Smashwords Ebook Preorders

Learn How to Make Preorders Work for You

This page describes the Smashwords preorder system and process, and provides guidance for how Smashwords authors and publishers can maximize the effectiveness of this powerful ebook merchandising tool.

We're excited about preorders.  We think the early adopters of our preorder system will yield a significant discovery advantage over other books.  We also believe that staged book releases that include an advance preorder period will become a new professional best practice for the most successful indies.

In May, we analyzed Smashwords bestsellers and found that during the prior 12 months, 7 of our top 10 bestselling titles were born as preorders and 67% of our top 200 bestselling titles were born as preorders.  Preorders give you a sales advantage!

Which Smashwords retailers support preorders? - We're currently distributing preorders to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

What's a preorder? - Preorders make it possible for retailers to accept customer orders for your book in advance of  your official "onsale" date.  During the preorder period, your sales will accumulate.  When your book goes onsale, the retailer charges the customer's credit card and makes the book available for download. 

Advantages of doing a preorder - Preorders yield several important advantages:

  1. Higher placement in bestseller charts:  At Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all accumulated sales during the preorder period credit at once on the onsale date.  This gives your book advantageous placement in genre-specific and store-wide bestseller lists the moment your book goes onsale.  By appearing higher in the bestseller lists, your book becomes more visible, more discoverable and more desirable to readers, which further increases your sales.  Smashwords preorders have also helped multiple Smashwords authors land a spot in the Publishers Weekly/Smashwords bestseller list which is published monthly by Publishers Weekly.

  2. Simultaneous availability across multiple retailers:  Prior to the introduction of the new Smashwords Preorder distribution, an author would release their book on Smashwords, or upload direct to some retailers, and then over a matter of days or weeks the book would appear at each retailer.  By getting your book set up weeks in advance as a preorder at Smashwords, your book will go onsale on the exact same day at Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

  3. More effective buzz-building:  By placing your book on preorder, it gives you time to stage a strategic marketing campaign to build buzz and anticipation in advance of your release.  Get creative with your marketing!  Do chapter reveals on your blog or Facebook page.  Hold contests.  Run promotions on your other titles to build readership in advance of your big release.

  4. Capture the sale:  Most authors are communicating with their readers about their upcoming releases months in advance on their blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page.  A preorder allows you to capture the reader's order at the moment you have their greatest attention and interest. 

  5. Your other books can market your preorder:  If you have one or more books on the market already, retailer merchandising systems will automatically display your preorder book to readers.  Separately, update the backmatter of all your existing titles to mention your upcoming release.  Once your preorder is listed, update the backmatter of all your other books with the following paragraph:  "{Book title} is coming {Month Day Year}.  Available now for preorder at select retailers.  Reserve your copy today!"  If your book is a new installment in a series, then do something like this:    "{Book title}, book {# in the XYZ Series}, is coming {Month Day Year}.  Available now for preorder at select retailers.  Reserve your copy today!"

  6. More merchandising opportunities:  If you set a release date four or more weeks out, this will give merchandising managers at retailers greater flexibility to promote your book.  Apple, for example, runs merchandising features each week where they promote the top performing preorders, and promote "sneak peeks" of downloadable samples of upcoming preorders.  Merchandising managers also monitor the order volume of preorders.  If they see your book is accumulating a significant number of orders, they're more likely to give the book additional merchandising promotion.  Learn more by viewing the embedded presentation above, or its accompanying blog post here.  If you want to learn about Apple merchandising strategies, view our video, How to Reach Readers at Apple iBooks - Merchandising Secrets for Indie Authors (Tutorial Series #5).  Although the video is specific to Apple, many of merchandising best practices that apply to Apple apply to other retailers.  Apple also has a history of promoting preorders more aggressively than other retailers.

  7. Sampling sells books:  Participating Smashwords retailers will make a sample of your preorder book available to readers.  Samples drive preorder sales.


How to do a Preorder at Smashwords

Setting up a preorder is EASY!  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Loading your preorder:  We have two preorder options at Smashwords.  1.  THE BOOK IS COMPLETE - If your manuscript is already final and formatted, and your cover image is prepared, click to the regular Smashwords Publish page and follow the instructions to release your book as a preorder.   2.  THE BOOK IS NOT YET COMPLETE - If your book isn't finished, or isn't ready for publication, you can establish an Assetless Preorder, aka a "Metadata Only" preorder.  We announced Assetless Preorders on June 17, 2015.  If you're planning a release in the next 12 months, get it up on Assetless Preorder ASAP!

