November 10

How I created a successful online book preorder launch event

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So you’ve written a book, it’s in production, and you’re getting ready for release.

Congratulations!

But not so fast. You realize that publishing a book is only the beginning of your journey, right? Now you have to…launch it. Market it.

This is where the tough work begins, my friend.

Here’s how I created a successful online book preorder event for The Midnight Tablet, book four in The Violet Fox Series – my YA fantasy series. Do I have a super large audience? No. Did I make a plan and follow through? Yes.

Here’s what I did.

Also – stick around so you can get access to my book preorder planning template.

Some notes before we begin

Whether you're planning a book preorder campaign or a book launch campaign, you will find a lot of value in this post. That's because many of the tactics and strategies are similar.

In a book preorder campaign you’re trying to rouse sales ahead of the release date. During a book launch, you’re drumming up sales during that initial release period. The way you’d go about planning and executing both events would be much the same. You still need a plan, an email sequence, a sales page, and most importantly, a deep understanding of why people should buy from you.

For me personally, there wasn’t much of a gap between the book preorder event (late May, early June) and the actual book launch date (beginning of July). The production turnaround was fairly quick, even though I delayed going to press a few months because of the pandemic.

The second caveat to mention: I sell my books on Amazon, in bookstores, etc, but my experience is primarily selling my books in person at events and through my own website.

This article details my experience organizing a book preorder through my website—not on Amazon or any other marketplace. However, you could still take many of these strategies and tips and apply them to your own book preorder campaign or book launch event.

Okay, let’s get to it!

This article is by Clare C. Marshall published on cmarshallpublishing.com.

If you're new here...

Hey there! Welcome! My name is Clare, I’m the author-publisher behind the young adult science fiction & fantasy publisher, Faery Ink Press. 

Each month I blog about a specific behind-the-scenes project or campaign I carry out on my very real publishing company—and share all the messy feelings and results with you, the creative reader.


Since 2013, I've travelled across the country selling my young adult fiction books at comic cons and craft shows. I know how to sell my books to people. Now, I’m attempting to replicate that success online, primarily through my own website.

Even before the pandemic happened, I wanted to create a large-scale, online preorder event for my newest fantasy book, The Midnight Tablet. The Midnight Tablet is book four in my fantasy series, The Violet Fox Series, and (likely, but maybe not?) the last book in the series.

A screenshot of Clare with a 3d mockup of The Midnight Tablet, a YA fantasy novel, to the right. The Midnight Tablet has a fox head overlaid on a gritty granite-type texture with a border of custom symbols.

Mainly because I hadn’t organized anything to this scale before and originally, I'd wanted to capture an online audience while I promoted the book in person. Sure, I'd done sales through my website. But not a whole dedicated event with a lot of bells and whistles, email notifications, and well, for lack of better word, pizazz. I wanted to know if:

a) I could do it;

b) If I could replicate some of my in-person, live event success.

However, I had a couple of things working against me.

  • This is a sequel, not the first book in the series. Attracting new eyes to the work would prove challenging, as the majority of my customers would likely be my current audience.
  • Uncertainty of the pandemic. Back in April and May, no one knew how long we’d be in lockdown or isolation. Disposable income was not what it once was.
  • I had never done something like this before, so my expectations for success swung with my mood.

When I decide I want to do something—that’s it. It’s going to happen, somehow, no matter what.

And what’s the first step to making something happen?

Make a plan!

This article is by Clare C. Marshall published on cmarshallpublishing.com.

How to make a book preorder launch plan

Do not scroll over this section. It is vital to your success.

Download the worksheet! Want to plan your own book preorder campaign? Get started with my free planner worksheet.

Revisiting current goals

Sometime back in April 2020, I’d realized that there was no way I was going to meet my lofty goals for 2020. 

Because they were that. Lofty.

Before you step in and say, “Aww, Clare, I’m sure they were fine!”: one of them was, “Reach 10,000 email subscribers.”

I don’t even have 1,000 email subscribers. So—yes. Lofty.

It’s OKAY to realize your goals are too grand for your current level. Did it make me feel any better to pare back? No. I felt defeated.

BUT—when I started revising them to be more achievable while still giving me a challenge—that’s when I felt empowered.

You know in your gut when you can achieve something. You also know when something is so far out of your reach, you’re not even going to try.

I revised my three big goals of the year to be far more achievable, so I would actually work to achieve them.

You might be wondering why I'm telling you all this.

One of my annual goals was to publish two books in 2020. That just wasn't going to happen. I was far too burnt out to think about two. One book was challenge enough.

