Sell your books before you’ve written them. Simon Whaley explores the business of pre-orders.
Picture the scene: your readers have devoured your latest self-published book and want more. They go to their usual bookstore looking for your next one, and… there it is! Its publication date isn’t for another four months yet, but that doesn’t matter because they can pre-order it now. Click. Buy!
Everybody is happy. You have a sale and the reader has something to look forward to. Even better, readers will wake up to find your book waiting for them on their e-reader on publication day. That’s the power of pre-orders.
So when it comes to the business of writing, pre-orders make perfect financial sense. They capture a reader’s demand for the next book, before we’re ready to release it. But are pre-orders right for every self-published author, and when’s the best time for setting one up?
Elana Johnson (http://elanajohnson.com) has written over 130 sweet romance novels and also writes the Indie Inspiration for Self-Publishers series, the latest of which is Writing and Launching a Bestseller. She feels pre-orders are essential if you’re writing a series.
‘I do pre-orders because I like to have a place to gather people if they’ve read something of mine and want more,’ she explains. ‘I find this tactic especially effective and important if you’re writing in a series. If a reader reads book one, two, and three, and they’re anxious for more, a pre-order captures them and gives you somewhere to keep them so you can earn money in the future.’Elana Johnson
‘I make sure I put up the pre-order as soon as possible because I want to make sure my book is available for as long as possible,’ he says. ‘For my non-fiction psychology books, whenever I finish one I always try to publish it in September or January as these are the start of the new academic terms, when a lot of students are looking for books.’Connor Whiteley
The benefit of pre-orders is that you can start publicising your next book before you’ve finished writing it. Amazon will let you set a pre-order date for up to twelve months in advance. And, as Elana explains, a pre-order date concentrates the mind to get the book finished.
‘I thrive on deadlines. Pre-order dates establish deadlines for me, and I’m actually more motivated to write. I also like seeing the pre-orders come in – it’s an indication to me of reader excitement for the book – and again, that motivates me to write the book they want so badly.’Connnor Whiteley
Connor likes the set-and-forget ability with pre-orders.
‘They allow me to publish and forget a book until launch day,’ he says. ‘Instant marketing is technically baked into pre-orders, because you can get sales before the book is officially released. And they allow me to get on with other books without having to do anything with the current books, because it is on pre-order and it’s done.’Connor Whiteley
Typically, each platform deals with pre-orders differently, so some homework is required. Some allow you to set up an asset-less pre-order (one with no files or cover image), while others require a partial or complete upload of interior files and covers.
All platforms require authors upload their final files a few days before publication day. Some want them at least 48 hours before publication day, others at least 72 hours beforehand. Ideally, the sooner they’re available, the better. It’s not a stress-free experience when things go wrong, as Elana once discovered.
‘I had a preorder on Amazon once where the wrong file went out,’ she admits. ‘This was before the ability to do asset-less pre-orders, and I’d uploaded a placeholder file. The actual book file never went through, so there was quite the mess to untangle once I discovered the problem.’Elana Johnson
And she’s experienced problems with the Apple platform.
‘I also didn’t realise I had to change the date in two places on Apple Books. I changed the pre-order date to come out a week after I’d originally planned, but only in one spot. So, the book dropped a week before I thought it was going to. Thankfully, I upload to wide retailers two weeks before release, so the right file was there! But it was a bummer those Apple Books sales didn’t count in my release week numbers.’Elana Johnson
It’s worth explaining that the online stores deal with pre-order sales differently. Amazon counts a sale on the day the pre-order takes place, even though the reader doesn’t pay for that sale until publication day, when they get their book.
However, stores like Apple Books, Kobo, and Google Play count the sale on the day the pre-order is placed, but they also take it into consideration again on publication day. This allows pre-orders to influence sales ranking on the official launch day.
It’s a technicality, but it’s worth bearing it in mind if sales ranking is important to you.
Elana also likes the fact that pre-orders take the pressure off on the day she releases her book.
‘I like that release day is not stressful. Pre-orders allow me to do all the work beforehand. I can claim my book on BookBub, for example, and add it to Author Central. I can get newsletters ready and schedule posts. Then, if I want to sleep in on release day, okay. No problem. No stress. The book is ready, and so am I.’Elana Johnson
Connor also explains that pre-orders can help self-published authors realise that a book’s sales history is not all about launch day.
‘The entire concept of a “launch day” is a leftover from traditional publishing. When they published a book, the book had six weeks to sell before it disappeared, and this still happens pretty much. Yet as indie authors, we don’t have to do that. Our books sell for years after release and even decades. This is why so many long-term writers never focus on the launch, because we know it isn’t the end if the launch goes badly.’Connor Whiteley
Newly published books have newsworthiness, and so traditional publishers base their marketing around this. It’s usually only the famous traditionally published writers who benefit from longer periods of publicity. Whereas for self-published authors, we can promote our books whenever we spot a potential opportunity.
Like everything connected with self-publishing, don’t do everything at once. Learn how to do pre-orders on one platform before exploring others. If you make most of your self-published sales on Amazon, then focus your attention on their pre-order system first.
Ultimately, though, if you sell your books wide on several platforms, it makes sense to offer pre-orders on as many of them as you can.
‘As a global author,’ says Connor, ‘I offer my books on pre-order on any single platform I can. I put the print books and ebooks on pre-order at the same time, so I can get my pre-orders up all over the world. I do this because I want everyone to be able to pre-order my books on whichever platform they want. I want to make it as easy as possible for the reader to pre-order, buy and read my books. I never ever want to get to a “launch day” and realise I forgot to publish a book somewhere, so those readers can’t get access to my books. This is why one of my main reasons for using pre-orders. I can publish and forget about a book, and not get stressed on launch day.’Connor Whiteley
‘I have done and am currently doing pre-orders on the big five platforms, including Apple Books, Nook, Kobo, Google Books, and Amazon. I do that because I want to capture people when they’re ready to buy, where they read, and that might be before the book comes out.’Elana Johnson
Pre-orders can take away some of the hassle and stress of publication day. If you’ve uploaded the final files a month beforehand, that leaves you free to focus your energy on your marketing. Pre-orders also capture those sales from readers keen to read your next book before you’ve written it. And nothing focuses the mind better to get the next book written and finished than seeing a raft of pre-orders coming in!
Business Directory – Pre-Order Top Tips
‘First, know who you are and what you can do. Authors need a system for how they edit and proofread their books, too. Don’t know yours? Don’t set up a pre-order yet. If you don’t have an editor/proofreader scheduled, don’t set up the pre-order until you do. If you don’t have a cover, don’t set up the pre-order. It’s easier to move a pre-order FORWARD on any retailer than it is to move it back.’Elana Johnson
‘If you think a pre-order would benefit you, go for it. Remember to set it up a while in advance in case you make a mistake with the file, cover, or anything else. Do not get stressed about pre-orders. There are some disaster stories in the author Facebook groups, but they are rare. Just upload the pre-order, sit back and relax. Pre-orders are a great stress-free book marketing tactic, so use them! And remember, if your “launch day” doesn’t go well, and you didn’t get as many pre-orders as you wanted, it doesn’t matter. Experiment, relax and, most of all, enjoy it. Because that is what being an author is all about!’Connor Whiteley
Business Directory – Further information
© Simon Whaley 2022