As we talk through all things marketing, I’d like to share a strategy that I’ve found to be wonderfully effective in gaining early sales and reviews. Using Pre-orders!
I’m a huge fan of releasing ebooks for pre-order before the official release date, although I realize there are a wide range of opinions on the topic. The concerns I’ve heard about using pre-orders say the authors either 1) don’t see the need (will wait and release the book when it’s ready) or 2) don’t feel comfortable with the commitment.
I didn’t take college Psychology classes past the 101 level, so I’m not qualified to address commitment issues. What I do want to discuss, though, are the pros and cons of releasing books for pre-order weeks or months before the actual release date. When is pre-order a FANTASTIC tool, and when you should stay away?
First, let me call out a few details that will be helpful during our discussion today. I believe the larger trad-pub houses can negotiate some of these requirements with Amazon, but for the rest of us, this is how it works.
- You’re allowed to release a title for pre-order up to 90 days before the actual release date. At any time during the pre-order period, you can move the release date up (make it June 15th instead of June 30th, but you may NOT push it out (make it July 5th instead of June 30th).
- When readers purchase a pre-order book, they are given a price guarantee. If the price drops at any time during the pre-order period, they are charged the lesser price. This means if you lower your pre-order price half way through the period, ALL pre-order sales will be sold at that lesser price.
- You are required to submit the basic book information before you can make the pre-order live. Amazon requires you to upload a manuscript file, but you tell them whether it’s the final draft or not. Interestingly, whether you say it’s the final draft or not, you are allowed to upload a new draft at any time until about 3 days before the official release date.
- The pre-orders all dump into your KDP Reports (and into Amazon’s system as actual sales) on the evening BEFORE your release. This is very important to one of the Pros we’ll talk about shortly!
Now, let’s talk through the reasons why pre-order is fantastic!
- Sales! It allows you to sell copies of your book while you’re still finishing up the final writing and editing details. Many of these sales are very likely some that you wouldn’t see otherwise!
- Reviews! When your pre-orders turn into sales on your release date and all those buyers are notified your book is now on their Kindle, hopefully they begin to read your book! If you’ve put a nice page in your back matter asking the reader to post a review, many of them will! This helps so much with getting those reviews early after your release date. My most recent release, The Lady and the Mountain Doctor, was up for pre-order for 81 days and sold 3,765 pre-order copies during that time. That resulted in 31 reviews during the first two weeks. That doesn’t sound like a lot of reviews based on the number of sales, but most of you probably know how hard it is to get those first 25 or so reviews.
- Early Reviews! Most authors have lamented the fact that reviews can’t be posted on Amazon.com until the book is officially released. I’ve developed a bit of a loop-hole to help with this. While the ebook is available for pre-order with the strict release date I’ve chosen, I release my paperback version a couple days before. That way, my launch team and early reviewers can click “Paperback” and leave their review, but all my ebook sales can stick to the release date I’ve chosen.
- Bestseller lists! This won’t apply to everyone, but if you’re planning a strategy to hit one of the bestseller lists (like USA Today), pre-orders are an absolute must. Keep in mind, though, that the sales all register the day BEFORE your release date.
And now the cons…
- Commitment… When you set a pre-order date with Amazon, you cannot push that date out without being chained and shackled inside Amazon Pre-order Prison for one full year. (I’ve been told it’s a real place.) The “better safe than sorry” method is a good one when planning the official release date for your pre-orders.
- Cover art… For most people, cover art is one of the last steps in the pre-publishing process. If you use pre-orders, you’ll need to rearrange the order of your process a little. I’ve actually started creating my cover art fairly early in my writing process, partly due to my use of pre-order for the full 90 days. It’s had a pleasant side effect that I can also make sure my character and location descriptions in the story match what I’ve chosen for the cover. Win-win!
To recap, pre-order might be a great option for you if…
- You can decently stick to a deadline, even if you’re a procrastinator.
- Or, if you’re pretty close to the end of your pre-publishing process.
- You want to increase your number of reviews within the first few weeks of releasing.
- You’re working to sell enough books to boost your title onto a bestseller list.
You will need to be careful with the pre-order strategy and plan effectively if…
- You can’t meet a deadline to save your soul.
- You have a specific reason the cover art can’t be created earlier in the process.
So now, tell me your experiences! Have you used pre-orders to garner early sales and reviews? Was it successful? What challenges did you face?