How do preorders help an indie author’s book succeed, and how can you set up a preorder for your indie book? 

To find out, we asked Lacy Williams. She’s brilliant and has an amazing heart. She’s a mom, entrepreneur, and wife. Lacy was traditionally published 11 times. Now she’s focusing on indie publishing, so she knows both sides of the equation. She has a book called Smart Indie, which is a great resource for indie authors. 

Why is it a good idea to set up preorders?

Lacy Williams: Preorders can be a great way to generate sales before your release day. 

Learning to set up a preorder for your indie book will help you if

  • you’re starting and growing your email list 
  • you think most of your sales will happen organically as people see your book on Amazon 
  • your readers regularly peruse the Amazon Bestseller lists or New Releases pages

Additionally, if you’ve been traditionally published, most traditional publishers offer preorders for up to 12 months. Preorders can be a great idea if your readers are used to finding your books on Amazon and buying them right away. 

Is it ever a bad idea to set up a preorder for your indie book?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Is it ever a bad idea to do a preorder?

Lacy: My current strategy is to do a short preorder or no preorder. 

Most of my marketing tactics are for maximizing sales on Amazon. I have five years of indie publishing data that shows Amazon is my largest seller, so I spend most of my time figuring out how to market better on Amazon. 

On Amazon, when you set up a preorder for your indie book, your book starts getting a ranking. You can see the sales ranking on the book’s product page. Your book may be ranked 250,000 or 12,000 in the Amazon Store. Lower numbers are always better. The number-one ranked book is the store’s bestselling book at that time. Rankings update every hour or two, depending on how glitchy Amazon’s site is that day.

That ranking tracks the trajectory of your sales. When you have a preorder, Amazon collects sales data the whole time. Readers may buy your book on preorder, which may increase your rankings and give you visibility in the store. 

I typically do a shorter 10-day preorder on my books so I can take care of details behind the scenes. During that preorder window, I set up my series link for the book on Amazon. I will make that link live when the book goes live so that readers can see, “There are other books in this series. I need to go read these other books as well, or first.” 

It also allows me to update the back matter of my other books. When I publish a brand-new book in a series, I update the previous book’s backmatter. I’ll include a sample chapter for the new book and add a link where readers can buy it. By having the book on a short preorder, I can update that information.

But I don’t announce it to my newsletter list or on social media. I don’t run ads until release day. I do a short preorder, and then I start going after a high ranking immediately after release day. I can pack all the sales I would have had in a 3-month preorder window into the two weeks after release. I’ll be ranked higher in the Amazon Store, and since my ranking is higher upon release, I’ll sell more books in the first several months because I also get a high ranking in the new release lists. 

Instead of having a mid-level ranking for two or three months, I benefit from those preorder sales in the first few weeks after release.

How does the size of your email list affect preorder sales?

Thomas: The success of your preorder depends a lot on how big your email list is. If you don’t have a big email list, you don’t have a good chance of making the bestseller list. 

Lacy’s strategy for getting on the bestseller list won’t work for you if you don’t have a large email list. But no matter how big or small your email list is, a preorder still allows people to buy your book early, so they don’t have to remember to order it on release day.

James Patterson will have a long preorder window because he’ll be on the bestseller list the whole time. If you’re in the middle with 10,000 or 20,000 people on your email list and you get them all to buy your book on the same day, that’s big enough to get close to James Patterson levels for a few days. It will generate interest in your book. Having a long preorder window isn’t for everyone. But, if you’re just starting or you’re super popular, it can help you sell more books.

Bestseller Status in Categories, Sub-Categories, and New Release Lists

Lacy: Another thing to think about is the category bestseller lists on Amazon. 

Within each category bestseller list, there is a sub-category of new releases. It’s a list of the Top 100 books 30 days old or newer. A preorder sale would be counted on that new release list and your book will appear on the list for a month.

If you’re James Patterson and you have a six-month preorder, you’re on that new release list for six months and for the month the book comes out. That gives a lot of readers a chance to see, “Hey, this book is available. I need to go preorder it right now.”

I don’t have that James Patterson punch, but when I have a lot of sales for the first seven days after my book comes out, I can get high enough in the rankings that I’m on the bestseller and new release lists. Many readers shop that list, so it’s good visibility. But you have to weigh the size of your platform.

How are preorders handled differently if you’re publishing wide?

Thomas: If you’re publishing wide, it’s important to know iBooks does it differently. With iBooks, you rank for your preorder sales, and then you can count all those preorder sales again on launch day. You get to have your cake and eat it too with iBooks. 

