This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain talk about the ins and outs of pre-orders and how they can be utilized effectively.


Crys: Welcome to the TASM Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host, J Thorn.

J: Hey Crys, you stayed awake. Good to see that.

Crys: I am. I shared with J just before we started recording that somehow I only managed to get an hour and a half of sleep last night and I am not a zombie. Brain not entirely like top-notch, but not zombie. And that means there’s something wrong. We don’t know what it is, but I am just running on sugar right now. And I don’t have anyone else in the house with me. Priscilla is on vacation. It’s just me and the kid. So I’m like, all right, sugar it is.

How’s your week been?

J: It’s good. Today’s the first full day that I have the place to myself in six weeks, which is kind of weird. My son went back to college last night. My daughter’s back in in-person school. My wife is back at work. But the three of them had COVID, and my son was visiting from college, and yeah. It was about December 16th or 17th when I picked him up.

And yeah, for the first workday, I have no one else in the house and I’m getting so much done.

Crys: It’s exciting. I was sitting here going, oh, I don’t know when I’ve not had someone in the house all day since we moved in. So that’s been fun. I liked that.

I have been getting more writing done, which has been really exciting. And not just on the romance, which is the thing like I gotta get done, but on the serial. And we’ve talked before, I was like, I don’t know if I’m the edge of procrastination with figuring out all the world building or if it’s actually stuff I need to figure out just to move forward. And I think I have hit the point where I’m like, okay, I’ve figured out the stupid things that my brain needs to move forward. And now I can really just get to the story because I’ve set all those up. So that’s exciting.

J: Yeah. Yeah. My serial project is going in the other direction.

Crys: You’ve run into some things you need to figure out.

J: Yeah, I might not do it now. So this is the Zombie, Squirrels and Bigfoot project. And I have this guy, he’s a real guy, his name’s John. And John is the ideal reader for this story. Like he is it. So basically I’m writing for him, and everything that he says I’m just going with. Because it’s like, if John doesn’t like this then the no one else will.

So I started writing this as a novel and I sent him the first 20,000 words and he was like, this is awesome, I love this. And then I decided to try and do a daily serial the way Stephanie Bond does it. So I went back and I rewrote those 20,000 words into a daily serial format. And then I added like another 20 on top of that and I sent it to him. And he absolutely hates it.

Crys: Oh, wild. Is it the format, or the second half, or the combo?

J: Combo. And he was so gracious, like I got on the phone and talked to him for a little bit about it. And he said, the pacing is weird because in that type of story, like a post apoc story, things happen fast. And so to have a daily thing, it felt like it dragged in some places and other places were like really fast. But the worst part was, he said it wasn’t as funny.

And here’s what I was thinking, if I publish this as a novel, and let’s say it’s 50 chapters, and I have 20 to 25 gag chapters that I know are really funny, that’s half the book, right? If it’s a daily serial, that’s 180 chapters. And that twenty-five percent is 11 percent funny of the book. So it’s watering down the funny, because I can’t make 180, or even 90, or even 50, like super funny chapters. I’m not capable of that. So I think that’s the bigger problem is because the story is spread out over more units, it’s diluting the humor in it.

Crys: Comics, like humor comics, somehow manage to do both the story, and the pacing, and the joke right. Howard Taylor talks a lot about this and in his there’s a joke every strip. And I wonder if there might be something in that realm of knowledge that might be able to save it. But that might be too much work.

J: Yeah. And at this point, I don’t know, like I almost don’t want to like mess up what I had going, like I almost want to just go back to what I started and then work from there. They’re just words, I’ll make more. It’s not a big deal to chuck the words.

But he really liked that and he really likes the story and that’s why I’m like, maybe I don’t mess with it. But it’s hard. The other hard part was, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this situation, but over the past month or so as I’ve been writing it, something didn’t feel as funny about it to me. And I’m like, am I too close to this? Like sometimes you get that, where you think it’s the greatest project ever, and then you get into the slog in the middle and you’re like, ah, this is terrible.

But I had that feeling, I’m like, it’s a good story. Like I’m telling a post apoc story, but I don’t feel like it’s as funny. And then when he said that, I was like, all right, like it’s clearly not. Like he’s picking up on it too.

Crys: Oh, that is a tough call. I don’t envy that for sure. But totally worth it to exercise the differences and try it, for sure.

