Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders

If you're planning to publish a book in the next 12 months, this post will teach you how to use ebook preorders to reach more readers.  You'll learn why an ebook preorder is an ESSENTIAL component of every successful book launch.

Two years ago Smashwords announced preorder distribution to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. At the time, I promised that ebook preorders would help our authors sell more books.  This has proven true.

Books born as preorders sell significantly more copies than books that are simply uploaded the day of release.

I recently analyzed 12 months of Smashwords sales data in preparation for the upcoming release of my annual 2015 Smashwords Survey.  Here's a quick sneak peek preview of what we found:
  • 7 of our top 10 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • 67% of our top 200 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • Of our top 200 bestselling preorders, 81% were supplied by romance authors
  • Books born as preorders represented only 9.8% of the books released at Smashwords during this 12-month Survey period
So there you have it.  A small fraction of our titles were released as preorders, yet those titles absolutely dominated the bestseller lists.

The good news is that preorders work like magic.  Preorders are the single most powerful book launch tool today.  The bad news is that most authors aren't doing preorders yet.  Let's fix that starting today.  I'll teach you how to make preorders work for your next book release.

I think the reason most Smashwords authors haven't done preorders in the past is that prior to today (June 17, 2015), we required the author to upload the full and final manuscript to establish the preorder. That put authors in the tough position of having to weigh the benefits of immediate release against the benefits of releasing the book later as a preorder.

Earlier today we announced a solution to this quandary - the assetless preorder.  With today's assetless preorder announcement, authors can establish preorders up to 12 months in advance without the book.  You simply provide us the metadata (title, release date, price, book description and categorization) and then we'll get the listing established at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

In this post, I’ll explain how preorders work, how indie authors and publishers can integrate preorders into their next book launch, and I'll share proven and effective strategies to maximize the results of your preorder. 

What’s an eBook Preorder?

An ebook preorder is an advance book listing at the ebook retailer.  Preorders allow readers to place an advance reservation for your book.  Their credit card is not charged until the book is released to them when it officially goes on sale.  iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all list assetless preorders delivered via Smashwords.

The Six Biggest Benefits of Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders give you incremental advantage in the battle for reader eyeballs.  Here's why incremental advantages are so important:  Ebook sales are characterized by the power curve phenomena, where each incremental increase in sales rank earns the author an exponential increase in sales.  A book ranked #1 in a store might sell triple the number of copies of a book ranked #10, and a book ranked #10 might sell double or triple the number of titles as the #20 bestseller.

The more best practices you implement well, the more your sales rank will shift to the left of the curve (learn the most important best practices in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success).

Most indie authors are already well-versed in the necessary best practices of great writing, great editing, great cover design, great distribution and a fair price.  It's time that every author add ebook preorders to their repertoire of the most important best practices .

Preorders are like the difference between driving in gridlocked traffic or skipping over to the commuter lane.  Preorders are a fast track to greater visibility, discoverability and sales.

Let’s examine the six benefits of ebook preorders:

1.  Preorders enable more effective advance book marketing – Most authors, as they're writing their next book, communicate their progress to fans on their blog, Facebook, Twitter and private mailing lists.  Preorders allow you to capture the reader’s order at the moment you have their greatest attention and interest.  Without a preorder link, a reader who’s ready to purchase today may forget about your book by the time it comes out, or they might lose interest between now and then.  Capture the order!

2.  Preorders enable advance buzz-building – It’s human nature that things coming in the future are often more interesting that what’s out already.  You can’t get any newer than a book that’s not out yet.  Preorders allow you to build reader anticipation leading up to your official release.  The anticipation will be greatest in the minds of your superfans - those readers who already love your writing.

3.  Fast track to bestseller lists – This is the ultimate magic of preorders.  All major retailer bestseller lists rank books on unit sales.  Their sales rank algorithms weigh sales made in the most recent 12-24 hours more heavily than sales made two days ago or two weeks ago.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all of your accumulated orders credit to your book's sales rank the day your book officially goes on sale.  This causes your book to spike in the charts.  Since customers use bestseller lists to find their next read, higher-ranked books become more visible and more desirable to readers.  This sparks a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of more sales leading to more sales.  Preorders also help maximize your odds of appearing in major national bestseller lists by concentrating a greater number of sales into a shorter period of time.  There’s strong evidence a well-timed preorder will maximize your odds of hitting the NY Times and USA Today lists.  A strong preorder also increases your odds of appearing in the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly Bestseller list because you can concentrate multiple months of accumulated sales into a single sales month.

