Tips to Pre-Sell Before You Publish Your Book

Pre-selling books is a great marketing strategy to build anticipation for books and to get paid while you work rather than after the work is completed. By pre-selling, I mean two things:

  1. Making readers want to buy your book before it has been printed.
  2. Selling copies of the book before it is printed.

Authors can start selling their books as soon as they have the idea for one. While that may be extreme in some cases, many authors have done so by keeping journals or blogs on their website about the evolution of their book, ideas, drafts, stumbling blocks, all of which may interest readers and keep them coming back for more information including to find out the date the book will go on sale. For an already established author, this strategy of pre-selling as soon as the book idea originates may work very well. For other authors, it may be better to wait until you at least have a complete draft or until you are ready to send the book to be printed, since even if you are just waiting for the printing, it may give you a full month or two to market your book before it is printed.

Effective marketing will pre-sell your book. If a reader says to himself, “I’m going to buy that book when it comes out,” then the book is as good as sold, provided you remind the reader now and then about the book. When we go to a bookstore to buy a specific book, haven’t we already bought that book in our minds-isn’t it pre-sold then?

Besides building buzz for your book before it is printed, pre-selling can also mean collecting the money before it is printed.

Henry Ford was the master of pre-selling and we can all benefit from his example. Ford wanted to mass-produce his automobiles, but first he needed to find the money to pay for the cost of building them. When Ford shared his dilemma with friends, Harvey Firestone suggested he pre-sell his automobiles and use the money from the pre-sales to create the first mass production assembly line, which then produced the automobiles Ford delivered to the customers who had already paid for them. Today, authors can capitalize on Firestone’s brilliant idea and Ford’s execution of it by pre-selling their books to pay for part or all of the printing costs.

If you have the money to print your book, you might not think pre-selling is necessary, but consider that if you plan to print 500 copies and you can pre-sell several hundred, you may find you have the money to print 1,000 copies, thus reducing your cost per unit price so you can ultimately make more money off your books. You’ll also get some idea of how popular your book will be and how many copies you may need to print. And the sooner you let people know about your book, the sooner they can spread the word, and the sooner you get a return on your investment. What author doesn’t want to earn back his or her printing costs as soon as possible?

Pre-selling is not simple, however. You do need to work at building the buzz about your book. You can advertise on your website and elsewhere that the book is being pre-sold, but you have to get people interested in the book so they will buy it, and you also must get past the hurdle in their minds of “I’ll wait until the book actually comes out.”

Tips for Effective Pre-Selling:

  1. Advertise Pre-Sales on Your Website: Post the book for sale on your website with a date for the printing that gives you wiggle room. For example, if your book should be printed by October 1, you may want to post the release date as December 1. In this case, people will realize they can still get the book in time to give as Christmas gifts, you have extra time in case you run into any last minute printing problems, and you will wow your customers by delivering the book early if everything runs smoothly. It also will give you extra time to mail or deliver all those pre-sold orders before your proposed release date so you’re not frantically trying to do so on December 1st. Furthermore, an October 1 release date may not suggest Christmas to people’s minds, but December 1 will give them the idea that the book could be a Christmas present.
  2. Offer a Special Pre-Sale Price: As soon as you have a reasonable idea of what your book’s retail price will be and your printing costs, start pre-selling with a special pre-sale price. Customers will be more willing to buy before a book is printed if they think they can get a deal. For example, if your books are going to cost $10 each to print and you’re selling them at $29.95, you might offer a special of $17.95 for presale copies. As long as you make a profit, you might even go lower. I suggest $17.95 because it’s a 40% discount. Most bookstores will want 40% so why not sell to customers direct rather than through the bookstores and still get as much profit? If you’re using a book distributor, the cut is closer to 55% in which case you’ll make more profit selling directly to customers than through a distributor. Make sure on your website you advertise that the price is $29.95 but the pre-sale is $17.95. You might also put a deadline date on it, such as $17.95 only until October 1. Then on October 1, if your book is still not out, you might raise the price to $19.95 and continue to pre-sell until that December 1 date.
  3. Blogging and Serializing: People aren’t going to buy the book, if they don’t know what it is about. Beyond just a paragraph or two of content, you can post to your website or blog a chapter every few days to build interest in the book. If it’s a novel with 20 chapters and you have 16 weeks until the book’s release, post a chapter a week. If it’s a non-fiction book, you can do the same or just post favorite parts. You can give away over half the content and people will still want to buy the book.
  4. Marketing Pieces: It’s never too early to start telling people about your book. As soon as you have a cover design, start including your book’s image and information about your book on all your marketing pieces-brochures, business cards, bookmarkers, bumper stickers, and anything else you can imagine. Take every opportunity to advertise the book’s upcoming release.
  5. Talk About Your Book: If you’re already an established author and you’re doing book signings, give away flyers or bookmarkers to your customers advertising the next book. Bring posters with you. Tell everyone about your book every chance you get. Without being obnoxious, turn the conversation around to something that relates to your book. “When I was researching my book…” is a great lead in.
  6. Reviews: Ask your printer for review copies-send out copies to get reviews before the book is printed, so as soon as it is released, reviews will appear that will spark interest in your book with readers. Remember that many book reviewers will only review books not yet released.

Pre-selling is lucrative, builds buzz, and also helps authors and readers get excited about books. The more you pre-sell, the less work you’ll have to do later once the book is printed to make people aware of it. By then, the book should be selling itself!

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.