Today we launched a public beta of our new preorder feature, available immediately to over 70,000 Smashwords authors and publishers around the world.
With preorders, Smashwords distributes a book to Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo in advance of the official onsale date.
During the preorder period, customers place advance orders. At some retailers such as Apple, these advance orders accumulate in the days and weeks prior to the official onsale date and then credit all at once on the date of release, which causes the title to spike in the retailer's bestseller lists.
I expect preorders to become an essential best practice for all professional indie authors, because the benefits are too significant to pass up.
Here's a quick summary of preorder benefits:
- Advantageous placement in genre and store-wide bestseller lists - All preorders credit on day one of the release, the onsale date. This can cause the book to spike in the charts. The advantageous placement in the bestseller lists increases visibility and discoverability, which builds buzz and sales.
- Increased odds of hitting national bestseller lists? - Preorders can potentially increase an author's odds of hitting one or more of the major bestseller lists such the New York Times or USA Today because the preorder concentrates a greater number of sales into a shorter period of time. Lest you find yourself salivating uncontrolably, stop! Keep in mind that most authors will never hit these lists, preorder or not. Preorders are simply a tool that give you merchandising advantage. It's up to your book, your fans and your savvy marketing to catapult you onto these lists.
- Simultaneous availability - Your book is available on sale at these major retailers on the same day. No more waiting days for your new release to appear for sale at each store. With a preorder, we distribute your completed book in advance of the onsale date, and fans will be able to download it at their favorite store on the same day.
- Advance marketing - Authors can execute more strategic advance marketing campaigns to build buzz and accumulate orders leading up to their official release date. Do chapter reveals on your blog or Facebook page. Hold contests. Run promotions on your other titles to build readership in advance of your big release. Encourage your fans to mark their calendars so they can be the first to download and read your book.
- Your existing titles help market your preorder - The retailer will display your preorder title alongside your other books in their store. If you have multiple titles on the market already, update your back-of-the-book "Other titles by" listings to advertise your upcoming release.
- Capture the reader's interest at the moment you have their attention - It's one thing to tell the reader you have a new book coming out in a month or two. Will they remember to come back then to find and purchase the book? A preorder enables you to capture the reader's order at that moment they're buying all your books, or all the books in your series, or at the time they've stumbled across your web site or blog.
- Increased on-store merchandising - Your advance preorder also makes it easier for retailers to slot your book into special preorder promotions or genre-related merchandising promotions. If a retailer sees that your book is experiencing a high rate of preorders, they're more likely to select the book for increased merchandising love.
We began testing preorders a few months ago at Apple, starting with the successful launch of Kirsty Moseley's Free Falling and followed by Abbi Glines' Forever Too Far. Both titles hit #1 or #2 in Apple's largest markets.
In the last two weeks, following multiple successes with Apple, we expanded our testing to include Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
A partial list of Smashwords authors who have participated in our preorder beta, or who have preorders in process, include for R.L. Mathewson, Emma Hart, Claudia Hall Christian, T.M. Nielsen, Maree Anderson, S.H. Kolee, Lilliana Anderson, JD Nixon, Rebecca Forster, Quinn Loftis, J. S. Scott, Eve Langlais, Ambush Books, Elizabeth Reyes, Kristen Ashley, Marquita Valentine, Joseph Lallo, Ruth Ann Nordin, Chanda Hahn and Camilla Chafer.
Here are Some Quick Start Tips (more tips on our Preorder Help page http://www.smashwords.com/preorder):
- The preorder option is available on the normal Smashwords upload page. Simply select a release date in the future.
- The book you upload should be formatted to the Smashwords Style Guide, as usual. The moment you upload, check for AutoVetter errors, and download your .epub to check the formatting quality. Don't let formatting problems delay your preorder! If you need to make a correction, simply click Dashboard: Upload New Version to correct. If you're new to Smashwords and don't have the time or patience to do your own formatting, get it right the first time by hiring low-cost formatter from Mark's List.
- The book should be complete and either a final or a near-final draft, and not a work in progress. The file you upload will be used to generate a sample of the start of the book which retailer customers will download and read, so make it solid!
- Preorders work best if you select a date that's at least four to six weeks out. The longer the time out, the greater your runway to accumulate orders. This also provides ample time for Smashwords to deliver your book, provides time for the retailer to process and load it, and gives you several weeks of runway in which you can point readers to each retailer's preorder page. A runway of four or more weeks also gives you time to make last-minute corrections (more on this below). If your release is only a week or two out, you should still load it as a preorder because a couple days of preorder listing is better than none!
- Even if you have a release that's a couple days away, or even tomorrow, enter it as a preorder today. Although the book may not make it to the retailer in advance of the onsale date, you'll at least get a headstart to get your formatting right, achieve Premium Catalog distribution, and allow the retailer time to receive, process and list the book. Also, once you enter your preorder, you'll have the URL for your Smashwords book page. Although the Smashwords store doesn't accept preorders, you can start building this URL into your marketing campaign, blog and website.
- Since you'll be uploading your book in advance of the onsale date, we expect that you may want to make last minute updates, cover tweaks and typo fixes. This is fine. Just make sure you upload your final final at least 10 days in advance of the release date to avoid last minute panics. In reality, we and our retailers typically process updates much quicker than 10 days, but it's always good for you to budget in a buffer in case you run into unexpected delays with your editors or proof readers.
- Your preorder listings will likely appear at each retailer at different times, depending on shipment schedules (we ship daily to Apple and Kobo, twice-weekly to B&N) and vary by the processing speed of each retailer. As each preorder page appears at each retailer, make it a marketing event and a cause for celebration with your fans, and provide a direct link to your fans on your blog, website and on social media.
Please share your feedback as you test this new feature. I'll create a temporary email hotline at http://smashwords.com/preorder where you can contact the development team and myself to report bugs.
My thanks to the many Smashwords authors who participated in our private beta, and my advance thanks to you for participating in this rollout. Good luck!
August 20 2013 update! To learn more about ebook preorders, check out my post at The Huffington Post titled, eBook Preorders Help Indie Authors Hit Bestseller lists.