Most how-tos on how to publish your book on Amazon include setting up a pre-order, but what they don't talk about is whether or not a pre-order is a benefit to you.
The answer is yes and no.
It's not as simple as pre-orders being good or bad. Pre-orders are a marketing tool and deciding to do a pre-order or not will depend on how you intend to market your book.
Most sites that allow you to list your book for sale only count pre-orders sales the day of the book's release. That means that any books purchased during the pre-order count as a purchase on release day. This boosts your sales rank and is really helpful if you're trying to get that overall bestseller rank.
However, Amazon doesn't work that way.
If you have a pre-order for your book then any sales during the pre-order count the day they are purchased, not on release day. That means that any pre-order sales won't count toward your release day ranking.
Amazon has a rolling rank system. Every hour of the day, amazon updates the bestseller list, which means that where your book ranks on Amazon is changing all the time. Where many platforms calculate rank base don lifetimes sales, Amazon looks at how popular your book in right now.
There are a few questions you have to ask yourself before deciding whether or not to do a pre-order.
First, ask yourself whether you care more about how your book will rank on Amazon or if you care more about sales.
You may think these two things are the same, that a high rank would indicate better sales, but because of Amazon's rolling rank this would only be true for a short time or for as long as your book can sustain a high rank, which on Amazon can be hard to do.
If you're aiming for your book to be in the top 100 of a given category, or looking to get that Amazon Best Seller sticker on your book, then you're more concerned with rank.
If your main priority is being able to consistently sell copies of your book over time and not just a pile on release day, then you're more concerned with sales.
How does this translate into deciding to pre-order or not to pre-order?
Before I explain, let me reiterate that there is no hard-fast rule in this regard, however I will break down what cases are more likely to benefit from a pre-order and which ones could actually suffer.
If you're looking to that Amazon Best Seller sticker or the bragging rights to say that your book was in the top 100 Romance Reads on Amazon, or whatever you genre may be, then it is probably best to NOT make your book available for pre-order. The reason for that is because to get that rank you need to make your book look very popular all at once. That means that a lot of people buy your book on the same day or over a very short time span.
Pre-orders, because they stretch out that time span, can dilute the apparent popularity of the book, which can lead to a lower rank.
The best way to boost your rank in to forgo the pre-order and instead try to encourage your reader base to buy your book within the first few days of the release. This will make your book look like it's in hot demand and shoot up in the algorithm. This means lots of marketing right before and during your release day.
If you're not so concerned with bragging rights, then there is another option, something I like to call the Bag of Chips method.
You know when you go to the store for bread and milk, but it's way at the back so you have to pass by all sorts of other non-necessities and you think, hey, maybe I'll pick up a bag of chips too? Or maybe it's a chocolate bar or a tub of frozen yogurt. Stores do this on purpose. They shelve the most commonly bought items at the back of the store so that you have to walk past all the other stuff with the hope that you'll pick up something up.
Amazon does this too. The books with the high ranks are the bread and milk. They are a hot commodity so Amazon puts them front and center and says Look! Buy this! You need this!
So you click add to cart.
But, every time you click on one of those hot commodities, whether you add it to your cart or not, you will see recommendations for similar books. These are not usually high ranking books, but the books that consistently sell in a given genre or category. They are the bags of chips.
So although you aren't getting Amazon to display your book in the top 100, you can make sure you get your book in front of readers who are already looking at titles like yours.
The way to do this is by keeping consistent sales over time. That means although you might not have 100 people buy your book on release day you have just one person buy your book everyday. You spread out the sales and show Amazon that your book is one that people often add to their orders while browsing.
A pre-order allows you to begin building demand for your book as soon as 90 days before the release date. That means more time for Amazon to see that your book is consistently selling and that will make them recommend your book to more people.
Doing a pre-order isn't guaranteed to get you sales and not doing a pre-order isn't guaranteed to get you into Amazon's top 100. Making a book launch successful depends a lot on how you market your book.
There are a few particular scenarios where you might want to do a pre-order even if you want a high rank on Amazon.
First, is if you have a LOT of followers or fans. In other words, guaranteed purchases.
Second, is if your book is part of a series (but not the first in the series!) or if you have already released a lot of books in the same genre.
Both of these have to do with having an established reader base.
The pre-order is a great way to get the ball rolling on the new release and to keep the existing fan base engaged. If you know you can send a significant amount of your Instagram or Twitter followers over to Amazon to pre-order your book then a pre-order could benefit you. If your book is a crime novel and you've written a lot of crime novels already then this new book will be recommended to people who have purchased your other books, therefore possibly making a pre-order a good marketing tool.
If you're still unsure whether you should do a pre-order or not, the best thing to do is do a short pre-order, anywhere from three to five days.
This ensures that your book is already live on release day (meaning you will already know that the links to your book are working and that there are no hold ups on Amazon's end as can sometimes happen with live releases) and any pre-orders purchased in that time will still be close enough to contribute to a high rank.
Pre-orders also allow you to reach out to early readers or anyone you gave an ARC to and encourage them to post their reviews so that they will be there when the book goes live.
No matter what you decide, make sure you have marketing plans in place!
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