If you’re going wide, you absolutely want to have a preorder on iBooks because there is no downside. Suddenly, you’re on every Apple device, and you’re competing with far fewer indies because most indies go Amazon-only. They want to be in the KDP Select program, which forces you to be Amazon-only.

Lacy and Joanna Penn are two of our most frequent guests and are on opposite sides of this debate. Joanna Penn is as wide as she can possibly be and has seen a lot of success there. Lacy is Amazon-only and has seen a lot of success there. Both are valid strategies. Keep in mind that we are focusing on Amazon when we talk about preorders today.

Lacy: If you have an exclusive preorder with iBooks, they will feature you on their iBooks site and app. You do have to reach out to customer support to let them know. You could have a long preorder on iBooks and get that feature and extra visibility. Then on release day, you could also put the book up on Amazon.

Remember that if you set up a preorder for your indie book on Amazon and, for some reason, you can’t upload your final file before the release date, Amazon will penalize you. On iBooks, you can change your preorder date with no repercussions. 

Thomas: It’s the one place in the world where Apple is the more laid-back company.

How do you encourage readers to preorder your indie book?

Jim: Do you give readers something extra when they preorder?

Lacy: I have not done that personally. One traditional author I know sends her newsletter list an email saying, “Hey, this book is up for preorder. If you buy it and send me your proof of purchase, you get this special bonus.” I fell for it because I wanted the special bonus. I could see a lot of readers doing that as well. It was exclusive. You couldn’t get it anywhere else. 

I think it would work well for indie authors if it were part of your strategy.

Can readers preorder an entire series?

Jim: Would there be any advantage to preordering an entire series even if the books release over two years?

Lacy: With Amazon, you can only set up your preorders for 90 days at a time. Other retailers, like iBooks, let you do it up to a year in advance. If you have a series and preordering fits into your strategy, I highly recommend putting up preorder links as soon as possible. 

When you have a preorder on Amazon and readers want it, they can’t preorder into their KDP Select library. It can’t be one of their KDP library books. When they preorder, they actually have to buy the book. That can be a great way to convert readers from just adding it to their Kindle library to actually purchasing it. 

 Many readers want to know if the book is part of a series. If you hook them on book one, they will buy the other books on preorder. It can be a good strategy if it works in your overall marketing strategy.

How do preorders work with paper books?

Thomas: We’ve been talking about ebooks. How do preorders work with paper books?

Lacy: If you’re publishing paper books through KDP, you can’t offer a preorder for the print book. When you publish, you’re done, and the book is out there.

However, if you publish your print book through Ingram Spark, you can set up a preorder. 

Thomas: For my paper book, I funded the book on Kickstarter, so I pre-sold a bunch of copies that way. People who missed the Kickstarter still wanted to buy the book, so I sold it through Celery [a now inactive service], and they paid me directly. I had my print-on-demand company mail them the book directly. 

Secret Indie Author Tips with Lacy

Lacy: Here’s a secret indie author tip.

If you do a preorder for your ebook and plan to do a print book, you can make that print book available a few days before your release day and then link the print book to the ebook on Amazon. You want one big, nice, pretty product page where the ebook and print book are available in the same place. 

When you have them linked and the print book is already available for sale, readers can start leaving reviews before the ebook is released. On a regular preorder for an ebook, readers can’t leave reviews, but if you link them and the paper book is available for sale, you can start getting your early readers to leave reviews. 

On release day, you have a nice base of reviews. 

How far in advance do you set up a preorder?

Thomas: How far out should somebody set up a preorder promotion?

Lacy: It depends on your marketing strategy. At Amazon, you can do them up to 90 days before the book is out. I consult with an author who is releasing a new series. The first book comes out on August first, and she has three books that follow. So, she already has the next two books up and available for preorder. She has a good base of readers who have already purchased all three of those preorders.

Thomas: If you are just starting and this is your first book, make the preorder period as long as possible. There’s no reason for a short preorder window. As soon as you have a book cover and a blurb, set up your preorder so you can tell every single person you talk to at a coffee shop or a cocktail party, “I’m an author, and by the way, my book is available for preorder on Amazon.” 

Any time there’s a buzz about your book, or you’re talking about it, people can go to Amazon and buy your book instead of you trying to remind them in two months. It’s much better to get that sale now than later. 

How should an author price the preorder?

Jim: How should authors price their preorders?