J: Oh yeah. Yeah. This is all an experiment and I’m totally fine with learning as I go. And I was like, okay, this was a misstep, like this just didn’t work. And I think it also underpins the importance of having another set of eyes on your work in any capacity you can find it.

I had a similar thing we’ll talk more about in the future with a non-fiction book where I put it in front of a group of people and I thought the tone was good, and it fell totally flat. Nobody liked it. And it was like, if I had just rolled that out and not share that with anyone, that’s how it would have hit the marketplace. It’s definitely worth getting other eyes on your work.

Crys: Yeah, for sure. So I pulled a couple of topics from our group that have been discussed recently and J, these aren’t like your favorite things. You’re like, meh, don’t do it, it’s not worth the time. And this is not necessarily even you being like, it’s not worth the time for anyone, it’s not worth the time for you. But I do want to talk about pre-orders today. Cause we’ve had some questions about that. It’s a question that comes up regularly about should I do a pre-order.

And you haven’t done a pre-order in years. Why is that?

J: Well, I haven’t published a novel in years, which is a whole other problem. Of the seven complete manuscripts sitting on my hard drive, I have not published one of those in the past couple of years.

I don’t, especially when Zach and I were writing in series, I don’t know if we saw any benefit to it. Like it didn’t necessarily hurt, and maybe that’s my position is I don’t feel strongly about it, but I don’t think it’s a mistake. But I almost feel like unless you have a really massive audience and they’re waiting on it, all you’re doing is you’re– I don’t know there’s a psychology around this, but here’s my interpretation of it. If someone sees your book on Amazon and they’re like, Ooh, that’s interesting and I want to buy it, but they see it doesn’t come out for three more weeks, do they pre-order it? Are they that excited about it or do they say, oh, I’ll come back and get that when it’s out and then totally forget? Like, could it hurt you that way in that people want it right now and if you’re gonna put it in front of them, why not wait until they can instantly read it versus making them wait for it to be delivered?

Crys: Yeah, that’s definitely an option. I do know that the psychology of anticipation, so for people who do really want the book, like your hardcore fans, putting a pre-order out, letting them buy early, is one way to build the anticipation for the book. And studies have shown that anticipation increases enjoyment and higher enjoyment does mean that they’re going to talk about it more. So that’s definitely one pro on the pre-order side.

For you, was it ever an issue like that there’s a deadline for it to be ready?

J: No, Zach and I were both very much of the same mindset in that we don’t work well with pressure from deadlines. I know some people need that and I do not function well with that kind of pressure.

So whenever we did a pre-order, it would be completely done. Like it was just a matter of do we schedule this or not? It wasn’t used as a motivating factor to complete work, although I know there are authors who find that really motivating.

Crys: Yeah. A few of the reasons that people do use pre-orders, one, ease of management and planning. For some people it’s just easier to say, okay, I’m going to set up everything, I’m going to automate it. I’m one of those people. If I can manage that, I love it. I would love to have two years worth of content on automatic pre-order delivery, like it’s just ready to go. Am I anywhere close to that? Absolutely not.

Another one for really long pre-orders, is for people who are gaming for their letters. I think the only one that’s available right now is USA Today. The only one available for indie authors right now is the USA Today.

People who are going for their USA Today letters will set up long pre-orders because the way that those are measured is one of them is from Sunday to Saturday and the other one’s from Monday to Sunday, I don’t remember which is which. But they’ll have their pre-order come out on the first day of that week. And if they’ve had a yearlong pre-order on several platforms, all of the sales that were made, all the pre-order sales that were made, count for that first day. So that’s another reason people will do a pre-order.

I found that it kept, when we were publishing our series super regularly, like almost to like there is a new book coming out every month on the seventh, when we put the pre-order in the back of the previous book and had that available, our pre-order numbers went up each book. And I think our overall income did in general because it gave us a couple different ways for Amazon to promote a series that was already popular.

In emails, not only did they have all of the books previous, the new release, they also had the pre-order for the next release, and then that book would come out and they’d have that as a new release, a hot release. So, like you said, like one of the things that’s useful is when you have an active fan base, active readership I do think that Amazon pushes you a little bit more when you have that consistency.

My friend, Tammi Veldura, and some others have seen that when they publish consistently, even though they’re small time as far as like income, the algorithm picks up that they’re going to publish every month on that day, they tend to use pre-order so that it absolutely comes out on that day. And Amazon picks that up and promos them more. So those are some other reasons to use pre-orders, specifically for Amazon. You can do them on anything.

