Beyond Sales: 3 Powerful Benefits of Preorders for Newbie Indie Authors
by K. Patrick Donoghue
When I listed the Kindle and Nook editions of my second novel, Race for the Flash Stone, to accept preorders, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Big-name authors routinely list their upcoming titles for preorders, and their books-in-waiting always seem to immediately pop onto the best-seller lists. But what could an unknown indie author hope to achieve by employing the same practice? The answer: Whoa, Nelly!
Of course, I hoped accepting preorders for my book would generate sales in advance of the official release, but I had no idea how many to anticipate. I set my expectations low and chastened myself to primarily treat the 60-day preorder window as an opportunity to build awareness of the upcoming release among my Facebook and blog followers. That tempered view quickly changed within days after listing the book for preorders on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website, bn.com.
Sales quickly accumulated, and this led to a few unexpected side benefits that continue to accrue as of this writing, two months after the official release date. In short, I received three powerful benefits from listing my book for preorders that led to a book launch that exceeded my expectations:
- Unsolicited buzz by Amazon and Barnes & Noble
- Faster accumulation of reviews and ratings for the new book
- Early read on sales level led me to boost advertising investment in first book
Before describing these benefits in more depth, it’s likely of value to provide some brief background to assist fellow newbie indie authors in determining whether my preorder insights are of value.
First, both of my novels are part of a series titled The Anlon Cully Chronicles. The first book in the series, Shadows of the Stone Benders, was released in May 2016. Race for the Flash Stone is a continuation of the story explored in Shadows of the Stone Benders, and that likely had an impact on the stronger-than-expected preorders, as Shadows of the Stone Benders concluded with a soft cliffhanger.
Second, I am not a best-selling author. Though my two books, combined, sell 6,500 copies a month on average, neither of my books has appeared on any “big boy” best-seller lists. My Amazon “Author Rank” among all book authors hovers around 2,500.
Last, 90% of my book sales are from Kindle e-books, but I do not participate in the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program. The retail prices of the Kindle editions of my two books are $4.99 and $5.99, respectively. I have never offered them for free or discounted the books (with the exception of providing a limited number of complimentary copies to NetGalley reviewers).
With that background in mind, I offer the following insights gleaned from my preorder experience to fellow newbie indie authors.
Over the 60-day period Race for the Flash Stone was listed for preorder on Amazon and bn.com, nearly 3,000 paid copies of the new book were sold. While not a whopping amount by some standards, it did mean I more than covered all the production costs associated with the new book before the official release date.
What did I do to generate the preorder sales? Two things:
- On the day I listed the book, I posted an announcement about the availability of the new book for preorders on my author Facebook page and my website blog, and
- I inserted a similar announcement into the comments section of the various Facebook advertisements I run for Shadows of the Stone Benders.
That’s it. But that’s not the whole story. The preorder sales were surely influenced by side benefit #1, unsolicited buzz from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
#1 Benefit — Unsolicited Buzz
This one caught me by surprise. I figured I was a gnat to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but it turns out they are both more active in trying to help new books get exposure than I anticipated, even for indie authors.
The first buzz producer: Amazon created a “series page,” which featured both of my books, and inserted a link on both books’ product pages. This meant that anyone landing on my Amazon page for Shadows of the Stone Benders during the preorder period would see that the book was part of a series and could easily link to Race for the Flash Stone (and vice versa).
I believe this not only helped boost preorders of the new book, but also helped push up sales of Shadows of the Stone Benders. (Many readers have told me they are reluctant to purchase the initial book in a series until they know there are other books in the series. Once the second book was available to preorder, I saw a notable jump in the sales of my first book.)
Next up on Amazon: as the early preorders began to accumulate, Race for the Flash Stone achieved a spot in Amazon’s Top 100 Hot New Releases in several book categories (action-adventure, mystery/thriller/suspense, fantasy, and even teen/young adult). Once the book appeared on these lists, it held spots in each for the duration of the preorder period as well as several weeks after the release.
The extra exposure from appearing in these lists not only helped goose up preorders, but I’m certain it also contributed to the surge in sales I experienced for the first novel during the preorder period.
On the Barnes & Noble front, out of the blue I was contacted by Nook Press about 30 days after I began accepting Nook preorders to let me know Race for the Flash Stone had been selected by their editors as one of their “Nook Presents — Hot New Releases” for April and May.
This was followed two weeks later by a Nook Press email broadcast featuring the book with their other hot new release selections, and then a dedicated email broadcast two weeks after the official release date featuring my book.
I didn’t ask for any of this — Nook Press just did it on its own. [Editor’s note: This may have happened because the preorders were already outpacing other book sales.] If I hadn’t listed my book for preorders, though, they would never have known it was coming and I would have missed out on the free prerelease buzz.
