Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Do Ebook Preorders Work? Part 2

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about preorders. I experimented with three preorder titles, curious as to how they'd perform.

Here are some of the topics I addressed back then, and my results.

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.

Joe sez: Well, the fire was lit. And I burned hot. I wrote three novels and two novellas in less than six months, and I definitely felt the stress. As the deadlines neared, I beat a personal record--over 27,000 words in three days. And the words were good words, most of which I kept.

So deadlines did push me write over 250,000 words in only a few months. While it wasn't the most enjoyable writing experience I've ever had, I think the works turned out well, and since launching LAST CALL two days ago my panic attacks have almost stopped. :)

Verdict: Deadlines do force you to get words on the page, but only if you work well under stress.

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. 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?

Joe sez: I still think that you shouldn't make people wait to buy something. If they know it is going to come out, let them preorder it.

But preorder dates don't work as well as they could, for reasons I'll continue to disclose.

With Blu-ray, you can pre-order it on Amazon even if their is no set release date. I can see how they couldn't happen for KDP authors--it is bad customer service if readers pre-order books that take years to--or never--come out. But this would be a cool feature to have. I know my next Jack Daniels novel is WHITE RUSSIAN. I don't know when it will be finished, and I'm not committing to a crazy deadline again. But it would be nice to have readers be able to pre-order this title even without a release date set.

Verdict: I still would like readers to be able to order a book the moment they hear about it, but I don't think the pre-order system as currently configured is worth it.

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.

Joe sez: I haven't seen added sales benefits to pimping more often. In fact, I see downsides.

I announced preorders, I reminded people about preorders, and I announced on launch day. This constant promo has cost me some Twitter followers, and instead of having a big one-time boost in sales that would get me on a lot of Top 100 lists, I had a few smaller boosts. 

It's tough to compare recent numbers with numbers from the past because KU has changed KDP so much. But my gut is telling me that preorders lost me some of the visibility that a bigger launch would have had.

Verdict: I think less marketing over time, and a stronger marketing push on launch date, may be the way to go.

4. 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?

Joe sez: All in all, I have about 6500 preorders for those three titles. That's a decent chunk of change, priced at $4.99 and $5.99. But I didn't peak on the bestseller lists like I'd done with previous titles.

Could it be my brands are losing their popularity? I don't think so. Sales remain solid--I'm still averaging about 180 sales per day and 140,000 KENP. And when I release a new title, there is a big boost. 

But my feeling is I'd get a bigger initial boost without preorders.

Verdict: Seeing preorder sales accumulate is nice. But I don't know if they help in the long run.

With or without preorders, I think a comparable number of readers are going to find my books. But I think if a substantial chunk of readers all bought on the same day, rather than sales being staggered over weeks and months, that would raise visibility on the bestseller lists.

Then again, having a book for sale for a longer time seems smarter than having it for sale for a shorter time. 

They're probably some equation for this. What are the number of eyeballs on a title ranked at #3000 for two months vs. the number of eyeballs on a title ranked at #15 for three days?

Going with my gut, my next few releases won't have preorder pages. Then I'll be able to compare data in a more meaningful way.

What have your results been?



J.A. Sutherland said...

I have only one data point. I released book #3 in my series to preorder last August, for release in November, and immediately saw a 5x to 10x increase in sales of #1 & #2. I'm planning to do the same for #4 in the series this August and see if there's a repeat of that effect.


Hey Joe,

Not sure about pre-orders since I've only done it once, but how do your free giveaways fair as far as future sales? I have three books for free this week at Amazon.com: Mud Street, Snuffed and my new zombie undead novel Repo'íng the Dead for free as eBooks. What do you think?

Another great post!

Nat Russo said...

"...but how do your free giveaways fair..."

I can't speak for Joe, but free giveaways always backfire on me. Yes, a LOT of people download (thousands). But I've seen two problems with this:
1. Most of the downloaders are never going to read it.
2. Those who *do* read the story are often the "wrong" type of reader (e.g. not their typical genre, etc.) Whenever I receive a lousy review, it's invariably during or shortly after a free giveaway.

As far as their effect on future sales goes, I see no effect whatsoever. My average daily sales remain steady. They just temporarily vanish (paid) for the specific title I have on giveaway at the time.

For these reasons, I prefer a decent normal price (3.99 - 5.99) with periodic Kindle Countdown deals that take the price to $2.99. This strategy has worked well for me.


Hey thanks Nat. Great advice. I've done the count down as well, usually starting at $5.99 and going down to $.99. It seems to do okay. I need to raise the roof on my awareness though. Feeling a bit like a needle in a hay stack on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Yes but you have to load your completed book to KDP before you can list it as for pre-order. So if it's written why not just publish it?


Yes but if you're the kind of writer that likes to procrastinate setting a future date to release your book help spur you along to completion. Call it a personal dead-line.

Jill James said...

I like preorders to have a firm date for my personal deadline and to arrange promo at the right time. But, I did a preorder this time at a higher price than 99¢ and it bombed. In my genre (romance) and my market (me) obviously 99 cents for a preorder sale is probably better.

