This week, the founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, has some advice for authors looking to get the most out of their marketing with preorders!

In last week’s episode of Self Publishing Insiders, I joined a distinguished panel of indie oracles – Orna Ross, Joana Penn, Jane Friedman and Dale Roberts – to share 2024 predictions and advice on how to make the most of the year as an author. We, of course, reviewed 2023’s hot topics such as artificial intelligence, direct sales, challenges with Amazon Ads, and regulatory lawsuits that will impact the industry for years to come. Check it out if you missed it.

At the end of the panel, our able host Jim Azevedo asked panelists for recommendations on where indies can focus their attention for the greatest opportunities in 2024. One area I recommended authors can focus their attention in 2024 is ebook preorders.

Trust the Numbers

As veteran indie authors may remember, for many years at Smashwords I produced the annual Smashwords Survey. These surveys looked at aggregated ebook sales data from across multiple ebook retailers and library platforms. This data helped to identify actionable, quantitative insights into reader preferences about pricing, word counts, series, free series starters, box sets, hot genres, and preorders.

When we last reported our preorder data in 2017, we found that only 12% of indie authors listed their new releases first as preorders, yet that small minority of books earned 61of the top 100 bestseller slots. For years, we’ve long known that ebooks released as preorders sell better.

Ahead of the SPI episode, I was curious to learn how the preorder numbers had changed over the last five years. Since I didn’t want to spend a full week data crunching, as I used to do with the full report in prior years, I asked former Smashwords CTO Bill Kendrick—the data maestro for all things Smashwords and current senior developer now at Draft2Digital—to perform an update on a narrow slice of the preorder data.

I asked him to look at all new books released by Smashwords authors between January 1, 2023 and June 30, 2023.

The two questions we want to know from our preorder data:

1. What percent of the books were released as preorders, and what percent were simply uploaded the day of release?

2. Do preorder books earn more money for authors? We looked at the full 2023 per-title sales of each of those titles released during the first six months of the year, and compared how the sales of those first listed as preorders compared to those simply uploaded the day of the release.

The findings for question #1 and question #2 above were at once shockingly disappointing, but also shockingly exciting.

First the disappointing finding. Authors only released 16% of their new titles as preorders, despite preorders being a long-acknowledged evergreen best practice for indie authors and traditional publishers alike.

This means that about 85% of today’s indie authors are missing out on a completely free book launch catalyst that’s proven to help authors reach more readers. If you are one of the many authors rightfully concerned about how to make your book stand out amid the glut of high-quality low-cost ebook titles, this is one of easiest ways to give your book an advantage!

This brings me to the exciting finding. Of the 16% of new books released as preorders, those books earned over five times as much in sales income on average during the full year of 2023 compared to titles that authors uploaded on the day of release.

Why do readers love preorders so much?

Preorders allow readers to learn about and reserve a copy of your upcoming book. Preorders enable more effective advance marketing of your book, giving you up to 12 months of additional shelf time. That makes it easier for readers to discover your book before it releases.

A reader’s favorite author just mentioned an exciting work-in-progress on Facebook that comes out in six months? If the author shares a hyperlink to the preorder, the reader can reserve a copy now! Congratulations; you just secured a sale at the exact moment the author has the reader’s greatest interest and attention.

Bottom line: a preorder is an essential book launch habit of bestselling authors and publishers.

If you’re a D2D Print author, you can even take advantage of preorders for your paperbacks up to 12 months ahead of your release date!

If you’re new to preorders, or you want to brush up on your preorder strategies, check out episode four of my Smart Author Podcast!