Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amazon's Pre-order Option - making the most of it

Is it really 3 months since amazon opened the pre-order option to Indie writers? 3 months since I was excited enough to blog about it? 'One Sixth of a Gill' was duly published on November 1st and in the afterglow of post-publication, did pre-ordering add to the fireworks? Is it a good idea? 

To pre-order or not to pre-order

My tips:-

-2. Get editorial reviews (positive quotes and permission to use them) from readers who like the book and, preferably, have some status either to do with the subject or the book world.

-1. Approach professional bloggers/reviewers who often require months' notice pre-publication. (e.g. Foreword - 2 months in advance to even be considered for a free review) Use your editorial quotes in your formal request for review. You can still get professional reviews at a later stage; the going rate is $80-$400. Yes, this world is so crazy you can pay $400 for a 450 word review - more than most authors ever make for writing a novel. Yes, I think that is outrageous.

1. You need a near-finished version of the final ebook and your polished, perfect jacket. You can change both before D-Day but your cover is your book's image, literally, so changing it is not a good idea. Amazon requires proof of life in the form of an ebook file that is a book-to-be, if not the final edit, or it won't be accepted for pre-order. I don't know whether anyone has had a book rejected but I wouldn't risk it. 

If you do upload a new book jacket you must re-click on pre-order (2nd page) not save as draft or the new jacket won't appear. Whenever you re-click on pre-order the project is locked for 24 hours and 5 days before D-Day the whole project is locked, full stop, in launch position and no change possible.

2. Set your publication date. I liked having a date to focus my marketing and it made the online party planning easier. My goodreads giveaway finished on 1st November; my facebook launch was on 1st November; reviewers of advance copies were asked to post on or after 1st November. Your book needs to be uploaded in its final version a week before publication date or amazon gets cross and withdraws pre-order rights for a year. Apparently, the same applies if you try to play games with the publication date to up your rank by combining pre-orders with launch-day sales; I don't play games so I don't know.

My big problem with the publication date was with the print book. I could not control this exactly in the same way so I published it ahead of e-book D-Day. This highlighted all kinds of interesting consequences (see below)

To decide on a date make sure a) you'll have the book in its final state and b) you'll have completed all the buzz build-up you planned - make a list backwards from D-Day.

3. Your pre-order book gets its amazon page. Great! You can - and should - put editorial reviews and link to your amazon author page. Make it look good because this is a reader's first impression of your book. You can use the page to approach bloggers and reviewers but they are more likely to read (and review) your book if they read reviews on your page. Yes, the dreaded catch 22 - hence the -1. stage in planning - get some review comments first, even before pre-publicity.


Look at your page as if you don't know it. Let's assume you have a great jacket and blurb, and that genre is obvious. Many readers like to 'Look inside' - stop there. No 'Look Inside' until publication date. Great blurb - no, wait. It looks awful. It has lost all formatting so there's no spacing, no italics/bold and the main bit of your blurb drops below 'Read more' so if readers can't be bothered to click on it they've missed your irresistible hook.

Go to amazon author central on .com and re-format so your description looks good, so your editorial quotes look good, so your author comment looks and so your dog looks good! You get the idea. Then, with a large pillow to hand, go to It all looks completely different. Either cry into or bash your head against the pillow (depending on temperament) then adjust via author central - again. The changes there feed into but not vice versa. I once spent happy hours creating a new author page on (as I live in France) to discover that I'd created my twin - another me, with the same name. It took me many anguished emails in franglais to murder the evil twin. Be warned!

One really good feature on the book page was the row of books along the bottom with amazon's 'readers who viewed this item also viewed...' Not only did it pretty up the page but it gave me an early indiaction as to where my book fitted into amazon's categories. Speaking of which, I had time to contact amazon and get the book into the right categories before D-Day.

4. What about the print book? I used Create Space this time and wanted to bring out the print book on 1st November. Neat! Er, no. Impossible, more like! Amazon does not allow mere Indies to have a pre-order facility for print books, even via create Space. Bad show, amazon! There is a workaround using Amazon Advantage but my brain had more than enough to worry about so I passed on that. As soon as I read that there had been a hic on timing and delivery, I thought, 'Nope.'

So I brought the book out a bit early but didn't publicise the fact, except to a couple of early reviewers. I asked amazon to link paperback with ebook and hey presto! the pre-order ebook now had reviews showing (otherwise not possible until publication date). Also, the ebook now had a 'Look Inside' facility - showing the print interior until the ebook was live. Useful!

