The Buzz Behind BuzzFeed Books

NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students with BuzzFeed Books Deputy Editor Jarry Lee and BuzzFeed Books Editor Arianna Rebolini (third and fourth from left in front row)

Have you ever wondered if you would survive The Hunger Games? Or what books by celebrities are actually good? Are you desperate to know which Divergent faction you really belong in? Or which 45 books will make perfect gifts? Look no more, because BuzzFeed Books has all the answers. And also lots of questions for you!

Students in the NYU MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program were so excited last week to visit the offices of BuzzFeed to meet with Arianna Rebolini, Editor of BuzzFeed Books, and Jarry Lee, Deputy Editor. Our expectations were exceeded: floor to ceiling windows, hip staffers walking around carrying laptops, free snacks, someone casually riding by on a hoverboard, beanbag chairs, and basically everything you would expect from a creative digital media company like BuzzFeed. “This is a great place to work,” noted Rebolini. “We all feel respected and valued.” But the cool  environment doesn’t  mean that being part of the BuzzFeed team isn’t hard work. Rebolini and Lee spend their days answering a lot of emails, writing, editing, brainstorming with other staffers and teams interested in reading and culture, establishing relationships with authors and publishers, going through the very specific book recommendation requests they get from readers, representing BuzzFeed Books at literary events, and much, much more.

Students listen to Rebolini  talk about their approach to covering great reads for a book-loving audience.

According to Rebolini, the site “started naturally and as a celebration of books,” simply because BuzzFeed realized that book posts always did really well. In addition to publishing BuzzFeed’s signature quizzes and listicles (such as “21 Brilliant Novels That Were Adapted into Great Films,” “20 Literary Tattoos That Can Melt Every Book Lover’s Heart,” and “12 Books That Will Help You Navigate The Weird Maze That Is Life”), as well as reviews, interviews, and essays from authors, they are especially proud of the relationship they have been able to build with readers.

With around 150,000 actively engaged newsletter subscribers and just as many Twitter followers, as well as over 1,000,000 people following their Facebook page, the community has grown significantly. Conversation with their readers is a two-way street, and everyone is constantly encouraged to participate: readers can write their own posts, and the team sorts through them and decides which are worth putting on the front page. They do call-out posts (labeled ‘Add Yours’), such as “What’s the Most Realistic Love Story You’ve Ever Read in a Book?” There is also a reading advice club exclusively for newsletter subscribers, and a Facebook page called Page Turners by BuzzFeed, where readers encourage each other to read more and new kinds of books. Engaging their readers to that extent has a major purpose: “People are very excited to be featured in posts, and like to see their words on the site,” said Rebolini.

In fact, the team tries to focus more on conversation starters than on obsessing over views and clicks. “The questions we ask ourselves are: Is this starting a conversation? Are people talking about it? Are they sharing it?” Lee noted. To be able to deliver the best and most exciting literary content possible to their readers, Lee is “fearless about going after authors and building a relationship with them,” said Rebolini. Lee is in regular contact with authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and R.L. Stine.

We also heard about a BuzzFeed Books’ plan for the future: Next summer, they expect to launch a subscription model book club, and say they are very excited to discuss a book each month with their readers.

In fact, spreading the word about books is important to the BuzzFeed Books team. “Literary fiction is where I live,” noted Rebolini. “I love it that we are able to help readers who might not think of themselves as literary discover books they really like.”

BuzzFeed News members Tina Susman, David Mack, Tom Namako and Bianca Consunji stop by to talk to the students.

As an added bonus to our visit to BuzzFeed, we even had the opportunity to meet the BuzzFeed News team. Tom Namako (Deputy News Director), Tina Susman (National Editor), David Mack (Reporter and Weekend Editor), and Bianca Consunji (Executive Producer) took time out of their very busy day to give us some insight into what it’s like to work in the BuzzFeed News newsroom. Talking to them helped us understand why BuzzFeed News has such original and deep coverage of the news, thanks to its devoted staffers eager to look at issues from multiple perspectives. What they do best is tell the story behind the story: They find a way to report in an entertaining manner, while simultaneously dealing with important issues.

As we walked out of the BuzzFeed offices toward Union Square on a very chilly afternoon, we couldn’t help but wish that one day, we would all also get to work at a creative and exciting place like this one.

by Julia Heinkel

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