Ghost Hunting: What’s Important?

Ghost hunting means something different to every investigator.  It’s natural to expect others to think like you about this research.  You want them to be on your same wavelength… and maybe they are, pretty much.  However, no two people will feel exactly the same about every single aspect of ghost hunting.  Those aspects include:

  • Why you research ghosts and haunted places.
  • The evidence that you’re looking for… what you’ll excitedly tell others about, after the investigation.
  • The evidence that impresses you less.
  • The kinds of locations you like to investigate:  Battlefields, haunted residences and businesses, legendary sites (Salem Witch Trial sites, Bell Witch locations, the Myrtles Plantation, the Falstaffs Experience, etc.), cemeteries, abandoned hospitals and factories, etc.
  • The amount of time you’ll dedicate to one location, and how you prioritize your research when you’re there.
  • The size of your team and the skills of your team members.

These differences make each of us distinct, and uniquely able to contribute different evidence — and how we analyze it — to the field of ghost research, and paranormal studies in general.

Accepting those differences can be a challenge.  We all want to feel understood and supported in our respective research efforts.  This can be a very stressful field. It’s practically part of the job description.

Those of us experimenting with “what if..?” questions and research methods expect to be challenged, not just by eerie phenomena and anomalous discoveries, but by others in the field.  We’re not oblivious to the fact that some of our work looks a little odd.

Worse, we generally want to confirm our studies with years of supporting evidence, before presenting our theories.  In the interim, as we’re relatively quiet about our results — and sometimes ridiculed by those who don’t have our insights — it’s easy to have second thoughts about the “test pilot” roles we’ve adopted.

So, when looking at what others are doing, it may be important to suspend judgment or even disbelief.  A few factors can help you decide:

  • Is the person looking for attention?  If, from the start, the person has needed approval and attention from others on the team — in a distracting way — that’s a warning sign.  On the other hand, if the person seems to be happy enough, working quietly on his (or her) own, that can be a positive sign, depending on the circumstances.  (A person quietly testing incense as a “white noise” factor in visual anomalies can be a good thing.  A person who has to use a sage smudge at every site… not so good.)
  • Does the researcher have a track record for discovering things (that can be verified, impartially) that are unique and useful?  After all, someone had to be the first to try recording EVP, or measuring EMF anomalies.
  • Does the researcher generally adhere to consistent research standards and practices?  A one-time anomalous observation isn’t “proof” of anything, but if it seems to happen eight times out of ten at a haunted site… that’s worth testing further.

However, no matter how the person rates in those terms, one factor outweighs them all:  Is the researcher honest?

That’s not just about the work he or she is doing, but about his or her life, in general.  Without credibility as a foundation, no research theories or results can be taken seriously.

There can be no “white lies” in paranormal research.

That’s not just about research-related claims (like inflated CVs related to ghost hunting experience) but also liability issues:

  • A researcher with a chronic theft or shoplifting problem is a risk if you’re investigating homes and businesses.
  • A researcher who merely claims he’s faithful to his wife, but has been known to behave inappropriately, with sexual references… he can’t be trusted in the dark.
  • A team member who insists she’s always sober during investigations, but keeps showing up unsteady on her feet, and rambling when you need silence for EVP recordings… she can be a liability on many levels.

Those issues can extend into mental health areas, and it’s something team members need to be sensitive to.

But, at the core of our work, honesty is essential. It’s basic to genuine respect, within this field and among the public.

Mutual respect is equally important.  Once the professional slurs seep in, and reactive, defensive walls come up, we’ve lost important ground in this field.  Be aware of your biases, even when they seem well-founded.

EVP is controversial.  We know that EVP is fraught with credibility issues.  And, so far — EVP isn’t my strong suit.  The fact that I rarely get good recordings at even the most haunted sites… that doesn’t disprove EVP as a viable research tool.

As an example of someone working with extreme EVP techniques, see what John Sabol is doing.  For years, his unique and flamboyant research methods have raised eyebrows.  I was impressed from the start, but I’ve heard and read several unfair — and sometimes snide — comments about his work.

John now has a track record that’s earned him respect, and he’s invited to speak at ghost- and archaeology-related events, worldwide.  But, even within paranormal research, many people have never heard of John and his work. That’s a glaring omission, and a symptom of a larger problem in this field.

Real-time communication is controversial, especially non-standard techniques such as loosening the light bulb connection in a flashlight, on-the-fly EVP analysis, and tools such as a Frank’s Box.  I’ve seen all three work, convincingly, over and over again.

I’ve also seen (and heard) results where I blink and think, “You’ve got to be kidding.”  That doesn’t mean these tools and techniques aren’t valid.  Until we can standardize and refine our research methods, results must be evaluated by people who were there, and on a case-by-case basis.

Often, our conclusions are the result of the aggregate experience at a location.  It’s difficult to convey that context to someone who wasn’t there at the time.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain why some minute anomaly interests me, I’m reminded of when I try to tell jokes. (I’m terrible at jokes.)  As I describe flat-out weird anomalies, I find myself steadily saying, “Oh. Wait. I forgot to tell you…” And then I explain about the shadow figure.  Or the voice that the team recorded simultaneously on three different voice recorders, though no one heard anything like it in real life.

Ghost photos are still controversial as well.  I’ve steadily maintained that they can’t be the sole evidence on which you build your case for something paranormal.  And, I’ll admit that, for years, I was skeptical of most “orb” photos I’ve been shown.  Until I spent six years studying what I thought could cause false photographic anomalies, I dismissed the majority of orbs as reflections, moisture, and dust.

Mosquito at Portsmouth South Street cemetery.Not quite ghost hunting:  I’m receiving more “fairy” and “alien” photos from concerned ghost hunters.  The pictures are charming, and I hate to spoil people’s fun, but bugs are commonplace at many research sites.  It’s key to know what they look like in photos.

At right, that’s a mosquito. It’s one of many bug-related photos I took, deliberately, as part of my six-year study of photographic anomalies.

Is that kind of photo always an insect?  I’m not sure.  So far, I can easily create fake fairy and alien photos, but it’s a mistake to think that — just because something can be faked, easily — it’s always a fake.

My best tip for recognizing when bugs might be an issue at an outdoor investigation:  Regularly check streetlights near the research site.  If you see insects flying around them, you’ll probably see insects in your photos, as well.

