An Update on a Pre-order Experiment

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigUpdate on a preorder experiment

Last year, I decided to try listing a book as a  pre-order. That’s to say, I decided to try out a pre-order for my self-published series.  My trad-published books had long been offered for pre-ordering, but that wasn’t anything I had any control over.

I remember, years ago, on the trad-published email loops I was on, authors were concerned about pre-ordering. Specifically, they were concerned that the books would ship early, retailers would put them out early, customers would purchase early, and then the pre-orders wouldn’t count toward the title’s release day. This would mess up their chances with the New York Times list, either extended or short.

I was never very worried about the list.  I don’t know anyone who finds their books that way, so to me it seemed like more of an ego thing or maybe a bragging rights thing.

But what I am worried about is confused readers.  And what I can tell you is that my pre-order for a future Myrtle book has resulted in some confused readers.

A bit of important backstory here: I did not put the book up as a pre-order on Amazon.  There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t.  Reason #1: The pre-order sales dilute the sales ranking on release day. In other words, Amazon doesn’t just allow those sales numbers to accumulate and mark them all toward release day, making the book more visible to customers when it’s available.  Instead, they mark each sale toward the ranking that day for the title.  Amazon, naturally, tries to spin this: “ Also, pre-orders will contribute toward sales rank and other Kindle Store merchandising even before your book is released, which can help more readers discover your book.

This didn’t really appeal to me, although I did read with interest Lindsay Buroker’s piece on why she did put a pre-order up on Amazon for her 5th book in the series (one compelling reason was that it helped her show up in the ‘also-boughts’ section of recommended reads. )  Yes, this is my 10th book in the Myrtle series, so putting it up as a pre-order would make some sense–more so than it would with a book one. But then, there’s an extremely important Reason #2: Amazon doesn’t have ‘asset-less pre-orders’ (as of the writing of this post). In other words, you’ve got to put a manuscript up there. As of right now, not only do I not have a manuscript to put up, I don’t even have a fully-fleshed out outline for the book.  I know some folks put up a rough draft or perhaps their grocery list or whatever, but this, again, makes me leery.  The final version, according to Amazon, must be uploaded ten days before publication: “Your final version must be uploaded and republished at least 10 days before the release date you set, with the last day for upload starting at midnight, U.S. Eastern time. For example, if you were releasing a book on September 20, you would need to upload and republish it by 11:59 PM Eastern time on September 9 (4:59 AM UTC the following day).”

First, the good stuff.  I’ve gotten the word out that there is an upcoming Myrtle Clover book this summer.  Readers have emailed me about it, they recognize the cover, they know it’s on the way.  That awareness of the book is there.

But, unfortunately:   This awareness has not translated into sales.  Maybe this is unique to my readers, but they seem to want to buy it when they can read it.  Also, most of my readers are Amazon customers (as is apparent from my sales). The fact that it’s not available on this channel is really cutting into potential sales.

Also unfortunately: The fact that it’s not available on Amazon means that I’m getting a good number of emails.  I’ve gotten several that were complaint letters.  I’ve gotten several that expressed confusion.  I’ve even gotten one from a concierge on a cruise ship (they have those?) who was completely exasperated by her futile efforts to get this future release for her passenger.

What if I promoted the pre-order, as recommended as a best practice by Mark Coker and others?  That resulted in an uptick of confused emails.

An additional concern:  I’m also a bit worried that some readers, having seen the cover for the upcoming book for such a long time, will think it’s an older title that they’ve already purchased.  If they’re newsletter subscribers, I can fix that by announcing the release in August.  If they’re not?  They may stay confused.

Would I do this again?  No.  Not the same way I’ve handled it, at any rate.  I’d either make it a very short pre-order period with a rough draft uploaded on Amazon (still unlikely because I’m not sure the diluted sales figures are worth it, even considering the also-boughts) or else I’d scrap it altogether.  But a long pre-order period (this one stretches from October 2015 to the final August 2016 release… a tactic endorsed by Smashwords’ Mark Coker here, slide 264)?  I won’t do it again.

But is the same true for you? Not necessarily.  If you decide to pursue pre-orders, there are some excellent resources available. One is Andrew Lowe’s post on the ALLi blog: “How to Set-Up Pre-orders for Self-Published eBooks.”  One on promoting pre-orders is from Ruth Ann Nordin in “Promoting a Pre-order.”  And, if you’re interested in pursuing pre-orders on Amazon, Penny Sansevieri’s post, “The Best Way for Authors to Use Amazon’s Pre-order Feature” will help.

Have you tried pre-orders?  How did it work for you?

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24 thoughts on “An Update on a Pre-order Experiment

  1. Pre-orders haven’t really done anything for me, but it’s one of those things that I felt I “should” do because it was an option. Will definitely reconsider for the next release. But it’s not something I do unless everything is edited and ready to go. (Grocery lists, really?)

    1. Deborah–I think it *could* work. It’s probably worth a try, anyway. I had high hopes and all the arguments I read for setting up pre-orders were extremely persuasive. It just maybe isn’t a great choice for this series or my particular readers.

