Today’s guest post is an excerpt from How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon: 2021 Updated Edition by Penny Sansevieri (@Bookgal).
As you probably know, Amazon allows ebook pre-orders for KDP authors, which helps level the playing field between traditionally published authors and those who self-publish through KDP. Even Amazon will tell you right upfront that pre-orders are great for building buzz. True. But there is a caveat. If you’re a new author with no reader base (yet), you really have to power through your pre-order and work it harder than you would if you had a series of books already out there.
How the Amazon algorithm for pre-orders works
For the last edition of my book How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon, I put it up for pre-order for two weeks. During that time, I started pushing Amazon ads as soon as the book page went live, and this early ad run helped push the book up the bestseller list. I also ran a new kind of promotion that was like a buy one, get one—but instead of gifting a second book, we gave readers who pre-ordered the Amazon book access to a video program.
That push for pre-orders within a short window really helped the book build up a strong head of steam before the actual launch day, when it just exploded. In fact, if you’ve taken one of my classes recently, you know I lead off with all the bestseller status ribbons my book has earned.
There’s a certain amount of momentum that a book captures organically when it first appears on Amazon. It sits in the “new release” section of Amazon, which can be a great spot to attract additional interest. However, if your book is on pre-order and then hits the Amazon system on launch day with little to no buzz, no reviews, and no activity, it’ll quickly plummet due to low sales, which is really hard to recover from. Books that sink down the Amazon list on launch day can take a long time to resurrect. In the testing I’ve done, I’ve seen this kind of recovery sometimes take three months or longer. But even if you have no immediate reviews, running ads will help keep the book up within its category.
In order to avoid your book tanking on Amazon, you need to plan a solid promotional campaign for the day it launches. You can start to drive some interest to the book by letting your friends, family, and followers know it’s coming. If you have anything you can give readers access to that might generate a strong motivation for them to pre-order, then do so. You could give them one of your other books for free if they buy your current one, or if the book is part of a series you could gift them an earlier book in the series if they haven’t read it. Some authors give tote bags. But regardless of the “gift,” make it as creative and original as you can.
Pre-orders for first-time authors
If it’s your first book, and you have no real platform, I’d skip the pre-order. Why? Because a pre-order is a great tool if you’re ready to hit the ground running when your book launches. If you do a pre-order and launch your book, but it takes a month or months to get reviews, it hurts your exposure on Amazon. The system is geared to pushing books that are selling right out of the gate. If you decide to do a pre-order, don’t do a long one—two weeks or a month at the most, and be prepared to move quickly when your launch date arrives.
Most important of all: spend your marketing time wisely. Don’t spend a ton of time marketing your pre-order page as a new author, because even if you have a fan base you likely won’t get a ton of orders. Sure, you can do a small push to friends and family and to a mailing list if you have one, but at this point it’s smarter to consider your use of Amazon categories and keywords, and the work you can do after the book launches, as well as Amazon advertising.
In a good majority of cases, it’s better for new authors not to do a pre-order at all.
A note about reviews: Keep in mind that readers can’t review a pre-order book. If you’re looking to get some early reviews, consider focusing on Goodreads, where you can push for pre-order reviews and provide ARCs (advance reader copies) to potential reviewers.
Pre-orders for published authors
If you have a book out there (or several), and you’ve built a mailing list of fans, then pre-order can build excitement for your upcoming book. But most, if not all, of your marketing should be reserved for when the book is available on Amazon, because that will result in a much bigger benefit for you.
Unless you are James Patterson or some other mega-bestseller, it’s not easy to drive significant numbers to your pre-order page. The other issue is that if a reader wants something now, they may not want to wait for your book to be ready and could end up buying something else instead. That said, pre-order can be a lot of fun for fans who’ve been waiting for your next book.
How long should the pre-order last?
Regardless of the category you’re in, don’t stretch the pre-order time to the full year that Amazon allows. If you aren’t spending a ton of time promoting the book, you don’t want it up for too long. My ideal would be actually two weeks. But those two weeks should be spent on a solid, focused effort.
Also, don’t fail to hit the deadline you assigned to the pre-order, because once you select it, you can’t go back! Pick a date you know you can hit. Amazon penalizes authors who miss their pre-order date.
Pricing your pre-order
I would keep it low, even if you plan to raise the price later. You’re competing with millions of titles on Amazon, and your book isn’t even out yet. If you want to entice an impulse buy, keep the pricing low at first. Once the book is live, you can always raise the price.
How to set up your pre-order
First and foremost, you need to be a KDP author. Your ebook should be uploaded into the KDP system via their author/book dashboard. Once you’re there, you’ll see this:
Once you select a date, the system will tell you that you must get the final book to Amazon no later than four days prior. Additionally, you will need to upload a manuscript for them to approve before they’ll set up your pre-order. The manuscript doesn’t have to be pre-edited; they just want to see what you plan to publish. You’ll need a cover, but it doesn’t have to be a final version. If you’re still a month out with no cover (it happens more often than you think), you can leave the cover blank or put up a placeholder, then add your cover before the pre-order goes live. Here’s what the page looks like when it’s launched on their site:
According to Amazon, the book can be any length, so if you’ve written a novella, you can use pre-order too. Currently there are no limitations, other than that you need to be a KDP author, and, if you’re an indie author, this is for ebooks only.
Pre-order is a fun, cool option for self-published authors, but be mindful of how much of your money and promotional sweat equity you spend. Most readers prefer to buy a book they can read right away. The urge for instant gratification is especially true for ebook readers, because for them, it truly is instant.
Note from Jane: If you enjoyed this post, check out How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon: 2021 Updated Edition by Penny Sansevieri.