However, I was dismayed when I was reading articles at a respected website — preparing to link to some of them — and I stumbled onto a dismissive phrase, “mere photos,” regarding evidence related to ghosts and haunted places.

I understand how that happens.  Defending what makes your own research unique, it’s easy to slight others’ research.   It can be unconsciously done, or it might be deliberate to align yourself (or attract supporters) who share that skepticism, whether it’s related to a specific researcher’s work, or a general category (such as ghost photos or EVP or EMF anomalies).

We need to become more aware of that easy habit — or misguided networking effort — especially as we expand into “what if…?” areas of paranormal research.

When you’re ghost hunting, it’s important to set goals and focus on them.

Your goals will determine what’s important to you.  Whether you’re at a haunted site for personal experience, to help a client, or to help a spirit, know your goals.

And then, keep improving yourself as a researcher, not to become better than everyone else, but to contribute expertise and theories to the ghost hunting field.

My advice

  • Know your own areas of expertise.   Even after 30 years of intensively studying ghost-related fields, I’m still an amateur in some aspects of paranormal research.  For example, when it comes to cryptozoology, I defer to Robin Pyatt Bellamy. Demons?  I refer people to John Zaffis and Pete Haviland, among others.
  • Know what you don’t really know.  If you haven’t done first-hand research, but you’re accepting the advice of experts (including me), test that advice yourself.  Trust no one.  Their information may be second-hand, it might be erroneous, or it might be correct.  Test everything.
  • Take time time to fill in your education gaps, when you can.  That’s especially important when only a handful of people have studied closely (and scientifically) one ghost hunting specialty.  If 100 people have carefully studied and analyzed data related to a paranormal topic, and posted (or published) that information so others can benefit from it, that’s good.  Updated studies are always useful.  However, if only two or three or even five people have studied something ghost-related and shared their results, and it appeals to you… please make that a high priority for your own research.
  • Share what you’ve learned.  Be clear about the areas in which you’ve exhaustively studied ghost hunting tools, methods, and phenomena.  Be equally clear when you’re making “educated guesses” about your findings. (And, the fact is, almost everything in ghost hunting is still an educated guess.)

Ghost Hunting, Archaeology, and tDAR

Ghost hunting and archaeologyExperienced ghost hunters routinely check the history of the areas where they’re investigating.  When it’s a new house that’s haunted,  I look for what was there before the house was built.

In the Americas, when it’s a truly weird haunting — a candidate for another Amityville horror story — we look for really early history, usually Native, early Colonial, battleground, or pioneer records.

If the home has a geographically advantageous placement — such as a hill or a site with panoramic views — the history is likely to include a Native community or a burial gound.  More recently, I may find that an early American fort or outpost was there.  In the Americas, an early community or a fort can connect with one or more incidents of broad-scale violence at or near the site.

In the UK, the history of haunted location may be surprising, as well.  The Falstaff’s Experience at Tudor World — one of England’s most haunted sites, and the strangest I’ve investigated in the UK — is in a building with a colorful history involving blood, death, and more than one tragedy that spread across England.  However, the land beneath it (and nearby) has an even older history, with additional reasons why Falstaff’s is home to myriad phenomena. (If you think Stratford-upon-Avon is just about Shakespeare… you haven’t visited the Falstaff’s Experience after dark.)

Until recently, the ghost hunters’ challenge has been finding documentation of that kind of history.  Urban legends aren’t enough, even when there’s supporting anecdotal evidence.

Professional researchers like me want more solid, factual information. That’s where archaeology enters the ghost hunting picture.

John Sabol, a professional archaeologist, and Mary Becker have been impressing many of us with their startling results in ghost excavation research. (If you have an opportunity to watch them work, don’t miss it.)

However, many of us don’t have the advantages of a degree in archaeology, as John has.  We need access to archaeological information… at least enough to give us a guess as to what might have been at the location, and what we can rule out.

That’s when the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) can be among ghost hunters’ most useful resources. However, I’ll warn you: If you’re not a geek about this, and academic research puts you to sleep, that site may disappoint you.  For the rest of us — an admittedly small group — it’ll make your pulse race.

At tDAR, you can search for the history of your target location and its surroundings.  At a glance, you can see what time periods have been explored with archaeological digs, what they were looking for and what they found.  The map feature shows you whether the reference is related to your location or not, and you can focus your database search with exact GPS coordinates.

Though the actual records may not be at the tDAR site, you’ll know exactly what to look for at public and university libraries.  In many cases, those libraries have online catalogues, with notations about whether that book or report is in the library, or if it’s been checked out.

Thus is a huge step forward for aggressive and conscientious ghost investigators.

Over the past 20+ years, my paranormal investigations moved from “ooh, what’s that noise?” to in-depth research with historical documentation and geographical references.  Today, before I even visit a site, I’ve spent a full day with databases and maps, plus two or more days taking notes from dusty history books.  Stories and uncertain spectral encounters aren’t enough for me.

tDAR is the kind of tool you’ll use if you delve deeply into paranormal research.  As ghost hunters, we need historical resources that take our reports beyond “well, it might be….” to “here’s solid evidence to explain the history of what’s going on here.”

The majority of ghost hunters investigate to confirm activity at a site.  Many homeowners only need to hear, “No, you’re not imagining things.  Strange things really are going on, here.”  They’re happy to hear that, and the research team has enough other cases to deal with.  They don’t have the time or interest to dig deeply into why the house is haunted.  If the homeowner says something about someone dying there, a century ago, or a cemetery that used to be across the street… that’s good enough.  You don’t need to conduct more research at or about that site.

On the other hand, if you remain in this field long enough to want far more from ghost hunting and paranormal research, tDAR may be the academic and historical tool you need.

If You Really Want to Be on a Paranormal TV Show

I avoid TV shows, but most people aren’t as reclusive as I am. So, here’s what you need to know.

One of the main resources for media exposure is Help a Reporter Out, aka “HARO.”

Remember, those listings are not screened or verified. You could be talking to some creepy guy with no media connections at all.

Never give out personal contact information unless you have confirmed the person’s professional references.  Call the network, production company, or publisher to verify the contact information for that person.

Got a job offer? Get everything in writing.  I’ve admitted (with embarrassment) that I worked for a TV show for about two months.  When they contacted me, they told me — up front, in email — exactly what I’d get paid for my work.  The pay was confirmed in a follow-up phone call. (It was $500 per lead, plus $500 for each of my leads they included in the show.)

