Updated September 25, 2023
Self-publishers have learned that preorders create excitement and greater sales for their books. Preorders also ensure that your book will be available for readers to purchase in all stores on launch day. Without preorders, it can take days and even weeks for your book to populate in all the stores, and there's nothing more frustrating than having a launch party when your readers can't purchase it in their favorite store!
Selling in Amazon? Of course you are! But Amazon KDP Print does not offer preorders, nor do any of the other POD distribution companies: PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, or StreetLib. BookBaby is an exception, but though their in-house print processes are excellent, they're expensive. For authors publishing the average black and white book, they're cost-prohibitive at almost double the price of POD printing with the others.
What else is good to know? Well... IngramSpark offers unlimited copies of your books even before you publish it, at prices that are lower than short-run digital printers. So unless you need RUSH printing, you can use IngramSpark as your printer, too.
2 Ways to Offer Print Book Preorders on Amazon
If you want to offer your print book as a preorder on Amazon, you have two choices. One of them is a ridiculous workaround, so this post is about how to use the sensible option. Let's take a look.
The ridiculous option: Open an Amazon Advantage account ($99), populate your listing with metadata, claim your book, confirm your orders, cancel your orders, approve the print proof 4 hours in advance of your official publish day, reconfirm your orders with zero units, close and cancel the title, transfer the preorders, and close your account a month later. Wow! Are you exhausted, yet?
The sensible option: Use IngramSpark to distribute your print book as a preorder to Amazon and other stores.
My Q&A with IngramSpark on Setting Up Preorders
I asked Robin Cutler, (now former) Director of IngramSpark at Ingram Content Group, for details on how to distribute your book with preorder status to Amazon and the other retailers they serve. There've been some changes since this interview so I've updated the info.
Q: I understand that IngramSpark distributes pre-orders to Amazon and other online print book retailers. Can you tell me how this works?
A: Preorders make it possible for Ingram’s 39,000+ retailers, libraries, schools, internet commerce companies and other channel partners to order the book in advance of your official On Sale Date. Preorders are only available for titles that are in production and set up for distribution at IngramSpark.
The On Sale and Publication Dates
The On Sale Date is the date when retailers can start listing your book for sale. If the On Sale Date is in the future, IngramSpark will collect these orders as preorders.
The Publication Date is date on which a retail consumer or library may take possession of a product.
Once you enable distribution, information about your book (metadata) goes into the Ingram catalog so that Ingram’s retail and library customers (including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online retailers) can start placing orders for your book.
Your book will be printed ten days before the On Sale Date so that pre-orders are received on time.
Let's break it down
Let's go through it again step-by-step.
- 1Open an account with IngramSpark and upload your print book files (paperback and hardcover).
- 2Add your book metadata.
- 3Specify your ON SALE date - this is the preorder date and the date that retailers will start selling the book.
- 4Specify your PUBLICATION date - this can be the same date as the ON SALE date and indicates the date that the book will actually be shipped. Do not specify the PUBLICATION date if you have uploaded test interior and cover files, but AFTER you have uploaded the latest and final version of your book interior and cover. I recommend doing this at least 14 working days BEFORE publication, or even earlier if you can. Sometimes Ingram prints the books in advance, so you really don't want them printing a beta copy.
- 5Upload your book files and wait until they're validated (2-3 business days). If you've uploaded your book to get test copies ordered, then you've already figured out all the potential issues with your book much earlier than launch week. So be sure you have done this and printed proofs that look great before this.
- 6When the book is ready, click the ENABLED FOR DISTRIBUTION button.
Robin Cutler is a frequent speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference. This is her All About Distribution session.
Q&A with Robin Cutler
Q - Is there any additional cost associated with pre-orders?
A -The setup fee of $49 (for print and ebook) will be waived with your order of 50 books within 60 days. Most authors print 50-100 books to send out for ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] (or should), anyway. [UPDATE! IngramSpark no longer charges a free to upload books. In other words, it's free!]
