Friday, April 15, 2016

Do Ebook Preorders Work?

So I've been trying out Kindle preorder pages for some new books (including my latest horror thriller  WEBCAM, which launches today), experimenting to determine if this is a smart way to run my self-publishing business. Here are the pros and cons I've encountered.

Preorder Pros

1. Deadlines. I wanted to light a fire under my ass and get some work done. On one hand, why invite extra stress into your life? On the other, consider what motivates you.

I believe the biggest motivator for an artist is inspiration; that spark that compels you to create. Even if it never sells. Even if no one ever reads it. We become writers because we love storytelling.

The biggest motivator for someone self-employed is (usually) money. I own my own business, and my boss is usually a workaholic jerk.

But lately he's been slacking off.

Like most writers, I've never lacked for ideas, and I keep files of potential book ideas, some with partial outlines, that I'll get to someday. But I found I was in the middle of two novels, RUM RUNNER and WEBCAM, and as much as I tried to self-motivate, I wasn't putting in the time I would have had I been creatively inspired or fiscally needy.

In other words, I was dragging my ass and not getting the words down to the degree I'm capable of.

Back in the stone age when I had legacy contracts, writing life was filled with deadlines. Get the manuscript finished by date X. Get the redline returned by date Y. Get the outline for the next book done three months later. You kept to that schedule out of contractual obligation, and a little bit of fear.

For the first few years of my self-publishing career, I was writing and publishing as fast as I could. No stress. No fear required.

But lately, I haven't been pushing myself. So after a lot of thought I decided to give myself deadlines. Tough deadlines, but within my abilities.

As a result, I've written and published over 100,000 words since January. For me, those deadlines for preorders were the motivator I needed.

2. Sales. I've had many writers ask me: What's the best time to launch a new book? My answer has always been the same: When it's finished.

If your book is ready to be unleashed upon the world, there's no need to wait. Let people buy it as soon as they're able to. I recall peers of mine sitting on completed, polished, formatted manuscripts because they wanted to release books the old-fashioned way: with a launch date.

The launch date is a relic of legacy publishing. The point was to get as many people to buy your book the day it came out, to make a run at the bestseller lists.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a NYT or USA Today bestseller.

Now, there is still something to be said for making a big impact on Release Day. But since I'm exclusive on Amazon, and since Amazon's algorithms seem to reward steady sales over sales that peak and fall quickly (which is one of many insights to glean from and is broken down succinctly at, I decided not to fret too much about building up to a book launch day.

At the same time, if a book is going to be out on a certain date, why make people wait to buy it? And if fans want to buy something right now, why make them wait until later, when they could possibly forget?

3. Buzz. I believe that sales are about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell. The goal is to find people looking for the kinds of books that you write.

So, when I'm pimping a title, I usually only do it around launch day, or if the book is on sale.

A preorder page gives me more opportunities to make announcements on Twitter, or to send out a newsletter. Rather than beat fans and potential readers over the head saying "Buy my book!" over and over, instead I'm offering them new information  with each announcement.

Hey, I've got a new preorder title!

Hey, my new book is out today!

Hey, my book is on sale!

People are looking for information and entertainment. At the same time, anyone who has ever spent more than ten seconds studying the effectiveness of advertising knows that repeated exposure is pretty much essential. So having a non-abrasive way to tout my work by offering new information each time I do (rather than those writers--you know who you are--who think their followers want to see the exact same ad three times a week for an entire year) seems to me to be a more effective, and less irritating, way to self-promote.

This is why you rarely see me doing a straight-up promo blog post, and instead put the promo in an informative piece about how promos work.

Preorder Cons

1. Deadlines. I intentionally didn't give myself much leeway in my deadlines, in order to push myself harder. On one hand, I've hit both of my deadlines. But WEBCAM launched today in a less-than-ideal version.

Allow me to explain.

Amazon allows preorders because authors asked for them. I was the first ever, back in 2010, when I worked with DTP to get the first self-pubbed preorder page for DRACULAS.

Since then they've streamlined the process. You can submit a book for preorder in KDP, and you must submit the final manuscript 10 days before the on sale date.