  2. For both preorder options, click to the Publish page and then click the Make it a Preorder button.  If you're ready to upload the final manuscript and cover, select the "I'm ready to upload my final formatted manuscript now" option.  If you're doing an Assetless Preorder, select the option, "I will upload my final formatted manuscript later."   Next, you'll select a date.  We recommend you select a date that is at least four or five weeks out, and up to 12 months out.  iBooks can list preorders up to 12 months out.  B&N and Kobo can go out about eight months.  This will give you ample time to ensure your book achieves Premium Catalog approval, is shipped to retailers, and retailers have time to process and load your book for preorder.  Although we recommend a preorder runway of four weeks or more, you are welcome to select shorter time periods.  Even if your book achieves a preorder listing for a few days prior to release, you'll have a chance to accumulate orders and gain a higher sales rank.  You can even set your release date for as near as one or two days away if you're uploading the complete book and final cover.  Although one or two days will not allow enough time for your book to work its way to all retailers, you'll still be giving your book a headstart on Premium Catalog approval and distribution.  For an Assetless Preorder, you must select a date that's at least 10 days out.  Smashwords gives preorders priority Premium Catalog reviews.
  3. After you upload, check for AutoVetter errors.  Download your .epub with Adobe Digital Editions, and make sure the formatting looks great.

  4. The Smashwords vetting team will review your book and approve it for the Premium Catalog.  Once the book is accepted into the Premium Catalog, it will ship out to the participating preorder retailers.  We ship multiple times daily, seven days per week excluding holidays, to Apple to Kobo.  We ship daily to Barnes & Noble, five days per week.
  5. Once your book is listed for preorder at each retailer, start your marketing engines!  Provide your readers direct links to your preorder pages at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Use the appearance of the book's preorder listing at each retailer as a marketing event. Non-erotica preorder listings will often appear at iBooks the same day we ship to them, often within minutes.  B&N typically takes 2-3 business days from the day we deliver to them.  The Smashwords store will list your book as a future release, but customers are unable to place a preorder reservation at the Smashwords store.

  6. If you have other titles published and distributed, update the back-of-the-book "other books by this author" section to advertise you have a preorder available at select retailers (don't name the retailers since none of the retailers want other retailers promoted by name in the books they carry). More marketing ideas below.

More Nuts and Bolts of Preorders

Can I update my book while it's up as a preorder? - Yes.  Simply upload the new version or metadata changes as you always have via your Dashboard.

Where can I learn how to get the most from ebook preorders? - Here are four more resources that will teach you proven strategies for success with ebook preorders:

1. Listen to Episode 4 of the Smart Author Podcast, entirely dedicated to preorder strategy!

2.  Publishers Weekly (November 2015) - How Indie Authors Can Use Ebook Preorders to Hit Retailer Bestseller Lists

3.  June 17, 2015  - How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders (Includes information on Assetless Preorders!)

4. June 17, 2015 - Smashwords Introduces Assetless Preorders!


Keep in mind that a preorder is simply a tool, and it'll work best if used in conjunction with other professional ebook publishing best practices.  For a good summary of ebook publishing best practices, read Mark Coker's The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success and The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.

Will my preorder be available at Smashwords? - After you upload your preorder, we'll create your book listing page at Smashwords, but the book will not be available for order until your onsale date.  If you set sampling, however, your sample will be downloadable.  The primary purpose of our preorder support is to help our authors list their books as preorders at Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

How do my readers order a preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble or Kobo?
Once your preorder listing appears at these retailers, your readers can click the "preorder" button to place their reservation for the book.  Their credit card will not be charged until the book is released to them.  They'll be the first to receive the book, the moment the book is released.

