The Anatomy of a pre-order Incentive

Happy Monday!

I have revisions and outlines and freelance work (and let’s face it, household chores) to do, so of course I thought it would be the perfect time for a blog post so that I can procrastinate all of that. (If you’d like me to be your role model, applications are on that desk over there.)

The Last Wish of Sasha Cade releases in 43 days (EEK!) and I’m deep in the middle of my own pre-order incentive, and I thought I’d share a bit about the whys and hows and whats of pre-order incentives. (I’m going to call it POI from now on since I’m lazy.) If you’re an author, you’ve probably done something similar yourself, or you might be considering it, and I’m here to share my experiences with you.

What is a POI?

It’s a campaign that gives you free stuff if you pre-order a book. Usually bookish swag, bookmarks, book plates, stickers, etc. Sometimes there’s a grand prize so that one of the people who pre-order will get an extra prize at the end of the campaign. It usually runs a few months before the book releases and ends on release day.

There are 2 types of POIs – one that’s publisher sponsored and one that’s author sponsored. Publisher sponsored POIs are pretty rare and you’ve probably seen them for huge books that have big name authors and big budgets. This would obviously be the ultimate POI because the publisher foots the bill and the author benefits. I’m not that lucky. I fall into the category of author sponsored POIs, so I’m sharing my experiences and insight with hosting a POI myself.

Why do a POI?

Pre-orders are VITAL to a book’s success. Sure, a book can succeed without high pre-order numbers, but authors want to give their book the best launch possible. Pre-orders count toward first week sales to get a book on the NYT list or other best seller lists. The main benefit of pre-orders is that it tells the publisher this book is worth it. Publishers might determine how many books to print based on how much buzz the book gets before release day. If you can get a good number of pre-orders, it makes the book more valuable to the publisher’s eyes.

And it’s not just about money. Seriously. I don’t ask people to pre-order my book because I’m foaming at the mouth to get the small percentage of royalties. 99% of authors aren’t rich, myself included. It’s a sad fact that most books don’t even earn out their advance, so getting a bunch of pre-orders could still mean you never see another dime from that book again. So, it’s not about money. It’s about author longevity. The simple and terrifying fact of publishing is that if I don’t sell enough copies of this book, no publisher will want to publish me again.

Authors have a lot of books in us. We don’t want to be one hit wonders. We want to keep publishing year after year, getting our stories out into the world. Publishing has become so much more competitive in the last decade, especially in YA, and authors have to bust their butt to stand out and be noticed. I’m one of those small fish in a huge pond, and even after getting my dream agent and book deal, I have never felt like I wasn’t swimming upstream, nearly out of breath, close to drowning. But if anyone can do it, we can, because authors are a stubborn bunch.

How do I set it up?

Make a dedicated page on your website. Post pictures of your incentive gifts, list out the rules, and include a link to claim the swag. Link it on the home page. Pin it to your Twitter profile. Make it as noticeable and accessible as possible! You want people to see it! I used a Google Form to collect people’s information to send them the swag. (It’s free to set this up through Google.) I also have Google set up to email me every time the form is filled out, that way I can mail it out the same day. If you don’t have that much time, or expect a lot of pre-orders, you can turn this feature off and just check it once a week or so. I encourage you to check out other POI pages to get a feel for how to set yours up. Make sure you include an official cut off date (mine is the day before my book releases).

I also allow people to claim my POI if they request my book from their local library. I think it’s important to include people who can’t afford to buy the book, especially since my target audience is teens and teens don’t have much money. I give all the same pre-order gifts except the signed book plate to people who request it from the library. Libraries are an excellent resource and a huge benefit to authors. Utilize them!

Should I do a POI?

Firstly, it’s going to cost a lot of money.

Secondly, I think it’s worth it. So yes. If you can, do it.

So what’s my POI?

Here’s my POI swag:

  • Signed Bookplate
  • Bookmark
  • Wish Bracelet (that I made myself. I even designed the card myself!)
  • Sticker
  • Postcard

For my POI, I ordered enough swag to make 100 packages:

  • Postcards $32.99
  • Bookplates $54.49
  • Bookmarks $40.72 (had to order twice since my PO lost the first order, but I won’t include that)
  • Bracelet cards $20.63
  • Bracelet cord $7
  • Bracelet charms $12
  • Stickers $48.46
  • Envelopes $5.99
  • Stamps $49
  • International Stamps (x10) $11

GRAND TOTAL: $282.28 for 100 POI packages. (Technically $40.72 more because my post office SUCKS but I digress..)

That’s $2.82 spent per POI that I mail out. This doesn’t count the fee I paid to a graphic designer to design the print files for my swag, but I would have paid that regardless of doing a POI.

It costs more money to send out a pre-order gift than I earn in royalties for a book sale. (It’s 3x more than the royalties for a paperback). Again, I’m not doing this for the money! I’m doing it to boost my book in any way possible. I want SASHA to succeed so badly. I’ve worked for ten years to see my name on the cover of a hardback book in a book store and come October 2, it’ll finally happen!

Maybe I’m selfish, but I want to do it again. So I’m pouring everything I have into promoting this book in the hopes that I’ll be able to sell another book down the road.

If you are an author, I definitely encourage you to host your own POI. Do it within your budget and chose swag that relates well to your book. I get so excited every time my Google form emails me to say someone has filled it out. That’s one more sale! That’s one more chance at continuing my dream! It’s definitely worth it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on POIs in the comments, or if you’re an author with questions, shoot me a message. I’m happy to help!