Smashwords Now Offers Preordering, But Is It for You?

When I heard that Kobo was gearing up to let authors upload books on preorder status, I didn’t know that Smashwords would soon be leading the charge on most of its premium channel distributors.

Yes, Mark Coker and company are now offering preorders, but in a public beta test. The big news is that you don’t have to be James Patterson’s staff of assistants or Hugh Howey to make your next book available for preordering.

Sounds awesome, huh? It’s too early to know for certain how this will pan out, but right now, this is what I can at least conjecture with some kind of confidence:

Potential Advantages

1. Opening Day Bounce. After you run your pre-release buzz—cover reveal, first chapter sneak, all that fun stuff—to entice readers to preorder your book, those advance sales will hit BAM! all at once on your actual release date, giving you a nice opening bounce and a shot at bestseller lists. Although Smashword’s announcement blog post is quick to point out that this happens to very, very few authors.

2. Must. Buy. Now. Take advantage of the fact that e-books are frequently an impulse purchase, so if you’re on FaceTwit chatting up the soon-to-be-released sequel to your penguin apocalypse series, or if they get to the end of Book Three and see a link to preorder the next installment, readers can buy immediately. Joy!

Potential Disadvantages:

1. No Select For You. Many authors like to launch on Amazon first, because, as the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton once said, “That’s where the money is.” Or the majority of the business, anyway. Taking the Smashwords option will block you from enrolling in Amazon KDP Select program, should that be your preferred method of transportation.

2. Navigating the Channels. Historically, it can take a while for Smashwords to filter your book to all of its distribution partners. Although they are quick to point out that preorders will give you “simultaneous availability,” which is not as sexy as it sounds. Although, I’ve heard some good news from indie author Tony McFadden, who uploaded his upcoming book on preorder and had it show up on Kobo within 24 hours and B&N in just a couple of days.

After reading Smashword’s info page, I had lingering questions, so I went straight to their head honcho, Mark Coker. Here’s what he said (or, rather, wrote, since he was traveling at the time and was nice enough to respond.)

LB: Do you think preorders lend a greater benefit to a stand-alone book or a series?

MC: I think preorders are beneficial to both stand-alones and series books. With preorders, orders accumulate over time and then credit on day one of the official “on sale” date. Assuming the book has accumulated a lot of orders, this causes the book to spike in the bestseller lists at the retailer, which then causes a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle of greater visibility, greater sales, and greater benefit when the “also bought” algorithms kick in. Obviously if a reader is just finishing a book in a series, and the next book is already available as a preorder, then that’s a compelling call to action for the reader. For both stand-alone and series books, preorders provide the greatest benefit to authors who already have multiple books out on the market, because each book is merchandising the author’s other books, both in online listings, and in the “Other Books by This Author” sections that every author should have at the end of every book.

LB: Authors have mentioned that it takes longer to get a premium-distributed book on Apple than the other channels. If an author makes the ten-day last-minute fix deadline, will all channels be available at the same time.

MC: We recommend authors make any last minute updates at least ten days before the release date so everyone can avoid last-minute panics. Ten days usually gives plenty of time for the book’s update to reach each retailer and complete processing. To avoid the panic altogether, authors should upload finished, final books four to six weeks in advance of the release date. This allows plenty of distribution and retailer processing, and will still allow about a month of preorder runway. The more days a book is out as a preorder, the more time the author has to do advance marketing, and the more time the book has to accumulate orders.

I think it’s important that authors budget extra time for preorders. It’s better to delay the book’s release a month so you can have a full month of preorder runway, rather than trying to squeeze the entire preorder period into a few days.

I know some authors think they can simply place a first draft up on preorder, and then they’ll upload the final file ten days before. That’s cutting it close and will create a lot of stress for the author. It’s better to finish the book, be satisfied with it, and then choose your “on sale” date with a four to six week preorder runway, and then implement a methodical ongoing marketing campaign during that window.

LB: Since Sony isn’t part of this beta, what happens when the preorders are published? Will it still go to Sony, only later?

MC: In this beta, we are doing preorders to Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Once the book goes live on the “on sale” day, then we’ll automatically ship out to the other retailers in the next earliest shipment.

LB:  Can you issue a discount coupon from a preorder status?

MC: No, not really. Smashwords coupons only work at Smashwords, and the Smashwords store doesn’t take preorders. However, I would encourage authors to do their preorders at a special promotional price. For example, if the author intends to price a book at $3.99, post the preorder at $2.99, and promote this special preorder-only price to your fans. This will give them an incentive to place their order now, rather than waiting until the book has gone live. Once the preorder goes live, adjust the price higher.

LB:  Can preorder advance review copies be available for download?

MC: Yes, if the author wants to do this. The retailer will sample a fixed percentage, usually about 10%, but on the Smashwords site the author can set any sampling percentage he or she wants. The ARC should be a near-final book that has already gone through developmental editing and might only be awaiting a final proofing.

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It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this option will have on Amazon’s current “No Way, José” policy (NWJ, for short) on the average self-published author’s ability to offer e-books on preorder. Or if preordered e-books will do better than preordered print. But odds are that if you’re already doing well on Smashwords, this could be great news for you.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

27 thoughts on “Smashwords Now Offers Preordering, But Is It for You?”

    1. A lot to think about, Jill. The timing is interesting here. Smashwords is pulling this out when some authors are beginning to disfavor Select. But others say that KDPS is good for them and they’re sticking. Hmm…

  1. I’ve been scratching my head over this one since I first saw it and can’t come up with a single, solitary reason to get involved with this.
    It makes some sort of sense for big-name authors, where the whole thing is about getting a bunch of early action for big-house finance purposes, but for an indie author? With no long production schedules? Just don’t get it.

    1. Lin, my hunch is that it’s probably really good for the author who is already getting good results from Smashwords or has a popular series going. Yes, we don’t have long production schedules, but advance marketing can make a big impact for a release, if done right. Early reviews, etc. Just trying to embrace the chaos, here.

  2. It was great that you interviewed Mark Coker on this, because the information I originally saw was limited. I’d thought Smashwords participated in pre-orders, but apparently they don’t, which seems odd given that it’s their program. But, this was great to know.

    1. Thank you, RJ! I had questions after I read their blog and accompanying notes, (and so did the many who commented on it at Smashwords) so I thought I’d go straight to the source. The explanations were helpful. It still seems to me that early reviewing using the sampling might be problematic, though.

  3. A powerful marketing tool. And if you needed any other reasons to get out of KDP Select, here’s a good one. 😉

    Smashwords needed something like this, badly. It’s so easy to get ebooks up everywhere except Apple now, and it’s easier to use Draft2Digital for Apple than it is to use Smashwords – that there wasn’t much point to using Smashwords anymore.

  4. Hmm, I check SW daily in a specific category for affiliate marketing purposes, and it is obvious that books set on the pre-order system will hog the Most Recent listings there until they actually appear. Something to think about …

    1. I’ll be very surprised if this happens, Karen, but I’ve been wrong before. Although Martin Crosbie tells me that for a fee, you can offer your paperback on preorder in CreateSpace. I’m looking into this.

    1. Most people “doing well on Smashwords” are actually selling a lot of books on Apple, B&N, and Kobo. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone selling more than a couple thousand copies a month on Smashwords directly. I’ve heard from folks selling quite a lot more than that through Smashwords distribution.

      1. That’s what I’ve heard as well, Kevin and Olivia. Especially in other countries, where Kobo is more prominent. Some authors do quite well on Apple, too.

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