Chip MacGregor

June 18, 2013

Should I try to pre-sell my book on Amazon?


Someone wrote to say, “While perusing Amazon yesterday, I filtered my search by ‘date published’ and noticed several pages of books listed for pre-orders due out in late ’13 or early ’14. Is this a sales strategy? Is it common? Is it effective? And how far out is realistic to get a worthwhile response?”

The practice of directing friend and readers to pre-order your book on Amazon has been popular for several years now. Yes, it’s a sales strategy, and yes, it has become more popular for the savvy author. Here’s why: If you push everyone you know to pre-order your upcoming book, all those orders go into effect THE DAY OF RELEASE. So if you’ve done a lot of groundwork, and really convinced a lot of folks to pre-order your book, then on that first day it looks like a lot of people logged on and ordered your book. The book gets noticed, your title shoots up near the top of the Amazon rankings, and you hope to get some great word-of-mouth buzz going. Maybe it gets some momentum that gets it noticed by other reviewers and readers. The rankings on Amazon are all comparative — that is, the Amazon system is constantly monitoring sales velocity, so if a bunch of orders are triggered at once, it suddenly causes your book to look like a bestseller, even if it’s just briefly.

As for the effectiveness of this system, it seems to work best for authors who really beat the bushes and convince people to pre-order a book (not an easy thing to do in these days of instant gratification). Store orders are great, but a sudden hit of 2000 books on its release day can really grab the attention of people (and of your publisher).

You asked for how far in advance to do this… a tougher question. I see some bestselling authors working as much as six months out, but my guess is that most authors will find this effective in the last couple of months before the book officially releases. In fact, getting people to order in the last 30 days within the book’s release might be your best strategy.

Before signing off for the day, it seems like there’s been too much tragedy in the world lately — the news about good buddy Lee Hough (in my most recent blog post) just adds to the pile. So, if you don’t mind a bit of cheerful news, the fabulous novelist Ginger Garrett sent me something I wanted to share with everyone. First, she received an email from a young fan, who said:

Dear Ginger Garrett,

You are my very favorite author there is. When I read your first book, Dark Hour, it help me get in to all of the books. I loved this book. I was so looking forward to read the second one, I hope it comes out soon. You are a very talented author. Your also my inspiration… You made me want to be an author. I hope and pray one day I’ll be just as good as you are. I thank God for blessing me with this book. I hope to hear from you soon. 

So Ginger wrote back, thanked her, explained that Books 2 and 3 in the series are out (Reign and Desired), and offered to drop a copy of each in the mail to her. And that prompted her young fan to write back with this:

I wonder Miss Garrett if I may bother u once more. I was just think I read Dark Hour, Desired, have both of your Chronicles of the Scribe and Wolves Among Us, and I was just wondering which book is your most favorite. I loved all of them they each taught me a liston, but I can not figure out which one I loved the most. Your really good with bringing your characters alive. Do you know which book is your favorite book you ever written? I believe Dark Hour may be mine. I read it almost three times and cryed each time I read it. Thanks again Miss Garrett God bless you!!! You have became my new very best friend:)))) Love, your greatest fan. 

As Ginger said to me, “Sometimes we get so used to seeing the reviews and the business stuff in publishing, it’s just fun to hear from a young reader who loves the story.” I agree. Grins all around. Thanks for allowing me to share this, Ginger.

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  • Neesha Mirchandani says:

    I’m releasing a biographical memoir about a humanitarian-peacemaker who is well known in India but not known in the US. The new edition has a foreword written by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. How would you approach my amazon launch? I own the rights, but I haven’t done anything with them because I have been struggling with this question of how to market a book about someone with universal appeal and wisdom, but no awareness yet. Welcome any ideas/feedback! Thank you so much for this blog and this discussion…

  • Paul Gibbons says:

    It certainly seems true today that Amazon ranks books on the date ordered. Mine fluctuates up and down the rankings a full 120 days out. So perhaps things have change. Pre-orders can nudge books up the page rank, and that is worth sales, notice, reviewers, and all the other goodies – fwiw, I’m going to ask my friend to pile in the fortnight before release. But Amazon are wise to gaming the system I think,

  • I don’t think this is a good strategy if you are trying to hit the bestsellers lists.

    The reason is that you need as many sales as possible concentrated into a single week, since the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today) count sales for the week and then assign a rank based on books sold for that period.

    Unless there is a hard “street date” (very rare), Amazon releases the book when it has inventory in its warehouse ready to ship. This could be 1-3 weeks ahead of your scheduled pub date. This means that Amazon’s sales fall into one period and sales at other outlets fall into another. Not good.

    This is why I did just the opposite with my book, Platform, of what you are recommending here. I encouraged my followers NOT to buy the book until “launch week” and promised to reward them if they waited. (I gave away a bunch of bonuses.) I documented the process here.

    I only had 47 pre-orders on Amazon before Launch week. However, I had more than 10,000 orders that first week—from Amazon on a variety of other outlets. I know this because people had to e-mail me their receipt (from any outlet) to qualify for the bonuses.

    Amazon pre-orders might be a strategy for getting the attention of other retailers before publication, but you pretty much have to sacrifice a shot at the bestsellers list to do so. That’s fine as long as you understand the strategy and the consequences. Thanks.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      As usual, I can count on Michael Hyatt to offer a unique and wise perspective. Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate you joining the conversation and explaining why you did what you did. Your argument is convincing. (And for those not in the know, Mike is the author of Platform, which I’ve already told you is fabulous and should be on your Nook or Kindle already if you’re an author.) You can discover more at

    • Thanks, Chip. I so appreciate your blog and all you do to help authors.

  • Iola Goulton says:

    I’ve noticed a number of examples where the pre-order price was cheaper, giving readers an incentive to pre-order. For example, JK Rowling’s latest was $9.99 for a couple of weeks before release, then jumped to $17.99 on release date, and I’ve seen a few Christian novels for $2.99, then $9.99 after release.

  • It’s notes like the one Ginger got that inspire us to keep writing, to keep trying. Thanks for sharing.

    • :Donna Marie says:

      Cheryl, I’m not published yet, nor do I have an agent yet, but I hope to be, of course. To me, this is what I would live for as an author 🙂

    • Ginger Garrett says:

      Cheryl, you’re right. It’s so moving when people take time to say something kind.

  • David Rozansky says:

    I can’t let this go without a comment. Amazon ranks books by the time they are ordered. Thus, pre-publication sales rank affect rank at time of order, not at date of publication. Many times, a highly awaited book hits the Amazon top 100 days or weeks before publication. I think Mark Twain’s autobiography was No. 1 for a full three weeks before publication.

    I have also seen books tank on Amazon rank, despite when strong marketing campaigns sold a healthy number of books in advance but did not carry the momentum through to publication date.

    Despite this errata, pre-publication orders are always healthy, as it reduces inventory risk and recoups launch-capital quickly.

    –David Rozansky, Publisher
    Flying Pen Press

    • :Donna Marie says:

      David, thank you so much for clarifying something so important! 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You are absolutely right, David. Thanks very much for making that clear. And yes — we’ve seen books do well, and we’ve seen books tank. If we knew exactly how to manipulate this stuff, you and I would be millionaires. :o)

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