Indie Authors: How to Use Direct Pre-Orders to Fund Your Books Before You Try Amazon
The Foundation: Community
The size — and dedication — of your community of friends and fans is why your mileage may vary if you try to replicate what follows. Indeed, those of you with larger communities and a more established indie author career might do much better!
I have a long history in indie publishing. Back in the fall of 2005, I self-published the first novel in history with a simultaneous release in paperback, DRM-free e-book, and free podcast editions. Over the years, it was nominated for a Parsec Award, a small press picked up the paperback rights, it hit #53 on the overall (not just Kindle) Amazon charts, a minor RPG developer adapted the characters and settings for their rules system, and many indie authors cite the book as being influential on their own decision to self-publish. (Many of those folks have, like you wish for all your “kids,” done much better than I have!)
This isn’t humble (or not so humble) bragging. The point is, my first book, and the marketing of same, was objectively Something Different, and it got a lot of attention.
Thanks to that book and the advocacy and promotion I did for it and the platforms and “new media” associated with it, I developed a small but loyal community of friends and fans. Those folks powered a successful Kickstarter for my second novel, and even today, I look at my mailing list and see many people who’ve been there since 2006 or so.
If not for that small-but-mighty (just over 300 subscribers!) mailing list and a modest but loyal (see a trend there?) social media following (1700 Facebook (cumulative personal and creative page); 2400 Twitter; 500 Instagram (personal and creative accounts, cumulative), 8 Patreon patrons), I would not have attempted what I attempted.
Direct Reservation… With Incentives!
I ran a series of promotional offers well before the book was available to order anywhere… indeed, before the book was even finished!
Use Gumroad for Digital Delivery and Payment Processing
A note on one integral, essential service that made everything possible: With all of the offers mentioned below, I used Gumroad to process the orders and deliver the PDFs.
Gumroad integrates with my mailing list provider, ConvertKit, so anyone who purchases anything of mine via Gumroad is automatically added to my mailing list and tagged accordingly so I can communicate with them directly later.
I am on the free tier of Gumroad, which means they take 8.5% + $0.30 of each purchase. Gumroad pays out via direct deposit every two weeks — a heck of a lot better than waiting at least sixty days to be paid by Amazon, yes?
This part is very important: Unless you’re running a literal pre-order where nothing is provided at the time of purchase (and so no money is charged at the time of purchase), Gumroad requires a deliverable product for all sales, which is why my “pre-orders” were really paid reservations… and included an actual digital product the buyer received instantly.
Plus, it’s just nice to give folks something exclusive.
Okay, then. Here’s what I offered.
The Super-Fan Bundle
In late January, 2020, with the first manuscript draft about 60% complete, I created an offering I called the “Super-Fan Bundle.”
Unlike running a pre-order on Amazon, where you don’t get paid until sixty days after your book is actually released, this was a pre-paid reservation, and every two weeks Gumroad deposited what I earned into my bank account.
The “Super-Fan Bundle” guaranteed the buyer:
- a signed, personalized, numbered (limited to 100) paperback
- the audiobook read by the author
- EPUB and MOBI e-book copies
In addition, purchasers immediately received a 13,000-word PDF of my original character notes for the book: a free-writing exercise in worldbuilding and character development that is part of the planning stage in my writing process.
Finally, their purchase gave them ongoing access to “behind the scenes” updates, other notes and material, and opportunities for direct access (video chats) with me.
The price: $75.00, including free shipping in the United States. The offer was good for 100 sales, or until the Kindle Book went on pre-order May 1st, 2020.
I sent the offer to the segment of my mailing list interested in my writing (at the time, 319 people) on January 28, 2020 (I also announced on social media about a week or so later, and repeatedly — no paid ads, though, just organic reach).
8 people clicked through; 6 people purchased, resulting in a net of $368.80 (I gave one person a discount because he was already a monthly Patreon patron).
The Autographed Paperback Offer
Now, of course, $75 was too pricey for some folks who, all the same, wanted to support me and the work.
I created another Gumroad product with the same extra goodies as the Super-Fan bundle, but this only reserved the autographed paperback. Price: $35.00.
