How to set your book for presale on iBooks, Kindle and Smashwords (and why you should)

IMG_4033Tonight I had a chance to sit down with Mark Coker of Smashwords, and he convinced me to put the books I’m working on for sale as preorders.

Although I’ve heard Mark talk about preorders before, I wasn’t planning on using preorders as part of my marketing plan. This article is about what changed my mind, why preorders might be a smart book marketing move (especially for new authors), and how to actually set them up.

Why use preorders?

The main benefit to using preorders, as Mark explains it, is because all those orders will count on the same day, leading to a spike in rankings that will boost sales and is great for launch. It’s easier to get those sales spread out, while you’re working on your novel, than remind everyone to buy it on launch day.

But that only works on Apple iBooks and some of the other stores; not on Kindle. Kindle also has a preorder setting, but all the sales count on the day of purchase, not on launch day.

Since I was planning on using my normal launch strategy — free, then 99cents, then maybe higher (unless it’s a series) — I planned to publish only on Kindle. I was going to use KDP Select, because I do think it gives a little boost over the regular Kindle. And if you have a list, it’s easier to send your list and traffic to one page, and drive up the sales rank higher than it would go if you split sales between multiple ebook retailers. Since I’m focused on building a pre-launch email list already, I’d prefer people sign up to my list, rather than preorder, so they can support the launch and leave reviews.

However, since I plan on serializing the books and making the first chunk permafree, I don’t really need to be in KDP select anyway: I can just set them to free when I want, and put them up to 99cents when I want, instead of worrying about KDP select.

Mark helped me realize that there were other benefits to putting your books up on Smashwords for preorder, including pre-launch visibility.

The benefits of putting your books up for preorder

I still plan on building my list, and sending my list straight to Amazon (probably, but maybe iBooks as well). And I don’t really plan on sending them to buy a book that’s listed as presale, because I’d rather just get them on my email list. And, if you set your book up for preorder, it has to be set for 99cents, even if you put it down to free after you publish.

The reason I’m doing it anyway is for extra visibility. If I list my books on Smashwords, my books will show up on Kobo and iBooks while I’m still writing them; and according to Mark, you can set them up a year in advance.

So while you’re writing your book, you can be getting free and extra visibility. Those people might not buy your book or remember you, but they’re still more viewers than you’d have gotten anyway. It’s like putting a big “coming soon” billboard; even when it’s just an empty lot, you can still tell readers what you’re working on.

Of course if you have a really big list, you can skip “free” and just price it at 99cents, use a list to sell a couple thousand and hit #1 in your category, and then boost it to 3.99 (optimal price point). But that’s if you have a list.

Without a list, you have to put out some content for free, to prove to readers that you can write. Mark says, on average, free outsells 99 cents by 40 to 1.

That means, for every thousand readers you’d get at 99 cents, you’d get 40,000 readers if you gave it away. I’m hoping to get 100,000 free downloads on each book that I launch, and 100+ reviews in the first month. (Not hoping: planning).

Incidentally, I’ve been banned from preorders on Kindle for the last year, because I wasn’t able to upload the final file in time (10 days before the publishing date). In Smashwords, it’s the same, but it’s easy to change the date if you’re behind, and as far as I understand it, if you miss the date Smashwords will automatically just set your publishing date back one week on all retailers (awesome).

Tests coming soon

I’m going to be publishing lots of fiction, so I can test everything. I’ll have some books at Smashwords, some on Kindle Select, some on pre-order, of different lengths and prices… Once I publish I’ll start posting case studies with figures. I’m also building my list to 10K with giveaways before I publish anything, and hope to get it to 100K before I publish my first full length novel.

Serializing fiction

EDIT: all of my books were rejected by Smashwords, because they only publish complete stories, which means serialization is out. Since I plan to serialize, Smashwords won’t be part of my publishing strategy.

I should mention that my major marketing plan is serialization: publishing each book in chunks instead of one series of complete novels. The main reason is because I can publish more content, faster, I can test stories and see what’s successful before writing the whole thing, and I can be building my email list as I’m working on the book.

Mark’s hesitant about this strategy, probably because a lot of Smashwords authors publish short stories or incomplete stories, and readers get upset.

Mine will all say, in the description and preface, that it’s only the first act of a whole book, not the complete story, but each first chunk will be at least 25K, so they should be enough to hook readers. Also, in the back of each I get them to sign up to my email list to get the rest of the book for free. Done this way, I don’t think I’ll get negative reviews: I explain I’m not doing it to take advantage of readers; I’m doing it because I’m trying to find cheaper ways to get my books out to them.

If you want to check out how I’ve set up my Smashwords page, it’s here.

PS) Here are the books I’ll put up for pre-order soon. I plan to publish the first 25K of 10 different books/series, then focus on developing the ones that sell strongest. I’ll also put them on Wattpad, and most of them will be made permafree as I grow my list. When I finish the whole book, I’ll publish the print version and do a more focused book launch.


About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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