Craig McManus is a psychic medium with a knack for talking to spirits and the people who love them. He’s also an independent author with a knack for selling books.
By combining his four-volume Ghosts of Cape May series—about the haunting and history of America’s original seaside resort of Cape May, N.J. (founded in the 1700s)—with ghost-themed trolley tours and group channeling sessions held in some of Cape May’s lovely—and spooky—Victorian-era bed-and-breakfasts, McManus has sold over 30,000 copies of his books and owned the term “hyperlocal.” Here, he talks about the highs and lows of publishing in a niche market.
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How did you immerse yourself in Cape May’s tourism industry?
I would go down to Cape May, I would knock on doors and nobody would talk to me. It was the ’90s and it was still not really en vogue to talk about ghosts and hauntings in Cape May. At one point, somebody said to me, “Why don’t you stay in some of these [haunted] places?” I thought, well, that’s an idea. They can’t throw me out if I pay to play. I picked the house that interested me most and we went down on a February night when there was nobody else there. The innkeeper said he didn’t believe in this stuff, but then he was on the phone telling his daughter about it. I realized that a lot of people had personal experiences [with spirits], but they sort of fluffed it off. But when they heard I was interested, I got them to open up—and this was after I had spent $250 a night 100 times, going back to the same place. I always joke that all the money I got from the books in Cape May, I reinvested in Cape May through businesses.
How do your other activities help your book sales?
I don’t spend a penny on advertising, except for when I get plugs in the local paper. I try to make my whole business plan in Cape May a well-oiled machine—that one gear turns the other. I had been doing lectures with the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, and now we’ve partnered in the ghost trolley tours. Last August, we had 3,000 people take the tours. The trolley tours point people to the books and the books point people to the trolley tours. Everything points to my website and my events. I still write for [Cape May newspaper and publisher of the original McManus columns that became the Ghosts of Cape May series] Exit Zero occasionally, and I write a monthly column on CapeMay.com. That’s a tremendous portal of web visitors to Cape May—especially in-season. So now my banner is there and that links to my website, and that links to the book. I learned a long time ago that one hand has to wash the other.
What are some of the pitfalls of having a niche market?
My experience having books in distribution is selling them direct in Cape May. But in distribution nationally, you sell some but you get more back than you sell sometimes. It’s a crapshoot. You can’t make a living that way. If you have a niche and you have a local market where you’re going to have a demand, and you’re willing to be your own distributor, then you can do it. I used to load up my car with cases [of books], drive down to Cape May, go around and do it—now I FedEx everything. But it’s built up a huge following for my books. It’s a lot of work to manage—I’m maintaining a brand. That’s what I’m doing. I’m the PR guy, I’m the distributor, I’m the wholesaler, I’m the writer, I’m the designer, I’m everything. But I like it. It gives me complete creative control. But now I’ve gotten to the point where I need to take one step more. I’m trying to get national exposure with the next book.
What is your next book about?
My new book is about growing up with the gift. Having it, but never realizing exactly what it was or how to use it. You can’t lose it, and if you don’t use it, it starts to use itself. From a young age, I would sense things, I would close my eyes when I was lying in bed and I would see these vivid images. I’d see people, I’d see colors, and sometimes I’d hear people talking and think it was my parents or I’d hear something in the room. When you’re a little kid, it scares the hell out of you. One of the most important reasons for writing the book is that a lot of people have intuitive or psychic ability and people have had experiences similar to mine. It’s part of the human condition. I want to tell my story so that other people who are going through this, who don’t know where to turn or who to ask, can read this.
Why have you decided to pursue a book deal rather than self-publish again?
I need to be able to focus on the creativity and the writing and the projects, versus distribution and publicity. I’m told that fewer and fewer publishers are doing publicity on titles—that it’s becoming up to the author and the publicist now. But I still want my books in Barnes & Noble.