Even years ago when I worked at Little, Brown, we announced books way in advance, 12-18 months. Bookstore reps used covers, one sheets, and early praise to sell books to the brick-and-mortar stores. Then came the chains, the demise of the local, Amazon, etc. Now, with a resurgence of the “local-lore” bookstore as a center for community, coffee, etc., even the retailer giant Amazon is trying to get a piece of the physical store action. Preorders have been around for a long time and aren’t going away.
After my literary agency sold a book to St. Martin’s Press through an auction, the publisher treated author Shannon Galpin incredibly well; a dedicated publicist was brought in, and lots of buzz was created, before, during, and after the book’s on-sale date. Having Shannon as a motivated author was a given and, I think, part of why her book (Mountain to Mountain) was so attractive. But I agree with Dan Bloom; publishers large and small are asking authors to do a lot of their own publicity and special sales. It has become de rigueur for an author to show up with a platform, realistic hooks and connections, etc. My experience as a writer, agent, and now publisher shows that generating presales can be a collaborative affair, now more than ever due to the rise of the self- and-small publishing boom.
Here at Green Writers Press, the small publisher I run, our own Web site generates preorders. This is an example of how we do it (and of how we can raise money to support such a noteworthy title that we want to print hardcover).
Another effective approach to presales is to offer a chapter as an e-book for free. All of our books are available as e-books. The e-book market is strong for us, and growing, with our books available via iTunes, Kobo, Nook, Kindle, Tablet, etc. The e-book also appeals to our environmentally sustainable mission, but the manufacture of Kindles is not fully disclosed, so we prefer iPad reading. Libraries account for most of our book sales and we focus on making sales channels available for books in all formats. Many readers don’t realize they can order e-books through their local bookstores, via their Web sites, as well. Since the majority of e-books are sold via Amazon, the market is strongly in the giant’s favor; however, e-books are available from other vendors as well.
Audio books are another growing market for us, and we have sold the audio rights to four titles as well (most recently the cli-fi fantasy Polly and the One and Only World to Secular Media Group). Since we sell so much to libraries, we are also ensuring that our audio books and e-books are available via OverDrive and other outlets besides Amazon, since libraries cannot order from Audible.com (owned by Amazon). Supporting local bookstores and libraries is our main focus as we grow. We sell on Amazon as well.
Our distributor in NYC and Tennessee (Midpoint) also generates preorders through the web and sales conferences, along with the old-fashioned way, with sales reps taking a hard copy catalog to bookstores. Since there are millions of books on the market, it is hard for a publisher and an author to get the recognition they deserve—since I have very little capital and no budget for advertising, we rely on word of mouth and community building around our books. Our authors partner with us and we share 50% of the net sales (minus the distributor’s percentage and the printing cost). Presales help us gauge interest in a new title and can be very valuable. What a publisher can’t predict is a book taking off —what we all dream about. Our title The Bodies of Mothers was a big surprise; it sold out of its first printing of 2,000 copies in a few weeks (retail value is $50). That was a big deal for us. There was no way to gauge its success; it became a hit due to word-of-mouth and the growth of a social movement around mothers loving their post-baby bodies!
Books around climate change fiction—the aptly named “Cli-Fi” genre—are a growing market for us, our young adult book KABOOM! (“Kids Against Blowing Off Our Mountaintops”) has really strong pre-sales and I can use that for leverage when I announce to bookstores and the media, just the way blurbs are used. I can also plan my print run accordingly, but since I use print-on-demand, I can have printed copies of a “Paperback Original” in 3-5 business days, so there is not that added pressure of a publisher having to print 2,000 copies to get a price break as they used to (in color/hardcover, yes, but that is not my model as much as the trade paperback original is).
Photo information: Cummings portrait by Jeff Woodward. Group photo shows an author meeting for KABOOM at a local café with assistant editor Kaitlyn Plukas, author Brian Adams, publisher Dede Cummings, and assistant editor Ron Anahaw.