But that 10 day period isn't set in stone. After you submit a final 10 days prior to the launch, you have 7 more days to upload newer versions. Typo fixes, tweaks, that sort of thing.

At 72 hours prior to the launch day, KDP locks you out and you cannot upload a new file until the book goes live. So if you're one to cut it close, beware.

I'm one to cut it close. Ten days prior to launch I uploaded a barebones text version of the novel. Then I tweaked for a few days, then asked my book designer, 52 Novels, that I wanted some special design work done, and needed it by the 12th. He squeezed me in, and did an awesome job making the ebook look beautiful. But I'd given him the wrong date. I had actually needed it by the 11th.

See, the day starts at midnight. So 11:59pm CST on April 11 was the last moment for me to upload the new version.

As such, those who preordered got the still readable text version, but without all the gloss and style that the designed version has.

My bad.

Amazon may send out an email blast telling those who preordered that there is a prettier version now available, but this is a professional boo boo on my part that I should have been on top of.

So if you cut deadlines close, you might want to give yourself some breathing room.

2. Sales. While slow and steady sales help your book attain, and keep, a decent ranking on Amazon, nothing beats a book launch without preorders for getting the best initial rank.

But how much does getting high ranks and showing up on bestseller lists help raise sales?

I dunno.

I submitted RUM RUNNER - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on February 1, to launch March 25.

I submitted WEBCAM - A Novel of Terror by Jack Kilborn for preorder on March 12, to launch April 15.

I submitted LAST CALL - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on March 12, to launch May 28.

I published WATCHED TOO LONG - A Val Ryker Thriller on March 23 with my co-author, Ann Voss Peterson.

RUM RUNNER, WATCHED TOO LONG, and WEBCAM are all interconnected. They take place during the same time frame, and characters from each story appear in the other stories.

In the back matter of each book, I link to the others using Booklinker, which I detailed in a previous post.

The idea was to build momentum with four new releases (three novels and one novella, WATCHED TOO LONG) and team it with KDP Countdown sales and a free BookBub ad to get some momentum going.

The jury is still out on whether it worked or not. Let's talk numbers.

RUM RUNNER had 2236 preorders at $4.99.
WEBCAM had 637 preorders at $4.99.
LAST CALL has had 1662 preorders at $5.99.
WATCHED TOO LONG wasn't available for preorder. It's a 20,000 word novella priced at $2.99.

So far, RUM RUNNER has sold 3300 copies, so it's made about $12k in sales 21 days, and 350,000 KENP reads (which at $.0045 per page is $1575). Not counting preorders, it is averaging 45 sales and 16700 KENP reads per day, which means it is steadily earning $232 daily.

So far, WATCHED TOO LONG has sold 400 copies, with 26,350 KENP reads. It has been out for 24 days, and has earned $958. Sales are steady, and it is averaging $40 a day. I'm pleased with that, but wonder if that couldn't have been more if we'd done a preorder page.

When I have data on WEBCAM and LAST CALL, I'll do an update.

But then the data gets weird.

The BookBub ad for free RUSTY NAIL (the third Jack Daniels thriller) cost $450. I gave away over 60,000 ebooks.

Prior to the ad, it had been getting about 4000 KENP reads per day. In the 10 days after the ad, it had 234,000 reads, earning $1053. Since then is has averaged about 8000 page reads a day.

But a rising tide lifts all boats. Sine the launch of RUM RUNNER and WATCHED TOO LONG, I've been averaging 150,000 KENP reads per day.

Prior to the launch, I was averaging 50,000 KENP reads per day. My KENP income is $675 a day.

Prior to the launch, I was selling about 70 ebooks per day. Since the launch, not counting preorder sales, I'm averaging 180.

I'm curious to see how WEBCAM will add to this.

3. Unknowns. Because I have so much happening at once, I don't know what to credit for tripling my KDP income. I think the preorders played a big part, but so did the BookBub ad, the discounts, the booklinker bibliographies, and possibly other intangibles like the Easter holiday, and the long gap since my last solo novel.

As per usual, I don't know what worked and what didn't. I can only guess.


