence of truth serum, but use some common sense. There are patterns to ghost stories and you will quickly spot what they are. People who are making things up go too far. When you hear the same story from many different people, it may be real or it may be folklore.

Please title your book Haunted Indiana or Ghosts of Chicago. I once had a book called Peripheral Vision. The subtitle was “Ghost Stories from Swans Island, Maine”, but by that time, who was reading? Avoid obscure titles. Put the word “Haunted” or “Ghost” or “Spirits” in the title so everyone knows immediately what the book is about. “Although I’ve had people ask me, “What’s a Haunted Ohio?”) This also helps people looking in Books in Print for books on this subject.