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Carol Fitzgerald: Teens know what to read at teenreads.com

Carol Fitzgerald is co-founder and president of the popular teen-books website Teenreads.com, which offers teens everything from book reviews and author information to contests. Founded in 1997 as part of the Book Report Network, it draws 300,000 visitors per month.

Q: How would you describe Teenreads in a nutshell?
A: Teenreads.com offers teen readers—and anyone else who enjoys young adult (YA) books—a place to discover and enjoy books and authors, with a variety of features all developed to initiate and cultivate a love of reading.

Q: When and why was it launched, and how many visitors do you get?
A: The site was launched in July 1997, first only on AOL and called The Book Bag. It was hatched as an idea when the chat rooms and message boards for our adult website were filled with teens chatting about their favorite books—to the complete consternation of our older readers, who felt their discussions were being overrun. I had been noodling the idea of a website for teens since the prior August, when I had been in the library one night, and a young boy came in to ask where the high school summer reading was. The librarian pointed to a shelf of books, remarking, “School starts tomorrow.” The boy replied, “It’s going to be a long night.” These moments spurred the concept of creating an online home for both eager and reluctant readers, where we could not only offer a place to talk about books, but provide some direction for what actually interests teens.
We have approximately 300,000 unique visitors coming to the site each month and there are close to 13,000 subscribers to our monthly newsletter. There is also a relatively new bi-weekly “On Sale This Week” newsletter that goes out to about 700 people, which alerts readers as to what is on sale over a two-week period.

Q: You run everything from reviews to polls and contests. What are your most popular features?
A: The top five features in August were Reviews, the Authors Section, Coming Soon, the Teen Ultimate Reading List and Cool & New. In addition, Contests, Adult Books You Want to Read, Grab Bag of Books, the Poll, Books on Screen and the Blog typically round out the top ten features.
While review and author information have been part of the site from the beginning, other features have grown organically from our conversations with readers, from what we see in our mailbox and from concepts that spark our interest. As an example, Coming Soon was developed as we realized readers wanted to know what to expect in the upcoming months. The Teen Ultimate Reading List was born after I saw the books on my sons’ school reading lists, and felt that most required reading was not fostering a lifelong love of reading, as the books were not exciting or inspiring. Thus we developed a list of books that we thought readers actually would want to read. That list now boasts more than 400 titles.
Cool & New evolved from readers looking for a curated list of new titles while Adult Books You Want to Read gave us a chance to share appropriate Bookreporter.com content with our teen readers. At the same time, we have a feature on Bookreporter.com called “Young Adult Books You Want to Read” that we launched a couple of years ago when we realized that adults were rabid YA fans. In fact, noting this, we are doing a YA Book Survey in October and November asking both teens and adults about their impressions about YA books.

Q: Tell us an inspiring story.
A: Years ago I got an email from a teen reader asking if my husband was F. Scott Fitzgerald and if so, could I ask him some questions about the theme and plot of his books for a school report. That was printed and tacked to my wall for a while. A few months ago I spoke with Lisa Stasse, a YA author who said that she had read Teenreads.com since she was a teen. I loved hearing that and it also made me realize that teens who were 13 when we first launched are now in their late twenties. The librarian at our local high school told me that she uses Teenreads.com to look for selections for her buying. She said that we always have the books that teens like, not the ones adults think they will like. Many readers share that we have turned them onto authors who they are passionate about—and others write to tell us that they have tried books that they would not have looked at without our telling them about them.

Q: What do teens look for in a review?
A: Teens, like adults, look for books from their favorite authors. They also want to know what a book is about and to see some thread in what it says, that shows it is similar to some other book that they have liked or a topic that interests them. They look for characters that they can relate to. They also are intrepid enough to want to try to discover something interesting and new, and are willing to explore a review to find it. Parents and educators often look for prizewinners and validation from others that a book has passed muster with some group that is respected.

Q: Tell us very briefly about your “sister” sites and how they coordinate with Teenreads
A: Teenreads.com is part of TheBookReportNetwork.com, a group of seven websites that includes Bookreporter.com (the flagship site), Kidsreads.com, 20SomethingReads.com, ReadingGroupGuides.com, GraphicNovelReporter.com and FaithfulReader.com. All of our content is in one database and it is published on whatever website is appropriate. This gives us a chance to not pigeonhole books to only be seen by one audience, but rather by everyone to whom it might appeal. Given that your local library and your average bookstore typically shelve a book in just one location, you can imagine how exciting this is for us.

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