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Books, Arts, Wine, Nibbles and Great People…

Second Annual “Novel” Wine Tasting, Arts, and Literary Festival

By Authors Jack Gannon and Cyndi Williams-Barnier

In search for local places to hold book signings, we found a small winery near our hometown: September Oaks Vineyards in Ridgeland, S.C. We approached the owners to sponsor a book signing, had a successful event, and then we were asked to come back again but to bring along other local authors. We accepted the offer. Long story short, we started with a small handful of local authors we knew and blossomed to thirty authors from the area. We realized we had the potential for a marketing hay day and a chance to turn this event into a festival. We used a play on words to name the event, and created The Inaugural “Novel” Wine Tasting and Literary Festival (get it? “Novel”? As is both “unique” and “book”? Guess you had to be there…).

We contacted area authors, asked them to bring tents, tables and chairs; there was no fee to attend; and we worked with the winery to offer food, wine tastings, and tours. Authors were allotted 15 minutes to read from their books, warranting the need for an 8 Thereafter we produced a festival page on Facebook & Pinterest—updated with information and photos. As we had a $0 advertising budget, we sought out free media exposure with television, radio, and print interviews. It turned out to be a relatively small but eventful festival, pulling in approximately 500 customers. The vineyards’ location—that of an old plantation-like site with 200 year old oaks, and acres of grapevines—created a magnificent backdrop and the perfect autumn weather added to the wonderful atmosphere. Having a few local big-name authors helped get us some attention along with the media interviews. As fate would have it, the owners had the best wine sales they’d had for the entire year, produced great exposure for their business, and asked us to return for a second year (which we’d hoped for when naming the festival “Inaugural”!). Of course, we accepted!

Fast forward a year later, and we’re coming up on the “Second Annual ‘Novel’ Wine Tasting, Arts, and Literary Festival”. We chose to hold the festival on the last Saturday of October, same as last year. This year, however, we decided to opt for a larger festival with more attractions and opened it up to any author, not just locals. We also threw in an option to invite artists. What did we end up with? Currently registered are 60 talented authors of all genres from coast-to-coast and 20 artists and vendors who produce incredible creations. Two musicians—a banjo player and a teen violinist—will also perform during the day. We even managed to acquire a very special guest for this year, Miss South Carolina 2014 Lanie Hudson, who will be on hand for pictures, autographs, and meet-and-greet.

The festival is still running on a zero-dollar budget and we quickly realized we needed more help. We approached two local Civil War reenactment groups and invited them to set up “living histories”, and one even offered to provide food and refreshments with all proceeds going to their wounded veterans’ foundation. We provided all attendees of a local vendor who rents tents, tables and chairs, and found a local hotel that would give our participants a discount. On one side of the vineyards’ multiple acres we will have author readings and our banjo player, and on the other side of the field we have author story-telling, wherein the authors act out parts of their books (reading of children’s stories, dressing in period clothing of a certain era, using other dialects such as our local Gullah vernaculars, etc.). In a third location, a new outdoor room adjacent to the winery, our violinist will perform for customers as they enjoy glasses of delicious wine.

The two Civil War groups will also assist with traffic, directions, helping with tent setup, handing out printed programs, assisting handicapped participants and the public, carrying books and other inventory, etc. As for entertainment, we’ve had a banjo player and concert violinist offer to come out and play for free. There’s still the wine tastings, wine sales, and tours of the winery and grounds.

Like last year, the Festival is free to the public to get in, is family- and pet-friendly.

We solicited for a photographer to capture the festival throughout the day and ended up with 2 professional photographers, who will shoot pictures for free and are only asking for credit/recognition of the photos we use for promoting the day and next year’s festival (yes, we have already been invited back for a third year, but that’s still a secret!).

While we studied up on how to solicit funds to help with the cost of this year’s festival, we discovered that we started too late in the year for this year—though we did get a few small donations.

This year we did decide to charge a spot fee for all participants—a whopping $5.00! Having achieved a small amount of national recognition and interest by authors and artists, we’re hoping to charge a bit more each year for spot fees. Based on our marketing techniques, authors from coast to coast have registered to attend one of the largest festivals in the area, in a small town equidistant to two major tourist cities (Beaufort and Hilton Head Island), and are estimating 2,000 customers or more during a 6-hour period. We’re hoping that sponsors will also jump on the bandwagon and provide all the funds needed for next year.

To finalize our learning experience, we offer several marketing techniques:

  • Create an opportunity to help a worthy cause (ours is wounded veterans)
  • Create a catchy, memorable, appealing title (Annual “Novel” Wine Tasting, Arts, and Literary Festival). We have also created “Lowcountry Authors Under The Live Oaks” held at Frampton Plantation, Yemassee, SC; and the upcoming “Reading Between The Vines”, also at September Oaks
  • Take time to “friend” people on Facebook and other social networks, especially authors, film makers, artists, politicians, local influential people, businesses and foundations, all of whom may take an interest in the event
  • Attend other events/festivals
  • Media (provide press releases, appear on TV, radio, do interviews for magazines and newspapers, get on event calendars)
  • Take the time to promote your guests (put their bio, appealing photos, book covers, etc., on social networks – Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, GoodReads, LinkedIn, and more – always denoting URL’s to your sites)
  • Have fun but be respectful at all times
  • Give due credit to everyone who helps behind the scenes

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