I revised this goal instead to be: publish The Midnight Tablet with a bang—aka—doing a large online event to celebrate its release.

Or, as I came to organize it—a pre-release, preorder event.


Braindumping to Success

Download the worksheet! Want to plan your own book preorder campaign? Get started with my free planner worksheet.

The first step I take, no matter WHICH large project I’m tackling, is to braindump all my ideas.

I write out—usually on paper at first—all of my ideas, goals, to-dos, and aspirations surrounding the event.

This is a no-judgement zone. This is just a list of everything I can think of that needs doing: emails. Social media posts. Random promotion ideas.

At this time, I also picked a date for the pre-order launch AND the book launch itself. If I don't have a firm deadline, I won't hold myself to the work.

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of my bullet journal with purple and blue pens and markers covering most of the text except: "My top 3 goals are: LAUNCH PREORDER!"

I decided to run the preorder event for about two weeks, starting in late May, and ending in early June. I wanted to give people enough time to place their orders and still create urgency.

Once I’d created a rough framework for how I wanted to run the event and an idea mine of what I wanted to give it "pizazz", I opened Asana.

Asana is an online task manager. I use it for my big-picture plans and the assigning of tasks by project, by week, and by day.

My bullet journal is my weekly/day-by-day breakdown, as well as my place for reflection on goals and monthly/annual aspirations.

These are the two trusty planning tools that keep me organized.

I created a new section in my Marketing 2020 project for The Midnight Tablet pre-order and wrote out each task. Then each task gets assigned a due-date. This is critical! Even if I’m not sure if each task will get done on THAT day, assigning a due-date first allows me to play with timing later.

If you don’t use Asana or a bullet journaling system—don’t get hung up on that. 

The point is: write down your ideas and organize them into an actionable plan with due dates.

You can do this exercise for a book preorder campaign or a book launch event—any kind of book promotion. Grab the PDF companion worksheet below to get started.

Download the worksheet to plan your first book preorder campaign!

Let me know where you'd like me to send the worksheet.

This article is by Clare C. Marshall published on cmarshallpublishing.com.

A deeper understanding: Why should people buy from YOU, NOW?

You can do all the work to organize something and miss the mark.

That's why understanding your customers is vital.

There are two questions to consider here:

  • Why should people preorder your book?
  • Why should people preorder books from YOU?

Answer these two questions, and you'll clinch it.

The trick is: it's not about you.

Why should someone preorder YOUR book?

The knee-jerk answer: because I wrote it. Because I want you to buy it. Because I worked hard on it.

That doesn't make for good sales copy.

When you already have an audience, no matter how small, this part is easier. Your fans will likely buy your newest book because they liked your previous work.

If you're just getting started and you don't have the luxury of an audience - that's okay! Figuring out your uniqueness, why people buy from you, takes time. It can also be discouraging.

Why should people buy your fantasy book when there are piles of them out there, waiting to be read?

This is the million-dollar question. Here's a two-cent answer. People will give you a chance if you keep showing up with an open mind - if you are willing to look at yourself and your work critically, so you can do better next time.

For non-fiction books, this part is also easy. You're selling information that is (hopefully) beneficial to your reader. You can use those benefits and your professional experience as an expert as selling points.

With fiction, it's trickier. You're selling entertainment. An escape from real life. You may have to dig deeper on why your entertainment is worth their time. You can also lean a little more on the personal angle and talk about why you wrote it and common interests you and the reader have. This article is by Clare C. Marshall published on cmarshallpublishing.com.

Why should someone preorder FROM you?

People buy things that make statements about themselves.

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You can buy books whenever you want when they’re released, from whatever marketplace you desire, in whatever format is available.

People are spoiled for choice.

That’s why it was REALLY important to create incentives and stress the importance of why preordering is good for the customer (and for me).

The benefit of being an independent author is readers want to support your creativity. If they're aware of the channels to purchase your books that benefit you, the people inclined to support creatives will go out of their way to buy on those channels. I say that from experience. The benefit for the customer then becomes that feeling of supporting an independent creator.

People buy things that make statements about themselves.

People buy from me because they want that connection with the creator. They get their book signed. They get to chat with me. They get to stand inside my little world, and hopefully, be transported and inspired.

But not everyone cares about where or how a book is glued together or who the author is. Many buy for the price.

I thought—I could discount the book and let that be the special deal. I could have done that. That’s a standard, respectable choice.

But here’s the thing about discounts. Margins on books are so thin, it doesn’t make sense to offer large discounts on single books—especially when I also have to SHIP them to a customer. I’m in Canada, and shipping is nightmarishly expensive.