4.  Same-day availability at multiple retailers – By delivering your book in advance to multiple retailers, your book will go onsale the same day at each retailers.  The reason:  The advance delivery of your ebook to retailers gives them more time to receive, process and load your book.  At or near the stroke of midnight on release day (some retailers release at different times depending on time zone), the book is automatically released to customers.
5.  Better reviews - Since your fans and superfans are the most likely to place preorders (because they already trust that everything you write is super-awesome), they’ll be the first to receive your book when it goes onsale, the first to read it and the first to review it.  You want your superfans to be the first to review your book, because strong reviews out of the gate attract more sales.
6.  Increased merchandising opportunities – If your book is available for preorder, you enjoy more merchandising opportunities. There are two types of merchandising - automated and human-curated.  Automated:  When readers are viewing any of your books, the store will display your preorder alongside your other titles.  If the preorder is part of a series, it’ll appear alongside your other series titles (Smashwords authors: Make sure you’re taking advantage of the Smashwords Series Manager tool because retailers use this information to link your preorder to your other series titles).   Human-curated:  A strong-performing preorder increases the odds that the store’s merchandising team will feature your book because it gives them confidence to know that your book is highly anticipated by readers.  At Smashwords, we actively promote our best-performing preorders to the merchandising managers at our retail partners.

Planning Your Preorder

Think of a runway.  Jet aircraft need long runways so they can build up enough speed to take flight.  Preorders work the same way.  The more time your book is listed as a preorder, the more time you have to accumulate orders for that all-important first-day pop in the charts.

Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months and get everything up on preorder today.  The longer the runway the better.  But even if you only have one week of runway, it still gives you an incremental advantage.  Every accumulated order counts!

To understand the critical importance of a long runway, let’s look at how accumulated orders can add up.

If your book is available for preorder for three months (90 days), and you average one order a day at a given retailer you’ll have 90 orders by the time your book goes onsale.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, 90 orders will probably land you in the top 100 bestseller list for your genre or category.  Five orders per day would get you 450 orders, enough to land you in the top 10 for your genre or category at some retailers.  Ten orders a day would get you almost 1,000 accumulated orders, enough to land you in the top 10 store-wide lists at many retailers, and possibly even #1 in some stores.  These numbers aren’t hard and fast.  It really depends on the competition of what else is being released on the same day.  Many of our authors have released with thousands of  accumulated orders on day one. 

Timing Your Preorder

What day of the week is best for a book release?  I can share some considerations to help you make a more informed decision. As you'll see, there are potential pros and cons on different days.

You face more competition on Tuesdays - Most major NY publishers release their books on Tuesdays.  Because most big publishers are using preorders as part of their book launches (another reason you should too!), this means you’re likely to face more competition on Tuesdays for the top spots in the bestseller charts.

Saturday and Sunday are the biggest ebook buying days - Weekends are typically the biggest ebook-buying days at the retailers.  If you time your preorder to release on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll face less competition from traditional publishers, and you'll chart higher on day when more readers are searching the bestseller lists for their weekend read.

Sit-down holidays can be slow, but post-holidays are great - Avoiding major sit-down family-gathering holidays for release dates.  For example, Thanksgiving and Christmas day, many readers will be occupied with family gatherings.  However, the days after holidays are some of the biggest book-buying days of the year.  December 26 through around January 7 is typically the year's best ebook sales period based on our past experience.  Keep in mind, however, that some ebook stores go into lock-down mode and don’t list new titles during certain holiday days.  At Smashwords, we’ll usually start listing these blackout dates at Smashwords Site Updates around mid November so you can plan accordingly.

Sundays and Mondays are good for NY Times and USA Today Lists - Consider releasing on a Sunday or Monday if you want to maximize your odds of hitting a major list such as New York Times and USA Today.  I’ve heard these two start their sales reporting weeks starting Sunday and Monday.  I'll state up front that it’s tough to find reliable information on how these bestseller lists are compiled, and which retailers report sales to which lists (for example, I know iBooks reports to USA Today and Kobo has stated they report to the New York Times).  You should assume that all retailers report to the major lists, so if your books aren't in every store you might harm your chances of hitting a national list.

For the Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, early in the month is better - To maximize your odds of making the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, release the first few days of the new month so you can concentrate the prior weeks' preorders and the following week’s sales into a single month.  When I look at the SW/PW Top 25 bestseller list for the month of April 2015 for example, most of the new releases that made the list started life as a preorder.