I did the work they needed. Then, they didn’t pay me.

The lesson?  Get a contract in writing, on paper.  Make sure it’s very specific about what you’re expected to do, for how much money, and exactly when you’ll be paid.

Know the risks.  Another producer offered me a part on a new TV show.  She said it was going to be a serious, academic show. The production company bought my plane ticket, reserved an upscale hotel room for me, and they were going to give me my own chauffeur during the filming. Everything seemed ideal.

Then, before I got on the plane, someone on the production crew blundered.  She told me the show’s real name. It was far from academic.

And then the hotel was on the edge of a neighborhood I avoid after dark.

I cancelled.

So, make sure your contract says exactly which show you’re being filmed for.  Don’t give the production company (or the network) free rein to use your interview or appearance in any show they like.

Listen to the producers’ questions. 

  • Are they too eager to believe your story?  Suspect false sincerity.
  • Are they fishing for drama where they wasn’t any?  It’s one thing to build a good story that engages viewers.  It’s another to turn your experience into something far more extreme (and ridiculous) than it was.
  • Are they digging for something to discredit you, or portray you ?  Of course, producers want to avoid guests that could be a liability.  However, many producers are convinced that most paranormal encounters are caused by drugs, alcohol, extreme stress, or mental illness.  They may portray you (and your genuine ghostly encounter) in that context.  Make sure you’re okay with that.

Jason Gowin (from Extreme Paranormal) said this after his confidentiality agreement had expired:

Realize that nothing you do on television will be safe from manipulation… Rest assured, you are there to make money for them, not be a beacon of integrity. [Link]

Pay attention to your gut feeling.  If something doesn’t seem right, maybe it isn’t.

Don’t expect fame for yourself or your paranormal investigating team.  Most TV shows avoid guests who might profit from a TV appearance. Producers may edit out anything that might help your career, boost your income, or reveal the name of your ghost hunting team.  Expect that.

A paycheck is not guaranteed.  The producers’ (and the networks’) explanation is: A paid appearance could be misunderstood as a performance.

Many TV shows will get around this by offering to pay for your travel expenses and give you a “per diem” to cover additional out-of-pocket costs.

The per diem could barely cover meals from McD’s dollar menu.  Or, the per diem might pay for a nice big TV, to watch yourself later, when you’re on the show.  Generally, producers won’t tell you how much the per diem will be. Expect a tiny per diem, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re going to be a cast member on a series, make sure you earn enough to cover your monthly bills.

I have a firm policy of not asking friends how much they earn from their shows.  I don’t want to know.  I already feel sorry for how much privacy they’ve given up, and how much they’re away from their families.

  • According to rumors, many stars earn a low four-figures, per episode, working seven days a week and 10- to 12-hour days.
  • I’ve heard that supporting cast members (not the two or three stars) earn about $500/episode. I hope I’m wrong about that.

You can be on TV if you really want to be.

If you’ve read this far, you probably think fame is worth the risks.

The first thing to consider is your strategy. Sometimes it’s easy to get on ghost-related TV shows. Sometimes, it’s easier to get on another kind of TV show, and use that as a credential to get on the show you want.  That’s why you’ll look at opportunities far beyond paranormal shows.

Start with the following resources.


I recommend HARO lists (linked above) and sites like (Sites like that appear and disappear rapidly. If you’re not dealing directly with the network, always be sure you’re talking with a reputable company.)

Also check network-specific webpages, such as casting calls for SyFy, MTV, ABC, VH1, TLC, HGTV, BBC (UK).

(You never know when a network will take an interest in paranormal programming.  I recall an episode of a food-related TV show where people competed by preparing ghost-themed cakes… and a real paranormal investigator was among the judges.)

You may find even more casting calls at production companies’ websites, such as Pilgrim (Ghost Hunters, etc.)


Get advice from experts.  Don’t leap into this field unprepared!  You may have just one chance to be on (or pitch) the show of your dreams.  Get it right the first time.

  • The 2006 book, Get on TV, is still one of the most popular books on this subject.  It’s not specifically about reality shows. It teaches you how to build a career by being on a wide range of TV shows.  If being a TV star has been your life-long goal, this book is worth reading.
  • If you’re interested in reality TV and you’d like to be a guest, a star, a producer or a writer, you’ll want to read Reality TV: An Insider Guide to TV’s Hottest Market.  This 2011 book gives you a good overview plus specific advice, and earns rave reviews from people in the industry.
  • This next book is by the winner of Big Brother 10 (U.S.), Dan Gheesling:  How to Get On Reality TV.  And, since it’s a Kindle book, you can download and read it immediately.

There are other books about this subject, but those look most useful.

Previous, related articles:

So…You Want to Be on TV?

Apparently, a lot of aspiring ghost hunters and ghost hunting teams still want to be on reality TV shows, especially ghost-related reality shows.

I’ve been offered more shows than I can count, and I’ve turned all of them down.

(Update: I was a guest on just one show. It was filmed in 2012.  I decided I really ought to see if TV was as bad as I thought. I wasn’t impressed. My contract prevents me from saying which show it was. They didn’t even tell me when the episode aired in August 2013, and again in October. Isn’t that weird? You’d think they’d want me to tell my friends and fans to watch it.)

Yes, I’m kind of an anomaly in this field. I don’t want to be a TV star. Even as a little kid, I never once said, “When I grow up, I want to be on TV.”

For those who do want to become a star, these are my best tips:

Have a haunted house or business?

Shows may be looking for you.  Check casting calls (linked below). They often include calls for locations, too.

Want to meet TV stars?

Some people want me to to introduce them to TV stars, hoping that connection will lead to fame & fortune.

Yes, I know most (not all) stars of 21st century paranormal TV shows.

However, I don’t provide introductions. You can meet TV stars at conferences & events. Go to the stars’ websites and see when they’ll be appearing in your area.

For ghost hunters, paranormal investigators and ghost-hunting teams

Here’s the surest way to become a star in the paranormal field: Build a respected reputation.

I can practically promise you: TV shows will find you, even if your phone number is unlisted, and even if you’ve said clearly — as I have — that you don’t want to be in front of the camera.

In addition, many TV shows — new ones and shows already in production — have open casting calls.

Start anywhere.