#2 Benefit – Faster Accumulation of Reviews and Ratings
Listing Race for the Flash Stone to accept Kindle and Nook preorders also made a big difference in the speed with which reader reviews and ratings accumulated postrelease.
The first place I noticed reader feedback quickly emerge was on Facebook. Among the 3,000 people who preordered the book was a block of my Facebook “superfans,” people who really liked my first book and who regularly comment on my Facebook posts and advertisements.
These superfans were champing at the bit to dive into the new story. In fact, a bit of competition developed among them to be the first to finish the book and register their opinions. As a result, there was an immediate jump in chatter about the new book on my Facebook author page and in the comments section of the Facebook ads I run (thankfully, mostly positive), which has snowballed further since the book release.
By way of example, though my Facebook ad spend only increased 7% in the first 60 days after launch compared to the 60 days prior to launch, engagement statistics for my Facebook ads (post reactions, page likes, post comments, post shares) jumped 40%.
Separately, the bulge of preorders led to a rapid buildup of ratings on Goodreads. Within two weeks, there were nearly 35 ratings. By the end of the first month, the rating tally reached 120. Now, a little more than three months after releasing Race for the Flash Stone, the number of Goodreads ratings for the book stand at 479.
Interestingly, Amazon reviews have been slower to accumulate. Three months since launch, my Amazon review count sits at 75. I drive all my advertising to my book’s Amazon page, so I was concerned the slow pace of Amazon reviews would negatively affect sales, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, since the launch, average monthly sales of the new book have nearly doubled compared to the preorder time period.
#3 Benefit – Fast-Track Refinement af Advertising Investment = Higher Sales and Profits
There’s nothing special about the model I’m following to build readership and sales. Lots of authors who publish series utilize the same basic approach: I invest in acquiring readers of my first book (meaning I intentionally lose money on each first book I sell in order to build a sizable readership base) with the hope and expectation that a good chunk of those readers will buy my second book (and third book, and so on) at a profit that’s large enough to more than offset the first-book investment. To that end, I spend about 95% of my advertising dollars on promotions for my first book. I hardly promote the second book at all.
The art is figuring out how much to invest to acquire each new reader such that one can generate an acceptable/attractive return on investment (profits from royalties) from future book sales. For me, the early read I received from preorder sales gave me a real-world glimpse into my readership’s interest in the second book well in advance of the book launch.
Specifically, I found that the percentage of first-book buyers who purchased the second book was about 50% higher than I expected. (I had hoped 40% of first-book buyers would go for the second book. The pre- and postlaunch data shows about 60% are buying the second book. I’m working to move that up to 70%.)
This prelaunch market feedback allowed me to make an informed strategy decision. I could either:
(a) keep my advertising investment per first-book buyer the same and receive a higher return on cumulative royalties from both books, though that would mean I’d build a lower readership level (harvest profits strategy), or
(b) I could increase my first-book investment per buyer and achieve higher overall sales of both books, and higher absolute royalty profits, though at a lower ROI percentage (planting seeds strategy).
For the foreseeable future, I’ve opted for strategy (b) in order to continue to widen my readership pool in anticipation of releasing future books in my series.
The Takeaway: Preorders Can Make a Meaningful Difference in Book Launch Success
To wrap it all up, the decision to list the Kindle and Nook editions of Race for the Flash Stone for preorder paid big dividends in three tangible ways that all contributed to a healthy book launch:
- Unsolicited buzz from Amazon and Barnes & Noble prior to the book release helped fuel strong preorders.
- Rapid reader feedback from preorder buyers built good sales momentum postlaunch.
- Preorder performance helped improve the efficiency of my advertising spend (pre- and postlaunch), leading to higher overall sales and profits at a faster pace.
Truth be told, if I’d known how big an impact preorders could have at an earlier date, I would have listed the book for the maximum preorder windows allowed by KDP and Nook Press. For indie authors, KDP currently limits preorder sales to 90 days prior to release date (for big house publishers, I’ve seen preorder Kindle editions listed up to nine months in advance), and Nook Press allows up to 150 days.
I’ve also recently discovered (after my book launch, unfortunately) that Amazon offers a way for indie authors to list paperback and/or hardback editions for preorder up to a year in advance. While I won’t go to that extreme for my third book, I know for sure I’ll list it for preorder as soon as I’m confident about the release date.
K. Patrick Donoghue is the author of The Anlon Cully Chronicles, including his debut novel, Shadows of the Stone Benders, and the series continuation, Race for the Flash Stone. A newcomer to mystery fiction writing, Patrick’s inspiration for The Anlon Cully Chronicles is rooted in his long-standing interest in ancient civilizations. The next book in the series, Curse of the Painted Lady, is slated for a spring 2018 release.
Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.