So if the main incentive for buying wasn’t a discount, something else had to create urgency to incentivize my audience to buy, while also hopefully intriguing some new folks who wanted to get in on the action.

Here are some elements I introduced into the book preorder to incentivize and create urgency.

How I introduced urgency into my book preorder campaign

Limited Preorder Window

Customers had a little less than two weeks to participate in the book preorder. Any incentives or price points would disappear after that.

I created bonuses

More on this below, but instead of discounting, I created extra goodies for customers who bought during the preorder period.

I offered several discounted bundle deals.

It’s easier to discount multiple books instead of just one. This helps the customer get more bang for their buck, and it helps me by raising my average order value.

In person, I can successfully convey and offer an experience that is conducive to buying. Online? That’s tougher. I have to bridge a larger gap to reach them, and usually, it takes longer to warm them up.


Purchase Tiers: HOW is your customer going to buy from you?

Even if you understand your customer and you’ve given them a timeframe to buy from you now, you still have to offer them the appropriate product and price point to seal the deal.

Based on my knowledge from selling in person, I created four purchase tiers for my customers.

Just The Midnight Tablet

For those who already have my other books. It also included an eBook version.

The Midnight Tablet + 2 other books

Customers could select which other books they wanted from my catalogue – perfect for those who have one or two of my books already and want to round out their collection, OR, for newcomers who had done a little research on me and were ready to make a purchase.

The Entire Series

There are four books in The Violet Fox Series. Great for those who just want to grab everything. Again, a good starting point for a newcomer who had the disposable income.

The Entire Series (eBooks)

Same as above, but for eBooks. Mostly, when people want eBooks they’ll order them through the appropriate marketplace (Amazon, Kobo, etc), but they’ll order direct from me if the deal is good.

Four choices is a LOT for any campaign, in my opinion. You want to make the choice EASY for the customer, so they’re not overwhelmed. However, again, because this preorder was for a sequel, I had to be willing to take the risk of overwhelm so I could appeal to a broader audience.

I also offered free shipping for every tier. I thought of charging shipping for the single book tier—but free shipping for everything just eliminated a lot of sales barriers. I could still make a small profit on the single-book orders (most of the time, see the results below for a more in-depth explanation).

My goal was to allow other people in my audience, who hadn’t bought from me yet, to expand their collection and have a good buying experience from me.

Now that the book preorder campaign was beginning to take shape, I had to drill deeper on the actual tasks—the ideas I’d written out before—to make it all happen.


The Major Backbone Tasks of the Book Preorder Campaign

Here are the major tasks I completed to make this book preorder a success:

  • Creating the email sequence
  • Designed the sales page
  • Created a video to explain the preorder
  • Created promotional social media graphics
  • Set up and integrated a new shopping cart system
  • Created bonuses

Each of these tasks could be a separate article (maybe someday!), but for now I’ll give an overview.

To be clear: you don’t have to do everything I’ve done to make your book preorder or book launch campaign successful, but I think some of these (especially the email sequence!)


How to create an email sequence for your book preorder

For those not in the know, an email sequence is what it sounds like: a series of emails on a particular subject, usually leading up to or containing a particular promotion. 

You might be wondering, why not just send one or two emails about the preorder, and let that be that?

Well, for the same reason you wouldn’t stand on your lawn and yell “BOOKS FOR SALE” and expect that to make a meaningful impact.

Sure, your neighbours may hear and come out to inquire further. But it takes considerable effort, nurturing, and time for people to discover you and your products AND THEN they have to trust you with their money.

Email is a big part of that.

This took considerable time, more time than I had originally anticipated or accounted for.

For this preorder campaign, I designed a multi-part email sequence educating people about the books and the preorder process. It was important to address why they should buy from me and attempt to alleviate any and all hesitations they might have had.

If you're an author and you're following along this process, your email sequence should address the following questions:

  • What are you selling?
  • Why are you selling it—and why now?
  • Why might someone NOT want to buy this from you (right now)?
  • Do you have any testimonials/reviews?
  • Why should your customer buy from YOU?

Remember that work we did at the beginning? This is the payoff. Those deep whys and hows become an integral part of your email marketing. 

Your sequence may look something like this

  1. 1
    Email 1: Teaser (something is coming)
  2. 2
    Email 2: Pre-orders are open!
  3. 3
    Email 3: Backstory about your book/behind the scenes of why you wrote it
  4. 4
    Email 4: Address an objection: “I’ll just wait until it comes out in the bookstore…”
  5. 5
    Email 5: Why you should participate in the pre-order now
  6. 6
    Email 6: Last chance to pre-order

Depending on how long your preorder or book launch event is going on, you’ll spread these emails out over the course of the campaign.

