Not long after Grady Hendrix’s first novel, “Horrorstör,” came out in 2014, he traveled from Manhattan to a “really lovely” bookstore in Pennsylvania, prepared to chat with readers about his tale of a haunted furniture store based on Ikea.
“I drove and drove and drove and drove and I was ready to rock ’n’ roll and there was literally one person sitting there,” Hendrix recalled in a phone interview. “I was like, OK, I can adjust, I’ll chat with her, we’ll make it personal. I said, ‘Hey, I’m Grady,’ and she looked terrified. She was like, ‘I’m just waiting for my friend who’s in the bathroom.’ So it turned out I had no one.”
Many a writer has droned into an unnecessary microphone before an audience consisting of one mortified bookstore employee who’s also trying to keep an eye on the cash register. (Transactions in these cases don’t usually involve the book being discussed.) Hendrix resolved not to put himself in this position again. Laughing, he said, “The only thing more boring than sitting in an author event is being an author doing an author event.”
Over the years, through the publication of two works of nonfiction and six more novels, including his latest best seller, “How to Sell a Haunted House,” Hendrix has fine-tuned his approach to self-promotion. Instead of reading a passage and depending on strangers to ask questions, he now performs an hourlong one-man show for his readers. He said, “I usually go through between 130 and 170 slides. It’s me talking, and I sing sometimes. Not well. And they’re always about the book, kind of.”
Hendrix declined a request to sing, but he did explain that the presentation he had just delivered in 16 mostly sold-out venues is about the economic realities of selling a haunted house. “It basically gives the what, why, when and who of ghosts,” Hendrix said. “If you’re selling a haunted house, you’ve got to know ghosts. And so it runs through the history of ghosts.” (Apparently, they didn’t always look like dead people; they used to look like burning haystacks. Who knew?) The slide show includes movie posters, book covers, “bad clip art” and graphs, “because people like numbers.”
Hendrix admitted that, when it comes to signing books, he tends to move “incredibly slowly.” To keep things lively, he’ll ask readers if they’ve ever seen a ghost. Tales of other people’s experiences with haunting are “like dreams,” he said. “They mean a lot to the person who experiences them but they’re really boring once you hear about them.” He went on, “I had someone who had me sign their book to them and their brother, who’s been dead for the last eight years. Because, they said, ‘Every now and then I’ll just really, really strongly get a sense of his presence.’” Hendrix was happy to oblige.
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”