What are Preorders, and Why Do They Matter?

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Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

Perhaps you can recall a gentler time, when you might have gone to your local big box bookstore and preordered the upcoming installment of Harry Potter with the intention of attending a release party in costume. You would end the night with a belly full of Frappuccino and a new book in your hands. Back in those days, a book preorder was done in person at the register. But we live in a very different time now, and authors and publishers alike sound the alarm for book preorders months before the release date on Instagram, Twitter, their websites, and in newsletters. Which made me wonder, what are preorders and why do they matter?

I’ve written about books for the past five years, on and off for Book Riot and elsewhere. If I ask this question, I assume other readers do too. So I took the deep dive to find the answers.

What Are Book Preorders?

Now, for this part, the answer is intuitive: this is the process by which you order a book before its publication date. This can be done in person at a bookstore, or online (which is most common).

Why Should I Preorder?

Why should we, as readers, care about preorders? Is it just publishing number games?

Well, kind of, but we do benefit.

Readers are more interactive than ever with the publishing industry, from conferences like BookCon to social media interaction with authors and publishers. I myself have been known to demand suggest next books in a series on Twitter. But even though I can @ Alisha Rai on Twitter to make those requests, it can still feel like Publishing is a Big Business that doesn’t hear us.

But they do hear sales. When you preorder a book, it’s a clear message to the publisher that there is demand for that author’s work, that series, and those characters. To an even greater degree, however, preorders can send a message that has political resonance. When preorders go up for books that support trans visibility, queer characters, racial diversity, and representation, it forces publishers to assess the market thusly. There was a point in the past few years when diversity in publishing was waved off as not being something readers cared about. But one surefire way to show what we care about is through book preorders.

Help An Author Out

That author you love who you’ve been reading forever? They rely on your preorders. That friend of yours who finally got a book picked up by a small press? They desperately need your preorders. Debut authors especially need a solid showing in book preorders to prove to the publisher that they have a place in the market. And an author’s best first shot at landing on one of the big bestseller lists is in that first week of sales, a number that’s bolstered by preorders.

When I asked this question on Twitter, one user pointed out that for authors who are self-published, preorders can make a difference in boosting their ranking on Amazon come publishing day. When the ranking is high, then searches are more likely to show that book towards the top of the list. Preorders can make the difference between a decent release day and a great one.

Book Preorders Aren’t Necessarily Cost-Prohibitive

If you’re like me, you don’t have a big book purchasing budget. The idea of supporting authors sounds great, but we also have to buy groceries. This is where we turn to the good ol’ public library.

You can support authors via book preorders by suggesting your local library preorder the book and requesting it for checkout as soon as it becomes available. This achieves the same end—a copy of the book is still preordered and purchased—and also helps ensure that author’s presence in your library for readers in your community.

A book preorder is a simple concept, but the impact it can have, particularly for authors and readers, is anything but simple. We read, we love stories, and we engage with these worlds and characters. Book preorders can help ensure that process continues, and it gives you a voice in publishing. So whether it’s through your local bookstore, Amazon, or your public library, check out what’s releasing soon and consider preordering those books.