My biggest advice is to address one point per email. One objection, one piece of behind-the-scenes lore, one specific FAQ. You don’t want to overload your audience!

(Says the woman who writes 6,000 word articles about publishing and marketing books…hahaha).


How to design a sales page for your book preorder

A screenshot of The Midnight Tablet sales page - the top of the page. It reads "Dive into the newest installment of this great fantasy series BEFORE the official launch." It also introduces me and gives the dates of the preorder. There is a countdown timer at the bottom.

I have some fairly extensive WordPress knowledge so the challenge for me wasn’t in the technical making as it was in the technical designing.

You can have all the technical expertise in the world and still make a bad sales page.

Whether you’re creating a Kickstarter or a landing page on your website, you have to have a deep understanding of both your customer and why they buy from you.

You can’t make assumptions about where they’re at—or that they know anything about you or your books. You can’t assume they’ll care about you or what you have to offer. The sales page is your opportunity to lay it all out—why you’re offering what you offer.

A screenshot of the preorder sales page with a purple background. The white text overlay says, "But why should I preorder?" as a header, and the paragraph says, "You get the books first. Anyone who preorders during the preorder period (now) will get The Midnight Tablet and any other accompanying bonuses or books first. The book won't go on sale on the regular FaeryInkPress.com store or in any other retail outlet until after all the preorders have been shipped out." There is also a countdown timer at the bottom of the image.

There are multiple ways to approach this, but the sales page for my preorder went something like this:

  • Introduction to the book and that this was a pre-order
  • Video explaining everything
  • Overview of who I was and what I do
  • Overview of the book series (remember, I was launching a preorder for a SEQUEL).
  • You might like this book (and the series) if you also like…
  • Overview of the four bundles
  • Why you should pre-order from me, now—common objections
  • Overview of the bonuses
  • How to pre-order (short video tutorial on adding things to cart)
  • Buy links

Of course, in each section, you want to link to the buy section at the bottom of your page.

Looking back on it now, months later, there are elements I would have placed differently. For example, I could have placed the “about me” section further down and front-loaded the book series explanation.

You have to be willing to experiment when you are creating a sales page for your book—and remember, selling books is different than selling say, an online course or anything else, really. Book people WANT to know who you are. They want that personal connection.

A screenshot of The Midnight Tablet preorder page. The header on a purple background, white text, reads, "Ready to Order?" with smaller text beneath reading, "Choose your desired preorder bundle and click preorder now." Beneath that is a picture of all four books in The Violet Fox Series with a header, "#1 - I Want The Whole Series." There is a countdown timer at the bottom of the image.

It's really easy to spend forever tweaking colours and images...and then get lost in the entire process. That's why deadlines and end dates for ALL of these tasks are essential. There has to be a time when you throw up your hands and say "I'm done!"


Integrating the Special Tech

In many of the Facebook communities I’m part of, I often see comments like, “I don’t understand the tech” or “I’m not tech-minded” or “How do I do ABC tech thing?”

Even though I understand and implement a lot of the “tech” things IN my business (read: fancy, seemingly magical solutions on my website that make everything work, including the website itself), I don’t necessarily consider myself tech-minded.

I am just very interested and committed to understanding solutions that could work in my business.

And those solutions just happen to be technical, most of the time.

I wanted to create real urgency with my book preorder. I also didn’t want people to get lost on my website OR distracted by other products. During the preorder, I wanted them to understand the value of the book and the book series, choose their tier, place their order, and feel GOOD about the process.

A screenshot of the sales preorder page for The Midnight Tablet. At the top on purple background, white text it reads, "Presenting my newest book...THE MIDNIGHT TABLET" There is a 3d image of The Midnight Tablet book and the eBook version. There's a countdown timer at the bottom of the image that reads, "The Midnight Tablet Preorder expires in..." The numbers are in round circles telling us there is 1 hour, 58 minutes, 56 seconds left. 

I used a lockdown countdown timer (Thrive Ultimatum) that would automatically seal the sales and checkout page at midnight when the preorder ended. Sure, I could have just taken down the page…but inevitably there are people who get to the party late and it’s better for them to see a “you missed it!” page than a 404.

The countdown timer also displayed at the bottom of every page on my website, as it contained a button that linked to the preorder sales page. Even if people were visiting my site for reasons other than the preorder, they would have seen I had a special event going on. I could also customize the look of the countdown timer banner so it matched the texturing on the book, so that was a lot of fun too.

I also bought a whole new cart system during my prep for this preorder and used this event as a test run. I could have used my regular checkout on the Faery Ink Press website, but I didn’t want people getting lost, confused, or distracted when adding orders to cart.

