Way back in October 2015, I wrote a post on promoting a pre-order. Now it’s February 22, 2016, and I have followed the tips I outlined in that post.
Here are the results of my pre-order experiment:
1. The biggest boost came when I had a new release with a link promoting the next book in the series.
I launched three new series in January through February. In all cases when I released a book, I noticed a nice boost in pre-orders for the other books currently available for pre-order in each series. When I released each book, I made sure to add pre-order information for the next book(s) in the series in the back matter. (I’ll discuss this more later.)
I’ve heard the best time to capture a sale is when the reader has just finished your book and is excited about it. In addition to have a complete list of all your books, pre-orders give them a chance to reserve your next books before they forget about them. So really, it makes sense why the pre-orders worked as well as they did.
The boost was more noticeable for a couple weeks after the book’s release because the first people to buy your books are often your fans, and they probably have you on their “auto buy” list already. Since you have the pre-order already available, this makes it easier for them to not have to remember when the book is being released. They can pre-order it now and automatically get it on the release date. To me, this is a win-win.
2. Word of mouth is a big boost that is (unfortunately) out of our control.
You can control when you release a book and what back matter you put in it, but you can’t control word of mouth. Word of mouth will always be the best way to sell books because you’re not the one telling people how great you are at writing. Of course, you’re going to think your books are great. You wrote them. But when people you don’t know or didn’t expect share your pre-order on their favorite social media site, that promotional technique really seems to carry the greatest weight. With all the books out there, I think readers are relying more and more on their friends who share the same reading interest to direct them to good books. (And when I say good books, I mean books that particular audience will enjoy.)
The reason I know a couple of people shared my pre-order is because they tagged me on Facebook and gave the link to my upcoming book in their post. I noticed they shared the link to the retailer they bought books from instead of sharing my Book Launch page, which is fine. It makes perfect sense to share a book on the site where you buy books.
However, I still recommend having a book launch page for every book you have in pre-order. Which brings me to…
3. Book Launch is the perfect one-stop place where you can direct readers to their preferred retailer.
The beauty of book launch pages is that you can list every single retailer where the books are currently available for pre-order, making it easier for your reader to go to their preferred store. This way, I only have to worry about posting one link on my blog, my website, the back matter of my book, etc. This way I’m not listing links to every single retailer. Book launch is like a central hub where you can send the reader to their desired destination.
It’s also easy to update. All I do is go to the book launch page in edit mode, change what I need to (such as adding B&N or Amazon retailers when the book is ready on those sites), and it automatically updates to the live page. When the book is released, I update the page to say the book is available. This has been a huge time saver. I really can’t say enough about how wonderful Book Launch is. It’s my favorite promotional tool.
In addition to making a page for Book 1, I also add links on the book’s page to send the readers to the links for Book 2, Book 3, etc in the series as soon as they’re up for pre-order. So on Book 1’s page, under the description, I say “Other books in the series” and link to the other books. (Here’s an example of what I mean. Scroll down to the book description to see how I added the links in. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the job.) I do this even if I don’t have the cover for the book yet, and even if the book isn’t up on pre-order at B&N or Amazon yet. I can still get pre-orders on iBooks and Kobo because you can set up pre-orders on those sites up to a year in advance.
Another neat feature is that Book Launch will show you what percentage of people are going to the different retailers you linked to, so you can get an idea of where your readers are buying books at. This is under their analytics page, and it will divide up these stats for every book, which is also a nice feature.
4. I saw maybe 1-3 pre-orders on iBooks the day I did a blog or Facebook post about my upcoming books. (My main social sites are my blog and Facebook. Yours may be different.)
So when I was doing my updates on the books I was working on and using the Book Launch pages to direct readers to pre-order the book, I did notice a smaller boost in pre-orders. #1 and #2 were more significant, which makes sense. A limited number of people will be reading your posts on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. After a while, you’ll end up talking to the same crowd.
Whenever I made a post about the book, I put a cover of the book in the post with a caption under it saying, “Click here to reserve your copy today.” Then I linked the cover to my book launch page. From there, they would pre-order the book if they wanted.
5. I saw no difference in overall sales on Amazon when I did a pre-order vs not doing a pre-order.
There’s been some debate about whether pre-orders on Amazon hurt sales. I hear if you’re a huge selling author, pre-orders work well. I hear if you’re a mid-list or unknown author, you’ll get hurt. So when I did a pre-order for one of my books, I expected to be dinged for it.
