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Episode 4:  Preorder Strategy

Ebook preorders are one of the most exciting, most underutilized book marketing tools.  Preorders are proven to help you reach more readers. This episode provides in-depth strategy advice for how to create, plan and promote your preorder.


Supplemental links:

2017 Smashwords Survey

Learn more about preorders and preorder strategy:

Smashwords announcement of "assetless preorder" (aka "metadata-only") preorders

Publishers Weekly article by Mark Coker on preorder strategy

Smashwords Preorder information page



Welcome to the Smart Author Podcast, where you'll learn to publish ebooks with greater pride, professionalism, and success. I'm your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started.

In this episode, preorders. In the last episode, Episode 3, you learned the best practices that make your book more visible and more desirable to readers. One of those best practices was preorders. I also mentioned how so few authors take advantage of this amazing tool. I think the biggest reason for the low usage is that most authors don't yet know how to make preorders work for them. Today, I'll teach you how. Let's jump in.

What's a preorder?  An ebook preorder is an advance listing of your book at the major retailers. Readers can reserve a copy of the book in advance of the release date, and their credit card isn't charged until you release the book to them. Let's talk about why preorders are so exciting.

I'll give you six reasons to do a preorder.

Number one: preorders enable more effective advance marketing. If you're like most authors, you're probably already talking with your readers and prospective readers on Facebook and social media, and to friends and family, about the next book that you're working on, your work in progress. As you're talking about your book, you're generating interest, awareness, and demand for that book. If you have a preorder, you can provide those prospective readers a hyperlink so that they can reserve a copy. By sharing a hyperlink to your preorder, you can capture the reader's order at the moment you have their greatest interest and attention, because otherwise, many of these readers who honestly want to purchase your book and intend to purchase your book will forget when the book finally comes out.

Reason number two: a preorder signals commitment. As a self-published author, you don't have a New York publisher breathing down your back, demanding that you make your next book delivery deadline. As a self-published author, you are the publisher. You're in charge of your own deadlines. Many self-published authors like to use preorders as a way to force a publishing discipline upon themselves. Because when you establish a preorder, you're making a commitment to your readers that you're going to deliver a book to them by a certain date. If you write series, if readers see that you have a preorder attached to your existing series, it communicates to them that you're still developing the series, you're still committed to the series. So if they take a chance on the series and get invested in the series, they can have confidence that you're going to continue supporting that series in the future. Preorders make series look more attractive to readers.

Reason number three: preorder are the fast track to the iBooks bestseller list. iBooks is the world's second largest seller of ebooks. iBooks probably does a better job than any other retailer of promoting and supporting preorders. At iBooks, all the preorders you accumulate over the preorder period credit toward your first day's sales rank when your book finally goes on sale. This causes your book to rise in sales rank. It causes your book to hit the bestseller lists for your particular genre or category, or even the store-wide iBooks bestseller list. And as we discussed in the last episode on best practices, as you rise in sales rank, your book becomes more visible and more desirable to readers, and this sparks a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle where more visibility leads to more sales, which leads to more visibility, and more sales.

iBooks is the only retailer to give you full credit on the day your book goes on sale. At Kobo and Barnes & Noble, you get partial credit. And at Amazon, you don't get any credit for the accumulated sales toward your first day's sales rank. For that reason, some authors prefer not to do preorders at Amazon, because they fear that all of those preorders they accumulate leading up to the on-sale date will cannibalize their first day's sales rank. That's true about the cannibalization at Amazon, but I don't think that's a reason to not do preorders at Amazon. There are multiple benefits of preorders, many of which we're talking about right now. And so I think if you're able to take advantage of these other benefits, a preorder at Amazon still makes sense.

Reason number four: with a preorder, your book will go on sale at all the retailers on the same day. This is really important. For the authors who don't do preorders, what they'll do is they'll upload to their distributor like Smashwords, or they'll upload to the retailer, and then it takes anywhere from several hours to several days for their book to appear at each of the retailers. Because it takes time for the distributor or the retailer to process the book, to ingest the book, and to list the book. When you deliver your book as a preorder, it gives all the retailers the time they need to prepare your book, so it's ready to release when you want it released. This means readers get access to your book on the very same day that it goes on sale at the same time. This is important, because if you upload to different platforms without a preorder, you'll have some readers who are reading the book before other readers. And then those readers are talking on social media about how much they love your book, and it makes the other readers angry that they don't have access to your book at their favorite retailer. So a preorder solves that problem.