I invested heavily. But all of these tools aren’t just for this preorder. I can use them for any future events I hold.

You don’t have to do this part. Remember that I’ve branded myself as a press, I have nearly a dozen books, and I’m in this for the long haul.


If you’re looking for tips to launch your book or to organize a book preorder event, don’t get too hung up on shopping cart systems or countdown timers or other bells and whistles.


Focus on your readers and why they should buy from you. 


The Fear & Limiting Beliefs

The truth is, I almost didn’t create the preorder video. It was on my list and seemed like a great idea to further legitimize the preorder campaign.

Except...

My fear said:

It’s too much work. You’re doing enough. You’ll have to ask your fiancé for help. He’ll be annoyed. 

You don’t want to put your face out there. You want to stay hidden, because that is far safer. Isn’t it nice to be safe?

It’s better when people don’t know who you are. Don't show off your technical prowess. 

If they really appreciated your work, they’ll like it for its own merits and not for your face or your voice.

This doesn’t have to be a big deal—I thought you wanted this to be over?

My experience, research, and gut said:

If you do this video, it puts a face to the product. It lets people know that a PERSON writes these books, that you are a one-woman outfit, and you are EXCITED to create and sell stories that have already made lots of people happy.

People buy from people. You’ve been successful to date partially because people buy into the idea of being part of your success.

This IS a big deal and that's OKAY.

It's kind of a silly thing to be so dark about. It’s just a sales video, the kind of explainer you’d make for a Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign. That’s easy for me to write this, months later, but from my notes back then? It was so stressful.

During the month leading up to this pre-order, I meditated for 20-40 minutes per day, for 30 days. I journaled it (and I may blog about this experience here as well). This helped me be more introspective and more objective about my limiting beliefs so I could get on with the campaign.

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of a quote from The Midnight Tablet that says, "You would have been fine, Kiera. But you would have wondered. And regretted." My favourite line from the book.

Without this work behind-the-scenes, I’m not sure I would have had the guts to undertake the video. I’ve fallen off the meditation bandwagon for the time being, but I know I should get back on because of the impact it had during this stressful time.

Undertaking this project, more than anything, taught me an important lesson: my fears aren’t always representative of my reality.

They aren’t telling me something supernaturally true about the present or the future.

They are feelings about potential futures that (probably) won’t come to pass, based on my insecurities.


Creating a Video to Explain the Preorder Campaign

A thumbnail I made for The Midnight Tablet preorder video I don't think I ended up using. It has a screenshot of me, Clare, a white woman with long brown hair swept to one side in my cozy blue sweater. The Midnight Tablet 3d cover is  on the right. The header reads, "How to Preorder The Midnight Tablet." There are some symbols draping the right side of the image that are also bordering the book cover - they are magical symbols or "code" in the books.

I wrote the script—word for word, what I wanted to say about the preorder—and on a Saturday afternoon, my now-husband Dave helped me film the entire thing with his equipment. We even converted my tablet-laptop into a teleprompter!

My now-husband holding up my tablet that is acting as a teleprompter. It reads "Hi, my name is Clare C. Marshall. I'm the author-publisher behind Faery Ink Press. And I'm excited to announce that..." 

It took a lot longer than I expected to film everything. I had to read everything perfectly into the camera, and that wasn't easy. We also did two takes of the video—one from a wide angle and one close up. This allowed for some variety during the editing process (cutting to and from each angle) and gives a crisper result than just filming wide and zooming in during post-production.

The video turned out SO GOOD and made the whole campaign feel professional. Dave made quick work of the editing for me while I made us dinner! I believe the video is still on my Instagram, if you want to check it out.

A shot of our living room. There's a camera facing a coach and a big white umbrella light.


Creating the bonuses

If I wasn’t going to offer a substantial discount on the preorder price, I thought it would be a good idea to offer bonus items or experiences instead. Everyone who ordered would have access to the bonuses, no matter the purchase tier.

This isn’t a new concept—it’s a common tactic when selling digital content, especially digital courses. 

So here was the challenge: what can you create for your audience that is real and useful, but doesn’t break the bank to produce, and ships for next to nothing?

Stickers, buttons, other merch? Sure. There’s plenty of that in the book community and some readers love that. Honestly, I’m not one for knick-knacks, so my initial instinct is to gravitate towards a different idea. Plus, stickers and buttons cost money to produce, and are just another thing to try and fit in the envelope/parcel.

I spent a lot of time humming and hawing over this because I wanted three bonuses. Three is a substantial number and I wanted all three bonuses to be enough to make someone pause and take a chance on my work AND be useful/substantial to a fan of the series.

