Update from my Pre-Order Experiment

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.

whats next
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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

25 Comments

  1. M T McGuire says:

    That’s interesting. I tried pre-orders with my last book and it definitely made a difference, in a good way. What I’ve noticed with KU is that the power of having a free first in series has dropped on Amazon but seems to have risen on the other sites. My book is in a good position on a lot of the keywords for which I optimise it. However, it isn’t being downloaded as often. I think this is because a lot of the folks who would have been looking for my free book are now paying a KU subscription for all the books they can read. They have more books in their than they can read in a lifetime and so perhaps many of them ignore paid books.

    What is really interesting is that for all the dampening on amazon my efforts to garner sales have produced a steady income stream over last year which is holding at the moment… just. However, the difference between a good and bad month is less – I earn more in the bad months than before but less in the good ones – and whereas last year, I was earning100% of my income from Amazon alone, this last month, for the first time, 50% of my earnings were from outside Amazon. Kobo is the leader followed by Google. I’m nowhere on iTunes. Kobo used my book covers on their facebook advertising for their app all through december so I’m not sure if it’s that or pre-orders for my December release which made the spike! It must have helped!

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. That’s awesome on gaining such great traction in sales! That’s very encouraging to hear. I’ve heard some great things about Kobo, and I really enjoy the Kobo Writing Life podcast.

      As for the first book being free in a series seeming to be ineffective on Amazon, I completely agree. I get a trickle of interest from my free books, but it was nothing like it used to be. I have noticed free works a lot better on other places. For me, that seems to be in iBooks. I’m trying to do more to reach out to Kobo readers because I know the market is there. I’m hoping the pre-order strategy will help. Barnes & Noble seems to have a mixed thing going on. I heard Nook Press was acting a bit wonky and authors (overall) were seeing less sales over there, but recently, I noticed an uptick over there. Not a big one, but still enough to notice. Ever since I realized I could track what’s happening with the retailers in my Smashwords dashboard, I’ve gotten better with finding out what’s going on. (What’s sad is that it took me so long to make any use of the data.)

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s definitely encouraging. It sounds like iBooks and Kobo good about helping indie authors, so I’m thrilled about that, and I think part of what can also help boost sales is the expansion into countries all over the world. I hear iBooks and Kobo have a good presence outside the US, so I’m excited to see how things continue. 🙂

      1. M T McGuire says:

        Absolutely with you about iBooks and Kobo and I don’t know what Google is doing but they have a huge world presence so if they chose to they could be a really powerful player. I guess they’re watching KU to see how the subscription model does versus the bog standard sales version. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

        Cheers

        MTM

        1. I’d go through Google if Smashwords partners with them.

          I hope the subscription model doesn’t really take off for ebooks if they require authors to take a huge loss in revenue. I like Scribd and Oyster’s method, but Oyster couldn’t maintain it and Scribd had to take a lot of romance books (which I write) off. So I don’t know if getting paid according to their terms is feasible in the long run. What I really need to do is get completely out of debt. Then this whole thing of trying to make a profit won’t cause me sleepless nights.

          1. M T McGuire says:

            Tell me about it. I went to Google and Kobo direct and I use Smashwords but have just switched to D2D for iBooks and Barnes & Noble because they update much faster.

            1. I’ve heard great things about D2D. I expect it to work for you very well. 🙂

              I can see the benefit to going direct whenever possible, but I have heard iBooks and B&N can be tricky to upload to. Kobo was easy. I never had problems with them.

              1. M T McGuire says:

                Yeh, likewise on Kobo. IBooks you have to shell out a grand for an Apple computer to be able to upload anything or do it through a paid service and B&N. I sell nothing there, ever.

                Cheers

                MTM

  2. Good to know all this before I try pre-orders myself.

    1. I hope it helps boost your sales! I’ve been on the fence about the benefit of using them. The convenience factor (having everything ready to go on sales day) was the biggest motivator for me. But when I saw it actually helped with sales (at least in iBooks), I thought every advantage helps.

  3. That’s all very interesting. I’ve heard pre-orders work better for the author on the other venues than on Amazon.

    Do you sell on Google? I haven’t heard you mention that venue.

    1. No, I haven’t set up an account on Google Play (I think that’s their store). I heard it’s difficult to figure out, and they discount your books. Authors I’ve talked to (who sell way better than me) have said the amount they made wasn’t worth the headache. If Smashwords ever distributes to them, I will, but otherwise, I plan to stay out of it.

      Amazon seems like a mixed bag. The only thing buffering me from the huge loss of sales at Amazon right now is the boost I got from pre-orders on the other retailers. Otherwise, I’d be screwed right now.

      1. The sad thing is that Amazon is still my best venue. I wish it wasn’t. I haven’t sold one book on B & N this month. And I don’t know how to promote B & N. Maybe I should start doing links JUST on them for awhile. It’s hard to do Apple links if you’re on a desktop computer.