Reason number five: a preorder will give you increased merchandising opportunities. There are two types of merchandising. The first type of merchandising benefit that you get is automatic. Simply by uploading your book as a preorder, your preorder listing will be listed alongside all of your other books at the retailers. So you're getting marketing exposure and more selling days in advance of your release date, and that's beneficial to you. The second merchandising benefit is curated merchandising. Every week, the retailers promote upcoming releases that are now available on preorder. This is because their merchandising is very future-focused. They want to focus on new and upcoming books of interest to customers. If your book is on preorder, you have a chance for your title to be selected for these special preorder merchandising promotions. The merchandisers are looking to promote books they have confidence in - confidence that these titles are highly anticipated by their customers and confidence that these upcoming preorders will please their customers. They're looking for preorders that are accumulating a lot of orders, and they're looking for preorders from authors with proven track records.

Each week at Smashwords, we provide these retailers lists of our most highly anticipated preorders. They use our lists to add Smashwords authors to these promotions. And they value our recommendations because they understand that as a distributor, Smashwords has a unique vantage point in that we can monitor the preorder accumulation rates of our authors' preorder books across multiple retailers. And then we share this intelligence with them so that they can make more informed decisions about which titles are worthy of promotion. So hundreds of Smashwords authors have benefited from our preorder promotion efforts, and this is a service we offer at no cost. You don't have to pay for this. By distributing with Smashwords, if your preorder is performing well or if you have a proven track record at Smashwords, you'll automatically be eligible for these promotions.

Reason number six to do a preorder is that books that originate as preorder sell better. If for no other reason, do a preorder because you're going to sell more books. In the last episode, I talked about how only 12.3% of indie authors are doing preorders, and this is based on 2017 Smashwords Survey data. But of those 12.3% of books that originated as preorders, those books outperformed all other books. So let me share some new data with you, and this is new data that didn't even make it into the Survey that we published. So this is a first that you're hearing this. Nine of our top ten bestsellers during that twelve-month survey period originated as a preorder. 84% of our top 50 bestsellers originated as a preorder. 72% of our top 100 bestselling titles originated as a preorder. And when we look at our top 1,000 bestselling titles, 57% originated as a preorder. These numbers are amazing. What you see here is that this small minority percentage of authors who are doing preorders are reaping tremendous advantage in the marketplace. Their books are selling much better than all the others.

So you might ask, "Well, how much better?" We looked at all new releases of books during that twelve-month period. So just new titles during that twelve-month period. The average preorder earned seven times more than the non-preorder books. That's pretty incredible too. Then we looked closer at the data, looking at the top 1,000 bestselling books that originated as a preorder versus the top 1,000 bestselling books that did not originate as a preorder.  To clarify, when I say "did not originate as a preorder," it means the author just simply uploaded their book to Smashwords and said, "Publish my book today."  So when we compare these two groups of the top 1,000 preorders and the top 1,000 non-preorders, preorders earned 84% more on average among these top 1,000 cohorts. For you math whizzes out there, the median was 38% higher. Bottom line, if you release your book as a preorder, you're probably going to sell more copies. You're going to reach more readers. Preorders are one of the habits of successful indie authors. If you want to travel in the orbit of successful indie authors, make sure you're releasing your next book as a preorder.

I'm going to share some additional data, because this is also really exciting. This is data that we released in the 2017 Smashwords Survey for the first time. We wanted to understand, when we look at the new titles that were released in each category for the given twelve-month period, we wanted to know what are the preorder adoption rates among the different genres? How are they different? And then we wanted to know, of those preorders in a particular genre, what percentage of overall sales were captured by the preorders? This data blew us away. Romance authors have always been on the leading edge of best practices. They're the first to implement best practices, they're some of the most creative, smartest businesswomen in the business. I always look to romance authors for inspiration. What we found was that romance authors were implementing preorders at twice the average rate. So 25% of the new romance titles over this twelve-month period were released as a preorder. The next question is what percentage of overall category sales in romance went to those 25% of the romance titles? And the answer is 72%. That, again, just blew my mind. Almost three quarters of all romance sales went to the 25% of books that were released as preorders in that category.

Here are some other genres. In fantasy, 19% of the books were released as preorders, and those preorders accounted for 59% of the category's sales for all those new releases. In mystery and detective, 18% originated as a preorder, yet that 18% accounted for 69% of that category's sales over a twelve-month period. In YA and teen fiction, 25% released as a preorder, accounting for 82% of that category's sales.