Four Tips to Market and Promote Your Preorder

Simply by releasing your book as a preorder, it's no guarantee of success.  To maximize your preorder’s results, it’s important to take steps to drive readers to it!

Here are four marketing and promotion tips:

1.  Plan an aggressive, multi-week, multi-part marketing campaign - If you’re planning a multi-week preorder period, plan a different buzz-building promotion for each week.  Do contests, chapter reveals, giveaways, and blog tours.  Basically, anything you would do for a book launch, start doing it as soon as your preorder is listed.  And thanks to your preorder, you can capture reader orders at the moment each campaign element hits.  Be sure to promote direct hyperlinks to your preorder pages for each retailer in all your promotions.  This makes it easier for fans to click once and then order with another click.  If you distribute through Smashwords, this means you’ll want to link to preorder pages at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Since the preorder listing will go live on different days at each retailer (iBooks is the fastest, often same-day of upload to Smashwords, though B&N and Kobo are pretty quick too), you can make each appearance a cause for celebration and promotion.

2.  Mobilize your fans as your street team – As you think about fun promotion ideas, do things that incentivize your fans to spread the word.  Here are some potential ideas you might consider, and after reading these ideas you can probably think of a dozen more of your own:  1.  Offer a free Smashwords Coupon code to another of your books to any fan who emails you their preorder receipt.  2.  Offer a coupon code to any fan who takes action to spread the word about your upcoming release, such as a Facebook post linking to your preorder, or a Facebook share, or a Twitter tweet, or a blog post.  3.  Create a “Street Team Acknowledgements” section in the backmatter of your book, and let your fans know you’ll include the names of the first 50 or 100 people who take an action (such as sending you a preorder receipt, writing a blog post or Facebook post, etc).  Set a deadline for fans to show and report their support at least two weeks before the onsale date so you have plenty of time to update your backmatter with the Acknowledgements section and upload the update to Smashwords.

3.  Offer special pricing on your preorder – Let’s say your next novel will be priced at $3.99.  As a reward for your loyal readers who place a preorder, price the preorder at $2.99, and then promise to return the book to its normal price soon after it’s released.  This gives readers strong incentive to take action now rather than later.  Remember, you want to get as many orders from your most enthusiastic readers concentrated on day one as possible.  A reader who purchases your book two weeks after it goes on sale won't move the needle on sales rank.

4.  Leverage your other books to promote your preorder – If you’ve got other books out, leverage them to drive readers to your preorder. Once your new preorder is listed at iBooks, B&N and Kobo, update the backmatter of all your other titles so they mention the upcoming preorder.  At the end of every book, add a paragraph that tells readers, “{Title Name} is coming {Month Year}.  On preorder now at select retailers. Reserve your copy today!”  Update your book’s navigation so your navigation has a link to section titled, “Upcoming Releases, ”or “Sneak Peek at {Title A}, coming June 2016!” or something similar so your Table of Contents is marketing your preorder.  Here’s a blog post and video on how to add navigation to your Smashwords ebook.  If you have a sample of your preorder book, like the first few chapters, put that in the backmatter of all your other books (or if you're releasing book #3 in a series, place the sample at the end of book #2 as soon as the sample is ready.   Also consider doing some aggressive price promotions of your other books, including FREE promotions.   FREE books get about 40 times more downloads than books with a price, so they’re a great method of driving readers to the preorder, even if the book you're making FREE is a standalone book, unrelated to your next book.  If you're doing a preorder for a new book in a series, definitely consider making the series starter FREE so you can drive readers into the series and into the preorder (when I release the 2015 Smashwords Survey, I'll share surprising numbers that prove that series with free series starters earn more than series without a free series starter).

Uploading Your Preorder 

From a single upload page, Smashwords makes it easy to set up your preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It's easier than publishing a book.

Book not finished yet?  No problem!  Select "I will upload my
final formatted manuscript later" to get your preorder up today.
Click to the Smashwords Publish page.  As shown in the screen shot at left, in Step 1 of the publish process, simply click "Make it a preorder."

If your final manuscript is ready for upload now, you'll upload it as usual.

If your book’s not finished yet, no problem.  Simply take advantage of our new feature for assetless preorders (aka "Metadata-only" preorders) by selecting the "I will upload my final formatted manuscript later" option.  Your final manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date.

