I talk to a lot of authors on the phone every week, whether they’re current or potential clients. And through those conversations, I hear a TON of “book marketing best practices” they have read about somewhere online. I wish it weren’t the case, but I find that most of these tips and tools are either irrelevant to the author I’m talking to, overblown in their importance, or downright wrong.
Perhaps the most common “myth” I hear about is the need to run an Amazon pre-order campaign for your book. In my experience, pre-order campaigns are a waste of time in all but the rarest of circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, there are some benefits to pre-order campaigns when you have a traditionally published book (see those below). But if you’re self-publishing, the benefits just don’t outweigh the costs.
I will take you through the reasons I think Amazon pre-order campaigns are a waste of time below. But first I want to give some background on where this myth comes from, including an overview of the circumstances where it does make sense to run a pre-order campaign.
Feel free to skip ahead if you wish!
Where does this Amazon pre-order myth come from?
It’s hard to tell exactly, but my guess is that it’s a holdover from the traditional publishing industry, where pre-order campaigns can be beneficial in some cases. Most traditionally published books will make their titles available for pre-order as soon as they have a cover. This period often lasts 3-6 months prior to the publication date. There are several reasons they do this:
- Traditional publishers have the ability to take pre-orders for all versions of a book (ebook, paperback, hardcover) long before the interior files for that book are complete.
- Pre-order sales can help the sales agents working for traditional publishers to convince booksellers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books A Million, etc to make larger orders of the book.
- Pre-orders can be helpful if you have the marketing muscle to go for one of the major weekly bestseller lists (like the NY Times, Wall St. Journal, or USA Today). Those lists calculate sales based on a when a book ships, rather than on when it was purchased. All the sales accumulated over the course of a pre-order campaign will be shipped during the week when the book is published and therefore count towards those weekly sales numbers. Here’s a more detailed description of the various kinds of bestseller lists.
- Traditionally published authors often work with publicists in the months before launch to pre-book media appearances. Getting a lot of pre-orders can help create buzz around a book and make it more compelling for media outlets.
- Some authors who have published multiple books and built significant audiences for their work can use “pre-order” campaigns to generate advance interest in new releases, and if their platform is big enough, get an Amazon bestseller ranking prior to their official release, which they can then use to promote the book when it goes live. But this only works for authors with well-established audiences and a lot of existing marketing muscle.
These reasons for running a pre-order campaign don’t really apply to most self-published books, and many traditionally published ones as well. In the next section, I’ll explain why.
Why Pre-Order Campaigns Are A Waste of Time
There are many reasons that pre-order campaigns aren’t worth your time, and we’ll go through them one-by-one below. But before we do, it’s important to understand one key point: when you’re marketing your book, you will spend a significant amount of time, money, and energy driving traffic to your book’s Amazon sales page. Most customers who visit your page will end up there because you drove them there through some kind of promotional activity. So you want to make sure that you convert as many of the people who end up on your page from visitors into buyers as possible.
Why is this relevant to a pre-order campaign?
People are generally less likely to buy a book during the pre-order period. This is perhaps the most important reason that pre-order campaigns aren’t worth it. The simple truth is that potential book buyers are less likely to buy a book when it’s not available yet, than they are when it’s ready to buy immediately. Sure, a lot of readers are comfortable with pre-ordering, but why lose the % of potential customers who want to wait until the book is out? Each author has a finite amount of marketing time and money to dedicate to their marketing campaign, afterall. So why would you spend any of that energy sending people to your Amazon page when you know a certain percentage won’t buy it? This is especially true when considering the next point.
You can only take pre-orders in one format. If you’re publishing your book through Amazon KDP, you are only able to make the ebook version of your book available for pre-order. Similar to the point above, this means that a large percentage of the people you send to your Amazon page during the pre-order period will not buy it simply because they want the print version. Again, why waste time and money promoting a product that isn’t yet available to interested readers? There is a work-around for this particular issue, but it has its own problems, which I’ll explain in the next point.
IngramSpark is not a good solution. Many advocates of pre-order campaigns point out that if you publish your book through IngramSpark, you can make the print version (paperback and/or hardcover) available for pre-order. And this is true. However, there are two main issues with using IngramSpark:
>First, when you publish your book through IngramSpark, Amazon will often list it as “temporarily out of stock, usually ships in 4-6 weeks” on their site, which will absolutely sabotage your marketing efforts. The reason why they would list a “print-on-demand” book as out of stock requires a lot more explanation (I have an article on this in development), but here’s the short version: Amazon KDP and IngramSpark are competitors in the self-publishing space and it’s likely that Amazon is purposely making it more difficult for IngramSpark-published titles to succeed on their platform. There is nothing more frustrating than running a marketing campaign to drive traffic to your book’s Amazon page and having the book become mysteriously out of stock.