I released two books a week apart in January. I had one in pre-order for a month before release, and I didn’t do a pre-order on the other one. When I took a look at sales, I noticed the one with the pre-order did slightly better than the other one. (When I say “slightly”, I mean I sold about 20 more copies in 1.5 month long period. Not a huge enough gap to make a difference.) Curious, I decided to put my February release on pre-order at Amazon and noticed a similar result.
My books are not in KDP Select, so I don’t have the advantage of having KU to help boost my rankings. (And it shows.) My sales at Amazon pretty much have dropped to about 60% of what they were last year, even though I have more books out. So you won’t see me at the top of any charts. If I had been in Select, would I have seen different results? I don’t know. It seemed a lot of the authors saying pre-orders hurt them were Select authors, and those were ones who rank very well on Amazon (#500-#10,000 in the store on a regular basis). So maybe you should take my results with a grain of salt.
One thing I will add is that I got feedback from one Amazon reader who said she prefers to do pre-orders because she forgets when release dates are. This might be why I saw a very minor boost in my overall sales.
Additional note: Some of you might think my 20-book boost is a lot, but keep in mind, I’ve been publishing since 2009. I have 51 romances out, and I am using the “first book free in a series” strategy, and I have an email list. So I have built up a platform for years. I’m not a new author. This boost is really not that major considering how long I’ve been doing this. But 20 books more is still better than nothing, so as far as I’m concerned, the pros outweigh the cons. Your results, however, might vary.
6. The real power in pre-orders seem to come at iBooks.
I’m going by my Smashwords dashboard when I make this call. On the dashboard, I can see how many books I sold from retailers in a graph, but I can only see sales of specific books (both available and on pre-order) at iBooks. On the day of a pre-order’s release, I saw no noticeable spike from Kobo or Barnes & Noble.
I did, however, see a nice spike on iBooks. The longer the pre-order was in “pre-order” status, the bigger the spike on release day. So the power of accumulating pre-orders over the longterm can really help you, especially on iBooks. Some authors who do better than I do in Kobo might notice a nice spike there that I didn’t. Both iBooks and Kobo will accumulate all your pre-orders so on release day, it’ll be as if you sold that many books that day. This is why pre-orders are especially exciting at these two channels.
Conclusion: I suspect pre-orders can be a possible game changer, especially for people who don’t want to be exclusive on Amazon. I still sell best on Amazon. My second best seller is iBooks, from there it’s Barnes & Noble, and Kobo has been coming in last. At least, that is how things are at this moment. With my Amazon sales taking a 60% hit from not being in KU, that could easily change, and this is why pre-orders might become one of the most important tools in an author’s marketing plan.
Doing Pre-orders Outside of Amazon
I use Smashwords and distribute to iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. (You can use D2D to do this. I’ve heard of authors who uploaded their pre-orders directly to iBooks, but I’m not familiar with going direct to Kobo or Barnes & Noble.)
iBooks and Kobo will let you set up an assetless pre-order a year in advance. I think Barnes & Noble is 9 months out. The longer you have a pre-order up on these retailers, the better your chances are of getting sales on those sites. I recommend getting pre-orders set up a year in advance to best maximize your chances of selling the most books.
You don’t need a title, cover, or detailed description. You can just put something like “Book 2” and attach it to the series the book is in. Or start a new series with “Book 1” as the temporary title. You can change a title, cover, and description at any time. I’ve done this several times, and it’s easy and quick to do. (This might be true for Kobo and B&N, too, but I’m not as familiar with them, so check this to make sure what their rules are.)
You can also adjust your pre-order release date whenever you need to. I advise authors to estimate further out than they think they’ll need. So if you think the book will be ready nine months out, go ahead and put the expected release date out at a year instead. That way you give yourself some buffer room. I have had to push back a release date, and it went through without any problems. (But since I hate disappointing readers, I estimate out.) I have moved up my release date without any problems, too. It’s always nicer to have an early release.
Doing pre-orders on Amazon
Now, regarding Amazon, they allow pre-0rders about three months in advance. My advice when doing a pre-order on Amazon is to have the final manuscript ready setting it up. It doesn’t seem as easy to change things over on KDP. So wait until everything is done and ready to go before doing this over here. If you notice pre-orders on Amazon hurt you, then I wouldn’t do them. When I set up the pre-orders over there, I did it from 3 weeks to a month out. It allowed time for the Also Bots to do their job, which was a nice thing to have on release day.