Are preorder campaigns “worth it” for authors?

Preorder campaigns are all about offering incentives for readers to purchase books in advance, usually in the form of some kind of bonus material, like exclusive swag and/or signed books. But are preorder campaigns “worth” the time and expense of doing them? New York Times bestselling author Joan He is known for her creative preorder campaigns for her YA novels Descendent of the Crane, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, and Strike the Zither. Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with her to discuss if the book sales and reader appreciation that result from preorder campaigns are “worth” the time, effort, and expense of putting the campaigns together. Plus, we get an inside look at some of the creative preorder campaigns she’s put together! 

Did you do a pre-order campaign for Descendent of the Crane

I did (details as to what it contained here: 

My strategy at the time, that I didn’t realize was a strategy until later, was to make sure every item was high quality, and as tailored to the book as I could make it. I think personally illustrating the cards added a personal touch—something that I still try to maintain now, even though I outsource the art—because I want to make it feel like a gift to readers. 

I do think that it takes extra effort to remember to preorder something, as opposed to more organically finding it on a shelf. And I want to say ‘thank you’ for that! 

The other thing that made the campaign stand out was the robust international component. Even though these sales don’t help with US lists, readers are still readers when it comes to word of mouth. 

What role, if any, have your publishers played in your pre-order campaigns?

My publisher offered to help with the actual mailing, but I actually declined so as to keep my international component, which can be hard to do through publishers because of legal issues.

How effective do you find pre-order campaigns to be in your experience? Are the early sales “worth” the time and effort you put into promoting pre-orders?

I think the “worthiness” is probably the inverse of how much your publisher is doing. 

I do think Descendent of the Crane was more worth it in that readers might not have discovered it otherwise, in a Barnes & Noble per say, compared to The Ones We’re Meant to Find which had a more robust push from the publisher and better brick-and-mortar distribution. 

At the same time, I don’t think The Ones We’re Meant to Find would have listed [on the New York Times bestsellers list] without preorders—so hard to say. Also, for me, it’s always worth it because I genuinely enjoy making and designing the swag.

A preorder campaign probably isn’t worth the swag costs/time/effort, assuming you’re able to expend those of course, if you can’t figure out how to make yours stand out or if it’s just not something you want to do.