Daniel Barnett said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks, as always, for sharing your experiences and observations. Over on Hugh Howey's most recent blog post, someone asked him what he would do if he were starting over completely today, without anything published or a fan base. His response was that he would write one short story a week for a year, and at the end of the year, he would make every story he really liked available for KU and publish all the stories he kind of liked on his blog, for free. Then he would see what stories gained traction and expand those into novels.

I was curious what you thought of that (especially since you primarily write thrillers and horror as opposed to sci-fi, and the readership of those genres varies to some degree), and what you personally would do in the same scenario.

Thanks again for everything.

bettye griffin said...

For me, pre-ordering isn't so much about the sales as it is about, well, keeping order. I like being able to know my book will be available on such-and-such a date. I like creating ads that list a definitive pub date. I also like knowing that the book will be available on said date without me having to upload it and hope it goes through. I've had books launch when I was out of the country!

I largely promote the pre-order only to my mailing list, because I like being able to offer my devoted readers a discount, as the pre-order price is usually $2.99. I announce the availability to the general public on release day and raise the price the day after release. I personally hate it when a book I paid full price for goes on sale after two months.

I don't believe in added stress, so my book is 98% ready when I put it in for pre-order. If I could write faster, I'd stockpile manuscripts and release a new title every 60 days. What the heck, movies are in the can long before they hit the big screen...

Joe Konrath said...

he would do if he were starting over completely today

Does that include already having a firm knowledge of craft?

If I knew what I was doing (and knew what I know now) I'd start a mystery or thriller series. No short stories--I don't find they sell nearly as well as novels, and I think it would be tough building a fanbase with shorts.

Crowdsourcing is a good idea, but you need to feed them a meal, not an appetizer, to learn if they really want to eat at your place on a regular basis.

Daniel Barnett said...

Thanks for your response, Joe. It wasn't explicitly stated, but I believe a knowledge of the craft was implied in Hugh's post.

Here it is in full.

"If I was starting out from scratch right now, I’d concentrate on writing short fiction until I gained traction. I’d attempt the Ben Adams School of Art. Ben started completing a drawing a day quite a few years ago, and this routine honed his skills and created a helluva portfolio. I’d aim for a completed short story every week for a year. I’d publish the ones I really loved to Amazon in the KU program, and I’d put the ones I merely liked up on a blog, and I’d also make time to write about the writing process, all the ups and downs.

That’s what I would do from a cold start right now. If any of the shorts gained traction, I would expand into a novel. In a lot of ways, this is the method SF writers used for decades. It’s even more powerful now, as the shorts are salable and never go out of print.

The way to attract readers and reviews is to knock their socks off. Easier said than done, but everything else you might try is a waste of time."

This definitely had me thinking (I published my third novel in June, and I'm at a bit of a crossroads deciding what comes next. I've got the framework for a sci-fi adventure/horror trilogy that will have the potential for a bunch of standalones some time down the road, and I'm excited about jumping on it ... it's just going to be a while before I publish again if I take on the project now), but like you I feel as though it might be hard to build a fanbase through short stories, at least in certain genres. Shorts just don't seem to attract readers the same way novels do, though admittedly I've never published a large amount of them at once to see if that makes a difference.

I also think Hugh's stories lend themselves really well to expansions (after all, Wool started out as a short).

Nat Russo said...

Short fiction is a tough sell, even for an existing fanbase. Most of the authors I know who are successful at the short fiction game are of the same opinion: write enough stories to place in a collection, then publish the collection.

I'm not even convinced writing a lot of short fiction will necessarily help a writer's novel-writing skills, because they're entirely different mediums with different requirements and base-level skill sets.

B. V. Larson said...

Hello Joe,
Long-time no-post from me, but you asked for numbers/details. I've seen similar results to yours in regards to preorders in numerical performance, and I've come to the same conclusions.

The way I see it is we have our fans, and our "new-fans". Fans are our regular customers, critical in every way. But our new customers are also critical as they represent many more possible sales. New blood can potentially work their way thru not one book, but forty+ in my case. If a title can get high up enough on the charts for a few weeks, I get noticed by more new people.

For me, that's why preorders don't work. They dilute the peak effect and land me fewer new customers. (For others reading this, note that my points mostly affect people who are established rather than those just starting out.)

Scott Gordon said...

Crowdsourcing is a good idea, but you need to feed them a meal, not an appetizer, to learn if they really want to eat at your place on a regular basis.

Would 50,000 words be too light a meal? Or should that meal be around 75,000 - 100,000?

Rex Kusler said...


Marian Green said...

Lots of information to take in...and I'm just trying to find my way with my blog


Marian Green said...

Lots of information to take in...and I'm just trying to find my way with my blog


Iain Rob Wright said...

Hi Joe - I'm having trouble getting a hold of you via email again :-)


Iain Rob Wright

JE Hunter said...

Hi! Nice Post! I've always thought about trying preorders, but now that I've read your bit about the marketing, I don't think it's something I want to do. I like to concentrate on the big push, and I don't want to wear people out. Thanks for the advice.