07/13/2010 02:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Betty White + Facebook = Book Sales?

Authors these days are bombarded with a constant message: social media is the place to be to sell books. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc., you've got to be on these sites to build awareness, and awareness = book sales.

But is this one of those truisms that nobody's verified? And how exactly is one supposed to be on all these media? If I want to sell my book should I be on Twitter all day narrating my every action? Should I merely go on once in a while when I have a big (preferably funny) thought? Do I have to thank the person who gave my book 1 star on Goodreads for buying my book and telling the world they hated it? And do I really have to accept that Facebook friend request from the man who claims he's an author but looks like he just escaped from lockdown?

I suspect no one really knows the answers to these questions, and there's certainly no instruction manual. So what's an author to do? Keep your head down and keep writing, I expect. But in the meantime, I was intrigued by the Facebook campaign to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live. It's old news by now right: someone started an "I bet" group on Facebook and hey, presto, there she was cracking wise about the very people who'd got her there a few weeks later.

And this got me thinking. Was it possible to show a direct relationship between social media and book sales? Could I "bet" a bunch of people on Facebook and make a book a bestseller? Well, sure I could try. Why the hell not?

So I did. I started a group on Facebook called "I bet we can make these books bestsellers" (I call it the Author Effect for short - a riff on the Oprah Effect), and chose two books by Wyoming author Shawn Klomparens as the first test subjects. I also started a related group on Goodreads just to cover all my social networking bases (alas Twitter only has lists, not groups - so far!)

I chose Klomparen's books, Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain, because they were the best books I'd read in the last six months that hadn't gotten the attention I think they deserve. Also, I didn't want this experiment to be about me. I was doing this in the name of science!

So, now what? Well, coming up on two months along the Facebook group has over 800 members including authors James Frey, Tom Perrotta, Tish Cohen, Katherine Howe and Cathy Marie Buchanan. And a bunch of bloggers have gotten on board and written reviews of the books. And sales have definitely been visible on Amazon (one of the only sites that provides up to date rankings of their books - perhaps a subject of another column). But can I tell you more than that? Nope. Unfortunately, I think the total effect of all the tweeting, and blogging and Facebooking etc. will likely only be seen when Klomparens gets that most old-fashioned of confirmations: his royalty statement.

And as for me, well, I've been called a shill for Amazon, been accused of being hired by Klomparens as some sort of secret viral marketing campaign and have been interviewed on local TV and radio. I've also learned that I, and I suspect most authors, have a long way to go before we figure this social media thing out. But heck, I think I'll keep trying. Watch this space for details.