For book collectors and lovers of the written word...a perfect Sunday afternoon might consist of
roaming the aisles of a quaint used bookstore searching for a specific title to add to their collection
or something entirely new to devour on cold winter nights nestled in a warm quilted bed or hot
summer days at the beach. My favorite such place is a small used book shop located in the
basement of a rambling old mansion in Bloomington , Indiana. Books fill steel shelves in a seemingly
endless maze of tiny rooms with cement walls, nooks and crannies.
There's no telling what you might find. In this particular book store you'll find lots of Bobby Knight
and I.U. Basketball books and even more books by a fellow named Stephen King. In fact...no matter
which book store you go to across the U.S. you're apt to find rows and rows of King's haunting novels.
The most well known of these book stores (and one I hope to visit some day), that cater to King fans
is located in Steve's home town of Bangor, Maine. Betts Bookstore is the store for Stephen King
books in the US. Established in 1938 , they are the oldest bookstore in Bangor and stock all of King's
books in hardcover, paperback and
signed limited editions. They also carry a selection of new and used Aviation ,Automotive books and
the complete works in hardcover and paperback, of New York Times Best Selling Author, Terry
The following is a Collectors World exclusive interview with owner Stuart Tinker of Betts.
Hi Stuart and thank you for consenting to this interview with Collectors World Online.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your store and how you started in the business of selling
I'm 54 years old and was born and raised here in Bangor. I have always lived next to the Thomas Hill
Standpipe from IT and Dreamcatcher fame. I own on one side of it and my folks own on the other
side, so when Steve writes about the building, it really hits close to home for me! As does most of
what he writes about in Bangor. Betts Bookstore was started in 1938 and is the oldest bookstore in
the city. It had changed hands a number of times since the days
of Mrs. Betts, but I had bought my first book from her in 1959 and always thought of it as "my"
bookstore. My wife Penney and I bought Betts in 1991, kind of on a whim, since I was just tired of
working for other people. Before we reopened it, we looked at the other bookstores in Bangor to see
what they were doing. The big thing we noticed was nobody sold King books other than the current
release and one or two paperbacks. Being fans, and
knowing what Steve and Tabby have done for the area we really felt it was an insult to them and we
made the decision to stock at least one copy of every title. We set up a corner of the store (at that
time we were on Main Street) devoted to just their books. We were a full line bookstore with
magazines, newspapers and both new and used books, but the King section just got bigger and
bigger. When Borders moved to Bangor, and the building we were in was up for sale, it was time to
make a change and we really had no trouble deciding to downsize and become a specialty store
selling just King and Terry Goodkind. Terry lived in Bar Harbor at the time and we had become
friends before his first book. Wizard's First Rule, was published. He did his first ever signing at our
store, and today provides us with signed copies of all his books.
2. How big of a Stephen King fan are you and have you read everything?
We have been reading Steve's books since Carrie was released in 1974. I have read everything with
the exception of Dreamcatcher and Lisey's Story. Both books left me flat and I stopped reading them
at about page 300. At some point I will pick them up and start again, but they just are not high on my
list. Steve was a bit put out about the fact that I stated this on our web page, but I really try to be up
front with our customers. Just because I personally did not care
for these two stories is not to say that they are not good ones. The critics and the majority of our
customers think Lisey's Story is probably Steve's best book ever, so they saw something in it that I
3. The Stand is my favorite King novel and the first one I read...I was blown away and kept stopping to
read certain sentences or paragraphs over again and then to my wife.....awed that someone could
write so well. Do you have a favorite and can you tell us a little about the first King novel you read
and what your reaction was?
The Stand is my favorite too, followed closely by IT and The Talisman. My first was Carrie, and it was
just so different from what I had read up to that point that I could not put it down. Looking back, it
really was more of a Novella than a full length novel, at least by Stephen King standards, but boy
what a start for him!
4. Are you a collector of King's books and if so is your collection complete?
Yes, we do collect his books, but I am not a completest in any way. We have trade editions of every
book, most of them signed (inscribed to us) and a couple of them bookclub editions. We have 20 or
more signed limiteds, but not a complete set. Owning a store, the number one rule is: You can't fall in
love with the inventory! So as much as I would love to have retained everything, to make the store
work and meet payroll, we end up selling them.
