What’s the Big Deal About Pre-Sales? An Author Explains


Ever wonder why you see posts from your favorite authors urging you to pre-order a book before it comes out? Or why everyone’s all up in arms about Amazon’s turning off the pre-order function on Hachette books? Pre-sales matter. Here’s why:

Of course, every time a book is pulled from a shelf and taken home, bookpeople are happy — whether that book has been out a day, a month, or a year. So here’s to buying any books you like, any time. (Cheers.) But there’s a little something extra-powerful about pre-sales. Ordering a book before its official release date sets in motion a snowball effect that’s good for authors, publishers, booksellers, and — perhaps most importantly — readers.

  • For starters, pre-sales data gives publishers an early indication as to whether a book has a lot of excitement behind it and whether they might need to increase the print run to meet anticipated demand. 
  • If a bookstore gets a bunch of pre-orders, not only might they stock more of that book when it’s released, but they’ll know their customers are interested in the book, so they might arrange an event where readers can meet that author. The publisher may see fit to expand the author’s book tour.
  • The more people meet the author on tour, the more books sell. The more successful that book is, the greater the odds that the author will get a great deal on his or her next book, and readers will get to see more of the stuff they like to read from that author.
  • For an author whose book might have even a remote shot at landing on a prominent bestseller list, pre-sales added into first-week sales can make the difference between getting there or not. (Earning the “New York Times bestselling author” designation before your name opens doors in much the same way “Academy Award nominated” bumps up an actor’s profile and employment prospects.)
  • If a new author has great success with a first book and develops a following of interested readers, it’s more likely that the author’s next book will be met with great pre-order sales, which means more inventory, bigger book tour, writing more books, etc. So the cycle goes on.  


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We asked bestselling author (see?) Tony Earley to discuss what pre-sales mean to writers. Earley is the author of Here We Are in Paradise; Jim the Boy, a New York Times Notable Book for 2000; The Blue Star; and his newest book, Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories. He’s also the Samuel Milton Fleming Chair in English at Vanderbilt University. 

How does it matter to you for people to know about your books not just when they are published, but in advance, before they come out?

TE: I’ve always thought that any book that isn’t pre-sold, that doesn’t receive any attention beforehand, seems more like an afterthought than a book, something that no one values very highly. I learned a long time ago that the entire bookselling business (at least the part of the business that has actual stores that one can walk into) is based on hand-selling — beginning with the editor pitching a book to the company sales force and ending with a bookseller recommending that book to a customer. Any book that isn’t hand-sold all the way down that food chain isn’t going to make it very far. It’s kind of like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, except in this case there isn’t even a forest.

How has that experience — launching a new book — changed for you over the course of your career? Is it different now that you’re an established author of bestsellers versus when you were a brand new author?

TE: I’m not sure that at its heart sending a book out into the world has changed all that much. The one constant is that the whole enterprise is still a somewhat mysterious, alchemical process. No one has ever been able to explain to me why, given two books of equal artistic merit published in exactly the same manner, one becomes a bestseller and the other simply vanishes. So I don’t take anything for granted. With the money I earned from Jim the Boy I paid off my house and bought a car — which I promptly named “Jim the Car.” Eight years later I cleared just enough from The Blue Star to build a small deck in the backyard. I call it “The Blue Deck.” I drove the car for 12 years. So, anybody who buys one of my books, well, God bless ’em. They certainly didn’t have to.

What does it mean to you to work with independent booksellers when it’s time to sell your book and do events?

TE: I’m going on book tour this fall and all the stores I’m visiting are independents. Walking into an independent bookstore whose staff likes my work well enough to invite me for a signing is like walking into the house of a dear friend. I never feel more valued and welcome as a writer, and I’m never more certain that what I do — writing books — really matters. People who really love books tend to hang out in independent bookstores, and those are the people I most want to reach. I want all my books to find good homes. I’ve always been more interested in whether or not someone likes one of my books, not what they paid for it. Independent bookstores are also the only place in the world where strangers ever recognize me, and I’m just shallow enough to think that’s really cool.

Any thoughts on the hubbub over Amazon lately and how its business practices affect authors and readers?

TE: You know, in the past, I was happy to cede a slice of the bookselling pie to Amazon. The vast majority of readers in this country don’t have convenient access to a good bookstore. So what was the harm? But now I realize they’re out to devour the entire world. We’re seeing the same sort of predatory tactics from Amazon that Wal-Mart has used to such devastating effect. It’s never made sense to me why bullies are usually the biggest kid in the classroom. One might say that Amazon against a conglomerate as big as Hachette is a fair fight, but the people who write books and the people who read them — in other words, the only two groups of people guaranteed to care about books as something other than commodity — are the ones who are going to get beaten up on the playground. It takes me on average six years to write a book. I’m already making way, way, way below minimum wage. Does Amazon really need to steal my lunch money?

Meet Tony Earley next Tuesday, August 26, at 6:30 at Parnassus Books. This discussion and signing event is FREE and open to the public! Can’t be there? Stop in anytime and let us add you to the pre-sale list, or pre-order the book online at a discount!


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More by Tony Earley


ISBN-13: 9780316246125
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 8/2014

Jim the Boy (Paperback)


ISBN-13: 9780316198950
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books, 4/2001


ISBN-13: 9780316199490
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books, 4/1997

The Blue Star (Paperback)


ISBN-13: 9780316008051
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books, 8/2009