        1. Even with all of this, Amazon is still my best selling place, and considering the 51 romances and all I’ve done to promote all retailers, this is sad. B&N has been dreadful for selling books over the past year. My sales zoomed right down to the basement. I’ve heard other authors say the same thing. My latest book was actually doing decent on B&N for a week, and then for no reason, it fell off a cliff. It was as if someone at the store said, “This is a self-published book” and cut off any exposure to it. (I don’t know if that’s how it played out, but it feels that way.) Kobo and iBooks have always been more stable, but they’ve also been a small piece of the overall pie.

          iBooks is very hard to link to (and I have an Apple computer with iBooks right on it). There is no link at the top of the iBook book page to copy and paste. Try this formula for getting a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn fill in your isbn number here.

          Here’s an example: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781452324173. I got the isbn off my Smashwords page.

          1. Thanks for sharing the link. Smashwords showed us how to do that, but I couldn’t find it when I looked the other day.

            1. Oh shoot. I didn’t think those would “link” when I gave the example. I mean that you should type all of that out to make the link for your own books. Don’t forget to use your own isbns for your books. 🙂

              1. LOL. I knew what you meant.

  4. Ron Fritsch says:

    Once again, Ruth, thanks for your real-world advice. I admire your honesty and ambition — 51 books since 2009!

    1. I’ve had the fortune of having a husband who worked while I wrote. I don’t think I could have written so much if I had been the one working. I hear of authors who can write as much while working, but I know I wouldn’t have been able to.

      I’m really hoping pre-orders can help us get an advantage. With more and more books coming out, it’s definitely harder to get noticed.

  5. Alexia Praks says:

    Nice post, Ruth. I do pre-orders on Smashwords as well. Most of my sales are from iBooks, a good number from Google, a small amount from B&N and Amazon, and Kobo is nonexistent. LOL! Oh well, gotta work harder to tell people that my books exist.

    1. Thanks, Alexia! iBooks is my second best seller. Amazon still pulls in the most, even after the consistent drop in income. I’m trying to figure out a way to boost sales on iBooks and Kobo. I’m worried about B&N. They haven’t been that great in sales in a couple years, and they just pulled out of the UK. I haven’t tried Google. I was waiting for Smashwords to make a deal with them, but it doesn’t seem like one is coming, at least not any time soon. I guess we’ll see.

      I’m glad to hear you’re doing well on iBooks and Google. I keep worrying about Amazon’s foothold. Competition is good for everyone, and I’d like to see all retailers thrive.

      And yes, I have to work harder to get people to know my books exist. It’s a continual process. What worked back in 2010-2012 is no longer working. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to adapt to the changes. 🙂

      1. Alexia Praks says:

        Hi, Ruth. You’re so lucky to get sales from Amazon. Mine totally sucks there. I don’t know, maybe most of my readers are NOT Amazon buyers? Google is pretty good. If Smashwords doesn’t do a deal with them soon, I suggest you get onto it yourself. Although, I have to say their royalty isn’t that great. You only get 52% instead of the 70% like in Amazon and 60% for Smashwords. The thing is most of my readers are Asian. I don’t know if that is relevant on where they buy their books? Also, Google has closed their door for publishers/authors to sign up. My sister is also a romance writer and she has been waiting for ages for them to reopen their door. They say they will, but so far, they haven’t yet.

        I am also want to see all retailers thrive. Heck! That would be wonderful.

        1. I think most of my readers are in the United States. That probably explains why I have Amazon sales. I keep hoping to make more traction on the other sites, but it’s been slow going. Apple is the only one I have any traction. Kobo and B&N are slim, at least at the moment.

          One thing that bothered about Google was their policy on discounting books. I like being able to set my price. I was hoping if Smashwords could work out something with them, then Smashwords would make them hold the price I want. Amazon has a tendency to price match or send an email telling me to lower a price on my book if they find it’s lower elsewhere. That’s why I want my books priced the same across all channels. I guess if I ever did go directly with Google, then I would price higher just so when they discount, it wouldn’t ding me at Amazon.

          I do think where our readers are will influence which retailer is our biggest seller. I hear Apple and Kobo are strong outside the US. That’s encouraging. The wider we can spread the net, the better.

          1. Alexia Praks says:

            That make sense about your sales higher in the Amazon. I guess most of my readers are outside the US. Yes, I don’t like it either that Google changes your price without telling you. Not to mention that the sales tracking section is so hard to work with. I mean you can’t even see what’s selling and what’s not. Unlike Smashwords where you get the daily sales and know what works and what doesn’t. Google? You’re basically blind!

            1. I didn’t know that about Google. Thanks for telling me. 🙂

              It is nice seeing the daily sales so you know what’s working and what isn’t when you try something new. I also like looking at how different books are selling so I can better pick my next work in progress.

              1. Alexia Praks says:

                I totally agree ^_^

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