Pre-order: yea or nay?

For some time now, Amazon has offered self-publishing authors the possibility to have their books available for pre-ordering before publishing. The advantage is, for example, the potential higher ranking on the publishing day, as all the pre-sales are counted on that day. Smashwords offers the same option, too, for the books distributed through its channels. I have now tried the option twice, so it’s time to sum up my thoughts.

The first book I had available for pre-order was A Warrior for a Wolf that came out in November. It’s the fifth book in the Two-Natured London series, so I figured my readers might be interested in pre-ordering the book. Especially, since I had recently uploaded the series on Smashwords and other vendors, and the books were selling fairly well there.

You can set the publishing date as far as a year on Amazon, but as I had everything ready, the cover, and the edited and formatted manuscript, I was a tad impatient and set the date only a week from uploading. (If you upload the final file, you can skip the mandatory ten-day delay.) To make it more desirable to pre-order the book, I set the price for only $0.99.

I didn’t have any trouble with setting up the pre-order page; the system is exactly the same as regular publishing. However, I was surprised that the pre-order page doesn’t have the ability to read a sample of the book. Personally, I find it a crucial feature when I make my purchasing choices. I would like the pre-order to have that option too.

In seven days, the book was pre-ordered six times, five times on amazon.com and once on amazon UK. It doesn’t sound like much, but that ensured that the book debuted within top five hundred in vampire books, and in a very high spot overall. It kept selling well for a few days too – at least until I changed the price to $2.99 to conform with the rest of the series. I’ve never been an amazon bestseller, so I was very happy with the result.

Debut rank for A Warrior for a Wolf

The second book I had available for pre-order was Magic under the Witching Moon this January, also part of the Two-Natured London series. I was a little wiser this time round and uploaded the book well in advance, almost a month prior to the publication day. The price was again $0.99, although, as it’s a shorter book, that is likely to remain its price. I had the final cover, but not the final manuscript, so I uploaded a draft version and delivered the final file ten days before the publishing day. On Smashwords, you don’t have to upload a draft file, but you have to deliver the final ten days before the publication too.

I made sure to inform people that the book was available for pre-order and it sold slightly better. Not, however, three times better. I sold nine copies over all, eight in amazon.com and one in the UK. Since it sold almost twice as much on amazon.com than the first book, I assumed the rank would be better on the publication day. Oddly, that wasn’t the case. The overall rank was just about on the better side of 100,000 and it didn’t get much higher from that by the next day. However, it has sold fairly nicely since – for my book – so people have probably found it by browsing the genre lists.

Debut rank for Magic under the Witching Moon

Both books were also available for pre-order through Smashwords, but the impact was minimal there. Both were purchased twice, but on different vendor sites, so it didn’t have any impact on their rank.

What have I learned from all this?

  1. It pays to have a low price as an incentive for people to pre-order your book, especially if you make it known that the price will go up later. However, don’t hike up the price too soon after the publication.
  2. Allow sufficient time for pre-ordering. Month may be too little, but a year would probably be too much.
  3. Advertise well that your book is available for pre-order.
  4. Pre-order is definitely a good way to boost ranking on the publication day, but the results aren’t consistent and the impact wears off soon.
  5. I will have all my future books available for pre-order too. A little boost is better than no boost at all.

Pre-order is a nice way to get visibility for your book and I recommend it. But unless you’re a bestseller, it probably won’t have an earth-shattering impact. Try it yourself and tell me how it goes.

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