Source:  2017 Smashwords Survey

Without a doubt, you need to be doing preorders if I haven't made that clear enough already. I want you to do preorders, it will help you reach more readers.

So now let's talk about planning your preorder. The first concept I want to share with you is the concept of runway. What is a runway? Well, for jet aircraft, a runway gives a plane the distance it needs to accelerate, pick up enough speed so it can take flight. With preorders, you want to have as long of a runway as possible, so the longest preorder period as possible. At Smashwords, you can upload your preorder up to twelve months in advance of your release date. So that's twelve months of selling days. Twelve months that you can promote your preorder, twelve months that you can accumulate orders, and twelve months that you can get enough orders so that you have a big bang when your book finally releases.

Let's look at some of the numbers. Again, let's look at iBooks, because iBooks does better than any other retailer in supporting preorders. If you have a book at iBooks that normally sells two copies a day, you're not going to make any bestseller list. But, if you have your book on preorder for six months, and you earn two orders a day, that means that when your book finally releases, you're going to get credit for 360 orders in a single day (6 months X 30 days per month X 2 orders per day). If you get credit for 360 orders in a single day at iBooks, you WILL hit at least your genre bestseller list. You might hit the top 20, the top ten, or even number one, depending on the genre or category. If you're able to accumulate five orders per day during that six-month period, you're going to get credit for over 1,000 orders on day one. If you can accumulate ten orders per day, you're going to get credit for over 2,000 orders. We've had Smashwords authors who, by the time their book released, had over 10,000 preorders in their pocket. Those are the authors who are hitting number one store-wide at iBooks. And when you hit number one, when you hit the top ten store-wide, or when you hit the top ten of your genre list, that is a life-changing moment, because of the increased visibility and desirability and sales that come from that.

Timing your Preorder.  Let's talk now about the timing of your preorder. Most large publishers release their books on Tuesdays, and this is so their books are eligible for making the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. Those two bestseller lists are looking at sales starting Sunday and Monday, and going for a week after that. So as you're thinking about timing your preorder, if you're aiming for one of those lists, if you think you're going to accumulate over 10,000 orders, then release on a Tuesday. Most authors aren't going to make one of those lists.

So then the next question is what other days are good days to release? Here are some answers. Saturdays and Sundays are the biggest ebook selling days. This is when the most customers are browsing the bookstores for their next read, because many people read on the weekend. So if you can release your book on a Saturday or a Sunday, with a preorder, and get that boost in sales rank, then your book becomes more visible and more desirable on a day when more readers are browsing the store for their next read. Consider a Saturday or a Sunday if you want to maximize your sales on those days.

At Smashwords, we publish a Smashwords bestseller list, in partnership with Publishers Weekly. So once a month, Publishers Weekly, both online and in their print edition, publishes the top 25 bestsellers for a prior month at Smashwords. If you want to maximize your odds of hitting the Smashwords/Publishers Weekly list, consider publishing your book earlier in the month. So let's say you're publishing January 1st, and your preorder's been out there for six months. With a first of the month release, you're going to get the benefit of all of those prior accumulated orders from prior months, plus an entire full month of additional selling time, so that you can rank higher in our list, and potentially appear in Publishers Weekly.

Holidays are great times to release books, but you want to be careful here. I would not recommend having your preorder activate on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day, because those are big sit-down holidays, and most people aren't reading books on those days. They're preparing a meal, eating a meal, hanging out with family, so less reading happens then. But, if that holiday day is preceding a vacation, and it usually does, then that can be a great time to release the book. Particularly, December 26th, that's a nice day to have a high sales rank, if you can, because a lot of readers are buying books during that period of December 26th through January 1st, January 5th. That's a big holiday period for a lot of people. That's actually the biggest ebook buying period of the year - between December 26th and probably around January 3rd, 4th, 5th.

Promoting your preorder.  By listing your next release as a preorder, you're going to reap many of the benefits I've just outlined here. But if you want to take your results to the next level, then you need to get out there and proactively promote your preorder. So I'll share with you five quick preorder promotion tips.

Number one: offer your preorder customers a price incentive. If you're planning to release your book at $3.99, offer the preorder at $2.99, and then promote to your prospective readers that as a special thank you, if they reserve a copy of the preorder, they'll get a discount on that. And then after the book releases, you'll put the price back to the regular price, which is $3.99.