5. What are the most requested King titles and which is the "Holy Grail"? Are there one or two books
that stand out as the hardest to aquire?
The most requested title we have is for a signed copy of The Stand. This and IT are extremely hard
to obtain as most people that have a signed copy of either hangs onto it. As for the hardest book to
acquire, it would be the first state of 'Salem's Lot. There are only 5 known to exist, and we have
handled 3 of them over the years, but it is now a$20,000.00 or more book.
6. Do you think King's books will be regarded, years from now, as classic literature ,or is King...as he
describes himself "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries"?
I truly think he will be looked upon as one of the greatest writers in the world. As with any great talent,
it usually is not acknowledged until after death, but just the sheer volume of his sales has got to be a
source of great satisfaction to Steve. To me, he is the definition of the American Dream. He came
from a very poor beginning, raised by a Mother who taught him a work ethic that is not readily found
anymore, and by his own talent and believe in himself, he
has become what he is today.
7. Has Stephen King ever visited your store? What was that like and did he buy anything or just
Steve used to be in the store about every two weeks when we were downtown. He has purchased
many books from us, including four complete sets of first edition Stephen King books! They had
never saved his own books and at some point decided to put a set together for each of their children
and one for themselves. He did a number of signings for us too. Since his accident, we very rarely
see him any more. It has changed his life in a number of
8. What do you think King's appeal is? How does he relate to so many different types of readers and
make hardcore fans of them?
If anyone knew the answer to this, they would be busy writing the same stories! I think he just is such
a great storyteller, and he writes about things we know. Pepsi, Ford Escorts, just everyday common
things that we tend to be able to relate to in his stories. He is down to earth and it comes across in his
books, and people feel it. He has a way of making you like his characters and feel like you know
them, or want to know them. Many authors don't seem to
be able to do that.
9. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. What is Halloween like at Betts Bookstore? Do you go all
out with decorations and promotions and is that your busiest time of the year?
No, we don't decorate for any Holiday. Since we moved to Hammond Street, we are mostly n on-line
store, but we keep the store front because of the fans that do come to Bangor. But we do not see any
major up-turns in business for Halloween or even Christmas. It is pretty steady 365 days a year.
10. What would you say is the most expensive King book in existence? The most limited and most
The first state 'Salem's is the most expensive, followed by the asbestos Firestarter. The most limited
is probably The Plant with only about 200 copies, and the most sought limited edition book is The
Stand. There were only 26 asbestos Firestarter done, but there was a numbered version released at
the same time. The same is true for The Regulators, with the bullets.
11. How much does a King autograph or inscription increase the value of a book, and for readers
who don't know...what is the difference (literally and in value) between an autograph and inscription?
Steve's signature on a 3" X 5" index card would sell for $150.00 or more. His signature on a book will
add at least that much and most often more to the value of the book. Just his signature on a book
(usually called flat signed) is preferred by most collectors, but more and more people are beginning
to want inscribed books because you are more assured of the authenticity of the signature. For a
living author, it is strange for his signed books to command
the prices they do. If you look at Tom Clancy, Anne Rice or John Grisham, all pretty popular writers,
none of them have the demand for signed copies that Steve does. Most collectors can obtain their
limited edition books at a fraction of the cost of a signed King book. Within the last 4 or 5 years we
have seen very little difference in the costs between flat signed and inscribed copies of Steve's
books. The reason is the supply is drying up of authentic signed copies.
Since his accident he has done few public signings and now fans will take anything that they can find
to fill gaps in their collections.
12. Recently there's been an onslaught of fake first edition King books and autographs on EBay and
other online auction house websites (I've seen some obvious and really blatant fakes) ...how can a
collectors know what they are getting is genuine?