You have a question?

J: No, I just had a thought. I forgot we did this.

There could be a logical benefit and it’s related to what you said, which is Zack and I used to call them a silent pre-orders. So we would schedule the pre-order about a week ahead of time before we wanted to promote the book. And that would give us time to make sure all the metadata populated correctly, early reviews depending on if you linked up paperback and that sort of stuff. But it’s just a nice way of making sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be before you then hit your list or you promote on social media.

Crys: Yeah, I really liked that. I mean, that goes along with the scheduling thing for me, is just like pre preparation so that on the day of, you’re not finding out things are wrong or something, and you’re just not running around on the day that it’s going out. That is a big benefit.

Now, I’ve seen two really cool instances of the ways people are using pre-orders a little differently. And one of them was mentioned on The Six Figure Authors’ recent episode on direct sales. And one, she does pre-order direct sales. That’s super cool. But it doesn’t really add anything because it’s not hitting any algorithm lists or anything.

But what she also does is she has a silent pre-order for 99 cents and she makes that available to her review team and only her review team. And so they purchased the book at 99 cents on Amazon specifically, because of the algorithm. And what this does is one, it gives her a sale, which is going to count towards her ranking. Two, gives them some investment. Three, also shows them as a verified purchaser when they go to leave their review on Amazon. And then they take a screenshot that they have bought the book and send that to her email and then they are sent the actual ARC copy. So I thought that was pretty cool.

And I don’t think that there’s any Amazon terms and services issues here, because there are issues with if you pay people to read your book and there’s not disclosing, but I don’t think there’s any problem with them buying the book from Amazon and then you just giving it to them ahead of time. I don’t think there’s any issues with that because Amazon gets their money. They’re happy.

 The other one is there is this girl on TikTok, Piper CJ is the author’s name, and she gained a pretty large following. She is gay, I believe. And she has a bisexual fantasy romance and her family doesn’t know anything about it, they’re super conservative. And so before she published her book, she told her family, she came out to her family.

And so she shared the negative response she received from her family about this and has gained a pretty large following. And then what she did for her pre-order is something I’ve not seen at all before. And that’s, she only has the paperback available on Barnes and Noble. There’s no other pre-order available on any other retailer except direct sales.

And she said, you can pre-order the digital copy from me right now and get it in only PDF form for $15, which is the same price as the paperback, but you’re going to get it free and I will get a hundred percent of the royalties. She really gets 95 using the provider she was using to process everything. But if you buy it on Barnes and Noble, I only get 10%.

And at first I was like 10%? We get 70 from Amazon, but then I realized she was comparing to the paperback. And I was like that’s good marketing right there. And with the particular one that she’s seen, I’ve been able to count how many people have actually bought this book and she is making bank on this pre-order.

And I have thought, and granted, like that’s with a large audience, but even if you don’t have a large audience, even if you have five people that just really like your book, that’s $75 extra that would have been 10 bucks on Amazon, so that they could get it early.

Now I’m interested after the book comes out next month if the e-book is a lower, if she’ll have some lash back for having it at such a high price when the retail version is going to be cheaper, or if people are just gonna be like well, I got it early so that’s what I was paying for. I’m not sure.

J: Yeah. That’s an interesting experiment.

Crys: Yeah. So I think that there’s some really cool things that we can do. You can use it as part of your normal everyday plan if it makes things easier. Some people do use it to make sure they get the book out. If that makes your life easier, by all means, that it’s not me.

J: I imagine there’s some potential to do some really clever things around using that pre-order in ways it was not intended. And keeping within the terms of service but still doing things that are unconventional, I’ll bet that it’s ripe for that.

Crys: I wonder. I wonder if the terms and services would be against you pre-ordering the book and you got something special for pre-ordering. I don’t think so. I feel like people do that a lot like in the non-fiction realm. If you show me that you pre-ordered this book on Amazon, I’m going to give you a bunch of bonuses.

J: Right. That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking of, some kind of swag or access or something if you can prove that you pre-ordered. If your job is to stack those pre-orders on day one for some reason, then yeah, that could be a strategy that you could use.

Crys: Yeah. I’m really interested from our listeners whether they feel like they want to use pre-orders and in what way? What interests them?

J: Nice.

Crys: If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.