Writer Wednesday: Report on Using Amazon’s Pre-Order Option for a Debut Author

preorder

Last night ended the first two weeks of my debut novel’s release, and I thought I’d post some of my thoughts and findings on using the new pre-order option at Amazon.

On August 14th, the news hit the various indie loops that Amazon had opened up the pre-order option for indie authors. Before that, it was only available to traditionally published authors, and to those huge indie successes who had the clout to ask for the option and have it specially coded. I’d already had Must Love Breeches up for pre-order on B&N, Kobo, Apple, GooglePlay, and ARe, so it had been frustrating not having it up on Amazon too. So I immediately picked a go-live date and uploaded my nearly ready file that evening. Several hours later, it was in their system, and I began promoting it the next morning. It enjoyed a brief foray into the Top 100 for Time Travel Romance later that day, for about an hour or two, but after that initial burst of sales, it settled down to just a couple of sales a day. But that was cool to see, especially when I could see if it was a result of any pre-release promo.

Anyway, here’s what I found:

Captures impulse buys

It helped to capture any impulse purchases as a result of any pre-release buzz from people who might have forgotten about it by the time it released. I think this is an important point to consider if you’re a no-name like me. I’ve heard some say that having a pre-order option for someone like me isn’t very beneficial because it’s not like I’m going to make one of the big lists when it releases, and so any pre-order sales are a waste because they won’t impact your sales ranking on Amazon on the day of release. While this is true, I think there’s more to consider.

Let me back up though, and explain what is happening with sales for those that are newer to the process. Pre-order sales affect your sales ranking on Amazon on the day they make the pre-order sale, hence why I briefly made that list the first day. However, the orders are accumulated during this period and don’t count as sales until the day before your release date. This is why big authors like doing pre-orders because all those pre-order sales their name can rack up all get dumped onto their record on release week, making it more likely they can hit the USAToday or NYT bestsellers lists.

So while yes it’s true that all my pre-order sales would never come close to putting me on a list, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t have had even half that number of sales if I hadn’t captured them leading up to it. I’m just not a name where someone would mark it on their calendar or sear it into their brain so they wouldn’t forget my release date. LOL, yeah, no. Instead, what was more likely was ‘huh, cool cover, sounds like a good story-click‘ but they would have forgotten about it probably by the time it released. Of course I can’t scientifically test what percentage of my sales were impulse purchases, but my gut tells me, this was good to do.

Also, if you’re only not doing it because you want all your sales to hit on release day so that your sales ranking catapults you onto a list, remember that Amazon rewards those that have consistent sales. A fast rise up the charts, if not accompanied by steady sales after, will plummet you just as quickly, doing you no good. It took a lot of sales on the day of my release to finally pop me into the Top 100, but it did.  Once I got there though, I’ve been able to stay there with just half that number of sales. So, keep in mind that if you’re looking at your respective category chart and see their ranking and use that to judge how many books they’re selling. You need to double that number, it seems, to get you that same spot. The number you’re calculating based on sales rank is how many it takes to stay there.

Allows you to have a firm release date

It was nice having a firm release date. Before that, I was going to play ‘let’s juggle hitting publish buttons’ hoping they’d all release around the same time. With Amazon allowing this, it allowed me to set a firm date, September 3, and update all my pre-release promo with this date. As it was, I still had to do that a little. I hit publish on the print version on Sep 1, cursing myself for waiting too late (their documentation said 3-5 days to update) but it actually worked out almost perfectly as it popped into Amazon on the afternoon of my release date.  I waited until Sep 2 to hit publish on the German distributor site XinXii, and even today, am still waiting for it to populate!

Allows you more visibility on the Hot New Releases list

If your pre-order sales are strong, you’ll appear in your category’s Hot New Releases list, gaining you more visibility. I forgot to check this, but looking at what’s there now and their rankings, I would have been near the top of page 2 for Time Travel. Since the release, I’ve been bouncing between the #5 slot and #8. The cool thing is, you’re on here for 30 days PLUS however many days you were on pre-order, which gives you more exposure.

Also Boughts

I can’t remember the number I heard, but I think it was like, after 10 sales, books start appearing in your Also Boughts strip. In the past, you had to wait on release day until you got that number of sales, which could be hard for a debut author. However, because I had preorders, on my release day at midnight, boom, those appeared. I wouldn’t be able to tell if my book also appeared in other strips but it was a possibility.

