Your book’s pre-sale period is crucial to your book’s chances of success for so many reasons. Still, it’s one of the least understood facets of a book’s release. Hopefully, this post will change that.
This is the third in a series of blog posts focused on essential book marketing topics for self-published authors in our campaign, 2021: The Year To Find Your Readers. These posts will cover topics in two categories:
1. 100 days before publish. Tasks to accomplish while your book is still in production.
2. 100 days after publish. The latest and greatest book marketing tactics for self-published authors.
Timing is everything
One of the biggest advantages to self publishing a book versus the traditional publishing method is the calendar. Indie-published authors can have two — even three — different books out in the marketplace in the same time it takes the massive traditional publishing machinery to crank out just one.
Big publishing houses adhere to strict schedules, often established more than a year in advance of a book’s release. With their regimented and often outdated practices, traditional book production is a long, drawn-out process, and what takes the traditional publishers 10 months — including editing, cover and page design, and the inevitable rounds of revisions — takes the self-published author 10 weeks.
Yet, there is one ironclad book release time-frame that both traditionally published books and self-published titles share: it’s called the pre-sale period, and it almost always refers to distribution and sales through Amazon. Every major publisher sets up lengthy pre-sale periods as part of their publishing strategies for popular authors. It’s a standard part of their game plan.
I’m pleased to report that many indie authors understand the process and execute their pre-sale period to near perfection. But many newcomers neglect to leave enough time before the pre-order deadline to prepare their book for publishing.
What is the pre-sale period?
Your pre-sale period is the time between the moment you hand your book over to a retailer and the date when it’s available to be shipped to readers. This is a pre-set time period mandated by Amazon — no matter who the publisher is, there is, at minimum, a 60-day period between the day the book files are sent to Amazon and the day it can be shipped to your readers. It can’t be rushed and moved forward for any reason.
Unfortunately, the message isn’t getting through to everyone. I’ve written dozens of emails and blog posts about how savvy authors know that their pre-sale period can make or break a title. I’ve tried to make the point that being “best to market” beats being “first to market.”
Still, I can predict, with pinpoint accuracy, the date in November when I’ll start receiving anguished emails and letters from new authors expecting to hand off their books to Amazon expecting it to be ready for sale by Black Friday. It just doesn’t work that way.
In fact, I think I’ve finally come up with the best way to describe the unimpeachable nature of the pre-sale process for printed books.
Let’s say you’re a doctor — an OBGYN — and you’re meeting with a joyous young couple in early November. They’re thrilled because they’re expecting a new bundle of joy and they’re past that early, nervous first trimester. It’s safe to share the good news with their family and friends, but the couple has an unusual request:
“Doctor, we have all of our family gathering with us during the holidays,” they say. “So we want you to arrange for an early delivery. Instead of having the baby born on the due date in April, can we move it up to, say, Black Friday for the big reveal?”
“Folks,” says the doctor, “that’s not the way nature works.” And so it is for the pre-sale period of your printed books. It’s against the law of nature — and the laws of Amazon.
There’s a lot to do in your pre-sale period
There’s a lot of planning and work that needs to be done to get a manuscript into market-worthy shape. Here’s a suggested timeline for getting your book to market in time for the holidays.
Once you have all your files ready to go, the next thing to consider is setting the release date. Remember, it must be at least 60 days from the day the book is ready to be transmitted to Amazon and the other print retail sites like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc.
I’d strongly advise against choosing the earliest publish date possible, either through BookBaby or directly through Amazon. Why rush things? This pre-launch timeframe is a make-or-break period for the book. As I said earlier: It’s not first to market that counts, but best to market.
My earlier blog post, “Your Book Needs A Pre-Sale Period To Be Successful,” shares information about various retailers’ schedules and processes for ingesting new titles.
I want to focus on how you can directly influence the future of your book sales by the actions you take in the pre-sale period. I’m not talking about “gaming” the system or any shortcuts. These are proven processes and methods to boost the fortunes of your book.
One by one, the various retailers will begin to post your book as available for pre-sale. It’s at this point when readers can pre-order your book. Naturally, this is an exciting milestone, but there’s no time to celebrate. What you do in this time period has an important future payoff as you’ll soon learn. Heeding my earlier advice, the longer your book is available for pre-order, the more time you have to send readers to Amazon and the other stores to accumulate orders.
For many retailers, these pre-sale orders accumulate and count as sales on your release date — all those pre-sales combined — which gives you a good chance at cracking some top-100 bestseller sub-genre lists on sites like Barnes & Noble and Powell’s when that date comes.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Amazon. There are mixed opinions on this topic, but it appears your pre-sale transactions do not increase your chances of being listed as a best-seller on Amazon’s genre lists. Based on our latest information, Amazon counts every order, even pre-sale orders, on the day the order is made and does not combine them all as sales on your release date.
