BOOKS | No cigar, but lots of books: Self-published authors carpe diem at the Twin Cities Book Festival


The Rain Taxi Review of Books is holding its tenth annual Twin Cities Book Festival at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College on Saturday, October 16 10 a.m. to 5 pm. The day promises to be a feast for book lovers, with literary discussions, author talks, signings, and a book sale. Many authors who are self-published will be exhibiting or attending. A lot of people wonder how they continue to do this. Is it a lonely endeavor? Do they love to expose themselves to throngs of strangers? I exchanged e-mails with one author who will be at the TCBF, and he is very enthusiastic about the opportunity. He is Mark McGinty, and his book The Cigar Maker can be found all over town, and as far away as Tampa, Florida—the city where the book is set.

The Cigar Maker,” wrote McGinty, “which is based on true events, is the story of a Cuban cigar maker named Salvador Ortiz who battles labor strife and vigilante violence in 1900s Tampa, Florida.”

This book has a natural marketing angle, as McGinty discovered while he was writing it: it appeals to cigar aficionados. His public release party was held at the Tampa Bay History Center, and he has done events at cigar-related establishments, including the Havana Nights Cigar Club. Mark said the marketing angle came to him as he was writing the book—he hadn’t known the cigar world was so vast. He thinks the so far he has hit only about 25% of the cigar blogs out there, and plans to go after the rest. His book has been featured at the Cigar Guys Summer Smoke in Irvine, California, and McGinty has appeared on several radio shows.

“I love talking about my work and sharing my experience with people,” wrote McGinty. “A lot of people don’t know the history of cigars, or the history of Tampa, and it’s a very vivid, very colorful slice of American history.”

McGinty, 35, has a day job as a corporate consultant. He’s lived in the Twin Cities since 1981, except for several years away for college. The story of The Cigar Maker was based on events in his family history. “Both of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side were Cuban cigar makers who moved from Havana to Tampa in the early 1900s,” wrote McGinty. “I wrote this book to celebrate the vivid and colorful history of Tampa, but also as a tribute to my grandparents, whose stories, examples and great cooking have inspired me my whole life.” He wrote that his family is very happy about the book, and very proud (especially those whose names or stories made it into the book). He travels to Tampa about twice a year and spent a lot of time there while he was growing up. McGinty is now working on a new book, a World War II thriller that takes place in Hiroshima.

The Cigar Maker was published on June 1 and is a print-on-demand title. McGinty declined to specify how many copies have been sold. “I’d rather not give a number of copies sold, since there is a lot of activity in the pipeline and the number sold is certain to go up. Let’s just say that my goal has been to sell at least one copy a day and I am easily exceeding that goal—so far!” To further promote the book, McGinty will be appearing at the Literary Death Match on October 26 at Clubhouse Jäger.

Clearly, the key is to get out there, and it doesn’t hurt to have a niche topic, and tap into that niche. McGinty has some advice for authors making appearances at events:
• Be strategic—don’t just do an event for the sake of doing one.
• Know how to talk about your book—give people something they don’t already have.
• Get in the news—write a press release, find blogs, and pay attention to your brand.
• Use social networking! Facebook and Twitter, sure. But also find websites and message boards dedicated to your subject and become a regular presence there.
• Finally, be generous with your books: follow up, and thank your host. Keep the relationship going after the event is over. Give the host some books to give away or to display.

The Twin Cities Book Festival has enjoyed growing crowds, with nearly 6,000 in attendance last year. “Major bookselling at the Festival,” wrote Eric Lorber, Rain Taxi editor, in an e-mail, “will be split between Magers & Quinn Booksellers (adult) and Borders (children’s). There are 120 vendors this year, a mix of booksellers, publishers, editors, magazines and authors. About three dozen authors have tables, and some of these are self-published.” The festival is a free event, and is considered one of the premier book events of the year in the Twin Cities. Lorberer wrote that “the goal of the Festival is to celebrate the dynamic literary culture we’re lucky enough to enjoy in the Twin Cities, and also to welcome some out-of-town luminaries to the area, so readers can interact with some of their favorite authors.”