The Process

Some authors have had some horror stories to relate, with reports of glitches in the system. I didn’t have any, and I don’t know if my experience with what happened will be how it plays out in the future, but I thought I’d relate it anyway. When you upload your file, you pick a release date and you have the option of uploading a draft. Amazon then gives you a firm date on which you must upload (and mark) your final. What I mean by ‘mark’ is that there’s a radio button you choose to say whether this is your draft or final. Amazon can’t know that what you’ve uploaded is your final, unless you also click that radio button to tell them this is it. The danger of not doing this in time means you lose your pre-order privileges for a whole year. Just to be safe, I uploaded and marked it as my final two days before the deadline. I found that I was able to keep uploading a new final after that, and it took around 6 hours on average for it to update to the system (they send you an email). But about 4 days prior to my release date, Amazon locked it down and didn’t allow me to make any changes (not even to my description, keywords, or categories). So be sure you have those in final form too.

Sales Weight

This is an unknown for me, so if anyone knows the answer, please pipe up in the comments. I know that some lists on Amazon, like the popularity lists, are weighted by the number of overall sales in a given period, and I wonder if, since the sales all get dumped onto the day prior to release, if this counts in that weight consideration? If so, I had two days in a row with nearly equal sales (my release day sales were almost the same as all the pre-order sales that got dumped onto my record for the day before). Not counting those two days, which are naturally going to be a larger burst of sales for people, I’ve been averaging 23 sales a day, and to me, for a debut author, this is baffling! I’m like, who are these people and how do they know about my book??? The steady sales means I’ve been staying up in the lists, which is getting me more visibility, which generates more sales. It’s like magic. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do a controlled experiment to see if this would’ve happened if I hadn’t done the pre-order option… But I do wonder if that weight is helping me.

Having a Buy Link

It was also nice having a buy link ahead of time to have on promo, and also to be able to go ahead and post my book to some website databases, some of which required an Amazon link in order to submit. It also meant that I could reverse engineer a direct link to my Review page (even though people couldn’t leave reviews yet) so that I could put this link into my back matter ahead of time. In other words, your book, on release day, could already have a direct link to leave reviews. It also means, if you have other books out, that you could update that back matter immediately so that you could capture pre-order sales.

Conclusion

For me, I loved having this option and will do it again without hesitation. However, I know some who experienced glitches. One author I know had uploaded her final and yet Amazon suspended her, saying she hadn’t. Last week, pre-order sales reports were frozen and so authors didn’t know if they had any sales. I’m sure these kinks will work out. But if you had any experiences with it that differ from mine, please feel free to share in the comments! Do you see other benefits or drawbacks that I missed?

Edited to Add (9/23/2014)

Just heard from another author that you CANNOT change the date you set for preorder without repercussions. She has a release well outside the 10-day window and changed it from a Monday to a Tuesday when she realized the pre-orders are counted the day before. There was no warning near that field of what would happen if she changed it. When she changed the date, she got an email from Amazon stating that she lost her pre-order privileges for one year, and that an email had been sent to all who had pre-ordered that the release had been delayed.

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22 Comments

  1. Hey Angela! I have a question about the Hot New Releases list. I was worried that with the pre-order option the 30 days would kick in on the date I put the book up for pre-order, but is it correct that the 30 days doesn’t kick in until the book is actually released? So we do in fact get the 30 days plus all the days the book was up on pre-order to stay on the Hot New Releases list? If so, this is great news!

    Reply
  2. I’m using preorders right now for Part Four of my serialized story (the last part) and I have mixed feelings. While sales are beyond awesome, my mailing list signups have slowed. Next time, I have to weigh the value of growing my mailing list versus preorders. However, if my newsletter signups pick up again after Part Four releases this weekend, I may use preorders again. The only hard part? I write and put out works fast, and rarely have the completed file ten days before!

    Reply
    • Hmm, hadn’t thought of that–so primarily your draw for signups is to learn about new releases? Do you have other benefits in your newsletters too? But yeah, that’s something to consider, and something I’m not faced with as this is my first time playing in the field, so I have no basis for comparison with earlier launches. Wouldn’t they still want to know when it goes out on pre-order? Since this is new to me, I’m trying to figure out what’s causing your downturn… Thanks for your feedback, so others can take this into consideration!!!

      Reply
      • I’ve been published a year and I send out a monthly newsletter with exclusive excerpts, cover reveals, and other bonus information. I also send out new release blasts when I have a new book out. The preorder is for my serialized story, so before preorders were available, a lot of people (5-10 a day) were signing up to know when the next part of the story was out. Once I put up the preorder, it dropped to 1-2 a day. The value of more newsletter subscribers is that I have three series going now, and since they’re all paranormal romance, I like to think there is some cross over between series when I send out the new release information.

