Why You Shouldn’t Put your Book on Amazon Pre-Order and Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited Options

Kindle Direct Publishing has a few new options for publishers. The jury is still out on them, particularly Kindle Unlimited, as we don’t know what authors will end up getting paid, but I’ve got the quick and dirty here on both.

Amazon Pre-order

Don’t do it.  That’s my expert advice.  Here’s the scoop:  unless you are close to reaching New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists, it will only hurt you. Why? Because if you’re like me, you rely largely on the Amazon algorithm to sell your books for you. That means, Amazon’s recommendations that come in the form of “Customers who bought this book also bought… <your book>”.  No one but the programmers at Amazon know exactly what data goes into Amazon’s algorithm, but most of us agree it has to do with the number of sales you hit initially on your own.  It’s generally accepted that the first 72 hours your book hits Amazon are crucial for getting the Amazon wheel turning in your favor.

So what happens when you put your book on pre-order?  I had understood that the orders made in advance of the release date would count toward my opening day “ranking” on Amazon.  Not True.  I repeat: Not True.  What it does count toward is books sold if you’re trying to hit the New York Times or USA Today list.  While I wish I was in that camp, unfortunately, I am not.

So what happened when I set my latest book to pre-order?  Amazon rank started immediately.  So in the ten days before my book released I had some trickle sales (I think around 25 total) which gave me a lousy ranking, but I wasn’t worried, because I thought they would count on my opening day. Nope. On my opening day I had the worst ranking of my entire career.  Talk about supreme disappointment. I had split my usual opening sales in half with the pre-order thing, and Amazon’s algorithm made a decision on my book based on that ranking. It seemed like my “also bought” recommendations took a long time to come in and sucked. So far the mistake seems to be unrecoverable, not that I’m giving up on my book baby.

The only benefit, I found, was having my links ahead of time for promotional purposes, but considering all the promo I did didn’t help my book, I don’t think that little bonus is worth it. Also, if your book happened to be tagged “adult” (since we are all sex writers here) you would know it ahead of time.  But again, the clock has already begun ticking, so knowing it in the pre-order stage is hardly a boon unless, of course, you pull the book entirely and resubmit with a new title.

Kindle Unlimited

My wonderful colleague Celeste Jones also placed a book on pre-order about the same time I did. Her book, however, took off. Guess why?  First off, she had more opening day sales than I did, but even more crucial to her success, she enrolled her book in the Kindle Unlimited program.  For every one sale she made, she had two more Kindle Unlimited borrows. And here’s the key:  Kindle Unlimited borrows count toward your ranking.  Which, if you’re following me, means your book gets shown and recommended by Amazon more often, which equates to more sales.

I have one very small experience with Kindle Unlimited. My book Yes, Doctor uploaded to Amazon with an update. Even though my publisher did not check it into KU, Amazon accidentally put the book into the program. In the twenty-four hours before Amazon realized their mistake, 100 people borrowed the book and my ranking shot from the 8000 range to 1500, putting it in the BDSM top 10. And this was a book that had already been out for over six weeks!  I do need to mention, though, that during the time my ranking shot to top 10, my actual sales didn’t increase, although I think there has been a residual effect from the bump, probably from the recommendations.

Now before you run out and enlist every book you’ve ever written in Kindle Unlimited, let me just say this: We still don’t know how much publishers will receive for each borrow. Borrows don’t show up until someone reads at least 10% of the book, so if people never open the book, you won’t get paid. We also don’t know what this program will do to regular sales of books. Will they decrease when everyone can check books out of the “library”?  Presumably Amazon wants to make money just like we do, so we can hope they fully analyzed the market before starting this program, but it does make me nervous.

Casey McKay, an author and owner of Baronet Press, a small publisher of erotic romance, thinks Kindle Unlimited might be better used as a marketing tool. For example, adding an older book to the KU program could help the author gain recognition and give a book no longer shown a fresh bump in the Amazon referrals.  In fact, Celeste Jones tried just that and found KU breathed new life into a book that came out in March.  Sales picked up some and she expects she’ll have 250 borrows by the end of the month, which is a bonus, in addition to reaching new readers.

I’d love to hear if your results are different from mine, or if you have other ideas or experience with either program.  Thanks for stopping by!


Comment List

  • Cara Bristol 15 / 10 / 2014 Reply

    I had noticed that books in the pre-order program do not show an increase in sales ranking on release day, and that made me hesitant to jump in. I did try out the Kindle Unlimited program on Unexpected Consequences, a re-release of an older book. It’s been out three weeks now and rankings have held steady between 6-9,000. That’s new life in an old book. My borrows are almost double my sales.

    I had heard that the author borrow payment runs about $1.50 per book. But if I SELL a book (UC) at the 70% royalty rate I’ll make about $2.74 per copy. So I have to have borrows that are almost double to break even.

    HOWEVER, I’ve also “heard” that the borrow reimbursement is not based on the cover price. So if you had listed a short 99 cent book (with a 35% royalty rate), you’d would much better with a borrow than a sale.

    Also, if they have to read 10%, and your book is only 30 pages–they only have to read 3 pages before you get paid.

    I need to verify about cover price/book length and KU reimbursement.