You'll enter a projected word count for the book and then you'll see several check boxes to mark "I agree." These check box items remind you of delivery obligations.  Next, you'll select the release date from the calendar.

Do Amazon Preorders Make Sense?

Amazon treats preorders differently than other retailers.  Unlike iBooks, B&N and Kobo which credit your accumulated orders toward your first day's sale rank, Amazon does not.  This means that a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize your first day's orders and therefore undermine your first day's sales rank.  For this reason, many indie authors who upload direct to Amazon decide to skip the preorder at Amazon and simply upload to Amazon the day of release.  By uploading the day of release to Amazon, they can concentrate their sales on the first day to achieve a higher sales rank.

Although Amazon doesn't provide accumulated credit on day one for a preorder, an Amazon preorder can still land in the charts if your daily accumulation rates warrant chart placement.  The other retailers also allow preorders to chart based on daily order accumulation rates.  And since preorders anywhere enable more effective advance marketing and buzz-building, Amazon preorders still have this benefit. 

Amazon allows a three-month preorder runway, so not as much as the other retailers, and they require you to upload either a draft or final version of your book.  If you fail to deliver the final manuscript to Amazon by 11 days before your release date, on day 10 they will cancel your preorder and revoke your preorder privileges for one year.  It should go without saying that we don't believe in such draconian punishment at Smashwords - after thousands of preorders we haven't banned a single author when deadlines have been missed.  We understand that unanticipated delays can happen so we've built safety nets to support you, the retailer and your readers.

It's your call if you do a preorder at Amazon.  It's by no means a black and white decision.  If you're a veritable marketing machine, for example, the benefit of marketing your book for three months in advance at Amazon might outweigh the downside of a lesser sales rank on day one.

Final Thoughts on Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders are the most exciting new book launch tool to come along in the last seven years.  A well-executed preorder strategy will increase the visibility, desirability and sales of your book.

Despite its amazing advantages, the preorder alone is not a panacea.  Behind every successful preorder is a well-planned and well-executed preorder and a passionate author promoting a super-awesome book.

Your objective with each preorder is to make your next book launch more successful than your last.  Platform-building is all about incremental steps, building on each success as you go.  Whether each new preorder helps you grow your readership by five readers or 5,000, each increase in readership is a stepping stone to the next level.  Some of your new readers will become super fans, and super fans will buy everything you publish in the future and will evangelize your literary brilliance to other readers.

To maximize the benefit of preorders, you should always try to have at least one preorder working for you at all times.  Of course, if your next release is further out than 12 months, then wait until it's 12 months out before you establish your preorder.

If you’re a new author, even a small number of preorders will help accelerate your ability to build readership.  Only five accumulated orders on day one could make the difference between debuting at #100 in your category or at #1,000.  Every bit of increased sales rank helps build visibility in the stores.

If you’re an established indie author with multiple books and strong ongoing sales, you’ll have even more flexibility to leverage preorders to the max.

Please share this blog post:  Readers have my permission to share this blog post in its entirety on your blog, website or social media outlets provided it is reproduced in its entirely and a link is provided to this original source.  Let's help our fellow indies take full advantage of preorders!

Links to Supplemental Resources:

Preorders at Smashwords  - https://www.smashwords.com/preorder
Announcement of Assetless Preorders at Smashwords  - http://blog.smashwords.com/2015/06/smashwords-introduces-assetless.html

17 comments:

mutinousboomer said...

Shared it on Facebook, G+ and Twitter. HUGELY important information you shared here ~ thank you! My partner is just finishing a new book now (his third) and this blog couldn't have come at a better time. Thanks so much for all you do for us indie authors, Mark.

Beckie and Courtney said...

Thank you for the article Mark! I look forward to implementing more of your strategies :)

Marya Heiman said...

Such great information here!! Thank you Mark! ^_^

Rebecca-CourtneyAuthors said...

We love this program Mark. You are doing an amazing job and we were so pleased to have our Clean Teen Publishing titles on this platform early on. Thank you for all you do.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the amazing article, Mark. I hope all authors take advantage of your knowledge!

Louis Arata said...

Thank you for a great article. Exciting news! And thanks for all you do for the indie author.

Clover Autrey said...

A couple of questions:

1) If I put a preorder up for a year, but decide to go live a few months earlier, can I do that? Pros or cons?

2) Can I see the number of preorders in the dashboard?

3) I like the idea of getting readers who buy the preorders a discounted price. Is there a way to put the regular price it will go to upon release up with a slash through it beside the discounted price? Or is that up to me to inform through social media, back matter, and in the book info. I'll do all of those of course, but the slash would be eye-catching as well.