        But, again, I’ll wait to see if the sign-ups pick up again once the final part of the story comes out this Saturday. If they do, then I may consider using preorders again as catching impulse buys are fantastic. 🙂

      • that makes sense, so you’ve got the next in the series already set up and now they can just click to the next and not have to worry (and thus don’t sign up)… That is a unique situation, and definitely something others should keep in mind when evaluating! Thanks for clarifying!

  3. Ella Sheridan

     /  September 17, 2014

    Great information, Angela! I appreciate you sharing. You talked about “reverse engineering” a review link. How did you do that? Does the link to the book on Amazon stay the same even when it goes live? Just curious how that works.

    One other question: How did this experience compare to the preorder experience with the other platforms, both in ease of setting up and sales?

    Thanks again! Having info like this helps those following understand what they are getting into. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Will apologize if this ends up being a double posting.

    Thanks for all the great information Angela. This was just the information I was looking for and I’m going to forward your link to our RWA chapter. I had a lot of people asking me about pre-orders and if I was going to use it with my second novel.

    Our speaker on Saturday was talking about discoverability so I asked her opinion on Amazon’s pre-order option. She basically said to go for it so I did just that and uploaded my files the next day. Like you, I’ve hit four of Amazon’s Hot New Release lists and I was glad to read from this blog that this won’t actually affect these lists come my official release day.

    I’m curious about Ella’s question regarding “reverse engineering a review link” and will be looking forward to your reply.

    Thanks again for the info. It certainly helps when you see another author going in the same direction. And by the way…I’m loving Must Love Breeches!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Sherry, and I’m glad you found it helpful. See my answer below on reverse engineering. Glad you’re enjoying Breeches!

      Reply
  5. Angela, great post. I’ve already decided to do a pre-order for my next book. As a no-name I’m not expecting big things yet, I’m doing it more for timing of release everywhere and allowing me to schedule promo around a definite date with a definite link.

    Reply
  6. Jordan McCollum

     /  September 17, 2014

    Interesting, thanks for sharing! I think I’m most interested in exploring this option when I can release books close enough together to put the buy link in the back of the first book in a series when it’s released.

    Reply
  7. Congrats on your debut release! I’m also thrilled Amazon is letting everyone do preorders now. I’ve always had them for trad-pub releases, so not having them for indie books sucked.

    However, when I recently had a trad-pub release with a preorder, the publicist suggested I *not* encourage too many preorders. So I didn’t mention it in a newsletter or to my Street Team. The idea being, if a thousand people all buy it on release day instead of before release day, you’ll be catapulted up the lists. For me, this worked! It hit the general romance category list on Amazon, top 50 overall Nook books on B&N, and on the iBooks romance lists. So having your super-readers buy on release day can be really great.

    But I still recommend using a preorder for all the reasons you’ve mentioned: having a link and firm date to promote, and catching impulse buys.

    Reply
  8. Thank you, Angela!
    I have a book in the pre-release hopper at Amazon right now, too. The only nerve-wracking parts of the process (so far) have been:
    A) hearing that there were some snafus for other authors where pre-orders were lost
    B) the fact that the page at KDP doesn’t really acknowledge that you’ve uploaded a “final” version. I too have re-uploaded my “final” an extra time, and when you open the page the interface has exactly the same warning about the dire consequences of not turning in a final version. I’d feel better if it morphed into something like “you’re such a good girl. We’ve got your final, and everything is right with the world. Have a glass of wine.”
    But I guess we can’t have everything! 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m trying to remember what mine looked like. Are the radio buttons where you choose final or not grayed out so you can’t change it? I kind of feel like that’s how it looked for me?

      Reply
  9. A set release date instead of depending on the vagaries of the uploading systems of different vendors? Sign me up! Definitely doing this with my next release!

    Reply
  10. I’m adding my thanks for this useful info. I have loads of time as my debut novel is due spring 2015. In fact, reading blogs is me procrastinating rather than getting stuck into my proofreading !

    Reply
  11. jeangill

     /  November 9, 2014

    Very helpful analysis, especially re ranking and categories – so confusing! I’ve just blogged on the same subject from my own experience and I put a link to your blog – thanks for sharing the info. http://jeangill.blogspot.fr/2014/11/amazons-pre-order-option-making-most-of.html

    Reply
  1. Monday Must-Reads [10.27.14]

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