I’ve always been a little sceptical of pre-orders when it comes to ebooks.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Amazon and co opened up pre-orders to independent publishers and authors. It creates a level playing field with the big boys, and while I think some of Amazon’s terms are a little strict when it comes to delivery dates, it’s a start, and something I was told multiple times to take advantage of when the option launched last year.
So I did. And my results sucked.
The first book I made available for pre-order was Sunlight, a standalone post-apocalyptic book I released last October. I got a total of fourteen pre-orders, meaning my pre-release visibility was nil and my launch day ranking already low. A missed opportunity, basically.
I tried pre-orders again with the fourth book in the Brian McDone series. I figured a series instalment would garner better results.
Nope. In fact, I only got seven pre-orders for this book. And while the book has sold well since, it was a nail in the coffin for pre-orders where I’m concerned.
Or so I thought.
Last month, I released Infection Z, the first book in a new post-apocalyptic series. I immediately made the second book available to pre-order as I’d already finished it some time ago. I set it to launch in a month, so there was somewhere for readers to go right after they’d finished the first book.
I just now looked at the pre-orders for IZ2.
They’re in the hundreds.
So for me, it’s immediately clear how to make the most of pre-orders. First, you have to write a book. Then write another book. And even better, write another.
Then, release that first book and set the second book available for pre-order a month later. This way you’re on the HNR lists for book one, and have a second book ready to launch which’ll boost your HNR ranking for another month. And for a third, a fourth, so on.
I’m not suggesting you churn out a second book for the sake of it. This only works if you a.) have a series and b.) are willing to hold back a couple of books initially to take advantage of the pre-order system–and the visibility that comes with it. But the way I see it, I could’ve launched all those books on day one. Sure, I’d probably have sold lots in the first month.
But after that month, after those thirty days, visibility is gone.
I drop out the HNR lists.
With a pre-order, there’s the best of both worlds: visibility in the HNR list for a month, a follow-up already available to pre-purchase, and then an extra thirty days of visibility when that book launches. And so on.
So ultimately I just wanted to share my experiences with pre-order and give you a few ideas of how it can work for you. If you release standalone books infrequently, I don’t see much point holding them back. If you aren’t willing to write a few books, hold them back for the purpose of releasing one every thirty days, then you might as well just release to your own schedule too.
But if you have a system, have a little patience and structure your releases into thirty-day patterns–whether you write a book a year or a book every three months doesn’t matter, just hold them back until you have more than one ready to go–then pre-ordering can work for you.
I realise this goes against a lot of common logic and advice. Most advice says to just release everything when it’s ready. Well I tried that and I sold less when I did that than I do now. But your mileage may vary.