The three bonuses I came up with were:

  • A reading challenge printable
  • A personality quiz that sorted you into one of the factions within The Violet Fox Series universe.
  • Discussion questions for book series as a whole.

A screenshot of the preorder sales page. White header on purple background reads, "And if you preorder from me today...you'll get some pretty sweet BONUSES." The two bonuses visible are Discussion Questions and Personality Quiz. The countdown timer is at the bottom of the image.

All of these were digital and accessible after purchase. I had a lot of fun creating the personality quiz! Overall, these took a lot of forethought to come up with, but weren’t too strenuous to create, and I think added some depth to the offering.

Admittedly, I did have trouble positioning these bonuses. Explaining there were four purchase tiers and three bonuses and order now before mid-June…it does get to be a LOT. I just really, really, wanted to show up in the best way possible and make the book preorder a no-brainer.


Ready…Set…Preorder!

In the week leading up to the event, there was lots to finish and more importantly—TEST. After I went through everything—the sales page, the checkouts, the emails—I had my sister run through it too. We caught a couple of critical errors where the right email wasn’t firing upon purchase, so YAY thank you Jessie!!

Pro tip: If you are creating sales pages that connect to a shopping cart or payment gateway, always do a test purchase if possible.

You want to make sure your customer has the best experience, receives confirmation emails, and overall has access to the correct information, especially for larger purchases!

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress that reads, "Preorder Tomorrow."

The morning of the preorder, I woke up early. I was calm. I had worked really hard to get everything done. My emails were scheduled. It was happening now and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The first email, to my early-bird readers, went out at 7am. 

I reminded myself of an old mantra I had, selling at the markets: there’s always someone who will buy. All it takes is one to break the no-sales streak.

And if I had no one? Well, I gave it my best shot.

Three-and-a-half hours later, I had my first sale. Fifteen minutes later, my second. Half an hour later, my third.

And then other. And another. And a whole lot more.

The first "real" email, to the rest of the list, went out at 11am. I inhaled sharply when that one hit my inbox. No takebacks now.

The emails were working. Money was coming in.

People were ordering. The preorder was happening!!

This shouldn’t have been surprising to me. I sold books all the time in person at comic conventions and craft shows. I had gotten comfortable with my in-person sales process. But selling online? Out in the open? MORE in the open than a closed, paid event?

I could have hung up the towel here—but my work was far from done.


Promoting the Preorder

Promoting is likely the HARDEST part of all of this.

You can write the emails, create the sales page and incentives, and then be too burnt out or tired to show up online to tell people about it.

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of me promoting the Reading Challenge Printable, one of the bonuses for the preorder campaign.

I had to make sure that all of my work wasn’t in vain.

While I’d managed to create and schedule my email sequence and construct some social media posts BEFORE the book preorder launch, I ran out of time to create and schedule everything I wanted for Instagram and Facebook. This meant each day, I was creating assets for social media.

This wasn’t terrible, but it was a nuisance. Ideally, that should all be done in advance so I would be free to engage with my audience and answer questions on the fly.

This was also before I’d gotten my social media marketing strategy in order, which you can read more about here.

I ran some Facebook ads, which I can get fairly decent results from during the best of times—but ever since the pandemic hit, Facebook ads have been very up and down for me. Ultimately, I ended up turning off the ads as they weren’t performing as I’d predicted.

If this were for the first book in a brand-new series, I wouldn’t have constrained myself so much. I would have gone bigger.

It’s easy to say now, months later, what I could have done. When you’re in the middle of the fear and uncertainty of a large project, undertakings that seem possible from the outside are burdensome and heavy. There does come a point when you are D.O.N.E. with it all, and I had to accept that I had reached that point.

Each day, I attempted to post about the preorder campaign at least once on social media, in addition to the emails going out on their set schedules.

For the life of the campaign, I sent 9 emails during the campaign period (2-3 weeks), which included a teaser email days before the campaign began, an early-bird email to people who had specifically requested to be notified about The Midnight Tablet, and a survey about a week after the campaign ended (more on that below).

In case you’re wondering: “Did anyone unsubscribe because you sent too many emails?”

Yep, absolutely. But nearly all of the people who unsubscribed weren’t engaging with my list anyway, some for years. I can’t be mad at people who aren’t interested and decide to leave. I’ve been there.

As I’ve told so many people, and no doubt you’ve read many times if you’re researching “how often to send an email to my list”: people have busy lives. They’re probably not keeping track how many times you email. Unless you’re annoyingly emailing every day (or multiple times a day), you’re likely not top of mind. A week can feel like a century nowadays.