Preorders seem to be a smart move. They're a more stressful way to release a book, but it's a healthy stress and it pushes you harder. The extra money and buzz is worth it.

BookBub still works, even for freebies.

Putting out a new release while discounting other titles seems to raise the series up in both KENP and sales. It's 21 days after RUM RUNNER was released, and sales are steady with no sign of decline.

Novellas don't sell nearly as well as novels, but I already knew that.

I haven't gotten any reader input yet on how I intertwined the novels, other than a few reviewers who seem confused by it rather than pleased.

I don't know how long this income bump will last. It remains to be seen how WEBCAM and LAST CALL do, and I'm still not quite back at the KDP levels I was at prior to the Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Besides butting booklinker links in the back matter of these new titles, I also put in new complete bibliographies based on my biblio ebook. How much this has helped sales, I dunno. But that biblio is averaging 10 downloads a day from people who obviously want to know what to read next.

Jack Kilborn doesn't sell as well as J.A. Konrath. I'm thinking of ditching Kilborn completely, and rebranding all of my titles as Konrath. I'd really like to hear your comments on that. Good idea? Bad idea?


Lou Cadle said...

Thank you for sharing that information.

I really like your Kilborn novels and I'd read them no matter which author name was on them. If changing the author name on the cover might win you 20% more readers for them--and I suspect it might win even more--why not give it a try? What's the worst that might happen? I would put a violence warning in your product description, but I imagine you had planned on doing that anyway. Good luck with the experiment! (As with nearly everything else in self-publishing, you can change it again overnight if you don't like how it is working.)

The Daring Novelist said...

As a reader, I figure the biggest downside for the author of preorders is that it annoys the heck out of me. If I can't buy it now, then coming across your book page is like spam -- it's a waste of my time.

There are of course, many customers who LOVE preorders -- but they love you anyway.

Daniel Barnett said...

Really interesting stuff, Joe, thanks. I just published my second novel with a very narrow preorder window in line with a few of the thoughts you'd shared on preordering in the past, so this all has been swimming around my mind a lot recently.

I could see rebranding all of your Kilborn titles as Konrath working out for you, but I also wonder if horror might just naturally sell a bit less than the thriller genre. Perhaps the correlation is there instead of with the author name. Then again, I don't think you're in the same position as you were when you gave birth to Kilborn, so killing him off likely wouldn't hurt you at all (your Konrath brand is probably big enough by now to support the weight of both genres without dividing/confusing readers).

Typing this up on my phone, so I hope it all comes through readable. Thanks again for your readiness to share.

The Daring Novelist said...

I should add to what I said above: while as a reader I hate preorders, I love e-ARCs. Baen does them to great effect. Even if it means paying more and getting an imperfect product, you do GET the product, and it increases reader loyalty.


Great info as usually again Joe. The prices are great. I love the idea of a massive three story launch. In goes along with the internet/cable tv binge watching mode that is fixed in the millennials today. As a reader and a writer I love coming across books that do this over lapping. One of my favorites is Peter Straub's Blue Rose trilogy. I highly recommend.

Louis Shalako said...

I should have done a pre-order but I don't have a cover yet and asset-less pre-orders kind of scare me.

Brian Drake said...

When you set up a pre-order, though, you're really making a commitment. I set up a pre-order with a romantic suspense title, and then cancelled the pre-order (to launch wide instead), and Amazon *banned me* from doing another pre-order for 12 months. I'm a naughty, naughty boy.

ML Banner said...

I love Amazon pre-order for my books for many of the reasons that you’ve described.

Putting a book in pre-order does reduce the number of sales you’d have received for that book if it were just released. Besides the number of people who will just ignore pre-orders for various reasons, including it not having reviews (without publishing the print version first and going through the work with advanced readers), you don’t have the benefit of KENP page reads. For me, this is almost 50% of the “sales” of a newer book. All of this of course means less visibility for your book. And that means less actual sales.

Plus, I believe you lose a little of the “buzz” through pre-order, because some of the excitement is missing when buying a book, but not receiving it until later, after you’ve forgotten (and find it on your Kindle).