You might appear on one show that’s unrelated to ghosts, and make a connection that leads to appearances on paranormal shows. If the audience like you, that may be the only credential you’ll need.

If your dream is to be on a reality TV show, here are some links to find out who’s casting for current shows, including some with paranormal themes:

If you want to be on a specific TV show, use the name of the show plus “casting calls” at any search engine. (Remember, many established TV shows go through agents rather than offer open casting calls.)

Fan sites can be helpful, too. Of course, be very careful about posting your contact info at any forum or website.*

Some people find casting calls on Craigslist or Facebook. (For example, Vampire Diaries has issued open casting calls via Facebook.) Of course, double- and triple-check every listing, and never go alone to a casting call you find on social media or a Craigslist-type site.

You’ll also find websites dedicated to casting calls for reality TV shows; some are better than others. One is (that link leads to video interviews with casting staff).

So, if your goal in life is to be on a reality TV show, you may be able to achieve that. I don’t recommend it, but the resources listed above may be helpful.

Important: I grew up around celebrities and I’ve lived & worked in Hollywood. My opinions are based on my experiences in and around high-profile fields.

I respect people who are willing to appear on TV, but it’s not a career I’d recommend to friends.

Before you decide to pursue a career on reality TV, read my critical articles and listen to my related podcasts. The following are just a few at this website.

Photo credit: Michal Zacharzewski, Poland (SXC)

*I routinely delete contact information from people’s comments, to avoid liability risks. Please don’t attempt to post any “please, cast me!” comments at this site.

Talking About Ghosts – Checklist

For many years, I’ve spoken to groups of all ages, kinds and sizes. It’s a delight to tell people about this field.

I’ve learned a lot about what to say (and what not to say) and when to say it. I hope this checklist helps you when you’re asked to speak in public, too.

Remember: You don’t have to include everything from this list.  It’s a guideline to make presentations easier.


1. Introduction

  • Your name (or the name you use for this work) and where you are from.
  • How long you have been involved in paranormal research.
  • Why you began this research.
  • If you have a specialty, what it is and why it is important to this research.

2. About your team (if you are part of one)

  • Name of your team, where it is based, and the area you cover.
  • How long your team has been researching.
  • Introduce team members by name and specialties, if they are with you.
  • What services you provide to the public (investigations, training, talks like this one) and how much — if anything — you charge.

3. The tools you use

  • Hold up each tool and explain what it is called, what it does, and how often you use it in your work.
  • Describe what you have brought with you to demonstrate (such as how an EMF meter works) or what you will be presenting (audio, video, a walking tour, etc.).
  • Explain which tools can be used by anyone (hiking compass/EMF meter, flashlight for yes/no, etc.) and which are best for professionals (IR video cameras, Frank’s Box, and so on.)

4. Present your information

  • If you are reporting on one or more investigations:
    • Give an overview first.
    • Explain where you researched, when and why.
    • Describe your experiences floor-by-floor and room-by-room.  (A floor plan or map may help them visualize each encounter.)
    • Tell the audience what “normal” would be, before each recording or demonstration.
    • Demonstrate the research technique or play the recording three times (if it is short) and then ask if anyone has a question about that evidence.
    • Take general questions and discuss specific situations at the end of the talk.
    • If you are telling “ghost stories,” tell people whether they are fictional or your true experiences.
    • Illustrate your stories with photos, recordings and/or drawings.
    • Remember that your audience wants to be entertained.  Use broad gestures, lots of variety in your voice, and so on.
    • If you are taking the group on a walking tour, talk about where you are going, safety concerns, and your general rules (such as when they can ask questions).  Then, lead the tour. (Optional: Organize them in teams of two, so no one gets lost or left behind.)

5. Close the talk

  • Tell them that you have completed your presentation.
  • Ask for questions or comments.  Be sure they understand that there are no firm answers to most questions, and that is why we are still conducting research.
  • Refer the audience to your website, books, events, workshops, etc., for more information.
  • Close with contact information, and distribute any handouts you brought with you.
  • Explain that you have to leave at a certain time (be specific and stick to that) but you are happy to talk with people privately — for a just a few moments — if they have questions.
  • Thank them for attending.
  • Smile when they applaud.
  • Before leaving, thank your host/s and give them a small gift. (A book, a CD of EVP or a general presentation, a “ghost photo” from the location, etc.)

[Thanks to Claudia of for restoring this.]

Making Money in Ghost Hunting

Stacks of moneySome people are in this field for fame and/or fortune.  I’m not one of them, and I hope that you’re not.

I know absolutely no one, personally, who’s getting rich as a paranormal investigator.  In fact, most TV stars that I know… they have day jobs.

However, most of us would prefer to work full-time in the paranormal field, rather than ask people if they’d like fries with that order.

So, here’s a summary of the main ways to earn a living as a paranormal expert.

They’re not the only ways, just the usual ones.

TV- and movie-related work

Fame: Fame is possible, and perhaps likely.  Infamy is a risk as well.  It’s all in how you’re edited by the producers and the network.  Then there’s the makeup and lighting, what your co-stars say about you, whether or not you’re ridiculed on The Soup, and many other variables.

Fortune: Don’t expect to get rich from documentary-style movies or reality TV.

Warning: Absolutely anyone can film a pilot for a TV show.  Getting the show picked up by a network is only slightly more likely than being struck by lightning, unless you have talent, a great angle, and truly great connections.  So, if someone wants to include you in their TV pilot, don’t quit your day job.

Typical work opportunities in TV and movies:

  • Be a regular star on a TV show.  (Most guests on reality shows aren’t paid, and sometimes don’t even get travel expenses.)
  • Be a consultant for a TV show or series, or a movie. (Get everything in writing, signed and notarized, on paper.)
  • Write for TV or movie productions.  (If you make the right connections, you can build a career and have fun at the same time.)
  • Develop a fan site about the TV show or movie, and find ways to monetize it. (This is tricky. I tried it with one show and didn’t earn a cent.)

Writing books and articles

Fame: How famous you become depends on how good your writing is, and how well you promote yourself.  Even if you’re published by a major publishing house, do not expect them to organize book signings or do much of any PR for you.

However, if you write well and you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve moderate fame with your writing.