      Yeah, writers were saying they were sticking all sorts of things up as placeholder text. I just…I don’t know. I’d hate the idea that some glitch could happen and the old file could somehow go out to pre-ordering readers. Ugh.

  2. I tried this with the 6th book in my series. It did nothing but frustrate most of my readers and, once you’ve got your final manuscript uploaded, on Amazon, you’re locked into waiting that last 10 days. You can’t cancel the pre-order set up and just go live. For me, it wasn’t worth it.

    1. Anne–It’s good to know I’m not the only one. I was rather confounded by it, considering all the experts were saying it was such a good thing to do. Yes, my readers seemed both frustrated and confused and ultimately annoyed. :( And, like you, I don’t like the idea of having to wait for the exact release day if the book is ready to publish.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Elizabeth. It sounds as though there’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning a pre-order offer. It’ll be really interesting to see what your sales are like when the book actually is out there. Maybe getting the word out ahead of time would add to sales then? Much ‘food for thought’ here, for which thanks.

  4. We’ve done well with pre-orders, but I don’t put them up more that four months in advance. At least the ones on other platforms besides Amazon count on release day.

    Being able to do pre-orders with print books has been a big plus.

  5. They say to market to readers as you would market to yourself. And I hate preorders. If a book exists that I want, I want it NOW. A preorder just gives me space to forget about it. I would rather read blog posts from an author as they talk about various aspects of the book, show off the cover, that sort of thing.

    1. Kessie–Very good point. Like you, I don’t enjoy pre-orders as a reader. Although, I’ve bought them before for my kids–sometimes they get hooked on series and we have a hard time keeping track of when the different releases are.

  6. I rarely preorder a book. I rarely preorder anything.

    I know readers are the butter to the bread, but I told my daughter that readers are selfish. I said, they want a new book before they wake up the next morning, or sooner. They think it’s easy to produce a book, snap and it’s done, just to please their desire. She (a voracious reader) said, “I see no problem in that. We “readers” want what we want when we want it.” hee hee. She’s right.

    1. Teresa–She’s so right about the readers! They do want the books right away and see no problem with that. :) I think maybe seeing the cover, seeing the book’s description just whets the appetite in more of a frustrating way for some readers. Sort of a teaser, maybe? And then it reminds them that the book is not going to be available any time soon! In my case, the book hasn’t even been written, ha.

  7. I’m personally not big on pre-ordering books. If it’s more than a month or two away, I’ll just wait until it’s ready. If it’s a book I want, I won’t forget when the time comes.

  8. I recently released a book that I sold as a pre-order for four months prior to release. It’s a second episode in a relationship (not a serial but same characters in new adventures). This worked well in terms of buys–I sold a few pre-orders per day to people who read #1 and wanted more. So sales-wise, this worked well on a part 2 book.

    However, it was incredibly stressful as an author. I didn’t give myself enough time, in part because I was trying for a long pre-order period, so I wasn’t in the position to make a good guess about how long the process would take. And this book took longer than my others.

    Then, the week before my ms. was due to Amazon, my daughter was rushed to the ER – she’s fine now, but we spent days in the hospital, and my book was the last thing on my mind.

    In the end, I had to turn in a ms. that wasn’t 100% ready. Luckily, I made it through Amazon’s screening fast enough that I was able to resubmit a new, clean version a few days later. Crisis averted.

    Still, choosing a date so far out in the writing process was a mistake I won’t repeat!!

    1. Rebecca–This! Yes, this worries me, too. Glad to hear everything ended up okay with your daughter, but how scary! No, there’s no way we can think about a book in those circumstances.

      With trad pub, I had a deadline, but (despite the scary language in the contract), I *could* get extensions. That’s because the whole production process was padded like crazy. Which makes me think that I should pad like this, too, since we never know how long a book might take us to write (but what if it’s even the *other* way around and we write it super-fast? Then we’ve got all that padding in there.)

      Right now, I can’t really see me doing this again, although I never like to say never.

  9. Hi Elizabeth – sounds fairly stressful – keeping all the balls in the air and in court (as far as Amazon is concerned) … then the what if of illness etc … definitely not easy guesswork – even if all planned and worked out … til the day comes and it all falls into place …

    Sounds it’s worth taking a rain-cheque for a while … but good luck and fascinating to read about .. cheers Hilary

    1. Hilary–I agree…too many what-ifs when it comes to family health and life’s little emergencies. Then there’s the part where the payout is rather dubious. If this made for a hefty payout, I’m sure I could make the deadline. :)

  10. Thanks so much for this update. Becca and I have been investigating this for our 2 books coming out in June, and I can’t say I have seen anything that makes me feel like the pros outweigh the cons. I’ve even seen (from a reputable source) that one author uploaded the final version before that 10 day mark, and Amazon STILL sent out the old file, which was incomplete, resulting in bad reviews and a ton of email to get those users the correct copy. Yikes!

    1. Angela–I can’t really recommend it, unfortunately. And that story you tell about Amazon messing up the author’s file is scary! That’s *exactly* why I don’t want to upload a placeholder manuscript.

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