However, it’s damn cool that you can sell a book before it’s even ready for publishing! So, you could say you’re gaining sales that you wouldn’t have even obtained if you waited to publish when ready.

Also, and this is huge, pre-order sales really help bolster sales of previous volumes in a series and other books in the author’s catalog. Imagine if you’re a reader and you buy an author’s pre-order book, but wanting that instant gratification, you search the author’s catalog and find something similar. Bingo, another sale! This was confirmed by a couple of readers, who did exactly this.

I’m not sure I would use pre-order for the start of a series (my most recent book was launched using pre-order), but I absolutely do (and will) for subsequent books in a series. My evidence in these cases, is that pre-order sales will always lift the others.

Thanks for your take on this issue. I learned something new with the ability to upload updated manuscripts up to 72 hours before publish date. I’d thought that we were locked out at 10 days. I probably won’t test that one out though, just in case.

My apologies if this was posted more than once.

Patricia Lynne said...

Since I self publish, I've wondered why bother with a preorder when I can just put the book up for sale when it's done too. The thing that keeps me going back to having a preorder is it is nice to have that link before hand. I can set up promotions for release day and include the link instead of waiting last minute to get it. Same with a blog tour. If I'm doing a blog tour, I already have the link they can include to send readers to the book's sale page on the day of release. I've taken part in many blog tours where the day before I posted, I had the author emailing me the link because they finally hit publish.

As a reader, I thought I'd add, I do preorder ebooks. I don't preorder paperbacks because every time I did, Amazon would take TWO weeks AFTER the release day to ship my book. Not an issue with preorder ebooks. It's also a bit of an impulse buy for me. I see I'm able to buy it and have it delivered on release day, so I'm more likely to click buy, but if I put it in my wishlist chances are I will end up deleting it and never buying.

Easydoesit said...

Just wondering about the reasons you've chosen to stay exclusive with Amazon. I assume you think the KENP reads make up for possible sales thru other vendors. Just wondering. Respect your knowledge and views.

Anonymous said...

Rebrand as Konrath.

Thanks for sharing figures.

Alexis said...

It is SO great that you share your data and observations! I have no words for how grateful I am for your generosity! I'm a first-time nonfiction self-published author with a pretty decent following online and a book coming out in late summer. I've read that pre-sales don't count towards launch-week sales volume on Amazon. And that having a large number of sales fall in one week is how you get a high ranking on the amazon charts (leading to more visibility, etc.). Thus it seems there is a tradeoff in potentially lost sales by NOT having preorder available vs. optimizing your shot at hitting a top spot on the charts (which presumably leads to better exposure/sales/unsure?).

Not sure if there is a clear answer on this issue but am putting it out there in case anybody has any thoughts on the issue?

Joe Konrath said...

I stay exclusive with Amazon for two reasons. First, because I believe KENP more than makes up for the lost sales (and readers) thru other outlets. Second, because I believe ebook subscription models are the future, and will be adopted by the majority of readers, so i want to make sure I'm part of that.

Clint Hollingsworth said...

I'm a relatively new writer, having written one series novel, and one stand alone. I have my 2nd series novel up for pre-order (it just started the editing process) but I hedge my bets. My preorder date is June 15, to make sure I don't have a problem making the deadline (I'm kinda slow) BUT, I've found on my stand alone (which I also did preorders on) that I was ready much earlier than the preorder stated.

With my cover done and final file uploaded, I was able to move the date forward for an earlier release date. None of my readers seemed to mind that they got the book earlier than expected.

TangledLetterPress said...

Joe, I would fear that rebranding Kilborn as Konrath might harm Konrath. People have come to expect a certain thing from Konrath. That is what a brand means. If, say, Lazy Nate's Cola licensed Pepsi's trademarks and slapped the Pepsi logo on their drinks, they might sell better for a while until people got wise to it, but the damage to Pepsi would almost certainly be greater.

True story: I selected a an electronic device with the GE logo on it from a number of similar items because I trusted the GE name. Well, when it failed in less than a week, I went looking at the packaging more closely. The fine print told me that GE was not involved with that product in any way shape or form but just licensed out their logo and name to someone else.