The best way is to know who you are buying from. We obtain 95% of our signed books from people
we know, from friends of Steve or in the old days directly from him. It is impossible to fake one of his
limited editions, so even on eBay, you are safe buying one of them. Bad Moon Books in California is
a dealer that we always recommend. Roy has been doing it a long time and is a good friend and
honest as the day is long. The other thing is for the collector to
educate themselves. Look at Steve's signatures that are known to be genuine, and be familiar with
the changes that have taken place in them over the years. And his signature has changed several
13. How has the advent of the internet helped/hurt business like Betts? As a collector of many things
I've developed a love-hate relationship with eBay....on the one hand it's made the world a much
smaller place and I can find almost anything I am looking for, but on the other...the easy access has
made "hard to find" collectibles, not so HTF and in a lot of instances lowered their value. When eBay
is used as a dumping ground for sellers with overstock or who have
already made a hefty profit and are willing to practically give things away, it devalues my collectibles
that I paid top dollar for. This is also relevant to new Stephen King book releases...buyers can get a
brand new release for less than the publishers price in many cases.
The early days of the Internet really helped us. The late Charlie Fried was instrumental in getting me
on-line. He was one of the "Super Collectors" of King and helped guide me through the world of
computers. Because of Charlie, we started our web page and things took off. The past few years has
been a little different, for the reasons you stated. Everybody and their brother could be a "dealer"
selling books out of their living rooms. And the sad thing was the
number of "first edition bookclub" books that were sold to unknowledgeable fans. The sellers getting
$500.00 for a $200.00 book. The "very rare" 15th printing of Tommyknockers selling for $100.00.
That and the con artists selling forged signatures. But I see it coming back again as collectors are
getting more and more leery of eBay dealers. There has been one prominent "dealer" selling on
eBay for a number of years, but if you look at his auction now, most items get no bids. Not that his
books are not genuine, but his prices were half again what someone could get through Bad Moon or
Betts. It takes awhile but collectors catch on, and they don't forget.
14. The only price guide for Stephen King books that I'm aware of is the 1989 George Beahm "The
Stephen King Companion". Is this the only guide for King's books available and if you are familiar with
it...are the prices realistic in today's market some 17 years later? (I love this book and hope someone
We are quite familiar with George's book because we distributed it! There were a number of people
that worked on that book. Marc Brenner, Charlie Fried, Chris Cavalier, Bob Jackson, Dave Lowell,
Roy Robbins and myself all helped George, and we are all quite proud of the finished product. The
book is as good a reference today as it was in 1989, but the values stated have changed, and of
course there are a number of books that Steve has published
since. The good news is, George is working now on the updated edition of the book. If all goes well,
we will have it out this summer. It has been delayed for that past couple of years from what we wanted
due to many factors, but it will be worth the wait!
15. Do you know if King has any plans to retire soon?
I personally do not know of any retirement plans. I do not think that Steve will ever stop writing. He
may stop publishing, and has actually slowed down some now, but he will continue to write as long as
he lives. The story that Dark Tower VII was his last book was just to hype the sales of that book. He
was busy writing another novel while that story was being spread. Unfortunately, those stories hurt
sales in the collectible market as people decided to start collecting other writers. The interest in, and
the value of, the limited edition Dark Tower series plummeted, and is just now starting to level off.
16. I have a long list of things that I collect aside from King books, bobbleheads being one. Have you
seen the Stephen King bobblehead doll and do you own one. They were given out at a Lowell
Spinners baseball game and a good friend sent me one. They are too cool.
Yes, I have one of the Bobblehead dolls in my collection, and have obtained a few that we sold at the
store. It was a neat little item!
17. I'm a collector of all things King from movie posters to the Rock Bottom Remainders "Stranger
Than Fiction" CD...What other King items do you sell at Betts?
There are any number of King related items beside books that can be collected. T-shirts, movie
posters, movie props, signed pictures. We try to stock any and all things King. We have a license
plate frame that says: "I'd rather be reading Stephen King" on it. Imagine how true that is while stuck
in 5:00 o'clock traffic every night! We usually have coffee mugs with all of his titles listed on them.
And we have a line of small refrigerator magnets that look like the
State of Maine license plates. One says "Stephen King", another says "Derry" and one of the other
says "Castle Rock". They can be seen (insert shameless plug here) on our web page at
18. Anything you'd like to add?
No, I think I rambled on long enough! Edit this any way you see fit, and if can't be used, let me know
and I'll try again for you. Have a Happy and safe New Years!
Stuart Tinker - Betts Book Store
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Mark Sean Orr
|Mark's Interview with Stuart Tinker of Bett's Bookstore