Fortune: If you’re working for a traditional publisher, it’s possible you’ll have a best-seller and earn lots of money.  It’s about as likely as winning the lottery.  Books that sell for $9 – $15 usually earn their authors about 25 cents per copy sold. (That’s what I’ve earned and what Jack Canfield mentions in the video, The Secret.)

You can usually do much better with an independent publisher, but you may have to do more work on the book and on your own PR and distribution.  Generally, I don’t recommend any publishing house that charges a fee to publish your book.

If you’re writing stories for book anthologies or for magazines, your writing skills and reputation make the difference between earning at least minimum wage… and earning nothing.  My favorite book for freelance writers:  The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli.  Good writers earn three figures per magazine article they sell. Really good writers can earn four figures per article. (When I write for anthologies, I’m well paid.)

Writing articles for online use usually pays $2 – $15/article, or more if you’re really good at writing or you’re a celebrity.

The biggest demand for ghost-related writers is for Halloween-related books and articles.

Tip: If you write books for traditional publishers, you may not see your work in print — or earn a cent from it — for six months to two years.

If you write for magazines, allow them at least three months’ lead time to publish your work.  In other words, pitch Halloween articles no later than April or May.

Sometimes, you’re paid when you deliver the work. More often, you’ll be paid once the magazine is actually on the newsstand, or 30 days after it’s published.

Typical opportunities for writers:

  • Writing books, including nonfiction, “ghost stories,” and novels.
  • Articles.
  • Screenplays.


Fame: Like writing and art, your fame potential depends on your skill and how well you promote yourself.  Luck and novelty can also be factors.  However, keep in mind: If you walk up to a stranger on the street and say, “Quick, name one ghost photographer,” they’ll probably stare at you before mumbling some TV star’s name.

Fortune: You can earn a good living as a freelance photographer if you’re willing to work hard.  Halloween-related photos (ghost pictures, cemetery photos, haunted house pictures) sell well year ’round to book and magazine publishers.  You’ll want a copy of the latest edition of Photographer’s Markets to learn who’s buying what, and how much they’re paying.

Typical opportunities for photographers:

  • Illustrate books and magazines.
  • Illustrate promotional material for paranormal events and speakers.
  • Sell your photos via stock photo services, online. is one of many.

Videos have a narrower audience, but you might get involved in filming a TV pilot (get paid up-front, not after the show sells) or create your own videos of haunted encounters.

Appearing at paranormal events and conferences

Fame: The bigger the event, the more famous you’ll seem.  However, be selective about the number of events you speak at. (Avoid over-saturating the market.)  Try to get your name and photo on the event’s promotional materials.

Fortune: Unless you’re already a star, or selling your own books at the event, paranormal events pay little or nothing.  If you’re reimbursed for travel expenses and/or your hotel room, that’s great… but don’t count on it.

Warning: Find out who’s on the schedule with you before committing to any event.  If many of the speakers have poor reputations, it can reflect badly on you. (“Birds of a feather…”)

Don’t make firm travel plans until you’re sure the event will happen.  About 50% of the events that book me, postpone or cancel the event altogether.

Tip: Big events at major venues — and those hosted by major celebrities in this field — rarely cancel, even if they’re taking a big loss on expenses.  Conferences organized by local groups have a higher cancellation likelihood.

Putting on a paranormal event or conference

Fame: Until your event has been successful for several successive years, your own events won’t make you famous… unless you’re already a celebrity in this field.

One bad event, or someone griping about how your ran the event, can be very damaging.

Fortune: Unless you’re very lucky, you’re likely to lose money putting on your first event (or two). After that, it’ll depend on the economy, when and where the event is, the quality of your speakers and activities, and how much competition you have (saturated field).

Warning: Hotels often ask for non-refundable deposits, and their meeting room prices may shock you.  Never rely on filling up hotel rooms (sleeping rooms) to offset some or all of your meeting room expenses.

It’s better to be pleasantly surprised with a profit than devastated by four-figure  (or higher) losses.

Set a firm “no refunds” date — usually the date that you have to give the hotel the deposit — and stick to it. People will call you with the most amazing, convincing tall tales excuses, usually involving themselves or a family member being diagnosed with cancer.

Also have a “Plan B” ready if your biggest celebrity cancels at the last minute.


Some people charge money for private investigations.  Most people — including me — don’t.  In fact, most of the bigger celebrities don’t charge a cent, and some don’t even ask for travel expenses.

Fame: If you produce extraordinary results, you might build a reputation as a great paranormal investigator.  In 80% or more of your cases, the home owners will be reluctant to admit that they even consulted you.

Fortune: In most cases, there’s no money in investigating.  I’ve talked about this in other articles.  Some clients have already lost their jobs due to the stress of the hauntings. Other people won’t take you seriously unless you charge a fee.  The latter group is diminishing rapidly, because they see ghost hunters on TV conducting free investigations.

If you consult for a business — for example, helping realtors who need to know if a home or business is haunted — you’re more likely to be paid.  Home owners rarely pay for investigations.

Tip: If you expect to charge money, even just travel expenses, you must have professional-level experience in this field — probably more than 100 real, formal investigations — and a list of references for potential clients to check.

It’s prudent to have liability insurance for your team.   If a Ming vase is broken during your investigation, the client won’t care that it was poltergeist phenomena, and not your fault.

Get rich quick?

There are no get-rich-quick paths in this business.  Though some people have catapulted themselves to fame and/or fortune, few remain there for very long.

Success in any field — including this one — requires hard work, constant study, and immense integrity.

If ghosts and hauntings fascinate you, it’s probably best to keep your day job and pursue this field as a hobby, at least for the first few years.

In the meantime, keep all of your photos.  Maintain a detailed journal of your investigations.  Experiment with new ideas, theories, investigation tools and techniques.  All of them may be extremely valuable once you are ready to enter this field as a full-time professional.

Focus on one niche rather than trying to be an all-around ghost hunter.  Sure, you’ll need to know a little about every facet of ghosts and hauntings.  However, career success comes from identifying your strengths and greatest interests, and developing a niche that’s uniquely yours.

Photo credit: Michael Faes, Switzerland

Reality Check – Ghost Hunting

Google trends - ghosts
Did ghost hunting TV shows peak in 2004?

I wrote this in 2010. Since then, aside from spikes around Halloween, interest in the field has continued to decline.

Here’s what I said in 2010:

It’s time for a reality check in the ghost hunting field.  I’m about to talk about the dark side of ghost hunting — and almost any fad — when the trend declines.