Tip number two: in the last episode, we talked about the importance of enhanced back matter, and how you can leverage your existing books to promote your other books. So if you've got a book on preorder, be sure to update your back matter so that you can promote your preorder there. You can add a note, such as, "Jane's Memoir is coming July 1st, and is available now for preorder at select retailers. Reserve your copy today!" Just put that little paragraph in the back matter of your book, so that all of those happy readers that just read one of your other books can now be funneled into your preorder.

Tip three: if you've got other titles, price one of them at free, if even only temporarily. As we learned in the last episode, a book priced at free will get about 30 times more downloads on average than a book at any other price. When you pair that free book with the enhanced book matter that I just mentioned in tip two, you can drive more readers into that preorder.

Tip number four: start promoting your preorder as soon as it's listed. Think about all of those proactive marketing activities that you do for any regular book launch, such as a blog tour, promotions, giveaways, sharing sneak peeks with your readers. Think of all those things that you do for a book launch, and spread them out during the entire preorder period, so that during that entire preorder period, every single week you're doing something to build buzz and remind readers that you've got this new book coming out, and that they should reserve it on preorder.

And then tip number five: always have your next book (your work-in-progress) on preorder, especially if you write series. This way you're always funneling your readers into the next book.

Uploading the Preorder:  Now let's talk about uploading your preorder. How do you create a preorder? It's really simple. I'll describe how you do it at Smashwords, and it's really the same way at every other ebook publishing platform. You click "Publish," and up comes our Publish page. You type in the title of your book, and then we ask you when you want to release your book. You can click a button to release your book immediately, or you can click a button to release it as a preorder. You'll click the button to release it as a preorder, and then a little calendar will pop up, and we'll ask you what date you want to release it on. You can choose a date that's up to twelve months out. And, you can change that date at any time. So if you put your preorder up to release in six months, and then three months from now you realize you're not going to make your deadline in six months, you can push it up another few months, or whatever you want.

What if your book isn't finished yet? Or what if you don't have a cover yet? Can you still do a preorder? The answer is YES. A couple years ago, we introduced a new feature at Smashwords called "assetless preorders." It's a horrible name. These preorders are also commonly known as "metadata-only preorders."

In the ebook business, we refer to the components of your book, like the cover and the book file, as assets. So an assetless preorder means simply that you don't have the cover yet, or you don't have the book yet. And because you can list your preorder up to twelve months in advance, this means you can establish your preorder listing even before you've started writing your book. Even before your book is finished. And even if you don't have a cover yet. This allows you take advantage of that longer runway that we talked about. So imagine having twelve months of selling time, of preorder accumulation time. As you're working on your book, you're already collecting orders for your book. Keep in mind that the final manuscript is due to Smashwords ten days before you release your book. If you need to change the release date, you can do that at any time.

Cover reveals.  Here's another marketing idea that a lot of our bestsellers are using with the assetless preorder feature. They will deliberately establish their preorder without a cover, and after they create the preorder and get it out to our retailers, they'll celebrate, then promote, the preorder to their readers. And then weeks later, they'll do another marketing event where they do the cover reveal. And that's really simple: you just go back to Smashwords, upload the cover image, we blast it out to the retailers, and then you have another marketing event as you celebrate the cover reveal.

Let me share some final thoughts on preorders. Preorders are an essential best practice. They will give you an incremental sales and discovery advantage, in a business that's all about increments. Take every advantage you can get. Large traditional publishers know this. Large publishers release all their ebooks as preorders. Yet over 85% of indie authors are not yet doing preorders. As we've demonstrated in the Smashwords Survey data, the first indies who have adopted preorders are reaping the lion's share of the rewards. So take a look at your publishing calendar for the next twelve months, and get everything up on preorder now.

That concludes Episode 4 on preorders. As always, check out the show notes for this episode and other episodes at, where you'll find supplemental links and more information on preorders. Visit us on Facebook at There, you can discuss the episode, ask questions, and connect with fellow listeners.

In the next episode, Episode 5, I'll teach you how to work with beta readers to make your next release the best it can be. And then in Episode 6, I'll teach you how to market your ebook to libraries.

Thank you again for joining me on the Smart Author Podcast series. If you're enjoying this series, please do me a favor and leave a review, and invite your writer friends to listen in as well. Until next time, keep writing. I'm Mark Coker.