Within days we got hundreds of hits, and e-mails from strangers chortling over the display. But few mentioned the book, which made me wonder about the video’s impact on sales. The answer lay in my Amazon rating, which I checked so many times a day my husband suggested a twelve-step program. When I wasn’t sneaking yet another peek, I struggled to learn Dreamweaver in order to manage my site. For someone who didn’t know how to burn a CD, this process was even more excruciating than learning Russian grammar. Meanwhile, Random House lobbed the book at litblogs, which, I was assured, were as effective in shaping tastes as The New York Times Book Review.

“Readers Love Home Girl!” proclaimed the marketing lady, attaching sample reviews from something called LibraryThing. Great. Now I had to worry not only about Publishers Weekly, but also what Paperdoll and Bookmama had to say.

Even so, I appreciated this virtual populist revolt again the tyranny of the elites. Anyone with a laptop, apparently, could become a book reviewer. These citizen readers didn’t care what The New York Times Book Review thought—they liked what they liked.

Greedy for more virtual coverage, I approached an online publicist, FSB Associates, which had created best sellers via Web buzz alone. Among its trophies: the wildly popular The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi, which no mainstream press would touch initially. Could FSB work the same magic for me?

The publicist assigned to me, Julie, was nothing short of industrious. In ninety days, she placed sixty-eight online reviews and features, ten podcasts, and about a dozen syndicated reprints of essays linked to the book. Quite a show!

Yet, once the novelty wore off, my skepticism reemerged. I realized that online fans of Home Girl didn’t necessarily embrace my best interests—making money. The ultimate betrayal came from Upfromsloth, a self-described “reluctant debutante turned aspiring punk rocker turned Stepford wife.” After extolling my writing, she recommended that readers get library cards. Library cards. “It’s all free books!” she trilled. “For free! You don’t have to buy them first!”

Day-by-day analysis showed that, minus a mention on Instapundit, the biggest sales boosts came from the traditional media—especially an appearance on Fox and Friends, followed by an excerpt in The Financial Times and a profile and review in The Washington Post.

After that, it becomes murky. Did a glowing review in The Christian Science Monitor account for one particularly good week, or was that because of an e-blast to twelve hundred people? Did anyone actually buy a copy based on the recommendation of Librarymeg?

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I’d like to get rid of some of my “friends,” especially a woman whom I hadn’t seen in thirty-four years who nags me to answer her e-mails. And that fan mail from strangers warms the heart, but then I feel compelled to produce considered, literary replies. And that’s the problem with Facebook—it’s so very public, and one can’t exactly ignore the writing on the wall. Who has time to be in regular communication with hundreds of people? But I don’t dare dump anyone just yet. The paperback only came out in July, and then of course there’s the next book.

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Judith Matloff is a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is a veteran foreign correspondent, who teaches a course on conflict reporting at Columbia, and is the author of Fragments of a Forgotten War and Home Girl.