Thanks for all you do, Mark.

Clover Autrey said...

Scratch the second question. I see that the preorder sales are in the dashboard. Thanks.

Mark Coker said...

Hi Clover,

Here are answers:

Q) If I put a preorder up for a year, but decide to go live a few months earlier, can I do that? Pros or cons?

Answer: Yes, you can do that. Just be sure to upload your final manuscript and cover at least 10 days before the new date. Pros: 1. Reader will never complain if you release earlier. 2. Flexibility is a great thing! Cons: 1. None major, except maybe fewer days to accumulate orders, or possible reader confusion. In general, you should try to choose a date, make that your commitment to readers, and then deliver on time.

Q) Can I see the number of preorders in the dashboard?

A: For iBooks, yes. You'll have next-day access to iBooks preorder numbers.

Q) I like the idea of getting readers who buy the preorders a discounted price. Is there a way to put the regular price it will go to upon release up with a slash through it beside the discounted price? Or is that up to me to inform through social media, back matter, and in the book info. I'll do all of those of course, but the slash would be eye-catching as well.

A: No, not at this time. It's not a bad idea for the future, but it would be dependent upon the retailers supporting that. For now, you should rely on your personal marketing to let your readers know that this is a preorder-exclusive price and the book will return to it's normal price shortly after publication. You can message that they want to lock in the low price, they should preorder otherwise they'll miss it. This preorder-exclusive price is your way of saying thank you to your most loyal readers who get the preorder.

Clover Autrey said...

Thanks for you timely answers, Mark. Appreciate it.

sandrajscoleman said...

Looking into IngramSpark or IngramSpark and CreateSpace. Are there options for preordering when using these self-publishing avenues?

Mark Coker said...

Sandra, you'll need to check with each of them specifically. I'm assuming you're talking about setting up print preorders? I don't now how they work there. But if you're looking to do an ebook preorder, Smashwords is the place!

James T Kelly said...

This is excellent news and far better than Amazon's offerings. Can you let us know what the Kobo and B&N preorder periods are? You mentioned they're shorter than a year?

Marla said...

Hi Mark.
1. Does Smashwords take fixed format files? I have such due to highly illustrated content.
2. Have I blown this strategy if I've already printed a hard copy book that is on Amazon? I was going to add the eBook to the mix on Amazon, B & N as the iBookstore.

Saw you at BAIPA a while ago. Thanks for all you do for indie publishers.

Mark Coker said...

James, Kobo and B&N go approximately 6 to 8 months out.

Hi Marla, yes we can take fixed format if you provide us a professionally designed EPUB3 file. You might want to refer your ebook designer to this IDFP page which described fixed formats in EPUB3. Keep in mind that fixed format will have limitations. For example, it may not look good on small screen devices. And yes, you can release it as a preorder.

Eric Z said...

Thanks for this Mark! But I'm a little confused, in Amazon they say "Also, pre-orders will contribute toward sales rank and other Kindle Store merchandising even before your book is released, which can help more readers discover your book."

So when you do a pre-order on Amazon the orders do count on launch day , or not?
Not sure how to interpret the wording "will contribute toward sales rank..." etc.

Brgs Eric

Smashwords stuff said...

Great question, Eric. At Amazon, iBooks, B&N and Kobo, during the preorder period (before your book goes onsale) your book can still gain discoverability advantage in terms of sales rank because each of the retailers credit your daily accumulations (like over the last 24 hours, or whatever their secret metric is). Yet at iBooks and Kobo (and a lesser extent B&N), you get a pop in sales rank on release day because all the accumulated sales credit toward your first day's sale rank as if these sales were all made on that day, whereas at Amazon on release day you'll only get sales rank credit for the most recent preorders and sales, and likely no credit whatsoever for preorders you got one or two months prior. But like I said above, I think preorders at Amazon can still make sense. In my preorder strategy presentation within my How to Publish Ebooks" blog post, I identified six benefits of preorders, five of which apply to Amazon. Also check out the article I wrote last month for Publishers Weekly titled, How Indie Authors Can Use Preorders to Crack the Bestseller Lists for five benefits (four of which apply to Amazon). And not mentioned in the articles, but you mentioned it above, is the opportunity for strong-performing preorders at Amazon to receive additional merchandising love from Amazon because they have sections to promote hot new upcoming releases.