This isn’t pretty, and I don’t like to bring it up, but someone has to warn new ghost enthusiasts about these (now old) problems.

Some people are scrambling to renew or create a foothold as celebrities.  They want their own TV shows, media coverage, and — if all else fails — at least a few paycheques.

The fad is over.  Ghost hunting — as a trend — peaked years ago.

Since then, producers of TV shows and movies keep trying to find new (and sometimes ridiculous) ways to revive interest.

Frankly, I’m not sure the 2004 popularity of shows like Ghost Hunters will ever return.

As the fan base shrinks, some “ghost hunters” are claiming credentials they don’t have. They fit the Scams and Con Artists profile.

Convicted criminals, including child molesters, are posing as ghost experts. I’m not comfortable being alone with them in a dark room.  I certainly wouldn’t bring my children to events where they’d participate in after-dark investigations.

Another high-profile personality has been quoted, saying it’s routine (or even essential) to lie to people if you want to succeed in the paranormal field. He’s a fun guy, but — if that story is true — I’m not sure how he sleeps at night.

Many “old timers” (including me) have stepped back from public ghost hunting events. We’re not willing to share the stage with people whose reputations could damage us by association.

However, by being less visible, we’ve put our careers in jeopardy.  To be taken seriously by many people, a list of TV and event appearances seems mandatory.

It’s kind of “darned if you do, darned if you don’t”  situation. (Yes, I really do talk like that.)

My solution is to be more aggressive about my research, write more books, and share more free information online.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones.  I really am a researcher.  My brain seems to be wired for connect-the-dots logic, so I find new ways to find and investigate haunted sites.

Others aren’t so fortunate. They have fewer options.

Here are the trends.

As shown in the graph above, Google searches for the word “ghosts” have steadily declined since 2004.

In the next screenshot, you’ll see that Google searches for “ghost hunting” also peaked in 2004, with minor rallies since then.

Trends for ghost hunting - 2004 to 2007


In the next screenshot, Google searches for “ghost hunters ” — generally related to the TV series — peaked in 2007.  Most of the spikes occur predictably around Halloween.


Searches related to the word “paranormal” have always had limited popularity.  The spike around Halloween 2009 was largely due to the movie, Paranormal Activity.

The trend is fading. Ghost hunting may be close to the conclusion of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations bell graph.  (If your goals include fame and fortune, catch trends at the Early Adopter and Early Majority phases.)

Here’s the time-honored way of building a solid reputation as a ghost hunter:

  1. Study the field or serve an apprenticeship.  This involves years, not weeks or months.
  2. If you can, conduct unique, in-depth research that reveals new and useful information that contributes to our understanding of paranormal phenomena.
  3. If innovative research isn’t easy for you, find someone who is good at it, and be part of his or her research team.
  4. Then, share your discoveries with others.

Real credibility is built on accomplishments in paranormal R&D. Your reputation is based on how many people you actually help.

Those are the areas to focus on, for long-term respect in paranormal research.  The field may be shrinking, but the people who’ve never cared if ghost hunting is trendy… they’re the people I value most among my friends and colleagues.


2016 addition: The decline in ghost hunting as an “OMG fad” is exactly why I’m becoming more active in the field again.

The con artists and fame-seekers are moving on to other fields and fads. For serious paranormal researchers like me, that’s a huge relief.

I’ve been involved in ghost hunting for decades. I expect to be here for the long haul.

So, for a few years, I decided to sit out the “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” and wait for the field to become interesting again.

If you check related Google search numbers, you’ll see that interest in ghost hunting seemed to fall off a cliff, starting in late 2014. (The graphs were rather spectacular.)

For now, the ghost hunting fad is nearly over.

(I say “for now” because popular interests tend to go in cycles. See Slate’s article about 15-, 20-, and 40-year cycles. Also see The 90s, 2015, and the 20-Year Cycle, and — for those who want to take this further — the Sekhmet Hypothesis of 11-year solar cycles.)

As of 2016, we’re getting back to fascinating (and fun) research again. So… yes, I’m here and enjoying it again.

Looking Back – Ed and Lorraine Warren

People have asked my opinion of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Here’s my reply.

Ed and Lorraine Warren have been — together and as individuals — vital to the development and popularity of this field.  Without their work, I don’t think there would be a “Ghost Hunters” TV show, etc.

I can say the same about Hans Holzer, Andrei Puharich, and many other 19- and 20th-century paranormal researchers, as well.

I’m not overlooking problems with their early research techniques.  We learn through trial-and-error:  There will be errors — and plenty of them — while any field is becoming understood and codified.

ironstoneMy articles (published in 2000, before ghost hunting developed its current popularity) about one of Ed and Lorraine’s first investigations — the Ocean-Born Mary story — are an example of early research problems.

However, we’re looking back on research in the mid 20th century. It’s easy to forget how little was available to paranormal researchers.

Ed and Lorraine didn’t have the Internet as a resource. They didn’t have my 30+ years of experience with historical and genealogical research.  It’s easy to point out the shortcomings of others, when they didn’t (or don’t) have the resources that can make a huge difference in how a story is told.


I was sometimes troubled by the business model that Ed and Lorraine used. I said so at the time.  However, there are no simple answers to the money issue.

In a perfect world, spiritual researchers — including ghost hunters — would be supported as many religions have been, by voluntary donations from their believers.  Without that kind of funding, it’s difficult to work in this field.

Many people view our work as spiritual, and accuse us of being mercenary when we try to recover the money we spend on research, which is largely unseen by the public.  Also, they may not realize what it costs us to travel to help clients… many of whom have reached such a desperate emotional state (from living with hauntings or even demon attacks), they’ve already lost their jobs.

Our options are limited, and some are slippery slopes.


We can become “entertainers” …which can require compromises to build and maintain a fan following, or to meet the demands of ruthless managers and over-zealous producers.  While we create some problems ourselves, others are built around us without our permission and sometimes without our knowledge.

It’s a challenging field to navigate.

Ghost hunters can charge significant fees from clients who are able to afford it; a 2009 poll at showed that some people were doing that, though they were in the minority.

We can cover our ghost hunting expenses with related part-time or full-time activities, including:

  • Writing articles and books.
  • Teaching classes and workshops.
  • Providing readings.
  • Speaking at events, or even hosting them.
  • Creating and selling products related to ghost hunting.

