Saturday, January 14, 2023

E-Book Preorders: Best Practices and Issues

(Following links on this blog may result in my earning a small fee. As an Amazon associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.)

So I ran into a situation a little while ago that got me thinking about book sales, and once you read it, I hope you'll (thoughtfully and respectfully) opine in the comments. It has to do with best practices in e-book preorders.

As you've probably noticed in the post wrapping up my 2022 Reading Year, I read A LOT of books. One of the things that makes a high number easy for me to achieve is the ability to binge books in a series. I tend to read authors who have at least four or five books in a series before I begin so if I get sucked in, I can keep going. So whether this means the library has them in stock, they're on Kindle Unlimited, or they're at an affordable price point in an e-book edition—whatever the situation, if I can binge 'em, I will. 

The question is what to do when the series comes to an end and you see the next item in the series is available for preorder. Do you preorder the book, or do you wait for it to be released? And then if you decide to preorder, do you visit the author's website and buy direct, or do you do it through a major retailer such as Amazon?

A hand pushes a stack of books into an e-reader

Let's review some of the pros and cons of preorders.

Pros of Preorders for the Reader:
  1. You get the book as soon as it is released and will be notified that it's out, which is both convenient and a way to ensure you won't miss out.
  2. If purchasing on a major vendor's website, such as Amazon or other retailers, the process is streamlined, and, at least in the case of Amazon, protected if anything goes wrong.
Cons of Preorders for the Reader:
  1. You're waiting for a book you really, really want to read! (j/k—You'd be waiting anyway!)
  2. What if the author doesn't deliver? How would you feel about that risk? Are you okay with late delivery? Or do you have recourse for a refund if they never publish the book?
Pros of Preorders for the Author
  1. It fosters a relationship with readers and ensures continuity of readership.
  2. Advanced sales = advanced payments.
  3. By offering sales on their own website, authors keep a higher percentage from the sales. (This is according to authors I've spoken to or have seen talking about it online.)
Cons of Preorders for the Author
  1. There's pressure to deliver on time, sometimes with tight publishing schedules
  2. The added burden of juggling multiple series can lead to throwing every series into a deadline tailspin if one is late.
  3. Being late or not following through can lead to reader dissatisfaction.

Is there anything I haven't thought of in these lists? 

So what was the scenario I recently encountered?

What Happened When I Preordered 2 Books

I read several books of a series and enjoyed them very much. The first book was free, and that hooked me in on the rest of the series. Great strategy! They were utterly bingeable. I was using my Kindle, and after finishing the last available book, I saw another book in the series, but not the NEXT book, was available for preorder on Amazon, so I preordered it.  We'll call this book "A."

But then I realized, "Hey, this is book A, not the next book in the series, book 'B'... where is that one?" (Yeah, I was slow on the uptake. 😁)

So I Googled the author, found their website, and realized they had book B available for presale on their own site. Figuring they were in the process of moving book sales over to their site instead of residing solely at Amazon (something I've seen authors do), I preordered book B from their site and left my preorder of book A at Amazon. I received purchase confirmation from BookFunnel, who would distribute the book when the files were uploaded.

Well, the expected launch date came and went, and no book arrived. But I did get an email from the author a few days after it was supposed to have been published. The author explained that they had been ill, had fallen way behind, and that the lack of delivery was not in any way BookFunnel's fault. The author took full responsibility and offered either a refund or to wait until the end of September, when the book would be published and delivered via BookFunnel.

Super classy, right? I really appreciated this email, and since I understood completely how illness can set one back, I replied that I'd wait for the book at end of September and sent good wishes about the illness. 

Unfortunately, the book never arrived. By the end of November, I reached out to the author and asked for an update. I was willing to assume I'd missed an email or if they were still delayed, they'd tell me—and I'd be okay with whatever the scenario was, because illnesses these days are rampant and troubling.

No response. I began to worry, because we all know how devastating the last few years have been, so I checked their social media and while their presence wasn't super regular, they did appear to be still alive. Okay, good! But I hadn't gotten a response to my question, so by mid-December, I reached out to BookFunnel to see if there was an update on their end. Interestingly, BookFunnel informed me that they've been emailing the author repeatedly about when they'd be uploading book B, with no response. At that time, book B was now a couple of months late.

After a couple of weeks, BookFunnel said the files were uploaded as of December 23rd. I was excited to hear this and rushed to the site, downloaded my copy and ... wait. Why it is only 10 pages? 

The upload only contained Chapter 1! I reached back out to BookFunnel to ask if it's possible there's an error with the file. BookFunnel's response was that they'd reach back out to author and try to get an idea of what happened.

Okay, I know mercury is in retrograde and all, but this was bordering on comically funny!

Now for the plot twist: Amazon canceled my preorder of book A! This had me back to worrying about the author. 

Anyway, as I'm writing a book myself, it is eye-opening for me to think about this from an author perspective and not just a reader perspective. I began to write down some best practices from both sides.

Best Practices

Authors: Communication and managing reader expectations is important. If you don't do these two very important things, you may lose your audience, which means you'll lose income and create bad will. If you're juggling too much, take a breath, slow down, refigure your due dates, and communicate—not just a one-off email, but often—with your readership. In this case, I've seen a few people get really frustrated with book B being late as well as book A being canceled by Amazon because according to them, they have no idea what's going on. But I don't know where that gap is in this situation. I feel like author was pretty clear they were having health issues in that first round of communicating, so did the other fans miss that email? I don't know.

Readers: Consider whether you're comfortable giving an author money for a preorder. Do some research on how they treat their fans, if they deliver on time, and also check in with yourself about how you'll feel if they're late. They're human, so try to be patient, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to decide how you'll spend your money. If you're someone who will get upset if the book doesn't arrive on time, consider not preordering at all. If you prefer waiting until the book is published but are concerned you will miss out, you can follow the author on social media, mailing list, or even clicking "Follow" on Goodreads or Amazon if you want to be notified of a new book. 

Coda to My Situation

For this instance, I'm glad I kept my head, remembered to be patient and kind toward someone who is struggling with health issues, and realized that at the end of the day, the world won't end if I don't read another book in the series anytime soon. Let them get their health sorted, first. 

Also, I had never heard of the author before I started reading their books via Kindle. I wasn't in their reading/fan groups, social media follows, or email list. (I've since rectified this.) But while the author was a little slow to respond, they DID stay in communication with me. I get what they are going through. And they have kindly offered me a refund since a few deadlines have come and gone, which I have accepted.

As to late delivery in general, I'm okay with mistakes especially if the communication is decent. I completely understand deadlines snowballing and unanswered emails piling up. I have assured author that while I'm accepting a refund now, I will definitely support their work going forward whenever they do publish another book in the series by purchasing, reading, and reviewing.

And on a side note, this is a reminder to me to always listen to my intuition. When I preordered book B on the author's website, I had a little niggling feeling somewhere inside, but I got wrapped up in the idea that the expected publish date would be pretty soon after my purchase and, well, I couldn't wait to read it. I had no idea what that little feeling meant at the time, but it is a tiny validation to me that my intuition is always right when I bother to listen to it, LOL!

I'm sending all the best out to this author. They have really been through it, and it must be so stressful to want to satisfy readers while figuring out what's going on with a serious illness. 

Finally, in my editing business I bill myself as an "author advocate," so I'm sure this comes as no surprise: It's my hope that when readers encounter an issue with a preorder, instead of getting angry and reactive, they will have a little patience for the authors they follow, take time to find out what's going on, and be kind. I also hope readers will have a little self-awareness about their own expectations, review the pros and cons listed above, and make informed decisions before preordering.

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