How Pre-Orders Work
On Amazon, each pre-order sale counts for ranking when it's placed. When the book is released, all those sales show up in your "sales" column, but they don't count toward ranking on release day. Most everywhere else (iTunes, Barnes and Noble via Draft 2 Digital) counts all pre-order sales on release day for ranking purposes (Kobo and Google Play seem to work the way Amazon does). However, all retailers, even Amazon, count all pre-order sales as occurring on release day (actually day BEFORE release due to release occurring at midnight) for purposes of reporting to the big lists (NYT, USAT). You can put up a pre-order anytime before release, but if you upload a pre-order within 10 days of release, you must have the final version ready.
NOTE: This has resulted in many people believing that pre-orders hurt their release-day rankings. This may be true (or possibly not significantly- see below). But rankings aren't everything - total sales are. You may be thinking "but high rankings get me more visibility and more sales." For that and other arguments, see below.
If you write in a high-selling genre and sell bunches......doing a pre-order can help you hit the big lists (NYT, USAT). It's really to your benefit to consider a pre-order if you're even close to selling in the kinds of numbers that could hit the lists.
If you aren't selling enough to hit the NYT list...(like most of us)......I'm starting to believe pre-orders are still your best friend.Pre-Orders Are Your New Best Friend
1) Rankings aren't everything.
We are so accustomed to having rankings be a measure of sales and a way to increase visibility, that this flies in the face of what feels like "common knowledge" at this point. GOOD. Often new technologies (hello, Kindle!) will turn the world upside down in ways we least suspect. This is what pre-orders are already doing for indie authors, I believe.
This is key to understanding why "bunching up" your sales on release day isn't as important as you think. Let's say you have 100 sales on release day: you get a spike in rankings, which gives you more visibility and 20 more sales, for 120 sales total without pre-order. ,If you have 100 pre-order sales, and only 30 on release day, plus another 5 due to visibility over the next week, you have 135 sales with pre-order.
^^ Those numbers are made up. Check out the real-data results for First Daughter's pre-order/release:
First Daughter rankings during pre-order then after release
RESULTS: I sold 3x what I expected in pre-orders for First Daughter AND the release-day sales were still about 75% of the previous book in the series.
More sales = moar better, am I right?
The key: the extended visibility of a pre-order outweighs the one-day visibility of release day.
Pre-Orders Change How People Buy Books
Here's why: Having a pre-order button at the end of your book increases total sales.
We all understand the power of having a series, yes? (If not, go look at any successful indie author. They have a series of books.) Why? Because once you do all the hard work of getting a reader to discover you and click that first buy button (or download a book for free), the second sale is much easier (assuming they like your stuff). "Already knows author" consistently ranks as the top reason people decide to buy.
If you have a pre-order button at the end of your book for the next book in the series? You will convert twice* as many readers as will come back later to buy the book when it releases.
*based on evidence from friends and my own personal experience
If you can write a book in 90 days...
...upload the pre-order for Book#2 just before you release Book#1. Ninety days is the maximum length of pre-order time allowed by Amazon, and if you can keep it going, you are seriously going to kill the sales.
If you can't write a book in 90 days...
...upload the pre-order for Book#2 as soon as you're 90 days from release... and put that pre-order link in the back of Book#1 then. You will lose some of the carry-over by not having the pre-order ready for those first Book#1 buyers, but chances are, Book#1 won't sell a million copies overnight. The bulk of your sales come over time. If you can plan your schedule well enough to predict 90 days out of a release (and hit that target - if you don't, Amazon will suspend your pre-order privileges), then put the pre-order out as soon as you can.
Another option: pre-write your books and release within 90 days of each other
This is most viable for most people. The idea of uploading the instant your book is ready is great, but that philosophy was born in a time when pre-orders didn't exist for indies. Now, if you want to launch a series, take advantage of all the tools you have, including 30day New Release Lists and 90day Pre-Order Windows. (Yes, your pre-order can hit the New Release Lists BEFORE it releases, basically extending the "new release list visibility" time for you.)
PRE-ORDERS CHANGE HOW YOU GET REVIEWS
It used to be that you couldn't accumulate reviews until the book was live - no more! While it's true that you can't get reviews on pre-orders... there is a way around this.
Lean close and I will whisper the secret: upload your print version early.
Here's how it works:
1) Upload your pre-order ebookYou're welcome.
2) Upload your print book to Createspace
3) Once Createspace approves your print book (about 24 hours), approve it for propagation to Amazon.
4) IMMEDIATELY (like within minutes) upload a NEW VERSION of your print book to Createspace. DO NOT approve this version.
5) After 1-2 days, your print book will show up on Amazon. It will say "currently unavailable" because you have not approved the second upload. However it WILL have reviews enabled.
6) After another 2-3 days, your print and kindle pre-order versions will merge (if it doesn't happen automatically, you can email Amazon and ask them to merge).
7) VIOLA! You now have review capability on your pre-order.
PRE-ORDERS ARE A MUST FOR SERIALS
Everything that's tough about serials goes away with pre-orders. Daisy chain them together so that you always have a pre-order of the next episode and BOOM you have essentially an auto-delivery system of your episodes to your customer. If you're really prepared, you can upload all the episodes at once, as well as the full season. Readers win because they get to choose how they want to order. You win because you get more sales.
HINT: use SMARTurl so you can change where your links direct after you've made them.
PRE-ORDERS CAN BRIDGE YOU FROM ONE SERIES TO ANOTHER
And you're publishing within 90days (the longest pre-order allowed), you can now put a link in the back of the end of series #1 to link to the beginning of series #2.
Amazon will notify your readers when your book arrives!
Immediacy wins, my friends: if you give readers an easy way to buy, they will buy more.