Or, we can maintain regular jobs, though that takes valuable time away from our research and the time we could use helping others.  (Most friends who’ve starred on ghost-related TV shows have kept their day jobs.  Some TV shows pay only an undisclosed “stipend.” It may not even match minimum wage levels.)

As I said, there are no easy answers to this dilemma.


In recent years, I’ve softened my views towards 20th-century pioneers in paranormal studies.  Each of them has left an important legacy.

I am grateful to Ed and Lorraine Warren for facing the skeptics and vehement critics, and maintaining a firm belief in what they were doing.  I’m thankful that they conducted so much research, and were forthright about what they did and the conclusions that they reached.

Their integrity made it possible for us to review their work in the light of additional facts and tools developed in the 40 or so years since they began studying ghosts and haunted places.

This field wouldn’t be where it is without people like the Warrens. For that, we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Remember that Joshua Warren is not related to Ed and Lorraine Warren.  I’m not sure he’s actually made that claim, but I’ve been told he’s not always quick to deny the connection, either. (I published this article in July 2009. In May 2014, he replied, saying ” I have never once ever allowed that idea to persist.”)


Were Ed & Lorraine’s methods perfect?  No.  (Ghost hunting tools and techniques still aren’t perfect. I’m not sure they ever will be.)

They did the best that they could with the tools that they had, the few sites they had free access to, and what little was understood in that era.

For example, no one carried an EMF meter during early ghost hunts.  Researchers weren’t aware that elevated EMF — from very normal sources — can disorient people and cause them to behave in odd ways.

Today, we check for electrical wiring and other sources of EMF, before leaping to any conclusions about paranormal influences.

In the early 21st century, we’re closer to understanding ghosts and hauntings, but I expect we’ll be harshly criticized by those who follow us 20, 40, or 100 years from now.


When someone asks my personal opinion of Ed and Lorraine Warren as a ghost hunting team, I reply in three parts:

At first, I was dazzled by them.  In the mid-to-late 20th century, they were pioneers in a very exciting field.

When I later examined their work, using tools available decades later, I was disappointed when I could disprove some of what they said.  That cast a harsh light on their work.  Things that I’d believed as a child turned out to be false. That can embitter anyone.

Fortunately, I continued my research and reached a more balanced perspective.

Today, looking back on people like Ed & Lorraine Warren, I’m tremendously grateful for their work.  I was merely an “early adopter” of this research.  They were among the innovators.


The name “Amityville Horror” wouldn’t be well-known without the Warrens.

The Warrens were instrumental in bringing ghosts and hauntings to the world’s attention.  They opened the door for anyone — with or without prior experience in this field — to conduct paranormal research.

That research has contributed significantly to what we know about ghosts and hauntings.  And, by making ghost research more accessible to everyone, pioneers such as Ed & Lorraine Warren built the foundation for our work today.

That is their true legacy, and I’m grateful for it.

Ghost Hunters – How Much Do You Charge?

question-75During June 2009, we conducted a poll of our readers to see how much they charge when they investigate a private residence.

These were the results:

poll-chargesJune2009Among those who’ve talked with me about how much they charge, most echo the poll results.  They don’t charge the client anything at all, or — if travel expenses are involved — they ask the client to pay for gas and to arrange lodging.

Those who charge over $200 were also very forthcoming.  The figure that I’ve heard most often is $350 plus expenses. That can increase if the team is large.  Four-figure amounts are not rare, when the team includes professionals or six or more people.

This is a topic that’s difficult to discuss, even among professionals who otherwise agree on most everything.

Some say, “You get what you pay for.”  Others insist that investigations are an essential part of our research, and must be financed however the individual (or team) covers other expenses related to this work.

I think the poll speaks for itself, in understanding the financial side of investigations.

If someone is troubled by an apparent haunting in his or her home, it’s probably easy to find a team that will conduct the research free of charge.

If someone wants to hire a professional team, the fees are likely to be $200+ for that service.

When I investigate private homes — rare, in recent years — my travel expenses are covered if I’m traveling more than an hour from home.  If the site is planning to use my research to improve their business (such as a restaurant or hotel that wants to claim they have ghosts),  a fee may be involved.

When a homeowner is frantic for help, I usually look for ways to reduce or eliminate their costs altogether.

No matter who is investigating, I encourage homeowners to check references carefully, and not just the rave reviews by friends of the individual or team.

A lot of people claim they’ve been ghost hunting for years.  Ask them for real proof… a website from before 2004, or a series of books they’ve written, etc.  (Anyone can write and publish one or two books.  Five or six books…?  That’s more likely to indicate competence.)

Learn the best — and worst — that’s said about the researchers you’re considering. Then, make an educated decision.

Psychics – The Research Debate

Should psychics learn a site’s history ahead of time, or not?  That seems to be an issue.

I think it’s important to know the history — and admit to it — but I may be different since I’ve been aware of my psychic abilities since earliest childhood.

Sure, it’s impressive when you think that a psychic couldn’t have known what he or she “senses”… but are you sure that the psychic wasn’t fed the information ahead of time?

This question was raised when a Most Haunted UK staff member set a trap for another cast member.  The issue wasn’t as simple — or as damning — as it may have seemed in the media.

(In this article, except for TV references, I’m talking about psychics in general.  If it seems that I’m describing someone someone in particular, I’m not.)

Here’s how I see it, as a psychic.

Can’t you tell the difference?

Let’s talk about a similar topic.  If I see a travel show on TV, and later visit that location, I may have a mild sensation of deja vu.

However, I never confuse my memories of the show with what I’m experiencing during my visit.  For me, first-person experiences are totally different from what I’ve learned from prior sources.

During my visit, I’ll say things such as, “Oh, this isn’t anything like it looked on TV.”  Or, “This is the exact same angle they showed in the photos, on TV.”

Likewise, I don’t mix up psychic messages and my historical studies.

If anything, I’ll say, “Oh, the history books missed something important.”  Or, “This gives me wonderful insights into the history I’ve studied.”

If someone is a genuine and experienced psychic, I’m not sure why they’d confuse their sources.  But, as I said, I’ve been considered psychic since earliest childhood.  For me, the distinction between things I learn internally (through psychic channels) and those provided to me through normal research… those are two completely different things.

