Have you launched a book and found it difficult to sell copies? Maybe you tried paid advertising and lost money, or posted about your new book on social media, but heard crickets? If so, it could be time to rethink your launch strategy.

Many traditionally published authors include a 2-3 month pre-order phase. Selling copies to readers before the book comes out generates anticipation and excitement.

I work with clients who want to get their books on the NY Times and other bestseller lists. I tell my clients to promote their book before publication to sell as many copies as possible in advance.

Indie authors can apply this approach too. If done well, the pre-order phase sets a solid foundation of book sales leading into your launch week.

What is a pre-order campaign?book pre-orders

A pre-order is a sale before the book is available. You are asking readers to buy your book early and trust that you will deliver the goods.

Traditional publishers create an Amazon pre-order page months in advance.

Indie authors–you can also list your book as a pre-order on Amazon. You upload the cover, book description, and a manuscript. Note that your manuscript doesn’t have to be final until closer to the publication date, giving you time to make the finishing touches.

You must choose a release date with Amazon (up to 90 days in advance), so be sure the publication date is one you can hit. If you miss it, Amazon will block you from doing pre-orders for one year.

Pre-orders will count toward your Amazon sales rank. You’ll find the KDP pre-order page here.

You are asking the reader to buy something they won’t be receiving for weeks, even months. This is easier for authors whose books are highly anticipated (think George RR Martin’s next Game of Thrones book).

For those of us who are lesser known, how can we sweeten the deal for readers and make it enticing to pre-order? The solution that works for many authors is to bundle your book sale with other valuable content.

If you have a large online platform, consider selling the book as a pre-order directly on your website. You’ll need an e-commerce tool to capture direct sales and a way to distribute the books. For paperback or hardcover books, you’ll need to capture the shipping address at the time of purchase. Then, work with a third party to ship the books to customers. Be sure to factor in taxes and the cost of shipping each book when you determine your sales price.

Pricing is up to you, and you may need to experiment until you find what works. While some authors ask for the publisher’s full retail price, others give away the book for the price of shipping. I’ve seen all kinds of approaches and what works depends on the author and his or her specific goals.

On Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you control the price. If you want to drive a high volume of pre-orders, you could price at 99 cents. When bundling free books, consider pricing higher and letting readers know the total value they are receiving is greater (e.g., Receive $15.99 in free books for only $2.99).

book pre-orders

How does a pre-order campaign work?

Send your readers to a book landing page that describes the book and the many bonuses for ordering early. Capture the orders, then have the books shipped (work with third parties) or distribute copies another way.

There are many ways to get readers to your landing page: email campaigns, social media, guest blogs, affiliate campaigns, advertising, and more.

Landing Page

Authors need a website landing page where readers can learn about and buy the book. Here are the components of a successful book landing page:

  • Clean, simple design with a title that lets the reader know that the page is about your book.

  • A professional 3-D image of the book at the top of the page with the author’s photo or a designed banner.

  • A few bullets of copy that signal the benefits to readers.

  • How readers can order the book (a call-to-action button works best).

  • A video if you have one—a trailer or video of the author greeting the reader and describing the book.

  • A description of the bonuses the reader will receive for pre-ordering. Include the dollar value of each item and the total value of everything. Each bonus should have a small 3D graphic to represent what it is—ebook, webinar, course, etc.

  • Another call-to-action button below the bonuses.

  • Sales copy describing the problem the book solves, benefits to the reader, or the promise of what they will discover (fiction).

  • Endorsements from other influential authors (quotes with high-res photos).

  • Testimonials from other readers (if applicable).

  • An author bio.

  • A final call-to-action button at the bottom of the page.

If this sounds like it’s going to be a long page, that’s okay. Most buyers are fine with scrolling for more information.

It’s important to emphasize the bonuses as this will hopefully bring about a sale.

For indies, you don’t have to deal with shipping books which can be complex. Use Amazon as your distributor. You still need a book landing page with the bonus content that people will get with their pre-order.

Show the process as two steps:

Step 1 – Provide a link to your Amazon pre-order page and ask readers first to buy, then come back to your landing page.

Step 2 – Create an opt-in email form that captures name, email, and receipt number of their book sale.

Set up an email autoresponder that delivers the bonus content automatically. It’s up to you whether you want to validate receipt numbers. I advise against spending effort this way. Trust that 99% of your readers will do the right thing.

book pre-ordersFor both traditionally published authors and indies who are handling physical books, an important question to answer early on is whether you will ship books outside the U.S. Make a decision early on. Shipping to international locations is pricey ($12-$30 per book), and customers get frustrated because it can take 3 to 6 weeks for books to arrive.

I wish there were an easier solution to ship globally, but my experience was that the few international customers end up having delivery issues. It’s the 20% that’s not worth your time.

I recommend you state clearly on your landing page that the book is shipping in the U.S. only, AND that they can still order from Amazon and get their book bonuses! Use the two-step landing page that I described above.

What book bonuses should you use?

Bonus content can be anything that you can deliver digitally. Do you have old content that you can reuse? Even blog postings can be packaged into e-book format.

For the launch of my book, Creating Space to Thrive, I bundled four short manuscripts that I had written as free reader content. I also included a companion workbook (easy to create in under an hour), and I offered a contest. The winner received an Amazon Echo Dot ($50). You can see what remains of the landing page I built here.

Get creative. There’s so much that you can use as bonus content. It only takes a few hours to create a journal or an author Q&A. Creating bonus content for fiction can be fun. Consider character sketches or behind-the-scenes journal entries of one of your supporting characters.

The reader who won my contest was delighted. Holding a contest is fun, and I plan to host more in the future. Other contest ideas: a Skype coaching session with you, tee-shirt, free course, or an exclusive webinar for up to 10 winners.

Pro Tip

I love Book Funnel for uploading books and sharing with my readers.  It’s cheap—the software starts at $20/year. You can store up to 5 books and have up to 500 downloads.

You create a landing page for each book and your readers download the book to the device of their choice whether Kindle, tablet, iPad, or desktop.

It’s a genius tool that every author should include use to deliver books and bonus content. You can also use Book Funnel to send Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

I hope you try a pre-order. It’s not complicated and can generate pre-launch buzz.

What are your thoughts and questions about pre-orders? Add a comment below.