The result? I no longer trust GE "products" at all. I now view anything labeled GE as generic and pass right over it if quality matters. Until I see a major announcement from GE that they have stopped licensing out their name, their once-valuable logo is worthless in my mind. And even that will not take away the bad taste from that one stupid $15 piece of junk someone else sold me using their name.

Anonymous said...

So, you're thinking about branding some of your books as "Konrath?" Funny, because I was recently thinking the same thing. :)

D. C. Chester said...

Nora Ephron writing as J. D. Robb.

On the other hand, Hugh Howie told me...actually, he simply and generously replied to an email I sent to him..."using one name for different genres works fine for James Patterson."

Waiting for the results of whatever you choose to do with Kilborn.

As usual, thanks for the info.


Guy R said...

I've never pre-ordered e-anything because the nature of e-anything is that it is there for me to acquire the moment I am ready. If I forget for awhile, no problem, it's still right there the moment I am ready.

I do pre-order print books. In that case, they are not there the moment I am ready, they are there 2 days (or more) later. If I pre-order print books, I may or may not forget, but the day Amazon puts the book up for sale, it's also in my mailbox (this has worked for every print pre-order I've made through Amazon).

I say roll Kilborn into Konrath. I think you'll pick up a not-insignificant number of cross-over readers who do not read both "authors" yet. Plus I can't imagine you'd lose any readers--the readers who are looking specifically for Jack Daniels books only, will buy still buy those. They're not going to stop buying JD novels because they find out the same guy is writing horror as well as thriller novels. It's not the same problem as GE licensing their logo to uncontrolled companies. It more like Apple trying to roll their computer business into a cell phone business.

TangledLetterPress said...

Thinking more about this, I realize my analogies with Pepsi and GE were flawed. Kilborn would not be lower quality but rather same quality in a different genre.

It is more similar to the question of whether Pepsi branding should go on rootbeer also bottled by PepsiCo. PepsiCo does bottle other things besides cola, but they choose not to make the name Pepsi very prominent on things that aren't a cola of some sort.

In my opinion if "Konrath" means a certain thing to a reader, then it shouldn't go onto a Kilborn book (unless it is "Konrath writing as Kilborn" or something similar). I thnk you want people to see "Konrath" and know at a glance exactly what they are getting. The various varieties of colas may all say Coke or Pepsi on them, but the "genre" of the soda (diet, cherry, full sugar, Splenda, caffeine-free, etc) is communicated at a glance through color and design. (Grey or silver means diet, a picture of a cherry means cherry, gold means caffeine free, etc.) If you do use Konrath on everything, make sure that the covers clearly communicate the genre at a glance.

I don't think you'd ever find something labeled as a Coke Rootbeer or a Pepsi Rootbeer. So, are Konrath and Kilborn variations on cola that could be distinguished easily with different covers, or is Kilborn a rootbeer that should not be prominently labeled a Konrath?

I personally liked the little JK logo that you came up with. If a Konrath reader sees that on a Kilborn book, she'll probably be intrigued enough to look closer and will know that the quality will be of a certain level, but she won't assume that it will be the same experience as a Konrath book. She can then look at reviews and product descriptions, etc., to see whether it will be what she is interested in. More importantly, then next time she sees "Konrath", she will still know what that means because it won't have been diluted across genres.

bettye griffin said...

I like the pre-orders. It's the one thing about trad publishing I miss. I hated that it's-not-there-it's-still-not-there-oh-look-it's-there aspect of uploading and waiting for a book to go live that was indie publishing. I hounded Amazon for a year or more, suggesting that if they required writers to upload a document at pre-order it would alleviate the mess of them missing their deadlines, which I'm sure was their biggest concern. I like being able to promote my books with a definitive release date. I just wish Barnes & Noble would get on the good foot and allow this (it takes them about 3 days to make an uploaded book live). I find it doesn't have to be that stressful, either. When I put a book up for pre-order the file is 98% tweaked, and I choose a date far enough out where I've got plenty of time to get that last 2% the way I want it.

