Imagine you could press a magic button that would make your next book launch more successful. The magic button is the e-book preorder, which gives indie authors a sales and marketing advantage.
Over the last 12 months, nearly two-thirds of the top 200 bestsellers distributed by Smashwords originated as preorders. This statistic is all the more impressive when you consider that only one in eight books published at Smashwords during this period was listed as a preorder.
A preorder is an advance listing of your e-book at major retailers that allows your reader to reserve a copy of your book up to 12 months before the release date. When the book is officially released, the customer’s credit card is charged and the book appears in her device’s library.
Although preorders are standard practice for traditional publishers, most self-published authors don’t yet know how to take advantage of them. Let’s fix that problem right now.
Five Big Benefits of E-book Preorders
1. More effective advance marketing of your book: Most authors use Facebook and other social media to communicate with readers about works in progress. By providing a preorder link every time you share news about your upcoming releases, you can capture readers’ orders when you have their greatest interest and attention.
2. Preorders signal commitment: When you establish a preorder, you’re making a commitment to deliver a book to your readers. This signal of commitment is especially valuable if you write series. A preorder on a series makes the entire series more desirable to readers because it shows that you’re continuing to support the series.
3. Simultaneous release at multiple retailers: A preorder gives all retailers time to process your book in advance of the sale date so that they’re ready to release your book on the same day. Readers appreciate simultaneous releases.
4. Preorders help your superfans review first: Your biggest fans are more likely to reserve a preorder. This means that when your book goes on sale, readers who already love your work will be the first to receive the book and the first to leave reviews. These positive reviews will drive the next wave of purchases after release.
5. Fast track to bestseller lists: At iBooks and Kobo, all orders you accumulate leading up to your release date are credited toward your first day’s sales rank. This can cause your book to spike higher in the bestseller lists on release day, which increases the visibility and desirability of your title, leading to more sales. Amazon does not credit your accumulated orders toward your first day’s sale rank, which means that preorders will actually cannibalize your first day’s sales rank. For this reason, some indie authors forgo the preorder at Amazon and simply upload on release day so they can concentrate more sales on day one. However, an Amazon preorder may still make sense for you given the other benefits stated above.
As with all tools, those who know how to wield the tool will do the best with it.
Five Preorder Best Practices
1. List the preorder as early as possible: Look at your publishing calendar for the next 12 months, and get everything up on preorder now. At Smashwords, you can upload your preorder up to 12 months in advance, and you can adjust the date later if needed.
2. You can list the preorder before the book is finished: In June, Smashwords announced assetless preorders, also known as “metadata-only” preorders. With an assetless preorder, we can establish your preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo before the book is finished. All you need is the basic metadata: the title, the description, the price, and the categorization. Some authors even choose to establish preorders without cover designs so they can turn the cover reveal into a separate preorder marketing event days or weeks later.
3. Promote direct hyperlinks: Once your book is up for preorder, share direct hyperlinks to your preorder listing at each retailer. This puts your readers one click away from reserving your book at their favorite retailers.
4. Leverage your other books to promote your preorder: After your preorder is listed at the retailers, update the back matter of your other e-books to promote the preorder. Consider running price promotions on your other e-books, including free promotions, so you can use the increased readership to drive more readers to the preorder.
5. Plan an aggressive multiweek marketing campaign: When you do a preorder, spread your book launch activities throughout the duration of the preorder period so that you’re building buzz in support of your book release every week.
Mark Coker is the founder and CEO of Smashwords.