Lacy: If you have even a small fan base, I would price your preorder at $2.99, at a minimum. On Amazon, $2.99 means you get the 70% royalty instead of the 35% royalty, so it puts you in that higher royalty bracket. 

Preorders are for your die-hard readers who are willing to buy the book long before it comes out. If you want to make a living at this, or at least pay for your conferences, you want to make the most of your preorder period.

Some indie authors price their books low during the preorder period so they can hit a USA Today list or rise in the rankings. They might sell the book for $0.99 during the preorder window and then change the price on the first day after release to try to bank a lot of preorders at the lower price. 

But if you have a strategy of steady releases, go ahead and sell your book at full price. If you’re regularly pricing your books at $4.99 or higher, then $2.99 is a discount. 

Thomas: I would not recommend setting up a $0.99 preorder for your indie book because that devalues you and your book. Plus, you make so much less money. At $0.99, you’re only making a few pennies per book. It’s not worth it. I agree that $2.99 is definitely the minimum.

When do authors get paid for preorders?

Thomas: When I preorder your book, when do you get my money?

Lacy: The reader doesn’t get charged until the book is released. On the author side, if you log into your KDP dashboard, you’ll see that the preorders drop the night before release day. Amazon pays you 60 days after the end of the month that those sales are made.

If you set up a preorder for your indie book and the release day was in July, your sales would count for July, and you would get paid at the end of September. 

Thomas: If you want to use preorders to fund your indie book and pay for editors, Amazon preorders are not the way to do it! You don’t get the money until 60 days after your book launches. 

If you want to use preorders to fund your book, use a service like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo 

Check out our episodes on crowdfunding:

How do you tell people about the preorder for your indie book?

Jim: We know we need to promote our preorders through our email lists. Are there other effective ways to promote a preorder?

Amazon Ads

Lacy: You can run Amazon ads for your preorder. However, for me, they’re not as effective on a preorder book as on a book that a reader can click and read right now. But the strategy can work. 

If you set up an ad on a preorder book, you see what keywords readers click on. Those might be keywords you will want to focus on with a slightly higher budget once your book is released. 

BookBub Ads

BookBub ads are different than BookBub Featured Deals. The ads are little square graphics at the bottom of the BookBub email. BookBub has an ad platform that is easy to use. 

Facebook Ads

Facebook ads have become less effective recently, but they still work for some authors. Do your research to find out if they’ll work for you.

Your Email List

Your strongest push needs to be to your newsletter subscribers. But you can start building momentum on all those ad platforms as you get closer to release day. 

A preorder will sell the best to a reader who already knows your work and has read your books. Personally, I would not spend a lot of money trying to get new readers until the book is live and readers can buy it and start reading immediately.

How do you set up a preorder for your indie book in KDP?

Thomas: After I log in to my KDP Dashboard, how do I make my book available for preorder?

Lacy: You complete all the same steps as if you were publishing. The only difference is that there is a little box at the bottom of the first screen that asks you if you want to make your book available for preorder. Click that button and then click the day you want it to release. As I said, it won’t let you go out further than 90 days. 

If your book is out for editing and you don’t have the final file ready, you can upload a placeholder file. But you must upload your final preorder file several days before release day. 

You only have a certain window to upload your final file. That’s where I would tell you to be careful. It actually gives you a countdown calendar, so you know when your day is coming up. I think they send reminder emails through the KDP system seven days before release saying, “Make sure you have your final file uploaded.” 

If you don’t upload your final file in time, your readers will get that ugly, unedited file without back matter. You don’t want that to happen. Present your most professional and best work to your reader. 

I recommend uploading your final file if at all possible when you set up a preorder for your indie book.

Get in touch with Lacy at www.lacywilliams.net or buy her Smart Indie book on Amazon. 

Featured Patron

Mary DeMuth, author of  The Seven Deadly Friendship: How to Heal When Painful Relationships Eat at Your Joy 

There’s something wrong with your friendship, but you can’t figure out why. Is everything in your head? Unfortunately, toxic friendships happen to everyone, but we seldom identify the underlying issues while we battle confusion or the friendship breaks up.

Maybe you’re left bewildered in the friendship’s wake, paralyzed to move forward.

After wading through several difficult friendships, Mary DeMuth reveals the seven different types of toxic relationships and empowers you to identify the messiest relationships causing you the greatest anguish.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Umstattd Jr. on Patreon!

Want more help?

Get a weekly email with tips on building a platform, selling more books, and changing the world with writing worth talking about. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!