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of of me next to The Midnight Tablet with the text, "Preorder Ends Tomorrow"

During those last few hours of the preorder on June 11, Dave and I drove out to Marda Loop, got ourselves some Village Ice Cream, and walked around Garrison Woods—a picturesque, desirable suburb that is part British brownstones with WW1 street names with a smattering of fantastical architecture. It felt nice to get out of the house and imagine the future.

It felt even better to get back in the car after our walk and see the last few orders make its way in before the cart closed.

I’d done it. The preorder was over.


Sales Breakdown

To refresh your memory: I had four bundles in this book preorder campaign. Here was the order breakdown by percentage:

56%

The Midnight Tablet
(single book)

22%

The Midnight Tablet
and 2 others

16%

The series bundle
(four books)

6%

The series bundle
(eBooks)

This distribution is more or less what I expected. Admittedly, I was hopeful for slightly more orders of “The Midnight Tablet and 2 others” bundle, as it seemed to be the most accessible point of entry of the four of them, but I really can't complain!

Important observations:

1

Nearly half of my total sales came in on the first day

Sales on Day 1 trickled in during the hours after I sent my first couple of emails. Sales also seemed to directly follow subsequent emails OR my Instagram posts. My pre-work with the emails really seemed to pay off.

2

I had a 48.5% cart conversion

This means only about half of the people who made it to my checkout page actually made the purchase. This isn’t particularly great. I think I could have paid more attention to checkout design. By that point in the game, I was getting pretty burnt out. Next time, I’ll make it a priority.

3

I had upsells, but not many takers

The advantage of using a shopping cart system like WooCommerce (with plugins) or ThriveCart is you can tailor upsells to your audience. This means I could sell a customer on my other series while they were also buying the preorder. I didn’t have many takers for my upsells—but as the majority of my audience already has most of my books, this makes sense.


Feedback

About a week after the campaign ended, I conducted a survey of the people who didn’t participate in the preorder.

To be fair, only about 5% of my non-preordering list actually filled out the survey, but it was enough for me to gain some insight into what I can improve upon for next time. When one person speaks, it’s been my experience that at least ten people silently agree.

Some of the interesting responses I’ll highlight here.

The first question I asked was, “What reasons do you feel stopped you from pre-ordering The Midnight Tablet?”

The responses available for choice included:

  • Too Expensive – Books were too pricey
  • Uncertainty – I don’t know enough about you to make a purchase decision
  • Strapped - my entertainment budget is stretched thin 
  • Waiting for bookstore/favourite retailer release
  • Confused – website and sale was too overwhelming/unclear
  • I didn’t know a preorder was happening

Take a moment and guess which response item received the most votes.

The highest response, by far?  “Strapped.”

Upon first glance, this isn't the ideal clear winner you'd want. But I will take my wins where I can get them. This tells me I wasn’t too expensive for my audience, nor were they particularly hesitant to purchase. To the non-purchasers, it's a matter of budget and little else, which is understandable in the times we’re living in.

The other question from the survey I’ll highlight here was, “Was there anything about the preorder page or the checkout process that was confusing?”

The #1 answer: the bonuses were confusing. 

I had suspected this in my gut going in. Even though I did my best to position them, I 100% agree I could have been clearer.

The #2 answer: I didn’t go to the preorder page at all.

Now this is illuminating. I allowed people to add notes to their responses and there was a resounding theme to the additional comments: many people already have the first few books. Or they wanted to have them. And they were aware a preorder was happening – they just didn’t want to buy another book right then.

Had I waited until now, November 2020, to conduct the preorder, would I have gotten a bigger response? I’m honestly not sure about that and I don’t like dwelling on what-ifs. I’m glad it’s done and dusted. Now that I have a baseline experience, I can apply it to my future online events. I'd rather have that now so I can prepare for 2021.


Fulfillment

When the preorder ends for the public…my work as a publisher began.

Now I had all these orders to process, fulfill, and ship.

It. Took. Forever.

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of The Midnight Tablet book sticking out of a purple packing envelope, next to a pair of scissors.

I had 30+ orders. You might be thinking, that doesn’t seem like a lot for one person to handle. You could knock that out in a day!

Maybe I could have, if I also didn’t have other deadlines and work to complete.

Like you, I may have severely underestimated the amount of time to pack an order takes. When I receive orders from my website, they don’t take a ton of time. I gather 1-3 books and sign them, print a receipt, put them in an envelope—you know, regular order fulfillment.

For this preorder, there were far more steps.

First, I sorted and excluded the eBook orders, as those would be auto-fulfilled by my electronic systems. I created and printed the receipts and sorted them by order type, depending on what bundle was ordered.

