Larger publishers and authors have been doing it for some time, and now independent presses are experimenting with ways to use social networking sites, promoting their books and authors on Facebook and MySpace, as well as on sites more specifically geared toward bibliophiles, like Shelfari and LibraryThing.

“We cannot promote an author or a book effectively without using new technologies,” said Gary Baddeley, president and publisher of Disinformation Company. “It gives a little house like us the tools to match much of what a large publisher with a marketing team can do.” Baddeley acknowledged, however, that it's difficult to gauge whether promoting books on social networking sites leads to higher sales.

Nevertheless, Disinformation, which began as a Web site, aggressively promotes its authors and their books on social networking sites, particularly MySpace. In fact, the primary responsibility of one of Disinformation's seven employees is Internet marketing, which includes creating and maintaining Disinformation's presence on social networking sites. That employee is responsible for regularly adding new friends to Disinformation's MySpace page, which has, to date, 90,000 friends.

Besides maintaining its own company page, Disinformation creates separate pages for authors who don't want to do it themselves, linking their individual pages to Disinformation's page. Both Disinformation's page and the individual authors' pages are regularly updated with book news, including author tour information.

Unbridled Books, headquartered in Denver and in Columbia, Mo., also aggressively promotes authors and books on MySpace, and the press recently started promoting books on Shelfari as well. Unbridled's Webmaster is responsible for maintaining the publisher's Web site, and she creates and maintains pages for the company and for some of its authors. “She actively seeks out friends through MySpace,” said Caitlin Hamilton Summie, Unbridled's marketing manager. Unbridled currently has more than 400 friends.

Andrea Portes, an Unbridled author, created her own MySpace page and also a separate page, complete with soundtrack, for her novel, Hick; which has 339 friends to date, while its author has 1,130. Summie described Hick as a novel that appeals to a crossover readership. “A lot of YA readers are on MySpace, but they're not going to pick up the San Diego News Tribune and read the review there,” Summie noted.

Last month, Graywolf, the St. Paul—based literary nonprofit press, used Facebook to launch a virtual book tour for The Water Cure, a novel by Percy Everett. The press invited its 427 friends to the virtual book launch, which lasted for two weeks. Of those 427 friends, 159 responded to Graywolf's invitation, with 27 “attending” the online event. The rest—268 friends—had not responded when Facebook took down the page earlier this month, a move that publicist Mary Matze said had to do with Graywolf unintentionally violating Facebook's terms of service. The site sent Graywolf an e-mail telling the press that profiles are for “a single individual only,” and that effective immediately, it would no longer be able to use the account. As an alternative, Facebook said Graywolf could use the company's Group feature, which “allow[s] people to come together to express objectives, discuss issues, post photos, etc.”

Despite having the page closed and receiving only “one or two” orders from Facebook users who bought a copy of The Water Cure by clicking on a link that took them to Graywolf's Web site, Matze insisted that the virtual book launch was well worth it. “So little time and energy was put into it, yet it definitely raised awareness of the title,” she said. “It was one more step in building buzz.”

While the half-dozen small publishers PW spoke to described social networking sites as a valuable, and affordable, marketing tool, Fauzia Burke, the president of FSB Associates, a publicity firm that specializes in Internet marketing and publicity services for publishers and authors, offered a note of caution. “The social sites are a nightmare for publicists,” said Burke, who does not promote her clients on these sites. “It's time-consuming to control who becomes your friends, what messages they post. What works best is getting your book and message out on as many Web sites as possible. That's the most effective form of Web marketing,” Burke insisted. “We have tangible results that blog postings and Web site features sell books. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of social networks.”