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.
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 to 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.
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.