To Pre-order Or Not To Pre-order

On most retail platforms, self published writers now have the opportunity to use pre-orders.

Should you do this?

There are some people in the industry who are very much in favour of pre-orders. There is a Smashwords survey that says that authors who use pre-orders sell better than those who don’t, but I think there are a few different things going on here and you cannot simply draw these results from the survey. In short, I think that conclusion puts the cart before the horse.

In order to ultimately answer this preorder question, it would be a good idea to go back to your own behaviour and by extrapolation the behaviour of other readers.

When you find a book by an unknown author that looks interesting, would you preorder that book out of the blue without prior recommendations?

It is my bet that you wouldn’t. Especially because many sites don’t offer a sample for a preorder book.

You would however, preorder a book by an author that you are familiar with, especially when it is in a series that you are already interested in.

So it seems, that pre-orders have their uses.

Pre-orders retain readers for series that are ongoing, and maybe to lock in readers for a bundle if the price is an extraordinary good deal.

But come to think of it, there are so many books already available for free or just 99c, that a reader will just find another book instead rather than waiting for a book to be released just so that they can have it for 99c. Instant gratification is a big thing.

Of course people who use pre-orders sell well. They are using preorders to capture orders for new books in a popular series. People who use pre-orders successfully already have an audience. If an unknown author puts up a pre-order, it is very unlikely that they would sell a lot, unless they already have an audience.

But on the other hand, preorders are about strategy. What would you rather have: that these people pre-order the book or that you have them sign up to your mailing list so that when you decide to send out an email that the book is available, they’ll rush out and buy it? And then if they don’t buy it immediately, that you can send another email a month later to remind them that is available?

I know what I would choose.

I have found pre-orders quite useful for making sure that the book releases on time.

I will use a pre-order for a short period only, like a week or two, to make sure that the book uploads properly and that there will be no delay in the release of the book due to technical or Internet related difficulties.

For everything else, even existing series, I use a page where people can sign up so that I have their email address and I can notify them when the book is out.

Note also that on Amazon, your ranking will jump the moment a preorder hits, so if you have a three month pre-order period, you will dilute your sales ranking compared to the spike you would normally experience when you release a new book. If a rank spike is important to you, then don’t release books on pre-order.

In the end, it is all about tactics. Is it more important that you get sales over a longer period, or is it more important that you have your dedicated fans on your mailing list who will rush out to get the book?


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