If amazon doesn't review its policy re pre-order for print books from Indies and/or posting of reviews on Indie pre-order books (both option are available to the big publishers, who are happily using amazon's ring-fenced Vine review system to get advance reviews on pre-order pages) then I would seriously look at publishing the print book first to get all the material I want on the ebook page.

5. Party all-day! The facebook launch party on my author page was a great success and there are still stragglers lying around, drunk and happy :) Gatecrash and take a look if you want to see what a real party looks like. I loved the way amazon released the ebook at midnight in each different amazon time zone - it was like New Year's Eve (but then I had overdone the champagne). To see so many people drop by was fun. 

I feel a bit foolish as there are so many clever, bestselling Indie writers out there crunching numbers and giving advice on how to work the system but perhaps my bumbling methods can offer a different viewpoint. The pre-order option organised my lead-up to publication and I think that's important. and I have definitely had a boost to sales of all my books in the last couple of weeks. 

It usually takes me two or three years to write a book. 'One Sixth of a Gill' simmered over many years.That is the kind of writer I am and the kind of book I write, so any marketing techniques will have to fit my workflow, not the other way around. I'm never going to take advice like 'write a book every 90 days' but if you do, there are further tips in two excellent blogs, which will suit you.

If you want an analysis of pre-order's impact on ratings and ranks, Angela Quarles is much better at all of that than I am; here's her clear report on using amazon pre-order for a debut author. Another helpful blog on the subject, especially if you write books a lot more quickly than I do, is Susan Kaye Quinn's. Susan also has a neat way of gaming the system re print books - and in this case, I'm not against gaming!

As for me, I'm off back to the 12th century...

am writing


  1. Jean, thanks so much for this. I'm in the midst of trying to figure out what I need to do prior to a release tentatively scheduled for January. You answered my questions about whether to bring te print book out first to get the review capability. For some reason, my publicist says the ebook and print version should be released on the same date, but it appears difficult to achieve. How much earlier did you bring out the print version? Also wondering... did you use the free CreateSpace and Kindle ISBNs, or did you purchase your own?

  2. Hi Karla. I was intending to bring the print book out at the same time but it was so difficult to co-ordinate that I brought the book out a week early. If you use Create Space the book appears on amazon lightning-fast - within 24hrs on but slower on the other amazons. However, the full details you've put in don't all show up straight away and I don't want readers to see a half-cocked job so it takes about 5 days after you've clicked 'publish' for the book page to be ready to show off. I clicked 'publish' a week before D-Day for the ebook - that's as close as I'd run it to bring them both out 'at the same time' - unless you work the system as Susan Quin suggests. I'd worry about that not working and I don't like to let readers down.

    There are advantages in bringing the print book out much earlier - you get the reviews in place and a nice looking page on your ebook pre-order - but you lose some of the 'Publication Day' freshness.

    If you use Create Space ISBN you get an extra distribution channel - libraries. I've used lulu ISBN before without any problem but if you're hoping to sell a lot of print books then it's nice to publish under your own imprint and have your own ISBN. I 'purchased' 10 ISBNs but as I live in France ISBNs are free - hooray! ISBNs are country specific (but you can live in any country and use Create Space or lulu free ISBNs. I don't find any practical difference so, as a self-publisher, it depends how you feel about putting an imprint name on your book. I'm happy to self-publish and for everyone to know but I think the imprint logo is cute :)

    For ebooks, I use amazon's ASIN and for my non-exclusive books I publish via smashwords and get their free ISBN - very useful. I don't sell as many books via smashwords but they have some nice features and I like to support them.

    Hope that helps!

    1. This is great info, Jean! You have cleared up all my questions in one fell swoop. I now can put my schedule together and proceed. If it hadn't been for other authors blogging their experiences with the pre-order function, I would have been so lost. So it really is appreciated. :)

  3. You're welcome! Good luck with your book!

  4. Had the same experience with the print book, although they ended up being only a day apart, so it wasn't too bad. Rather disappointing that Amazon hasn't figured out how to make that option available to indie authors, although I suspect (hope) that it (someday) will be.

    1. Lori, I think Amazon is deliberately reserving that option for bigger publishers as part of the carrot/stick it is playing in their contracts. Amazon only opened pre-order to Indies as a punishment to the big publishers in the fall-out from the Hachette wars.

      There are many privileges that are not yet open to Indies (e.g. access to Vine Reviewers, pre-order reviews..) but each time Amazon gets annoyed with a trad publisher and flexes its corporate muscle, we get allowed in to another feature - here's hoping!

  5. This is very helpful stuff. Don't worry about the lack of number crunching-I prefer this approach. I'll keep it in my mind as my own launch approaches.