Six Things I Learned Running a Pre-Order Campaign for My Book

B_hTxz8WYAIAM0U A few months before INKED came out, me and the team at Bloomsbury started talking about building buzz on the ol' Internet. There are a lot of ways you do this. Sending out review copies, creating book trailers (or in my case, a book song), releasing excerpts, putting together blog tours, pitching media... stuff like that is all pretty standard, and really helps launch a book online. The crew at Bloomsbury did a killer job, and worked closely with me and the contacts I'd put together. It was an awesome experience.

And since INKED was a digital-first release, building that Internet buzz was extra important.

I wanted to take things a little bit further, and put together a fun pre-order campaign for the book. I promised signed posters, postcards, and handmade (more on that shortly) necklaces to anyone (also that) that pre-ordered the book. Since INKED is a digital-first book, I thought it would be a good idea to give readers some extra incentive to pick it up.

Was it a successful campaign? I'd say it was. Building pre-orders can be tough, and I was really thrilled with the results.

Here's what I learned putting one together.

money shovel

If you don't check your budget, you'll end up doing this.

1. First, Check Your Budget: I mean, really check it. It's fun to offer up swag and presents to readers, totally. But if you're spending more than say, $1 a book... you'll probably never see that money again. If that's not a concern (it wasn't for me, I wanted to get this book out there and set some funds aside just for this), go crazy.

You're giving away 100 swag packs that say, weight one ounce. Each of those, first class just in the states, will cost about $1.50 to mail. That's $150. Add $15 for the envelopes. $165. Contents? Maybe you do a run of 100 posters. $25. Some nice sharpies and you're at $200. Not bad at all, you guys... although that does put you at $2 a book already.

See where this gets tricky?

And then this is where you run into real trouble... offering up too many other extras. Me, I gave out handmade necklaces, which in bulk, probably cost about $1.50 each to make. I had to buy the leather straps, the bottles, and the flowers for inside. And they took quite a long time to put together. I watched many movies while doing this. If you factor in the cost of time, it was extra expensive.

I definitely went over the $1 per book budget, especially later with shipping. But I regret nothing. More on that next.


The books went way farther than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

2. Consider Just How Open It Is: When I launched my pre-order campaign, I said I'd send signed posters, postcards, and necklaces to anyone who pre-ordered. It didn't matter where. I honestly didn't think it would push out all that far.

But ah, the Internet makes happy fools of us all sometimes.

For me, opening up the pre-order internationally meant that a $4 pre-order on Amazon turned into me spending $6 - $12 a package when it came to shipping to places like Australia. Five people in Australia pre-ordered Inked. Out of the 300 or so packages I sent out, about 25% of them were international.

Ask yourself when putting together your budget, just how open your campaign is going to be. If you're going to ship to other countries, awesome. But remember that it'll add up.

Financially, offering up the pre-order internationally was a bit of a mistake. But when it came to getting cool gifts into the hands of people that were excited about the book... I regret nothing. I appreciated every single person who took a chance on the book, and I still do.


Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!

3. Twitter Campaigns Work, But Not How You Expect: I ran three Twitter campaigns for INKED. A short one (like, three days) for the cover reveal, one to drive people to request it on NetGalley (a week), and one last big campaign for the pre-order promotion (about a month).

And they all worked... but maybe not how I expected them to.

Did the Twitter campaigns get people pre-ordering the book? Requesting it on NetGalley? Sharing the cover? It's hard to say. What it did do though, was expand my message well beyond my audience, and put it in front of the eyes of my friends and colleagues. Running the Twitter campaigns helped make sure my friends with way bigger voices saw my little tweets, and consequently, they helped boost my message with RTs galore.

I made sure I sent everyone a thank you email for that. Ya'll rule.

Let's talk those numbers. The pre-order campaign push cost $200 and was (potentially) seen by 87,484 people over the course of three weeks. This pulled in 999 clicks to the pre-order page from Twitter, and that individual pre-order page was accessed over 2,013 times.

$200 for 87,000 eyes and 1,000 click-thrus to the campaign? Not bad at all. But what was even more valuable, was the promotion that resulted from my many friends seeing the campaign and pushing it to their audience. Having other YA authors and blogger friends promoting the book to their audience that might not be (and probably aren't, let's be real) aware of me... that's worth way more than a click thru. That's a new follower, potentially a new fan.

Don't measure the success of your Twitter campaign on strictly conversions relating to pre-orders. There's more to it than that.



4. Market Your Campaign: You're running your Twitter campaign? Awesome. Maybe you've even decided to spend waste some money on Facebook ads. Great! But that isn't enough. People aren't on social media to be promoted at, you guys. They don't follow you for that. You have to step outside of all that, and do some marketing.

Talk to bloggers, talk to media folks, and see who you can get excited about your promotion. Is the mainstream media going to be psyched about your signed postcard? Probably not. But reach out to the people who support you that already have a voice, and see if they'll help you blast your message out there. Is a blogger hyping up your release? Ask them if they might consider talking about the pre-order option.

Superstar BookTuber Jesse the Reader gave Inked's pre-order campaign a shout-out in his video back in December. The result? 100 pre-orders straight from this video. How do I know? THEY TOLD ME. "I heard about this book from Jesse the Reader" they said. "I love you"  I said, in emails to Jesse. "Eric stop emailing me" Jesse said. Etc.

He didn't actually say that.

I didn't ask Jesse to bring up the campaign, he did it on his own. But several bloggers after him talked and linked to it, including Paste Magazine when they posted my excerpt.

My regret? I wish I'd told more people about it directly, especially after seeing the impact Jesse had.

chris mail.jpg

Look at that handsome bro.

5. Find Yourself a Buddy: Having a pal on hand is an absolute must. I honestly didn't expect the INKED pre-order campaign to do all that much, and would have been thrilled if a dozen or so pre-orders came in. Then, as the weeks went by, I suddenly found my pre-order spreadsheet growing to hundreds of people. At the end of it all, I had three hundred envelopes to stuff and mail out.

I was pretty stubborn with the necklaces. When I wrote about them here on the blog, I said that they were going to be handmade by me. When friends asked if they could come over and help me put them together, I declined, because I had said they were going to be made by me. I didn't want to lie to these future readers.

However Chris, as he often does because that's what good friends do, wore me down when it came to helping with this, and insisted on helping me with the final mailing. I can't even begin to tell you how big a help that was. I literally would have been at the post office for HOURS if he hadn't come with me and helped, and I certainly wouldn't have made it all in one trip.

Take the help when it is offered, you guys. And then buy that buddy lunch.


Singing helps.

6. Make Sure You Have the Time: Last, remember that these take time. You have to come up with something clever and fun. If you're doing posters, you need to get them designed and printed. Special swag? You need the time to create it. Then you have to package and mail all of this stuff. It takes a while.

I spent a few days packaging the envelopes, a week on the necklaces, and it took me about a month to finally get these all out and in the mail. When it came to the poster and the postcards, it took my pal Ashley a week or two to whip 'em up. And I know readers understand, but I still felt pretty guilty seeing that box there day after day, knowing I had to get them out, had to find the time to finish everything, etc.

Want to do a lot of cool swag, but afraid you won't have the time? Go back to step 5. Also, remember your budget.


And there you have it. Six things I learned putting together and running a pre-order campaign. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I spend a bit more money than I should have? You bet I did. Would I do it again? Damn straight.