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Should You Do a Pre-Order to Market Your Self-Published Book?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Find out a few of the advantages and disadvantages of offering a pre-order.

Find out a few of the advantages and disadvantages of offering a pre-order.

Book Marketing Tips: Are Pre-Orders Worth It?

A common book marketing suggestion is to set up a pre-order offer for a soon-to-be-published book or eBook. It can be relatively easy to do with a self-publishing platform such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). In fact, KDP asks you if you want to do a pre-order price during the setup process. (Check your self-publishing platform for availability and details.)

But is doing a pre-order right for your self-published book? Here's what to consider.

What Is a Book Pre-Order, Anyway?

When a self-publishing platform allows a pre-order, orders for your book can be collected, paid, and processed as they are received before the official publication date. Then when the book publishes, the books or eBooks are delivered to buyers.

Often, though not required, the pre-order book price is lower than the retail price that will be charged when it is officially available. This pricing strategy can help build sales momentum and reviews for the new book. Because a book is a unique offering, these discounts are not meant to encourage buyers to choose between competing products as one might expect with, say, toothpaste. Rather, they are offered as an incentive for existing and potential readers and fans.

Why Do a Book Pre-Order Campaign?

As just discussed, a book pre-order offer can help build immediate sales, even before the book hits the market. Additionally, a pre-order offer can:

  • Help quickly recoup the front-loaded initial investment in producing, marketing, and distributing a new front-list title.
  • Allow authors and publishers the opportunity to start marketing the book earlier since the production and distribution process can take a long time.
  • Self-published authors can determine how many print books to order based on pre-order interest.
  • Create excitement and anticipation for a hot title that can attract media attention and social media buzz.

Setting up a Pre-Order on KDP

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to easily set up a pre-order for your Kindle eBook. As of this writing, pre-orders are not available for print paperback books through KDP. Also, as of this writing, you can set up a release date up to one year in the future.

When you set up your pre-order, you upload the final version of your manuscript. However, you can upload edited versions of the manuscript prior to the official release date. But the version you first upload should be complete and ready for delivery. See KDP's support documentation for current procedures.

Advantages to a Pre-Order for Self-Published Books May Be Thin

While, as just discussed, there are benefits to doing a pre-order offer for self-published books, these advantages may be minimal. Here's why:

  1. Self-published titles may have small, niche audiences. If the bulk of this audience takes advantage of a discounted pre-order offer, it can lower total sales revenues and/or royalties for the book.
  2. Since some self-publishing platforms and services have minimal cost (sometimes even free!), there is little investment to recoup. So if a discount is offered for pre-orders, this would also lower total sales and royalties.
  3. In addition to decreased cost these days, the time to market for self-published books has decreased, too, with the advent of print on demand (POD) and eBooks. Have the manuscript done? On some platforms, it can be published within as little as a week, sometimes within mere hours. So the need to create interest and orders while the book goes through the publishing and production process—as can be the case even today for traditional publishing—is just not there.
  4. Another time issue deals with the author himself. Once a pre-order is launched, people will expect the finished book to be available within a reasonable amount of time. So if the author is still writing the work, this can increase time pressure and may result in lower quality writing, editing, and proofreading just to meet an availability deadline.
  5. We're living in the age of instant gratification! Delayed gratification can mean decreased interest. Plus, not all potential readers who see the pre-order offer will jump at it. They'll reason that it won't be available for a while and figure they'll get it when it's published, resulting in lost sales if a continuous promotion is not done. This increases marketing costs.
  6. There may be little pent-up demand for niche, self-published publications (as there would be for books by celebrity authors), especially if the author does not have an existing author platform or fan base. Merely offering a book via pre-order (discounted or not) will not immediately and automatically create an audience or media coverage if no one really cares.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How much money could you make during pre-sales?

Answer: I would say that for most self-published books, the pre-sales numbers might be very low unless you have a massive amount of fans and followers. Pre-sales offers are usually successfully used for highly anticipated, traditionally published books (e.g., Harry Potter). The reason they use pre-sales is to help determine how big of a print run they need to do. I hope that helps you make a decision on your book!

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 13, 2016:

Hi Lawrence! I don't think many of us have a throng of raving fans turning rabid for our next book. :) So, like you, I'll also keep on keeping on. Thanks for chiming in and have a wonderful day!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 11, 2016:


I reckon if I had a couple of thousand eager fans it might be worthwhile, until that time I'll keep 'plodding on'

Thanks for the information.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 09, 2016:

Flourish, interesting that you have never considered pre-ordering a self published book. I think that illustrates my point precisely! Thanks for adding that "customer" viewpoint to the conversation. Have a delightful weekend ahead!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 09, 2016:

Very good run-down of the pros and cons. I have pre-ordered on "regular" books but never considered pre-ordering a self-published book; not sure I would do it on either side as an author or reader.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 08, 2016:

Billybuc, I've never done it either, but have seen a number of authors friends do it. As I wrangled with the idea for a book I just published, I put myself through this thought process. Thus, the inspiration for this hub. Glad to see I'm not alone on the pre-order issue. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and adding your experience to the conversation! You enjoy the rest of your week, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 07, 2016:

I've never done it. Probably never will. But I really appreciate the in-depth analysis of it. Thanks, Heidi! Have a great remainder of the week.