    • Renee Rose 15 / 10 / 2014 Reply

      Hmm, interesting point about the KU reimbursement/cover price.

      For the mistake Amazon made posting my book, my publisher received this letter: “Since you did not choose to enroll your titles in KU, we will pay you the greater of

      • Your regular sales royalty
      • Your share of the KDPS fund for KU loans. Note – KDP authors with books enrolled in KU earn a share of the KDP Select Global Fund when readers read more than 10% of their books, but we will pay you for all downloads of your affected title.”

    • Trent Evans 16 / 10 / 2014 Reply

      @ Cara,

      Yes, list price of the book that’s borrowed has absolutely no bearing on the amount one is paid for the borrow. This is exactly why a lot of erotica writers who specialize in short fiction are liking KU so much. Where they used to be paid about $.35 for a sale of a $0.99 title, they are now getting borrows at a payout significantly higher than that (last month’s was $1.52 per borrow).

      The amount one is paid per borrow is determined monthly and it’s calculated by that month’s borrow pool for KOLL/KU, divided by the total number of borrows for all the titles in the KOLL/KU for that month.

      All authors are paid the exact same borrow rate, and there is no difference in borrow pay out for a book priced at $0.99 or a book priced at $9.99. It’s a flat rate, for that month.

      Hence the short fiction folks gleefully rubbing their hands together right about now:)

    • Cara Bristol 16 / 10 / 2014 Reply

      I did check with other indies who have been in KU for a while, and what I said is correct: borrow reimbursement is not based on cover price, so with a lower-priced book, you earn more with borrows than a sale.

  • KinkyWriter 15 / 10 / 2014 Reply

    What do you mean when you say “We still don’t know how much publishers will receive for each borrow.”??? Amazon has published borrow rates since the program launched back in July:

    July – $1.805
    August – $1.54
    September – $1.52

    These are available in the monthly royalty reports that KDP publishes each month on the 15th.

  • Beauty's Punishment 16 / 10 / 2014 Reply

    Jolynn got the exact same numbers as KinkyWriter did for those three months. On the 15th of each month when the report comes out, it’s do the math day for books.

  • I’m actually quite pleased with the pre-orders.

    I never had a significant release day spike with any of my books prior to pre-order setup; my mailing list is good for a spike, but not one high enough to twig Amazon’s algorithms in my favour, apparently. My mailing list is growing, so these numbers are constantly changing, but comparing my last two non-preorder releases to my one pre-order release and the one that’s coming next week…
    Without pre-order:
    75-150 sales on release day thanks to my mailing list
    book sinks within a couple of weeks

    With pre-order:
    1-10 pre-orders EVERY DAY from casual Amazon browsers
    25-30 pre-orders from an early mention to my mailing list
    140 sales on release day thanks to my mailing list last book* (total sales on release day attributed to this method – 180)
    *that book sold well for a couple of weeks, then slid as usual to the 1-10 copies/day spot all my books hold*

    My book that’s coming out next week has been on pre-order for almost a month, and on pre-orders alone, will have more sales on release day than any of my launches before. And my mailing list numbs will be on top of that, because most people don’t like the pre-order. Most people like to click when the book is available.

    Everyone has a slightly different readership makeup, and sales patterns, etc. But I’m a big fan of pre-orders, and will use them for almost all of my series books.

    A standalone book I’d probably want to manage the release day a bit different, and try to generate buzz.

    • Renee Rose 18 / 10 / 2014 Reply

      It does make sense to pre-order with a series–I hadn’t considered that. Thank you for sharing your numbers, that’s very helpful!

  • Celeste Jones 18 / 10 / 2014 Reply

    Sorry I am late to the party. Some helpful information here. I would like to add that I have enrolled in KU as a reader and am very pleased. Now when I see a KU book by one of my colleagues I don’t hesitate to borrow. Trying to support friends by buying all their books could break my bank but now I’m borrowing and reading all the time. I’m also reading a lot books from other genres because they are part of the program. I will still buy from my favorite authors but KU has given me the chance to try some new authors too.

    Question…are people more likely to borrow a more expensive book thinking they are getting more bang for their membership buck?

  • Maggie Carpenter 18 / 10 / 2014 Reply

    Renee, thank you for posting this, and creating such a fabulously informative discussion.

    I had planned putting my latest release into pre-order, the third book of a popular series, and I was anxious to see the results of the strategy, but to my chagrin I hit the ‘publish now’ button. Wanted to kill myself!!

    I’m dubious about a stand alone going into pre-order, so now I think I have to wait until I put out another second or third book of a series.

    The KU program I’m still trying to wrap my brain around, but based upon Celeste’s comment,it appears that for an older release that never took off it makes all kind of sense, and it’s certainly worth a shot. Thank you, Celese.

    I’ve been doing this seriously for about a year, and feel as if I’m still sitting at the base of the learning curve. SO much to grasp.

    Thank you again for all of this. I will endeavor to absorb it all. 🙂

    • Renee Rose 18 / 11 / 2014 Reply

      Good point about making the distinction between stand-alone books and series books!

  • Pingback: Maybe You Shouldn’t Put your Book on Amazon Pre-Order #sales #writingtips | Leta Blake

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