Q - What about digital book preorders?
A - Ebook preorders work just like print except you can make changes up until the day before. Because there is no printing involved, the ebook will be delivered to the reader or retailer on the On Sale Date.
Q - How long in advance can I set the preorder?
A - I would recommend setting the On Sale Date at least three months in advance, which is typical of traditional publishing. But IngramSpark will allow you to set up an On Sale Date as far in advance as 365 days.
Q - What if I need to upload a new version of the book (to correct errors) before the pre-order date? What’s the cutoff date?
A - IngramSpark recommends uploading revised files no later than 15 business days prior to the On Sale Date. Keep in mind that preorder shipments may be delayed if the revised files fail validation when uploaded. [The earlier you can upload your final files the better, for peace of mind. You want them to print the final copy and not an uncorrected version.]
Q - What if the author is getting close to the preorder date and realize that the book isn't going to be ready. Are there consequences to delaying the preorder?
A - We do require that content files be uploaded and that the title is turned on for distribution before preorder functionality is enabled. So if the date is coming up and the author wants to upload a new file, or feels more comfortable just pushing out the date, they can do that up until 10 days prior.
They can also turn off/on distribution very easily at any time, but keep in mind when they do this, the availability will change on the retailer sites. If they do this too much, retailers (such as Amazon) might always list their book with availability that isn’t ideal [such as the out of stock message].
We don’t ban authors, but at the same time, it is always to their best advantage to make sure all their metadata is as perfect as possible BEFORE they turn on distribution for the first time. We send data feeds on updated information out all the time but we don’t have any control over when retailers update their own sites with that new information.
Also, if authors want to upload revised files, they can do that too, but we will charge a $25 revision fee for the file upload after the title is live in the system.
Q - How many copies of my book can I order to use as ARCs [Advanced Reading Copies] once the book is uploaded? (Amazon limits authors to 5 proofs per order.)
A -We do not have a limit on the number of copies that can be ordered, and we encourage authors using ARCs to promote their books in advance of publication. To order ARCs, you will see that the On Sale Date is highlighted in yellow and a new Override On Sale Date option will be available. Select that, then order your copies. Finally, select Hold Until On Sale Date to hold printing again until 10 days before the On Sale Date.
Q - So, you know one of the reasons authors like to go direct with Amazon is because they make more money...
A -Well, this isn’t exactly true, but I do know that authors think this. There is no direct distribution fee applied. Rather, what the author earns is dependent on what discount they provide when setting up their title. For print, they can set a discount of anywhere from 30-55% off. [Bookstores require 53% plus returns to stock books, but online retailers are happy with 40%.] So if they set a 40% discount, authors will earn the opposite of the discount, or 70% minus the cost of printing. So the formula is:
List Price - Discount - Print Cost = Publisher Compensation
Printing with Amazon and IngramSpark
[See my post on Comparing IngramSpark and Amazon publisher compensation and royalties. I was surprised to find that distributing to Amazon using IngramSpark is more profitable.]
Authors are using both [IngramSpark and Amazon] platforms today and they live fine side by side, as long as the author doesn’t turn on Amazon's expanded distribution. Also, the author should use the same ISBN [purchased from their ISBN agency] and the same PDF files [for the paperback edition] in both places. If the author is looking for a one-stop platform, I think IngramSpark is the best choice. If selling to bookstores and libraries is important, then IngramSpark is a great option.
Q - Many authors complain about Amazon’s POD print quality. When IngramSpark delivers a book order to Amazon, does Amazon print it using their equipment or is it printed on IngramSpark’s printing equipment?
A - If Ingram is fulfilling an Amazon order for an IngramSpark title, we do the printing. If the title was also set up with Amazon, then it is likely that the Amazon order went to Amazon to fulfill.
Thank you, Robin!
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A complete, step-by-step guide to publishing your book along with help in choosing the right combination of distribution tools and services is provided in my Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, 5th Edition.
Need more help? Check out my online courses on self-publishing!