The power of the pre-order: How to help an author make it

I had never understood this as a reader, but it’s clear to me now that I’m a writer

Before an author gets published, it is all but impossible to anticipate what the experience will really be like. Especially as the path to publication, and its aftermath, differs so much from person to person. When you lift the curtain on the industry and begin to appreciate the inner mechanics of the business, your perspective on everything changes. And you begin to see a little clearer what lies beyond the smoke and mirrors.

My debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, was published in 2018 and one of the most positive outcomes of this occurrence was the unexpected friendship of established authors reaching out and paying their own success forward. To hear from others a little further up the road about how they navigated the business, their craft, social media, events and the emotional rollercoaster of a dream coming true, was inspiring and, honestly, critical.

It was, for example, how I first learned about the importance of pre-orders to a book’s success – something I had never understood as a reader. Last weekend I found myself in turn passing on the same knowledge to another debut and it struck me that this area of the business remains a mystery to most. The following morning I composed a thread on Twitter where I attempted to explain the importance of pre-orders – it is has since been seen over a million times on the platform – and so I’ve expanded on that thread here for readers of The Irish Times.

When authors shyly, or not so shyly, encourage people to pre-order their book, they are hoping readers will order from a book shop, online, or from their library in advance of the publication date – regardless of the format. It can be career-changing for an author and this is why:


1. In advance of publication, an author's publisher is often reading the tea leaves for signs of the elusive buzz about a book. The number of books being ordered early by retailers is a primary indicator as to whether the market is getting excited about it. When the publisher sees multiple advance orders being made, it inspires confidence and may encourage them to invest more to promote the book and to help the author find even more readers.

2. With hundreds of books published every year, popping into your local bookshop and asking them to order an author's book for you in advance of it coming out is one of the most supportive things you can do. It not only draws attention to a title that they may not previously have been aware of, but it also demonstrates to booksellers that there is interest in the book and this may encourage them to order in more stock in advance of publication day.

Booksellers are the champions of the industry and their support of a book through enthusiastic hand-selling can change its fortune. Pre-ordering from your local bookshop also means you are supporting their business to thrive and survive in an increasingly tough climate for them – so you’re performing two great deeds in one!

3. If an author is in contention to hit the bestseller list, the pre-orders can make it happen as all pre-orders count towards the first week of sales rather than being spread across a number of different weeks.

4. The dark arts of the internet mean that shopping algorithms pick up on the traffic around the book – this often means an author's book will get further promoted online by online retailers. Authors will sometimes share a link to the Amazon website for ease of readers but please consider all other book-buying avenues first before sending your business that way. If you can support your local bookshop, please do, but if ordering online is more convenient for you, there are still alternatives eg Kenny's Bookshop in Ireland offers free shipping worldwide, as do many bricks and mortar stores.

5. Authors love libraries and it is also very valuable to them if you request that your local library pre-order their book for you. Not only do these books all count as sales but authors also receive a royalty for every book that is borrowed from a library. Many of us are writers today because of the time we spent in libraries and would love you to support us by supporting them. Libraries are the beating hearts of our communities and we would lost without them. Long live the librarians.

6. One final thing to mention is that customers normally don't have to pay now for any pre-orders. If you order online you will usually only pay when the book is shipped, or in bookshops when you collect it, so if you're planning to buy the book at some point anyway getting the pre-order in won't cost you in advance.

All this to say, authors have a special place in their heart for people who pre-order their books. We appreciate it so much – thank you from all of us to all of you. You have the power!
Helen Cullen's second novel, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, will be published by Penguin Random House in May and is available to pre-order now. You can find her on Twitter as @wordsofhelen