The Hidden Downsides to Amazon’s Pre-Order System

Release day is a book’s most important moment — the only time that it is officially “new” and, for that reason alone, more likely to receive some kind of attention, whether in the “new releases” category of books or just in promotional campaigns. Newness is intrinsically a big deal for us humans — which is probably why the birth of a baby is a lot more newsworthy than a child turning 11, even though the latter is actually far harder (because it involves not just birth, but surviving this crazy world for 11 whole years).
To help create as much buzz as possible around the birth of a book, most of the major ebook retailers, including Amazon, give authors the option to offer their book to prospective readers using the pre-order feature. With enough pre-publication sales, a book can have stellar rankings on its official release day, and that can have a lasting benefit for its discoverability, sales, ranking, etc. Any self-published author knows that every little advantage available to a new book is critical, because — thanks to the ease of self-publishing — the market grows more flooded every day, and it becomes increasingly difficult for any book to stand out.But Amazon’s pre-order feature (at least as of 3/23/15) has two huge — and somewhat hidden — downsides, the second of which I discovered only today, the hard way. Before I share that frustrating experience, let me explain the first major downside of using Amazon’s pre-order feature: any pre-order sales actually detract from the release-day-ranking boost because they lift sales rankings on the day when the sale happens, rather than on the subsequent release day. Crediting a pre-ordered book with the sale before release day seems particularly odd, since authors don’t actually receive the revenues associated with those sales until the book is released, but for whatever reason, that is how Amazon’s rankings work. Other ebook sellers like Nook, Apple, and Kobo accumulate all pre-order sales and apply them to a new book’s ranking on the day of its release, creating a powerful sales rank booster. But that’s not the case with Amazon.
The other big disadvantage of using Amazon’s pre-order feature is its unforgiving release schedule rules. I actually understand and accept the first rule: if you delay or cancel your pre-order book, Amazon will deny you pre-order privileges for a year. That makes sense because readers have paid money for a book with the expectation that they’ll get what they paid for on the date that the other author promised.
Amazon even mitigates the risk of violating the punctuality rule by allowing authors one deferral. As the KDP rules on pre-ordering state: “You can postpone the release date for your book one time, as much as 30 days past the initial release date. Customers who pre-ordered the book will receive an email letting them know that you have delayed the release of your book. If you need to cancel the pre-order, you may unpublish your book from the Bookshelf.”
But the other rules are needlessly rigid and punitive when it comes to releasing a book earlier than the date specified originally. For example, one rule states that “If you move up the release date for your book, you will need to submit the final version of your book at least 10 days before release, and all customers who pre-ordered the book will receive the content on the earlier release date.” Confusingly, another rule states that “You will not be able to update your book 3 days before the release date.” But if “the final version of your book” was submitted at least 10 days before release, this 3-day rule implies that it’s not exactly “final” because it can be updated any time between 10 days before and 3 days before the release day. Any lawyers in the house who can make sense out of this paradox?
In any case, the 10-day rule seems arbitrary and needlessly rigid, given that if the book were being released without the pre-order feature, it could be changed any time up until about 24 hours before the book’s release day.
Here are the other, similarly inflexible rules when it comes to releasing your book earlier than originally scheduled on Amazon’s pre-order system:
1) You can move up the release date only once, with the earliest possible release date being three days from today.
2) If you decide to move up the release date, you need to submit the final version of your book at least 10 days before the release.
3) If your new release date is less than or equal to 10 days from today’s date, you must upload the final version before moving up the release date.
4) Assuming you’ve complied with the above rules, any customers who pre-ordered the book will receive the content on the new (earlier) release date.
So how did I get to be so well versed in the scintillating minutiae of Amazon’s pre-order rules and pitfalls? Well, after publishing The Syrian Virgin last November, I planned to release the sequel (Anissa’s Redemption) in early 2015 and picked the latest possible publication date that Amazon offered me (April 12) when setting up my pre-order. I wanted to leave myself some margin for error, given all the surprises that can emerge when churning out many tens of thousands of words. I figured, I’ll have the extra time if I need it, and who’s going to complain if I release the book early? Well, it turns out that releasing early isn’t so simple (as the rules above make clear).
When mulling the extent of a FAIL, there’s sometimes a kind of masochistic glee in contemplating and enumerating the various harms, losses and/or disappointments caused by said FAIL. So, in that spirit, let’s look at what they are for my release of Anissa’s Redemption:
1) I had to make cover decisions before I was necessarily ready to make them, because you can’t put a book on pre-order without a cover (I’m not sure if you can use a placeholder cover, instead of the real/final one, but even if you can, that would sort of defeat the purpose of having the pre-order period available to market the book and its cover). So I had to proceed with the cover before I really felt ready to.
2) I had over 100 blogs promote my official release day (today) with a link that didn’t actually enable customers to download my book. The link allows them only to pre-order the novel (even though I had uploaded the final book file for publication yesterday, which would normally be plenty of time for the book to become available by this morning, if no pre-order were involved). Given how many other books will be promoted between now and when my book will supposedly be released (four days from now), they might as well have promoted Swiss cheese today — the boost to my sales would probably be the same. When there’s a big splashing announcing the RELEASE of a new book, people who see it want to buy it and DOWNLOAD it, they don’t want to just pre-order it and wait (at least that’s what my pre-order sales after today’s promotional campaign indicate).
3) After speaking with KDP, I realized that the only way to make my book available today was effectively to create another book page for the same title, but this had multiple disadvantages. Not only would that new book page not even be ready for about twelve hours (after most of the promotional buzz for my new release would have ended), but it would result in a brand new link. And this brand new link obviously wouldn’t be the link that had already been promoted and would probably confuse some customers while potentially halving my review count, since reader reviews would be split between two pages for the same book.
So, in the end, I lost whatever release day boost is normally produced by the buzz and promotional activities that were scheduled for it, I hurried to meet a deadline that didn’t even need to be met in the end (since the book can now be released no sooner than four days from now), and now my book can’t be updated until it goes live in four days. All of that could have been avoided had I simply foregone the pre-order option (which, in the end, doesn’t even boost Amazon sales rankings on release date). Can someone tell me, again: why should we be using Amazon’s pre-order option?
For any authors who similarly bungled their release because of pre-order hassles, and now need to set a new release date, here are the steps to follow:
1. Go to your bookshelf:
2. Next to the book you want to update, in the “Other Book Actions” column, click “Edit Book Details”
3. On the “Your Book” page, under Step 4, “Schedule a Release Date,” click “Edit Release Date”
4. Enter the desired date and click “OK”
5. Scroll to the bottom and click “Save and Continue”
6. Click “Submit for pre-order”

