It's time to hit A Big One. One of those questions that, like politics or arguments over how to properly cut a PB&J sandwich in half, can stoke division and strife.
That's right: pre-orders.
They're like post-orders that cut in front of the line.
Ha! I kid.
Pre-orders are a sales strategy that allows customers to reserve a copy of a book before it has been released. In the context of self-publishing, authors can set up pre-orders for their books on various platforms such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.
When a customer pre-orders a book, they are essentially purchasing it ahead of its official release date. The book is then delivered to them or becomes available for download on the day of its release.
For authors, pre-orders can serve multiple purposes. They can help generate buzz and anticipation for a book, provide an early indication of a book's potential popularity, and contribute to initial sales that can boost a book's ranking on various platforms.
They also come with certain risks and challenges, particularly for new or less well-known authors. Which isn't to say you shouldn't do it...just that you should know what you're doing before you do the thing you decide to do in order to not do the wrong thing and then discover the doing only after it's done.
Wow, I'm on a roll today.
In all seriousness: pre-orders can be a powerful tool in your self-publishing arsenal, but they're not without their pitfalls, especially for those of you who are just starting out. They're a bit like that sparkly new sports car I've always wanted for a midlife crisis: sleek, fast, and it can take you places. But if you put the pedal to the metal without knowing what you're doing, you're more likely to crash and burn than anything else.
Let's kick things off with the good news, shall we? Always a good idea, and 40% less likely to cause me to cry.
The first major benefit of pre-orders is their ability to create buzz and anticipation. Think of it as the literary equivalent of a movie trailer (side note: book trailers are a thing, and we'll talk about them at some point as well). It's a sneak peek that gets your audience excited, talking, and most importantly, waiting with bated breath for the release. This buzz isn't just good for your ego ("They love me! They really love me!"), it's also a fantastic way to start building momentum for your book's launch.
The second advantage of pre-orders is their potential to boost your sales rank on launch day. Here's how it works: on some of the ebook retailers, all the pre-order sales you accumulate are counted on the day of release, which can catapult your book up the sales charts. So o the day your book goes live, instead of starting from zero, you're starting from the top of Mount Everest, waving down at the competition. Maybe snickering a bit, you gloating monster, you!
Pre-orders can also provide you with an early indication of how your book will be received--a bit of a glimpse into your book's future. If your pre-orders are through the roof, it's a good sign that your book will be a hit. If they're trickling in slower than...ummm...very slowly trickling things, it might be an indication that you need to rev up your marketing engine or tweak your approach.
All right, we talked about the good. Now it's time to talk about (or write about) the bad. And lemme tell you: especially for new authors, the bad can be REALLY bad. Especially on platforms like Amazon, the world's largest online marketplace, the stakes can be high.
The first problem for the new author is logistical: you're starting out, right? And though you've done everything right--working hard at your craft, practicing, reading all my kewl articles and taking all my kewl Bestseller Life courses--you're still learning. So how are you going to not only build buzz for a new book...but KEEP that buzz building for a period of days, weeks, months? Not saying it can't be done, but it definitely adds a layer of complexity to an already complicated process.
Generating excitement for a book that hasn't been released yet can be a tough task, especially if you're a new or lesser-known author. Without an established fan base eagerly awaiting your next release, you might find it hard to drum up enough interest to make pre-orders worthwhile. It's a bit like prepping the most epic, massive, AMAZING party of all time...and then having your mom and two friends show up, notice that there's no one else at the party, and kind of slink out and hope you didn't notice them there WITNESSING YOUR SHAME! MWA-hahahaha!
But the biggest deal of all is that Amazon--remember, the "world's largest online marketplace" place I mentioned?--calculates pre-orders in a way that seriously messes over new writers. Things change constantly but, at least as of the time of this writing, Apple, Nook, and other ebook retailers count all your pre-orders as first day sales (as we've already mentioned). That's cool because instead of having one or two sales--or one or two hundred, or thousand, etc.--on the actual day giving you your ranking, you have EVERY SINGLE SALE leading up to the launch. That can be enough to put you on one of the bestseller lists, which makes your book more visible, which creates more sales, which generates visibility, etc., etc., etc.
Amazon, on the other hand, counts each day's sales for THAT day alone. Which doesn't sound too bad at first, but think of it this way: you make your book available for pre-order three weeks before publication. Sales are good! Your parents and siblings and close friends grab copies, and on the first day of pre-order you sell twenty copies! Amazing!
The next day, word has gotten around. The cousins get in on the action! Your vague-but friendly acquaintances purchase copies! Even Chet from Accounting picks one up, which is amazing because Chet has always been kind of a twit and constantly takes your lunch. Sales are up, up, up!
Day three: zero sales.
Day four: zero sales.
Day five:...honestly, I can't go on. It's too depressing.
Three weeks (minus 5 days) later, your book officially launches. You get one sale. The Great Day of Bookening has darkened to a shadow. Strong men weep and weak men also weep, but without the manly stubble or cowboy hats.
See where I'm going with this?
That last bit was something of a downer. And, honestly, pre-orders can work. Even for a new author. But you have to go in with your eyes open, or your asking for failure and heartache.
So, how do you decide if pre-orders are right for you? Instead of the usual checklist, I've got a list of yes/no questions to help you make that decision. If you answer "yes" to all these questions, then pre-orders might be a good fit for you. If you answer "no" to any of these questions, you might want to consider launching your book without pre-orders.
I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.
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