That email went out on February 18, 2020 to 396 people. 19 people clicked through; 2 people purchased, resulting in a net of $68.45. (As before, I also did social media mentions, but unpaid and so, not trackable.)
Putting the Funding to Work
Meanwhile, I contracted a cover artist, Tim Shepherd, for a work of original digitally painted art with all commercial rights (not just a license for the cover — I can do anything with the art, including other products and merchandise).
His price was just over $600.00. Hmmm… I’d made $437.25 so far…
Three More Offers
So! A few days after I completed the manuscript draft of the book, I created three more Gumroad offers:
- The paperback (unsigned) for $25.00
- The audiobook for $25.00
- The ebooks for $4.00
All the extra goodies / access from the other offers included.
I sent that offer to 369 people on my mailing list on April 22, 2020 with a hard deadline to purchase of no later than the end of April, 2020.
10 people clicked through, resulting in 3 paperback sales, 8 audiobook sales, and 10 e-book sales, for a net of $281.93.
Along the way, between February and the end of April, I sent these lovely direct reservation folks scans of hand-drawn maps and sketches I’d made to suss out locations and character movements, pretty much all of the in-process drafts my cover artist shared with me, and another exclusive e-book of about 10,000 words featuring the scenes from the book in which each principle character first appeared.
I also did a live-stream of the last two hours of my writing the manuscript draft so people could literally witness my finishing the book (about eight people showed up, we had a nice impromptu Q&A for about an hour after).
The Bottom Line
The monetary bottom line: I raised $719.18 (net) from twenty nine wonderful members of my community toward the production of the book for an up-front investment of nothing but time.
This doesn’t include the twenty bucks or so I’ve been getting from very patient Patreon patrons every month, in some cases for years. Patreon patrons automatically get a copy of any digital product I create, so e-books and audiobooks are theirs without them having to lift a finger.
The Amazon pre-order (for the Kindle and the paperback) ran from May 1st, 2020 through June 17th, 2020. It resulted in 26 pre-orders for the e-book and 23 paperback pre-orders, which will — when Amazon and IngramSpark get around to paying me in sixty to ninety days — net about $65.24 (Kindle) and $59.43 (paperback) for a total of $124.67.
Compare the per-person revenue:
- Each of my lovely friends and fans participating in the direct pre-order brought an average of $24.80 in revenue.
- Per-person revenue from Amazon pre-orders was $2.54
Think of it this way: nearly all of the direct pre-order reservations came as a result of my mailing list community of friends and fans, so in a very real way, those people are “worth” substantially more — almost by an order of magnitude — than the folks who learned about the Amazon pre-order via social media or word of mouth.
Of course, the actual worth of my mailing list community of friends and fans is, in all ways, priceless and invaluable. You should have a mailing list, dear writer-reader.
There’s been a really nice intangible bottom line to this effort: re-connecting with long-time steadfast fans who, unprompted, started re-tweeting and sharing my promotional posts about the book. Not to mention a “lean start-up”-style validation of the product (and, let’s be honest, validation of me, a guy who hadn’t released a novel-length work since 2013).
What Did It Cost to Raise Over $700 to Finance My Indie Book?
I spent exactly zero dollars — beyond my usual monthly expenses running my business — to earn over $700.00 toward the production of my book Light of the Outsider.
If you have even a small community of loyal, supportive friends and fans — and you’re willing to engage on a direct, personal level, and put in the time — you should give direct pre-orders a shot!
I Can Help You Get Set Up
Need help with your mailing list, website, Gumroad account, or other indie-author infrastructure?
I help indie authors bring their books to fruition, to market, and to an audience. It’s my full-time day job, and I’ve been doing it for over fifteen years.
Help Support Creative Endeavors
I offer thousands of words of free fiction and articles, as well as hours and hours of free podcast content. I hope it’s all entertaining, informative, and interesting!
If you’d like to support my creative endeavors and help offset the costs — both material, and in terms of resources and energy — to maintain this site, I’ll be grateful for your generosity.
Here are a few ways you can help.