Best Practices in HR
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Bryan Heathman
  November 27, 2016

How to Set Up a Book Pre-Order Campaign

I love my job. Talking about books sometimes takes me to interesting places… like picturesque Ashland, Oregon, for instance. On a recent trip, the topic of generating pre-orders for new book releases came up over lunch. Here is how the conversation developed…

Ashland sits in the heart of the up-and-coming wine country of Southern Oregon, and it’s long been home to the famous Ashland Shakespeare Festival. Wine and words—an undoubtedly winning combination in my book. I’m sure the Bard himself would have approved of this fabulous business lunch with an executive of our audiobook distribution team among the cobblestones and Tudor half-timbers.

As my colleague and I sat in a quant bistro on a glorious afternoon—talking about library orders, taking in the crisp air, and observing the bustle of college students on the streets below—I looked over the menu with a critical case of indecision. Everything looked so delicious. Just as I was about to make my choice, our server sauntered over and filled us in on the specials.

She quietly mentioned that the Crab Newburg was sold out. “There’s a big family reunion here tonight.” She explained, “They’ve pre-ordered the entire right side of the menu.”

Suddenly, I had a mouthwatering desire for Crab Newburg with an insistency that cannot be explained. But no matter the desire, there was no way to satisfy my appetite for the buttery little delights. I settled for the chicken fettuccine served with a smattering of prosciutto and capers (yawn!). As the conversation developed, the executive I was meeting with began explaining the incredible importance of generating pre-orders in major retail catalogs for new book releases. In that moment, everything came together and it all made sense.

There’s a new dynamic in the book publishing world, she explained, and it directly affects our new authors. Here is what she dished out while I poked at my plate of poultry.

Many authors will run a pre-sales marketing campaign for their book release. This sends a signal to retail buyers about the number of readers who are eager for the upcoming launch. One factor that dictates how many books a retailer will buy up-front is the number of pre-orders they see in their system for the new release.

Having pre-orders can mean the difference between big retailers like Barnes & Noble or Amazon ordering, say, 400 units of your book versus 2,000 units. In other words, it’s the difference between having a pedestrian chicken dish, or landing an exotic Pacific Northwest crustacean delicacy served with a piquant cream sauce and a splash of dry sherry. One tries; the other succeeds.

I should mention that my lunch partner is an executive with direct working experience with Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, and Books a Million, along with an impressive number of libraries. She was very clear on the topic of getting pre-orders of your book and emphasized it as a major priority. More than ever, book buyers look at the following hot topics when ordering for their stores and libraries:

    • How famous is the author?
    • How do the book Title and cover artwork work together?
    • What is the author’s marketing plan for this book?
    • How many book pre-orders are in their system?

If you have intentions of succeeding in the hyper-competitive retail book business, here is what savvy authors are doing to stimulate pre-orders for their book release, which we call a Pre-order Campaign:

    • Build a page on your website with at least 5 links to pre-order books. This signals retail buyers that you are not partial to any single retailer. Check-out this pre-order page to see what this looks like.
    • Include links to your book on a variety of retail websites. Here is a suggested list (providing your publisher has broad distribution):
      • Amazon
      • BarnesandNoble.com
      • Target
      • WalMart
      • Books a Million
      • IndieBound
    • Send messages to your fans via social media and email broadcasts. Try live streaming video options which are getting impressive response rates.
    • Offer a bonus item to your fans for placing pre-orders, such as free digital content. A PDF or MP3 audio file is often popular. Have people message you with a digital receipt of their retail order to get the bonus offer.
    • Offer to sign their book if they mail it to you with return postage. It can be some extra work, but it tells your fans that you care.
    • Give away a coupon code for a free copy of your digital audiobook.
    • Encourage people to write a Review where they purchased the book.

For maximum distribution from your publishing supply chain, make sure that a pre-order campaign is on your menu. This one tactic which can ensure your book sales are as fresh as today’s fresh catch!