How do pre-orders affect release day sales?


What are pre-orders and why are they important?

Pre-orders are early purchases of your book that will be fulfilled on publication day. 

Historically, pre-orders have been viewed as a predictor of a book’s success by retailers. If your book is making waves before publication day, booksellers may increase their initial orders and provide your book with more exposure, which, in turn, may increase your odds of hitting bestseller lists. 

This is in part why marketing campaigns typically kick off months before publication day—because early buzz for a book can help alter its trajectory for the better!

How do pre-orders affect release day sales–and bestseller lists?

As it stands, the relationship between pre-orders and bestseller lists is far from linear. 

Pre-orders through booksellers and traditional retailers can often increase your chances of hitting a bestseller list, as these numbers count toward your first week’s sales. 

However, on Amazon, pre-orders are recorded the day of purchase, rather than on release day. So, any pre-orders you receive here will not count toward your ranking on publication day.

So, do Amazon pre-orders not count?

In terms of bestseller lists, pretty much, since lists from the New York Times and USA Today are usually based on your sales rankings for the first week of publication. 

However, you will still be paid for these pre-orders, of course, and they will still count toward Amazon’s internal rankings.

This is why some “Hot New Releases” you see on Amazon haven’t actually been released at all. If a book receives enough pre-orders to climb Amazon’s rankings, it can be named a Hot New Release, even before pub day.

What’s the best Amazon pre-order strategy for me?

For established authors, pre-order campaigns are usually a given. However, for debut authors, it may take a bit more thought to determine which strategy is best for you. 

Readers love the instant gratification of receiving a book right away. Amazon knows this, which is why they offer 2-day shipping and instant Kindle delivery for book buyers. This desire for instant gratification is also what makes pre-order campaigns difficult—for any author, but especially for debut authors.

New authors are faced with the unique challenge of getting readers to commit to purchasing a book by an author they’re unfamiliar with, and then waiting, weeks or even months, for that book to arrive. 

For a series author with a dedicated fanbase, however, pre-orders are more likely to come in, especially if the earlier books in the series have been well advertised and are selling well. When readers are hooked on your storytelling, they’ll be all the more eager to order ahead.

If you’re on the fence about setting up a pre-order, remember: since your book gets a sales ranking as soon as your pre-order starts on Amazon, pre-orders can actually weaken your sales charts for publication week on the platform. This, in turn, can reduce the amount of exposure Amazon is willing to give to your book at that time. Their algorithm has been shown to primarily help books that are already selling well by featuring those titles in bestseller rankings, also-boughts on other book pages, and in marketing emails.

For this reason, many debut authors choose to run a short Amazon pre-order campaign or skip it altogether.

How long should my Amazon pre-order last?

Many authors set their pre-order for somewhere between 90 days and two weeks before publication day. To determine what’s best for you, consider your marketing plan: how many weeks will you be doing outreach on social media, to your email list, and through advertising? You can tailor the lifespan of your listing to match you or your publicist’s efforts.

What about early reviews?

Amazon doesn’t allow reviews pre-publication day, which, like most things, can be a positive or a negative aspect of the site, depending on your vantage point. If you’re worried about how your latest book might be received—perhaps you took a risk and ventured into a genre your fan base isn’t used to seeing from you—then pre-orders can actually be to your advantage, because you won’t have a fast reader leaving a negative review and deterring others from buying a copy and coming to their own conclusion.

Recap: To pre-order or not to pre-order?

Although every author will have a unique strategy that works for them, here are some quick tips to help with your decision:

  • On non-Amazon sites, pre-orders are always a good idea, as they’ll count toward your first week’s sales, and set you up for success in myriad ways.
  • On Amazon, pre-orders are typically a good idea for series authors and authors with strong, established fanbases.
  • For debut authors, pre-orders can be worthwhile as long as you’re running them in conjunction with a predetermined marketing strategy, with a timeline and objectives in place.
  • If your goal is to sell as many copies as possible in a short few days in order to appease bestseller lists and the Amazon algorithm, consider skipping or shortening a pre-order campaign.

A pre-order strategy, while important, shouldn’t cause you tremendous stress. You can always chat with other authors and learn from their experiences, and be sure to monitor how your strategy performs so you can tweak it for your next release if needed. Trial and error is often the name of the game, so the more observant and curious you can be, the better!

Happy selling!


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