Then, I gathered the books from my storage area and lugged them up to where I was processing. My office got real messy, real fast.

About halfway through this process, I realized my largest envelopes were not large enough for my bundle orders, nor did I have enough of them. I had to source and order mailer boxes. This took more time as I measured, remeasured, consulted Canada Post about their mailer options, and did some other research.

Fortunately, there was a warehouse here in Calgary that specialized in such a thing and I was able to get the exact size I needed without placing a custom order. Phew!

Instagram screenshot @faeryinkpress of a white parcel box with a handwritten note that says "Thanks!" on it covering a receipt and white tissue. There are books in there!

Once I had all the books, supplies, and order forms gathered, I set to work signing, packaging, weighing, and buying postage. This was easily a weekend of work. I used Canada Post for domestic orders and Chit Chats for my international orders.

“It’s kind of like you’ve run a Kickstarter,” said my friend Sam, during our daily boss talks.

And that’s exactly how I felt. I’ve only run one crowdfunding campaign, a super long time ago, and this felt more…real somehow. I’d gone face-first into the preorder planning process and had my fingers in every pie, from beginning to end.


Why I consider this a success

It's easy to undertake something and declare it a success, especially since I’m purposefully not sharing financial information here. So here’s a couple of reasons why I’m satisfied with my results.

I did it.

I pulled it off, even though some aspects of it made me uncomfortable and afraid. I could have stepped back and played small, but I didn’t allow my fear to triumph this time. This is a major victory for me.

I almost hit my sales goal.

Almost doesn't count, I know, I know. While I didn’t hit my ultimate sales goal for this preorder campaign, I wasn’t far off what I wanted to make. This means with a little more promotion and improvement on the campaign, I could probably hit and surpass my goal next time!

My audience showed up for me.

I wasn’t sure if my in-person customers would transition en masse, but they did. I’m very grateful. This reinforces my belief that with strategic forethought, careful planning, and swift execution, I can not only improve my next campaign, but increase my regular monthly orders as well.


How I could improve my next book launch plan or preorder event

I spent a lot of time on the preorder campaign – and was completely burnt out when it came to the actual launch. For which, I sent out an email, made a social media post, and that's about it.

The time between the preorder and the launch date was only a month or two. The bonus of this was, I did the preorder event, the books arrived, and as soon as the event was over, I began the order fulfillment process.

Major Takeaways

Here are the major lessons I learned during this preorder campaign that I will consider more carefully nearly my next large book promotion event.

I need to charge WAY more for international shipping.

I didn’t have many orders outside of Canada but I severely underestimated the cost of shipping even a small package outside of North America. Next time I’ll actually look at the Chit Chats website and use their guides instead of “I think it costs X based on the last time I shipped something to ABC country…”

I could just do a Kickstarter.

I reinvented the wheel a little when it came to this preorder book launch. I could have just organized a Kickstarter and NOT worried about creating sales pages, integrating a new shopping cart, connecting my email for special fulfillment…etc. This took a lot of time.

But that’s the stuff I find THRILLING about creating and selling my own stuff. I LOVE figuring out the design and the technical aspects and making them gel together. Then when someone goes through my checkout and I get a sales notification? That’s a kind of high.

Have order fulfillment ready to go.

Now that I have some idea of the volume and the real work that goes into a “small” (less than 100 orders) preorder campaign, I can better predict how many boxes, envelopes, and other supplies I’ll need.

Obviously, if I had thousands—or even more than 100 orders—I wouldn’t be fulfilling them myself. There’s a point where I’d use a fulfillment company to do this part. But as I’m still a small bean, I can manage this part for now.


So you want to launch your book—or create a book preorder campaign.

But you:

  • Don’t know where to start
  • Need some guidance when it comes to generating ideas for book preorder campaigns (or any other book promotion)
  • Like brainstorming and organizing your marketing activities

That’s why I’ve created a book launch planning template based on my experience!

Get it delivered to your inbox by filling out the form here:

Download the worksheet to plan your first book preorder campaign!

Let me know where you'd like me to send the worksheet.

Let me know in the comments:

  • Do you want to know more about my planning process?
  • How do you like to promote your books?
  • What scares you the most about book marketing?

Until next time! 🙂

Download the worksheet! Want to plan your own book preorder campaign? Get started with my free planner worksheet.

Hey, I'm Clare!

Clare C. Marshall is the author/publisher behind Faery Ink Press. She blogs monthly about writing, publishing, marketing, and productivity at cmarshallpublishing.com.


Want to know more? Learn about the journey here.

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