As for what to do about your author name, I vote for "J.A. Konrath writing as Jack Kilborn." Doesn't seem to hurt Sophie Kinsella writing as Madeleine Wickham"...

Thanks for all you do.

The Daring Novelist said...

Bettye - I hadn't thought of that aspect. That is, having more control over when the book definitely goes live. As a reader, I hate the promo aspect (i.e. being sent to a link and then can't buy the book), but the certainty of KNOWING when the book is available is a plus.

Barbra Annino said...

I would ditch Kilborn. I think pen names are also a part of the old system that assumed readers weren't smart enough to understand what kind of books they were buying. When you put "A Novel of Terror" in the title and "A Horror Novel" on the cover, people know what's inside.

Now why publishers just put "A Novel" on some covers is beyond me. Like I thought I was buying a turnip.

isabellajrose said...

I used three different names my own and for romances Isabella Rose or Angel Rose but a literary agent said its hard enough for readers to cope with one name -never mind three.
They were different genres but I now stick to Isabella Rose for all my books. So far I have written ten some factual and some fiction. The horror story witchcraft during wartime based on a true story Daddys Little Spy (published as fantasy) sells the best. Not however in huge numbers only in hundreds. So good luck to you whatever name you choose but my advice is stick to one name.

Kathryn Meyer Griffith said...

Since getting all my full rights back to my earlier (publisher published) 14 novels and now having ALL 22 of my novels under my control and self-published...I, too, have slacked off on writing book #23 (my fourth Dinosaur Lake book). I know exactly what you mean about that. Good luck to us getting our writing mojo back.
Also...I hate to ask here...but please email me at with an update on your ebooksareforever final complete launch date. August hasn't answered any of my emails for weeks and I am anxiously awaiting it's official launch (I have all my 22 novels there). What's up? Should I take my books down? Horror author (since 1984) Kathryn Meyer Griffith

Easydoesit said...

Thanks for taking the time to explain of why you're all in with Kindle Select, Joe. Appreciate it.

Fox Emerson said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with preorder on Amazon. I'm curious about your more recent experiences as I see this is an older blog.

My experience with Toby at 99c was really interesting. Like you, I decided to put a firecracker (I have a less polite term I use) in place and set a release date, then went ahead and continued to work on Toby. The first two weeks, I simply uploaded a short 15 page version of what I had finished. Preorder sales were crazy! I was number 1 at one point in the 12-21 pages category and was mystified. It was a lack of knowledge on my behalf and I suddenly realised there was some value in shorter books. As soon as I added more of the document, sales slowed. Though overall, I'm impressed by how many downloads I've had for the book. Though I also suspect the cover is what did the trick!

Unknown said...

But Jack Killborn is SUCH a cool name!

Gretta Curran Browne said...

Joe, you are amazing! I was wondering about using pre-orders and now you have told me. So there you go again - right on the money with your advice - where would we all be without you?
I say this because it was reading your blog that got me to self-publish, and I have never once regretted it.
Big bucks and big sales to you, Joe, you deserve it - (also I love your Jack Daniels books)

Gretta Curran Browne said...

NO - not Kilborn -- it's got to be KONRATH - KONRATH - KONRATH -- that's the name with the fame.

Shawn Raiford said...

I believe you said it somewhere, "If it's not working, change it!"

Jeff Ezell said...

On pre-orders relative to Fox Emerson's comments about TOBY: How do downloads work and your 15 page early submission? Would I receive a 15 page ebook if I pre-ordered? Then automatically a final 119 pg ebook on June 15 release date? How does ranking per category get determined as shown on our Amazon book page B01D1RWP4W?

Makayla Yokley said...

Thank you for sharing the information! As someone trying to carve out a career in self-publishing, articles like these are instrumental and provide some great food for thought. I've never given much thought to Amazon pre-orders before, but now I think I might give it a try with my upcoming novel and see if it helps.

Thanks again! Great post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the specifics you disclose! I find so many of these articles are vague. So thanks a ton!

I don't understand KENP and not many people on the internet seem to. Do you have a good grasp on it? I'm searching for someone to explain it briefly.