Interview with Annie Tupek

I met Annie Tupek at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. I liked her immediately.  She looked curious and happy to be there and interested in the presentations.  We had something in common:  Alaska.  Now, I’ve only been there once.  But it pretty much knocked my socks off – it’s a really pretty place.  And I know a bit since I had an adopted family member there (on the Kenai Peninsula) for two years.  Which means I heard many stories of elk in the yard and cold so severe that exposed skin freezes in minutes, of chopping firewood in the sparse light of mid-winter and carrying big guns when walking in the neighborhood because of the bears.  So I decided to interview Annie.   Since this worked out rather well, I think I may interview other people in other parts of the book business in the future.  After all, we’re all in the same industry:  editors, writers, agents, publicists, and booksellers.  So here is my interview with Annie.  I hope you like it.  Oh, and by the way, Annie blogs at

When I met you at PNBA, you mentioned that you love Alaska.  What is it about Alaska that speaks to you personally?

The feeling of community in Alaska really struck me when I first moved to Fairbanks.  Everyone (not to make sweeping generalizations, but it really felt like everyone) offered help and advice for the move and my first winter.  And there’s a sense of camaraderie among Alaskans, we respect each others’ differences, but we’ve all been through the winters.  I fly Alaskan Air and I’ve recognized people from Fairbanks when I’m sitting in Seattle or Portland or even Chicago waiting for a plane.  I may not know their name, but I recognize a lot of faces from the bookstore.  Also, the overwhelming abundance of natural beauty and nature defies description.  I love that I can go five miles out of town and be in pristine wilderness.  It’s something that I didn’t have growing up in the Chicago suburbs.

How do you think the extreme seasons with long and short light affect reading in Alaska?  Do you have more winter readers up there?

I read more in the winter, but I also enjoy sitting out on my back porch during the summer and read.  I talk to a lot of customers and a lot agree: There’s nothing better than snuggling with a good book next to a wood-burning stove.  I like a comfy afghan and mug of hot chocolate with my winter reading.  The bookstore sales don’t seem affected by it, we do a lot of summer business to tourists looking for Alaskan books.

What is the best part of working in a bookstore?

Best part of working in a bookstore are the Advance Reader Copies.  There’s something satisfying about reading a book before it’s available to the public, and later seeing it on the shelves and being able to tell a customer about it, even if the store just got it in yesterday.

You are a writer as well as a bookseller.  Is being surrounded by books a motivator?  Or is it sometimes overwhelming?

Being surrounded by books is both a blessing and a curse.  I get filled with inspiration from just looking at books and thinking about stories, but I’m a book addict and my to-read list is overwhelming.  There are so many great books out there and I want to read them all.

As a bookseller, what attracts you to a book?

I am most attracted to a new story.  I want a book that’s going to take me somewhere I haven’t been before, so I read a lot of speculative fiction.  I also like new views of old stories, I recently read Fool by Christopher Moore which is the retelling of King Lear from the jester’s point of view.  I read more fiction than nonfiction, and I like cutting-edge nonfiction, mostly science topics especially astronomy and computer topics.  And I like my nonfiction to have a human element to it, I’m looking for the story behind the science.

Is there anything you see writers or publishers doing as promotion that you find effective?  Or conversely, anything we or publishers do that annoys you?

Posters are good promotional materials, whenever we put up a poster in the store, we always get a couple of requests for the book.  Also, bookmarks work well.  We give them away for free, and people come back to the store with them looking for the book that’s advertised.  Many publishers communicate to us publicity schedules via email, especially when a book is going to reach major media, and that’s been a real help.

I think a lot of self-published writers don’t understand the difficulty of stocking or ordering their titles from vanity presses, they have to rely completely on self-promotion and that’s a strange bewildering world for a lot of them.  They don’t understand that we can’t stock a non-returnable title that we don’t get a discount on.  We will special order the book if a customer requests it, but it’s not something we’re going to keep on the shelves.

What is the most effective thing your store does to promote itself to the community?

Gulliver’s deals in used books as well as new and anything that we can’t take in trade we offer to donate to the Literacy Council of Alaska.  Through us, our customers donate thousands of books every week.  Gulliver’s has been around for over 20 years and has a very strong customer base, we’re active in the community, donating to area schools and organizations.  We have a café and we give monthly coupons to neighborhood businesses.  We also do print and radio ads.  We are looking to new methods of promotion though, rebuilding the website and starting to think about branching into television commercials.  I’m interested to see how the television promotion works.

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