>Second, in order to make your print book available for pre-order via IngramSpark, you have to upload the interior and cover files for your book. This means that your book needs to be done and ready to publish in order to run a pre-order, which is unlike traditional publishers who can list a book for pre-sale long before the book is ready. If your book is ready to be published, what’s the point in running a pre-order campaign, especially when there are few if any benefits to actually running a pre-order campaign?
The perceived “benefits” of a pre-order campaign are overblown. Given all the disadvantages of running a pre-order campaign, there must be some pretty big benefits, right? Otherwise, why would so many “experts” advocate this approach? Unfortunately, nearly all the perks of running a pre-order campaign that I’ve come across are either overblown or downright false. Let’s go through a few of the most common ones:
>Running a pre-order campaign will create “buzz” for your book. I hear this all the time and it just doesn’t make sense to me. Of course you want to generate buzz for your book, but how does running a pre-order campaign help you do that? There will be no inherent buzz created by the fact that your book is available for pre-order. Buzz is generated through creative marketing strategies: sharing the book with your networks, getting interviewed on podcasts, email and social media marketing, Amazon advertising, etc. All of these tactics take time, money, and effort. So why would you create buzz around a book that isn’t yet published and isn’t available in all formats (see points above)?
>Getting a lot of pre-orders will help you “hack” Amazon’s algorithms. There’s a lot of buzz online about using a wide variety of tactics to “hack” Amazon’s algorithms so that they feature your book through things like “related books”, bestseller lists, and related search terms. While some of these tactics do work, there is little to no evidence that getting a lot of pre-orders will help Amazon to favor your book in any way. While Amazon’s algorithms are secret, it’s common knowledge that the main factors driving whether or not Amazon will feature your book are relevance, sales, and customer reviews. So if you want your book to show up in Amazon searches or be suggested as a related product it needs to be relevant to the search (ie, the topic, category, and keyword), have a lot of customer reviews, and have a lot of sales. Note that I said “sales” not “pre-sales.” Due to all the reasons listed above, focusing on pre-sales could actually work against you because many people won’t buy your book when it’s not yet published and/or not available in their preferred format. So if you want your book to be featured on Amazon, why not just go for sales instead of pre-sales?
>Getting pre-orders can help you become a bestseller. I would say that the truth of this statement rests on what kind of bestseller ranking you are trying to achieve. (If you want to understand more about the different kinds of bestsellers, check out my article.) If you’re trying to become a bestseller in one of Amazon’s categories, then pre-orders aren’t a good idea. This is because Amazon bestseller rankings are calculated when the sales occur. And as we’ve discussed in this article, all marketing efforts in the pre-sale period will have less impact than after the book is live. So if you’re trying to become an Amazon bestseller, wouldn’t you rather do it when the book is live?
There is a benefit to pre-order campaigns if you’re running a campaign to hit one of the big lists (NY Times, Wall St Journal, etc), which are calculated on a weekly basis. This is because all the sales you accumulate during the pre-order period will be calculated during the week the book goes live, which is when the orders are shipped. But before you start thinking, “Yes, I want to hit the NY Times Bestseller list, so I’ll run a pre-order campaign,” please consider how unbelievably difficult and expensive such an endeavor truly is. As I explain in my article on the subject, you’ll need to have the capacity to sell ~10k books across a wide geographic area through a combination of multiple online retailers and bookstores. . . and you still might not make it. Unless you have a big budget, an established platform, and a rock-solid marketing plan, I wouldn’t bother trying to hit one of these lists.
Why not just make your book live?
If I haven’t yet convinced you that pre-order campaigns are a waste of time, let me make one final suggestion. Why not run a pre-order campaign but without the pre-orders? In other words, why not do all the things that the experts suggest you do to create buzz and generate pre-orders, but do it with a book that is available to be purchased in all formats and shipped immediately? Wouldn’t you get a higher ROI for your efforts?
Honestly, the only reason that most people end up giving me for running a pre-order campaign is that “they” say you’re supposed to do it. There’s this collective myth in the book marketing world that to run a successful book launch, there needs to be this period before the book is published when you can generate buzz, etc. But the reasons for it never add up. Why not just make your book live and start selling it?
You’ll save yourself a tremendous amount of anxiety and headaches, and you’ll be more successful.
Of course, I’m just one person, and I know there are a lot of smart people out there who swear by pre-sales. If you’re one of them, I’d love to hear your experiences and tips. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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