What can I do to make my preorder more appealing to readers? - Give your readers an incentive - a call to action - to place their preorder now rather than waiting for the official onsale date.  If you plan to price your book at $3.99, consider offering it for preorder at $2.99, and let your fans know that shortly after it goes onsale, you'll raise the price to the normal $3.99.  When the book goes onsale, adjust the price at Smashwords and then allow at least 1-3 business days for the price to update at each retailer.  For more ideas, check out our post, How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders

My book's not complete yet.  Can I upload a draft? - You can't (and should not) upload a draft.  If your book isn't final, then you should use our great new Assetless Preorder option to establish the preorder listing, and then upload the manuscript later once it's final. The book you upload should be a complete Smashwords-formatted book.  If you want to upload a near-final advance copy of your book (such as the typical Advance Reader Copy [ARC] or Uncorrected Proof), that's great as long as it's properly formatted, but remember that readers will be able to download a sample of the beginning of the book at Apple, usually the first 10%, so be sure that it's solid and edited!  If you need to update your book in advance of the release date, please upload your final final to Smashwords no later than 10 business days in advance of the release date to allow adequate time for the book to be Premium Catalog-approved at Smashwords, delivered to retailers and updated at retailers.

When will my book be released? - You set the date of the release when you select the onsale date at the time of upload.  Most Smashwords retailers will release the book shortly after midnight, local time for that country (i.e., around 12:00 a.m. on release date, in the first few minutes of the new day).  For most retailers in the US (including the Smashwords store), will release at or near 12:00 a.m. Eastern time which corresponds to 9 p.m. Pacific time of the previous date.  Smashwords distributes books globally, so your release will follow the calendar.  So, for example, if Smashwords has distributed your preorder to Apple iBooks, your book will go onsale first in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Europe and the UK, followed by North and South America.  The Smashwords store operates US Eastern time for releases following the convention of the US publishing industry.  If you need to change the release date of your book, you can do this self-serve via your Dashboard's Settings option.

My release date is within the next week.  Should I do a preorder?
Yes.  The advantage of uploading the book as a preorder now is that you'll receive fast-tracked review for the Premium Catalog, and you'll give retailers a head start to get your book loaded in their stores so it's ready at all preorder-capable retailers on or near the official onsale date.  Even if you upload your preorder just seven days in advance, there's a good chance you get a couple days of preorder time at the retailer, which could give you a modest first-day sales bump benefit especially if you heavily promote the preorder once it's live at each retailer.

Can I price my preorder at FREE?
Unfortunately, no, though we think that would be a great idea!  None of the retailers support preorders priced at free.  If they ever add this support, we'll gladly support it too.

How do I track my accumulated preorders?
From your Smashwords Dashboard, click "Daily Reports" to view accumulated preorders at Apple iBooks.  At present, Kobo and B&N are not providing preorder accumulation data until the book goes on sale.

Do preorders work best for established authors, or for new unknown authors? - Established authors with multiple books already on the market that are selling regularly, especially if these books are updated to mention their upcoming preorder, will do the best with preorders.  However, even less established authors can use preorders to increase their visibility, because the accumulated orders will cause the book to pop higher in the charts than it otherwise would.  If you can accumulate even a few orders a day over a one or two month preorder period at a retailer, you're likely to land in the top 10 or top 20 of your genre list.  All indie authors start as unknowns.  The process of getting known takes consistent and methodical ongoing effort.  You need to employ multiple best practices, as outlined in The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success and The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, while at the same time avoiding mistakes that can undermine your success.

I changed my mind and don't want my book to be a preorder. - If you want to release your preorder book right now, cancelling the prerelease period, use the "release now" link under that book's release date in your Dashboard. This option will only work if you previously uploaded the full manuscript and cover.

Can I change my release date? - Yes.  If you want to release earlier or later than initially planned, you can change the date in Dashboard: Settings.  We recommend that any changes be made at least ten days in advance of your current or new release date, whichever comes soonest.  This will give the retailers a chance to properly ingest the new information and ensure a smooth release on the date of your choice at the major retailers.

Can I change the price of my preorder before the onsale date?  - Yes, but we don't recommend this.  At Kobo, they offer their customers a low price guarantee, so their customer will get the book at the price at which they reserved the book, even if you increase the price.  At Apple, they may prompt the customer and ask if they're willing to pay a higher price (this will likely cause you to lose orders).  You should assume that all preorder customers will receive the lowest possible price during the preorder period.