When a psychic gets it “wrong”

This subject becomes important when a psychic seems to make a huge mistake.

For example, if the psychic declares that an incident took place at one location… and it actually took place on the other side of town.

Or, if the psychic uses a name that’s fictional, or later revealed to be part of an earlier hoax.

That can look pretty bad.  However, like the Most Haunted UK incident, it’s important to examine every side of the problem.

In my opinion, it’s simplest to do at least some research into the history of the site.   At least get a context, and understand what’s known and what’s controversial about that history.

Otherwise, if the psychic claims no prior knowledge of the area’s history, how can he or she answer questions of credibility?  If he or she has never heard or seen anything about the history — difficult, at most locations, as there are always some visual clues — the psychic’s replies can sound made-up, or even silly.

If someone is a fraud — or faking it for an audience — there’s no place to hide.

On the other hand, if the psychic is up-front about his or her earlier studies (or coaching), the possible responses could be:

  • “I may be sensing energy from someone who felt burdened by what happened somewhere else.  He or she brought that energy back to this location.”
  • “The energy from that event across town was so intense, it’s affected the entire area.”
  • “The history books got it wrong, or they overlooked what also happened here.  With my additional information, maybe we can clear this up.”
  • Or — if the psychic is honest — “My accuracy isn’t 100%.  This is one of those times when I misinterpreted the energy.”

However, those responses are most credible if the psychic has already established his or her integrity by honestly admitting prior study or coaching, if there was any.

When a psychic seems “too right”

Psychics have different talents.  Some provide great readings.  Others are excellent healers.  Some — like me — seem to sense past events and their emotional content.  The variations are endless.

Psychics also have different skill levels.  Those with greater accuracy may have a stronger natural gift, or they may have more practice.

However, when a psychic medium gets it “too right” at a location, it’s fair to raise an eyebrow.

clue-magnifierCritical thinking skills are important, even when — or especially when — the psychic is charming and likeable.

When we like someone, we want to believe that they’re honest.  That bias may reduce our critical thinking skills.

Look at how the psychic conducts him or herself.  Psychics talk differently than people who are faking it, or fooling themselves into thinking that they’re connecting with the other side.

We often look different from our usual appearance, as well.  The trance state may be evident.

Of course, the waters become murky when the psychic speaks mostly from a genuine spiritual connection… but “supplements” that with information that he or she was given ahead of time.

That’s very clever, and it can be difficult to detect that mix.  Even other psychics can be fooled.  (It’s happened to me, to my chagrin.)

If the psychic rattles off items that could be memorized — exact dates, for example — there’s even more reason to question what’s going on.

A quick online search will reveal how readily the psychic — or his or her coach — could have found that information and memorized it ahead of time.

(Of course, doubt is removed if it later turns out that the date or other information is incorrect and it had been widely misreported.)

Why raise this issue now?

I don’t want to sound like a raving skeptic.  As a psychic and paranormal investigator, I’m very conscious of our vulnerabilities.  It’s hard enough to prove to our detractors that we’re detecting or contacting ghostly energy.

Unfortunately, with the popularity — and income potential — of ghost-related events, I’m seeing more (and better) frauds enter this field.  That hurts all of us.

To put it bluntly, if you need a demonologist, who would you trust:  Someone like John Zaffis, who’s been in this field for years and provided help free of charge?

Or, would you hire someone with a great team tee-shirt who’s been in the field for a couple of months (no matter what his or her claims) and is clearly focused on fame, fortune or both?

The telepathy question

Evidence supporting telepathy is far stronger than evidence for ghosts and hauntings.

Many psychics are telepathic.  We can’t rely on that ability, but it needs to be acknowledged in discussions like this.

There is always the possibility that the psychic is actually reading the mind of someone in the group, such as an historian or someone who read about the site before the event.

If the psychic has a “silent coach” in the audience — someone who is very aware of his or her importance to the psychic  — that coach may have studied the site’s history in detail.

The problem is, as psychics, the information either comes from an external source (a ghost, spirit, or through ESP) or an internal source (our own memories or studies).

It can be difficult to discern more than that:  Outside or inside sources.

Can preparations help?

I believe that historical research can prevent that problem, though it doesn’t entirely eliminate it.

When I have a frame of reference, such as my own historical research, I know how and where that information is coming from.  It’s a sharp contrast with information I receive from external sources such as residual energy impressions or a ghostly encounter.

If something is a “shade of gray” (no pun intended) — different in character than prior knowledge but also different from intense residual energy — I’ll suspect that I’m picking it up telepathically from someone in the audience.

It’s all about integrity and credibility

In lieu of clear, scientific evidence, our most important credential in this field is integrity.

Without that, it’s just a show… it’s entertainment.

There’s nothing wrong with putting on a good show.  I enjoy melodramatic “ghost tours” as much as anyone else, but they’re so over-the-top, I never confuse them with an actual ghost encounter.

Credibility comes into question when a psychic knows a site’s history but pretends that he or she doesn’t.

All it takes is one glaring mistake and the psychic’s reputation is in tatters, and that damage ripples into the community.

In most (but not all) cases, I do know the site’s history ahead of time.  When I don’t, I tell people.

That’s not just a point of credibility.  It also explains why my impressions may not be as clear or as rapid when I don’t know the history.  I may need time to scan my impressions, to fit them into the context of a time period or event.

I’m a better psychic when I already know the time period to focus on, or the history of the location.

(It’s like someone saying, “Oh, look at that car!”  It’s always easier and faster to spot the car if you know its color, vintage, or at least what makes it interesting.  In a similar manner, I can more readily connect with ghostly energy when I know the time period or history that it resonates with.)

While I appreciate that some psychics feel that not knowing history gives them more credibility, I respectfully suggest:

  • If you don’t have the expertise to tell the difference between your own memories and external messages, perhaps you need more practice.
  • If people feel that you should “prove”  your abilities by not knowing the history ahead of time, you may need to work on your image as a competent professional.

Not knowing a site’s history can be a liability.

I want to make use of every tool within my reach, to provide in-depth information at every haunted site.

Besides impressing the audience and “proving” myself as a psychic… is there some reason why I shouldn’t learn a site’s history before an investigation?

Recommended reading:

book-discoverpsychictypeDiscover Your Psychic Type

question-75What are your thoughts on how much a psychic should know ahead of time?  Share your opinions with the comment form, below.