Preorders: Boon or bane?

Submitting a book for preorder on Amazon

If you’ve been publishing on Amazon lately, you probably noticed a new feature rolled out this summer — preorders. In a nutshell, indie authors can now join the big dogs and sell copies of their books before release. Unfortunately, while this technique is a major bonus for established authors, my three experiments have suggested that small-scale authors might be shooting themselves in the foot by taking advantage of preorders. But before I got into the bad, let me start with the good.

A review from the preorder period.Preorders are very handy as a launch-management tool. You can create your book page up to three months before your title goes live, which makes it simple to write blog posts and emails with the correct links in preparation for the big day. In addition, if you design a paperback version of your book using createspace, you can get the paperback and ebook toΒ link before launch day. Even better, reviewers can start leaving reviews on your paperback right away, and those reviews will show up on your ebook page (although not as verified purchases). Which all means that you can go into your launch-day buzz with reviews already in place, making people more likely to take a chance on your new book!

Doesn’t that sound splendid? No wonder I tried preorders three times before telling myself I really shouldn’t do it again. Why the change of tune? Well, if you don’t have a big following, people are significantly less likely to take a chance on your book during the preorder phase. Not only does the potential buyer have to wait to download their purchase (no immediate gratification!), they also can’t look inside and see if the book is worth a read. Which is why I seem to only be able to garner 20 to 30 preorders even over a couple-of-month preorder period.

But those are 20-to-30 sales I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, right? So I should clearly stop complaining! Well, not so fast. Unlike most retailers, Amazon doesn’t save up your preorder sales and give you a big spike in rankings on launch day, so preorders don’t help you move to the top of the charts. Instead, small-to-mid-sized authors will find that preorders start you off at a low rank and then dilute your launch-day boost. Remember how people are less likely to take a chance on a preorder than on a published book? That means my one sale every other day or so resulted in Despite the Billionaire’s Riches hitting launch day with two months of 150,000 rankings to dig its way out of. And, since I’d already emailed my list about the book and a few people had preordered, I didn’t get as many purchases on day one as usual, which again dragged the ranking down. In my opinion, your primarily goal during the launch period is to get enough sales so your book hits a top-100 list and sticks there, and preorders seem antithetical to that process.

Preorder sales rank

So, will I never use the preorder feature again (at least until I quadruple my fan base)? Maybe. I’ve yet to try a preorder period with the second book in a series, which should see higher preorder rates than a standalone in a different genre like my previous experiments. And I’ve yet to try a short, two-week preorder, which should make the lowered-rank effect less striking. Plus, if you get creative like Jennifer Meltzer and built buzz throughout your preorder period, you might come out ahead. (Jennifer, please do keep us posted about how your experiment works out!)

So, maybe I’ll try preorders one more time… But I recommend you do as I say, not as I do — if you’re not moving a hundred or more books per day, eschew preorders for the foreseeable future.

And if you did preorders and want to dig yourself out of that hole, stay tuned for a post in a week or so about paid promotions.

17 thoughts on “Preorders: Boon or bane?

  1. Thanks for this info, Aimee. One more thing I can cross off my Worry List. I never even thought about doing a pre-order, and I know for sure I don’t have enough buyers yet to warrant it. I’ll pass for now. Maybe someday, when I hit the Big Time. πŸ˜€

    Please let us know if you try it again (with Pack Princess?). I’m curious as to whether or not there’s a way to make it work better with a 2nd book in a series.

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  2. Good advice and great post, Aimee.

    I think pre-orders are hit or miss, and like you mentioned it really depends on the size of your reading audience. How much time you have to promote and keep people interested and buying during the pre-order phase also factors hugely into it.

    A friend of mine just did a pre-order with her newest book, and near the end it started gathering nice momentum. She started hitting lower-level charts, which gained her more exposure and more sales. As her sales increased, so did the charts she appeared on. By the time actual release day came, she was still rocking the charts and has been riding a nice wave, She also did a ton of really neat promotional stuff, had a FB release day party, shot out teasers and snippets on a regular basis, and she set up a review tour through a reputable agency, so she’d have the boost of a few reviews from readers who read before the book was even released.

    So much work, sometimes it’s not worth it until you’ve really started to establish yourself as a writer, and even then, most of us would really rather be working on that next book.

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    • Very true! I do a decent amount of promotion, but it seems like you really need to make the step from decent to extensive if you’re going for preorders as a little guy. But it does sound like, if you really put in the effort, it might be worth it!

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      • I highly recommend reading “Write. Publish. Repeat.” They have some interesting (and proven by them, at least) concepts on writing vs promotions, some of which are surprising. I find their 80/20% rule well worth considering. You have to consider your own writing career, what stage you’re at, what your goals are, how much time you have to give to promotions, and whether you might better spend it writing. For me, at my age, and my very NEW position in the writing field, I’m probably better off to write, write, write. I can’t skip marketing altogether, of course, but I have to be very choosy about where I put my time.

