Preorders are a significant part of many authors’ and publishers’ new release marketing plans, but there are several different strategies for using preorders to boost sales for a new book. We talked to 14 self-published authors to learn how they approach preorders for their own books. Hopefully their insights and experiences can inform how you set up your next preorder!
Why set up a preorder?
There are three main benefits to setting up a preorder for a new book:
1. Hit a bestseller list
Retailers like Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo count all preorder sales on a book’s release date rather than the purchase date, which means that driving preorder sales can give a book a huge boost on day one. Consolidating a few weeks or months worth of preorder sales into a book’s release week increases your chances of hitting the USA Today or New York Times bestseller list.
Preorders are very important because they count toward the book’s first-week sales, which directly translates to placement on bestseller lists — a vital part of our marketing process.
Listening to the literary grapevine over the years, the idea of preorders was to garner enough advance buys to rank on the USA Today bestseller list etc. (every author’s pipe dream).
2. Convert existing readers into new sales
Preorders can be an excellent way to keep up momentum and drive existing readers directly to a subsequent book. Linking to a preorder in a published book’s back matter ensures that you capture readers while they’re hooked and ready for more. Our data confirms that this is an effective promotional strategy — authors who promoted the next book in a series in the back matter of a previous book saw 2.2x more sales than authors who didn’t.
The main reason I like to do a preorder campaign is to raise awareness for my new novel — to make sure all my readers know I have a new book coming out and when it’s going to release. That way, readers can preorder the new book immediately, or at the very least add it to their to-be-read list so they can make a purchase in the future.
If launching a new series, it’s a great idea to have the second book up for preorder at the same time as launching the first book to maximize visibility and sell-through.
My readers like knowing they’ve preordered and don’t have to worry about forgetting about a release. I think it also helps them budget ahead of time for those that keep track of when an author’s books come out. As a result, I specifically target preorders in my marketing plans with giveaways and now especially the Bookbub Preorder Alert email. I always see a nice bump in sales after I’ve run one a week or less before release.
3. Build buzz and boost rankings before release
Running a preorder starts generating visibility for a book well before its launch. Word-of-mouth buzz and a presence on retailer lists can build interest in and excitement for an upcoming book, which will hopefully translate to sales once it’s released.
Pre-orders build buzz. They entice. They get readers excited about something they can’t have quite yet.
For nonfiction, I generally get a preorder up at least a month in advance, sometimes as much as two. During this time I schedule podcast interviews, related blog posts, and advertising to raise awareness. The goal is to get the book high enough in rankings that it is visible for the duration of the preorder. This gives it a self-sustaining momentum that can really help with your launch.
Should you always run a preorder campaign?
Running a preorder may not always be the best strategy for a release. Some authors prefer to wait for release day to start their marketing efforts, and make a big splash when a book or box set is actually available for purchase. Others believe that preorders can be most effective for authors with huge followings and name recognition, but aren’t crucial for all releases. Of course, as with all book marketing efforts, you should test what works best for your own unique books and audience when deciding what kind of preorder campaign you should run.
I mostly do preorders. However, I feel like box sets are a different animal. The individual books
are out there and I don’t want to disrupt their sales by people thinking they can get the box set for such a great price. I like the surprise of offering the box set at a discounted price [on release day] to introduce it to the readers, especially those readers who haven’t purchased the individual books.
An informal survey on my Facebook page said that most of my readers prefer to wait for the book to be live… I know there are a lot of authors who can set up assetless preorders and have their readers glom onto them. But I’m just a teeny guppy in a huge ocean.
As a general rule, I’m a huge fan of preorders, but one of the benefits of indie publishing is the ability to experiment in order to gauge impact and results. Bitch Slap was an experiment in two respects — it was my first frontlist book that I put into Kindle Unlimited, and it was my first surprise, live-drop release. I planned a surprise release in order to test the waters, as I think that information is the most powerful tool that authors have!
How far in advance of a release date should a preorder be available?
If you decide to run a preorder for an upcoming release, the length of time for which the book is available for preorder can significantly impact how well you accomplish different pre-release marketing goals. Timing strategies also tend to depend on retailer distribution.
The authors we heard from set up preorders anywhere from one week to three months in advance, and we know some of our publisher partners put preorders live up to nine months in advance. Based on their experiences, longer preorders can be effective for books that are widely available across all retailers, but less effective for books exclusively on Amazon because Kindle preorder sales outside of a book’s release week don’t count toward bestseller list sales. There are trade-offs for each combination of preorder timing and retailer distribution, so we encourage you to think about what you want to accomplish with your own preorders as you make those decisions.
Why run a long preorder?
