Free Cigars at the Twin Cities Book Festival

This past Saturday I was an exhibiting author at the 10th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival in downtown Minneapolis. It was pretty cool to see so many authors and publishers together in the same place, surrounded by the hundreds and hundreds of event-goers. There were reading and author signings, panel discussions, lectures, free giveaways (free candy) and dozens of authors.

I had a chance to exhibit Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy and The Cigar Maker, and in an event such as this, when you’re surrounded by your competition, you need a way to stand out, to get people to stop at your table. Since my latest novel deals with the history of the cigar industry in Tampa, Florida, I figured I’d stick a humidor on the table with a sign that says FREE CIGARS (with purchase of the book!)…

It definitely brought people over, but had two very different effects:

1. People would stop, ask about the cigars and the book. Pick it up, flip through it, maybe pickup a flier or a business card. Talk about cigars, Tampa, Cuban history, or books in general. In some cases, they’d buy the book. Sometimes they just wanted to meet you and learn about your work and who you are. That was great too! In general, this group was very friendly and my little marketing trick seemed to have served it’s purpose.

2. People walk right up to the humidor and ask for their free cigar without looking at anything on your table. When you engage them and pitch your book while explaining that the cigar is free with a purchase of the book, they just walk away.

One guy even grabbed two cigars (as he knocked my sign over) and said he was going to give one to his friend. I told him I’d throw in two cigars and that each copy of The Cigar Maker is $15. He tossed the cigars back into the humidor and said, “Then they’re not really free.” Thankfully, he quickly walked away.

Can’t blame the people in group #2 though. The sign did have kind of a “made you look” effect….but then again, these folks seemed like they were not planning on stopping by anyway. Still, if I use cigars as a promotional item again I will probably do it a bit differently. It was the right idea, but I may need to change it up so it doesn’t feel so cheap to some people.

For all your aficionados out there who are wondering what kind of cigars I gave away: they were Flor de Ybor City coronas from Tampa Sweethearts. The tie-in was that much of the book takes place in Ybor City, Florida. The fact that the cigars come from the same city where the book takes place made for a great talking point.

Met a lot of great people and made some new connections, set up a couple things. I’ll be featured on Book Snob in December. And I got the inside scoop on the Minnesota Book Awards.

But overall it was a great day. The Twin Cities Book Festival, courtesy of Rain Taxi, is a worthwhile event and one I will return to. Saw a lot of friends there, met a few people I had only known online, either via Facebook or some other outlet. After the event we went out to eat and drank beer, and discussed my next event, Literary Death Match on October 26th.

A lot of people were talking about this at the book festival and I guess I’m playing the parts of David, Rocky and a snowball in hell. Just over a week to prepare. Should be a good time…Hope to see some of you there!!

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