        It’s hard knowing what will work best, but I’m figuring (realistically), I’ve got about 5 years of writing time ahead of me. So I’ve decided on a 5-year plan that, with luck, should enable me to get 10 books out there. If each one does even a modest amount of sales, times ten, that might be enough to make a difference in our income when Mark retires in five years. It will be hard work to write 2 books a year, but I think I can do it, assuming my health…and my brain…holds out. I’m not shooting for the NY Times Best Seller list. I don’t want to write the next Great American Novel. I just want to tell my little stories and get them in front of readers who will enjoy them. (Sounds easy, doesn’t he. Ha!)

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        • I second the suggestion to read Write. Publish. Repeat., although I’m not 100% sure Marcia and I got the same things out of it. I’m coming to the end now, and I wouldn’t say they’d suggest just writing without marketing. Instead, they suggested that writing lots of great books is the essential first step, then you have to change hats and think of your books like a product to determine the best way to market them using the least money and energy. Actually, I’ll bet we could all get a lot of of a book-club-like discussion of Write. Publish. Repeat., since I suspect we each got something very different (but equally important) out of the book.

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          • No, no…sorry. I didn’t mean they said NO marketing, at all. Just that you need to be selective about how you market, and that a lot of the things that used to work (the big free promos for one) are not nearly as effective as they once were. And the 80/20% rule is more about figuring out where you get your biggest return on anything you do, I think. Which they believe is in writing more books, hence the title of their book. But they talk about good ideas for marketing, for sure. They just don’t go along with a lot of the concepts that have been touted in the past, pre-2012, when Amazon changed their algorithms. And I like their points.

            For me, the book says there’s a way I can find my own marketing strategy that doesn’t involve so much time on social media (a stand Truant makes pretty firmly), and my strategy might be very different from someone else’s.

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            • Yep, I also enjoyed the part about social media not really being worth the time unless it’s just something you enjoy by itself. I eschew social media whenever possible! πŸ™‚ And you’re definitely right — we each need to figure out which promotions work for us and our readers, because no one else’s life and readership is going to be quite like yours.

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  3. Love Write, Publish, Repeat. Great for a new person like me and my tendency toward panicked one book thinking. πŸ˜‰

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been considering whether I should do pre-order for the second book in my series, so I can put a link to the pre-order in the after matter of book 1. Another consideration for me is that you’re eligible as a new release the whole preorder period plus the first 30 days after you actually launch. Dark fantasy is a pretty small category, and for the last couple of weeks at least, you could make the Hot New Release list with a pretty low rank. I only just fell off it yesterday and I’m down to 237,000 I think right now. (Getting on page 1, which is some pretty nice real estate, only requires around 20k or higher.) So some extra time on that list is a consideration IF I think I could hit it for at least part of the time, versus how much of a spike I think I could get at launch if I didn’t do preorder. Plus also’s might already be rolling by the time you launch, so if you could manage to generate some decent sales that first week, they wouldn’t be “wasted” from the algorithm perspective, while you wait for it to kick in.

    But for all the reasons you mention, I’m still leaning toward not. I just don’t think I have a big enough audience to spread it around much.

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    • Actually, in your case, I might lean toward preorders…but I’m a bit of a gambler when it comes to books. πŸ™‚ The easy top-100 list would definitely keep your book from sinking into obscurity, and since the book you’d be putting up for preorder is a sequel to a great read, you’d think most people who finished book one would want to preorder book two. But I might wait to do that until your first book is sticking in the top-20 in your list, figuring that the sell-through would then be enough to keep the sequel in the top 100.

      Of course, that’s all random speculation. The safer path probably is to wait, make sure you build your email list, and then launch book two with a bang.

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      • HA HA HA HA HA. My first book sticking in the top 20. That is a good one. My launch “surge” is over, I’m lucky if it makes it out of the bottom 20. πŸ˜‰

        Book two won’t be out until probably May, though, so I have some time to keep an eye on things and how preorders are working for people, and see what I think when it gets closer.

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        • Hey, don’t lose hope! With Shiftless, which I launched with no email list or following, the book drifted for quite a while, but in a month or six weeks, it started gaining momentum on its own (probably aided by a free period I ran and the introductory price of 99 cents), and then it took off! A book as good as yours should do the same!

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          • Thanks for the encouragement! I can’t change my price until 2 weeks after my Kindle Countdown, but after that I’m definitely going to whack it down to $2.99 for a while, and then 99 cents for a few weeks before and after book 2 comes out. Hopefully that 99 cent countdown will encourage a few people to take a chance as well. Then again maybe not, because you can’t get cheaper than free, and I’m getting no borrows at all. So either it’s not getting in front of browsers, or there’s a problem with my cover, blurb, or both. The nice thing is that we can keep tweaking. πŸ™‚

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  4. Finally a great post that clarify everything. I never fully got how it worked and haven’t done the preorder thing, thinking that only authors working with the CreateSpace program were entitled. It doesn’t look that if I understand well your point. What I knew, and you seem to confirm it, is that the number of sales right after publication realy matters. So, yes, I agree with you that a larger readership is key. A blog, though, might not always mean buyers. On our blogs we write for free. We would love to sell our books. In our free content era it is a challenge for unknown writers to get a profitable business. Your post has the merit of being very clear and I totally share your concerns and frustations too. Good luck to you.

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  5. Pingback: Pre-Orders: Are they worth it? | Into Another World

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