But the pre-sale period is critical for your success on Amazon for entirely different reasons, and it comes down to a very overlooked part of the book-selling process: inventory estimates.
How the Amazon inventory process works
With very few exceptions — blockbuster hits by various members of the Obama family, for instance — Amazon stocks its warehouses using what’s called a “pull” system. No one can just “push” books into the Amazon warehouses without a purchase order. In other words, independent authors can’t simply print 1,000 books on their own and ship them into an Amazon warehouse just in case their book is a hit.
Rather, Amazon places orders for books from publishers or self-publishing companies like BookBaby based on sales — and pre-sales. This is one of the most misunderstood issues of today’s indie publishing landscape.
Knowing this, you can understand why it’s critical for indie authors to amass as many sales as they can during the pre-sale period to let Amazon know there is demand for their books. Again, it’s not cheating or gaming — we never advocate that — it’s simply using the knowledge of the inner workings of Amazon that we’ve accumulated over the past 10 years and planning your sales strategy around it. This is a tactic we recommend to BookBaby authors, but we’re happy to share our knowledge with the indie author community.
Once your book has been ingested by the Amazon system, a selling page is automatically created. The page will contain all the metadata about your title. What’s metadata? Check out this blog post to learn more.
During the pre-sale period, Amazon uses its inventory algorithm to build a sales forecast for all of the new titles taken in. The actual inner-workings of their system is a closely guarded secret, but we do know that Amazon takes into account things like product page views, adds to wish lists, and actual orders. This data is used to compile a two-week inventory model.
Here’s one of the more surprising things about this complicated process. Amazon’s computerized forecasts seem to care more about the traffic to your page than actual pre-sale purchases. Essentially, this is a way of proving to Amazon that you have a following and that your book will be successful, which can be a major factor in your book’s actual success. The more traffic you can send to your book’s product page in the pre-sale period, the more copies of your book Amazon will order and restock. Titles that are in-stock will be listed on Amazon as “Available” and will ship immediately.
What happens if you sit on your hands during pre-sale?
Let’s look at the flip side. What if you are not actively recruiting potential readers and your book’s product page receives little-to-no traffic in the pre-sale period? Now your book is facing an uphill climb to ever be available at the biggest retailer in the world. Amazon will likely not stock any inventory of your book at launch. On your Amazon page, your book will be listed as “Available to ship in 7–11 days,” because Amazon knows that most new books will, at some point, see some sales.
If some period of time passes and still no traffic goes to your page, Amazon might move it to “Temporarily out of stock,” which is the online equivalent of walking into your local bookstore and finding that your book is not on the shelves. Your readers can still purchase your book, but they’ll have to be patient.
There isn’t anything BookBaby or any self-publishing company can do to overcome this inventory situation. It’s a huge disadvantage for a new independent author who is hoping that Amazon will provide some early sales momentum. The bottom line is, you need your book to be there when your growing base of readers go looking for it. And that means doing the work that attracts the attention of the Amazon inventory algorithm leading up to your release date.
There’s no way to guarantee book sales success, but by implementing the ideas from my previous post on pre-sales, based on techniques that have worked for BookBaby authors over the last decade, you can improve your chances. We estimate that 60 percent of BookBaby authors do some kind of pre-sale work for their titles, and they are, almost without exception, the most successful authors we work with.
It’s November 1st, am I out of options to get my book out there before Santa arrives?
Even late in the season, if you work with BookBaby, we have some options for you to capture some holiday business.
1. Sell eBooks. The pre-sale period only applies to printed books. If you are releasing both an eBook and a printed book, you can still release the digital version of the book almost immediately after it’s been sent to Amazon. It takes 2–3 days to have the sales page created and have your eBook available for sale. Your printed book would be listed on the same selling page but have a 60+ day release date from the time your eBook is available.
2. Sell through BookShop. BookBaby’s Bookshop is your one-stop-shop to sell self-published eBooks and printed books straight to readers. With Bookshop, you can earn more profits, get paid faster, grow your audience, and maintain total control of your page content. And best of all: it’s free to all BookBaby authors. We have long advocated for authors to sell direct to their readers.
Here’s one more reason to utilize BookShop: Over 90 percent of self-published books are sold as a direct result of the author sending an interested reader to their selling page. Self-published books are not likely to be discovered in Amazon’s mega bookstore until they’ve established some strong sales performance. The big takeaway: there is opportunity in the pre-sale period preceding your book’s release. Don’t squander it!
Your Book Needs A Pre-Sale Period To Be Successful
Start Promoting Your Book Now!
Your Publishing Timeline For Holiday Book Sales
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Step #1 To Finding Your Readers: Make The Best Book You Can