1. Increase the odds of hitting a bestseller list during release week
If a book is widely distributed, you can build up sales over multiple weeks or months to increase the odds of hitting a bestseller list during release week. Some retailers, like Apple iBooks, count a preorder sale on a book’s release date rather than the day of the sale, which means all of the preorder sales will count towards release-week sales. The longer a book is available for preorder, the more time you have to accumulate those sales.
Longer preorders are essential if the author is aiming to hit a bestseller list… Preorders at retailers that aren’t Amazon are a no-brainer. Many retailers, such as iBooks, give you a ‘double-bump’ in visibility during the preorder and on release day… Obviously, other retailer sales are vital for hitting bestsellers charts.
2. Drive follow-on sales from previous books
By making a book available for preorder well before release day, you can capture sales from readers as soon as they finish one of your already-published books rather than hoping they’ll remember to buy the new book when it goes on sale. This is a particularly useful strategy for driving sales of a new book in a series.
I did a serial novel last summer and preorders were essential; I had all the episodes up for preorder as soon as the second book became available [for purchase].
When I set up a series, I try to plan my releases no more than three months apart so that each time I release a book, I can have a preorder link to the next book [in the back matter] on all the vendor sites available… I make book one free about a month prior to my next new release and schedule a BookBub Featured Deal for it. That one-two punch of the BookBub promotion for book one and the new release of a later book in the series makes for a great sales run straight through the series and to the next preorder that’s available.
I need direct preorder links to go in the back of my published books so readers can order the next in the series when they’re done with the current book.
3. Maximize revenue between releases
Long preorders spread out sales, which can hurt rankings and visibility on some retailers, but some authors think that the ability to drive sales over an extended period of time before a book’s release day outweighs the ranking benefits that can be gained by a short preorder.
I do 2–3 month [preorders] on all retailers. I have experimented with shorter preorders on Amazon and end up selling thousands fewer overall than I do with the longer preorder. Some people get lucky with books going bonkers on Amazon with a live release, but I haven’t seen that with my books. Especially with my series, a longer preorder everywhere results in more money at the end of the month.
I do use longer preorders despite much of the industry saying they’re a bad idea for Amazon (a long preorder can erode sales algorithms over time) simply because I want to catch every single reader while they’re hot. There are so many books hitting the shelves every single day that if a reader finishes the current books in a series and the next isn’t available for preorder, it’s highly likely that reader will move on. That’s a lost sale. Spread that over a few months, and the lost sales add up.
Why run a short preorder?
1. Boost rankings and visibility pre-release day, particularly on Amazon
Consolidating your preorder sales into a shorter window can position a book high on retailer rankings in the weeks leading up to the release, which is key for generating organic traffic to a book. Most authors we spoke to agree that this strategy is particularly effective for boosting rankings on Amazon, since they uniquely reward consistent sales over short periods of time.
If it’s a new fiction series I typically get the preorder up two weeks before release… On Amazon, this will typically generate a trickle of organic sales that will begin percolating your book through the book ecosystem. On the other platforms, this will ensure that your book has a great launch day rank, since places like Apple iBooks give you credit for a preorder both on the day it is made and on launch day.
A short preorder can also be effective, especially at Amazon, where the algorithms reward consistent sales… A long preorder without sustained sales can be damaging to visibility but it really depends on what the author is aiming to get out of their preorder; a short preorder can really work wonders for visibility.
I only do KDP Select. I’ve gone wide before but I don’t get as many sales… The reason I do preorders is to help my book rankings in terms of searches on Amazon. I will post a cover reveal and preorder URL about 1–2 weeks out from publication to help drive excitement over my release day.
2. Provide readers quick gratification
Preorders can build excitement and anticipation, but there’s also something to be said for rewarding readers quickly rather than making them wait a long time for a book they preordered to become available to read.
Digital has compressed time and expanded access, so people need to make swift decisions and get impatient about waiting.
[I set up preorders] two weeks total in advance, and I only use Amazon at this point… My decision not to launch a preorder months in advance is that readers are impatient creatures and want the books sooner rather than later.
Based on the experiences of these authors, there are many good reasons to make a new book available for preorder. As you decide whether a preorder makes sense for your next launch, we’d encourage you to think about what your goals are and on which retailers you’re planning to sell the book. The different ways that retailers count preorder sales can significantly impact the results of a book’s launch. And whether you choose to run a long or short preorder campaign, you can now promote a preorder to an author’s followers on BookBub with Preorder Alerts. This can be a great way to drive early sales and build buzz for an upcoming release!.
We’d love to hear about your own experiences with preorders in the comments! Which strategies have worked best for your book launches?
Want to share this post? Here are ready-made tweets:
Click to tweet: Should You Make a Book Available for Preorder? 14 Authors Weigh In. http://bit.ly/2sN8tsJ by @CarlynRobrtson #writetip #pubtip
Click to tweet: #Authors: Not sure when to put your next book up for preorder? This can help! http://bit.ly/2sN8tsJ #selfpub