How to Set Up Pre-orders for Self-Published Books

Traditional publishers commonly sell books before they are published, allowing fans to pre-order the book. It's a beneficial marketing strategy for several reasons. Strong pre-sales tell retailers the book will be in high demand, which can affect the number of books stocked in a store. Pre-sales can also help generate a buzz about a book's upcoming release. Plus, big pre-sale numbers can influence a book's discoverability on retailers' websites and can even send a book to the top of a bestseller list once it's released.

So, can indie authors self-publishing on their own pre-sell books too? Yes, but it's not always straightforward and simple. Once you know how to set up a book for pre-order, you can benefit from the pre-sale marketing boost for your self-published eBook or print book.

Note: If you're using a supported self-publishing service provider or DIY platform to help you publish your book, check with that provider to see if they offer pre-order service options.

How to Make an eBook Available for Pre-sale Online

Setting up a self-published eBook for pre-sale is fairly simple when you know what tools to use. Here are a few of the more popular options for making your eBook available for pre-order: use an eBook aggregator, go directly to the retailer, or, use a combination of both.

Use an eBook Aggregator

An eBook aggregator distributes your book to retailers online and simplifies the management of your eBook's files, metadata, sales, and royalty payments. When you use an eBook aggregator, you give up some of the control and royalty earnings you might enjoy if you managed everything individually, but you save yourself a lot of time.

A few eBook aggregators to consider are Smashwords, PublishDrive, and Draft2Digital. These companies can set up your eBook for pre-order on various retailers' websites, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Another great option is IngramSpark, especially if you are also self-publishing a print version of your book. IngramSpark is a print book distributor and eBook aggregator owned by Ingram, the largest distributor in the world. One notable advantage over the competition is that IngramSpark can set up pre-orders on Amazon (as well as all the other popular retail websites), while the other leading eBook aggregators cannot.

Go Directly to the Retailer

You can set up your eBook for pre-order directly on Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, Kobo, and Amazon. Each company has its own pre-order set up process, which can be time consuming to complete and must be updated individually. Here's an example of setting up pre-sales with Amazon, the most widely used platform:

How to pre-sell eBooks on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing
When you publish an eBook through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP), you can start pre-selling your book on Amazon up to 90 days before the publication date. There are helpful documents on KDP's website about how to set up pre-orders. Your eBook will only be available on Amazon's website—there's no option to distribute to other retailers. And, if you opt to receive the larger royalty payment by enrolling in KDP Select, then you must sell your eBook exclusively through Amazon as part of their terms.

Use a Combo: eBook Aggregator and KDP

To save time but still achieve pre-order status on, which often doesn't allow eBook aggregators to set up pre-orders, many authors combine using an eBook aggregator and publishing directly through Kindle Direct Publishing.

How to Make a Print Book Available for Pre-sale Online 

Setting up your self-published print book for pre-orders can be straightforward or challenging, depending on how you want to approach it.

The Straightforward Approach: Set Up Pre-orders with IngramSpark

When you use IngramSpark as your distributor, you can choose to pre-sell your book up to one year before the publication date. Setting your "on sale date" prior to your "publication date" makes it possible for the more than 39,000 retailers, libraries, and schools in Ingram's network to pre-order your book, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. There is detailed information on IngramSpark's website on how to list a title for pre-order.

The Challenging Approach: Set Up Pre-orders Through Amazon

Some authors want to go directly to Amazon to set up pre-orders for their print book due to the out-of-stock issue with Amazon. There's speculation that if you publish anywhere other than through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, your book may show as out-of-stock on Amazon's website, especially if sales are slow. The challenge is, Kindle Direct Publishing does not currently allow authors to set up pre-orders for print books, they only allow for eBooks to be set up for pre-sale. But that hasn't stopped resourceful indie authors from figuring out a workaround using both KDP and Amazon Advantage to pre-sell their print books.

In order to use this approach, you'll need to set up an Amazon Advantage account and use it to collect pre-orders. There are many details to attend to throughout the process, including setting up your book's metadata, confirming orders, approving your book in KDP at the correct time, transferring order information, and canceling your title in Advantage. It will take some research and careful planning.

The Combo: Use Both KDP and IngramSpark to Set Up Pre-orders

The solution many indie authors use to set up pre-orders for print books is to use both KDP and IngramSpark. You can utilize KDP to distribute only to Amazon to ensure your book shows in stock, and use IngramSpark to distribute to every other retailer except Amazon, maximizing the benefits while avoiding the potential negatives of not using KDP.

Don't Forget to Promote Your Pre-sale

Making your book or eBook available for pre-sale is a beneficial marketing strategy, but the book won't sell itself—you have to promote it and utilize any mailing lists that you’ve built. There are many ways to promote your pre-order, including offering extra swag with each pre-order, discounting the price, or running a contest. Start planning early so that when your book is ready for pre-sale and eventually publication, you'll already have a targeted marketing plan in place to reach your audience.

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  • So much info in so little time. My sense is to go the least complicated route on my first novel and then experiment with subsequent novels. Wondered if others who have "been there and done that" advise following this strategy.

  • Thank you so much. I did not think about promoting my book. The first thing i need to do is to build mailing lists!