A nifty way to generate rankings for your books at its launch is by offering pre-orders. As an indie, you can do this for both ebooks (easy) and paperbacks on Amazon (complex).  Pre-orders allow people to place orders as soon as they decide they want your book, when you begin pre-launch promotion. Without pre-orders, people may forget to buy it when it becomes available. Face it, something else new and shiny will come along and grab their attention, and they might never even hear of your book again, or blow their entertainment budget on a trip to Bali. Make it easy for them to spend their pennies on your books.

Let’s tackle the easy ebook solution first. iBooks (Apple), Kobo, Nook Press (through Smashwords, and sold via BarnesandNoble.com), and Smashwords all offer this option for your ebook. While Kindle Direct Publishing (“KDP,” sold through Amazon) offers it for their own Amazon-published ebooks and the ebooks of traditional publishers, they do not offer it for indies, unfortunately.

Quick strategy point: If this is your first book, there is still a small advantage to going exclusive on ebook sales through KDP Select for the first 90 days of your books life, so if you choose that route, you will be completely out of luck on pre-orders. But if you’re not doing KDP Select, for whatever reason, you’ve got a lot of options for offering pre-orders. I sold hundreds of pre-orders on my last novel, Finding Harmony. It didn’t suck.

All you need to set up your pre-order is a compelling sales pitch for the ebook’s online pages, one that has been edited by the same editor that is or will copyedit your book—and for God’s sake, don’t publish without having your entire manuscript thoroughly copyedited—the front/ebook cover jpeg file, BISAC code/categorization selections, an ISBN, and a price. You set up your sales page on each of the sites you’ll sell through about two to three months before your launch date. Good news: you don’t need to have your ebook file completed and submitted. You decide the date the actual ebook will launch, and you get your file uploaded before that date. Pre-order sales up until that date will accrue but will not show up in your sales until the actual date you set for availability. That is also the date on which customers will be charged and their ebooks will “ship,” virtually. The result is that you get the full benefit of all those pre-order sales on Day One of your ebook’s life, which gives you the best possible impact on rankings.

Paperbacks are harder.  Most indies sell paperbacks online through CreateSpace on Amazon, and Amazon does not directly provide for paperback pre-orders for indies. Again, they do for their own authors and for traditionally published books. But if you set up an account with Amazon Advantage as an online seller, and as one (or maybe the only) of your products you offer the sale of your paperback as a pre-order, you can get around this exclusion. It is a pain in the tush to set up an Amazon Advantage account, and should be unnecessary if Amazon were to play with a level field with us here. (They don’t really play levelly with ebook pre-orders either, because the Janet Evanovichs of the world get to be bestsellers for ebook pre-orders, whereas I don’t get to offer pre-orders, and, technically, her sales are all just supposed to accrue on her launch day, but, hey, the negotiation power of Random House can’t be taken out of this equation.)

You need the same elements ready for your paperback pre-order as you did for ebook pre-order. Once you have you book set up (and guess what? It’s not as easy as on CreateSpace; sorry) with its description, BISAC codes/categories, cover, and ISBN, then you set the date when it will become available/ready to ship and the price, it goes on sale. If orders come in for the book, follow this advice HERE (and through the related threads) to administer through your AA account. The gist? You tell Amazon to order the books from you for fulfillment to their customers a few day before its launch. But the fulfillment through you will never really have to happen. Read on. Once you set up your CreateSpace version of the same book, hold off on approving your proof until it is nearly time for your book launch. [Books go live on Amazon when you approve their proof in CreateSpace!!] Then, when you do approve your proof, hop back over to AA, notify Customer Service that CreateSpace will fulfill the accrued pre-orders, and and that you want to remove your book from AA. Heck, that’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. For me, CreateSpace took over fulfillment automatically before I even got back into AA, and then I just removed the book from AA myself. Note that fulfillment will occur immediately, though, as soon as that book goes live through CreateSpace. The only way to stop that train is to hold off approving your proof.

A big negative on the AA account-offered pre-order of your book is that any reviews left by customers on the AA-generated Amazon book page disappear and do not transfer to the CreateSpace-generated Amazon book page once it goes live. That’s a big bummer. Technically, though, no one will have read it except those people you provided free copies to offline, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Just let those reader-reviewers know not to leave reviews on Amazon until you tell them it’s time to do it, and then only at the link you give them.

Once upon a time, Lightning Source (Ingram’s Print on Demand unit) explained how to make my books available for bookstores to order prior to my book launch, but it made no sense, and it didn’t really matter to me, because it didn’t impact my online sales. If this issue is important to you, leave me a comment and I’ll dig up that old email and let you see what they had to say about it. Suffice it to say there was no such thing as pre-order. Once your book proof is approved on Lightning Source, it is shipped to web sellers, and is available for order to bookstores, at whatever time they deem appropriate (if ever).

So that’s the scoop for offering your books for pre-orders. It’s a really nice enhancement to your pre-launch ability to turn promotion into sales, especially if you’re outside KDP Select, and if you offer a print version of your book.

What about you guys? How have pre-orders gone for you?


Pamela Fagan Hutchins is an employment attorney and workplace investigator by day who writes award-winning and bestselling romantic mysteries (Saving Graceand hilarious nonfiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?) by night. She is passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.

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2 Responses to Does the early bird get the worm with indie book pre-orders?

  1. Eric Hutchins says:

    As I read this (and it is full of great information nice job) It occurs to me again just how overwhelming this all can seem to an indie working on their own. However, it is important stuff and I believe strongly that if you do not do all of the things available to you, you will have a very difficult time getting any traction.

    • Pamela says:

      Pre-orders help tremendously. I didn’t do it my first few books, and it was a real miss.