Valentine’s Variability

(Some Light Musings on V-Day by Zack Love)

Like birthdays and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day can make you feel a lot better or worse than you’re already feeling.

If you’re happily in love, Valentine’s encourages you and your lover to celebrate your joint bliss together. You might even secretly share a certain schadenfreude, if you happen to notice someone who’s alone. Seeing loneliness is a powerful reminder of how fortunate you are to have love. And on V-Day, you and your lover can shamelessly flaunt your happiness about being in love. The rest of the world — and its reaction to you — really doesn’t matter because you’re both ridiculously high on love crack.

But if you’re single, Valentine’s can take your emotions in very different directions. You might think about that person you should have been with on this day but for some tragedy, bad luck, or break-up. A prior V-Day that seemed infinitely happier may come to mind. You could reflect on that awkward but potentially romantic moment that you and someone else never explored, making you wonder what might have been. Or you might CELEBRATE the fact that you’re not stuck in some miserable relationship and forced to display a facade of joy for everyone.

If you’re single by choice, then you have one major dilemma (as with birthdays and New Year’s): WITH WHOM should you celebrate this occasion? You obviously don’t want to waste it on a first date. But what if your friends are all with their lovers and/or unavailable? Perhaps staying home is better than risking a bad first date on V-Day. But then you’re at home alone watching TV on Valentine’s Day, and that could be really depressing, unless Breaking Bad or Dexter is on, which might distract you for a bit. No easy answers. Maybe there’s a mobile app for that.

Now if you’re a guy, you’re dealing with various pressures and expenses that are entirely the fault of V-Day. More precisely, they’re the fault of the chocolate, greeting card, and flower businesses that depend on these pressures and have brainwashed women into thinking that if you don’t BUY SOMETHING for them on Valentine’s, then you don’t love them. This powerful brainwashing is akin to the kind used by the diamond industry (which has somehow convinced the world that if a man loves a woman, he will spend many thousands of dollars to buy her a diamond that she can show to her friends and family).

And even if you’re a guy who somehow found a woman who’s impervious to the brainwashing from billboards, magazines, pop culture, and social media, she will still have girlfriends who have been brainwashed. And so this exceedingly rare woman you found will probably be corrupted. Because there is one thing that you cannot avoid: she will communicate with her girlfriends, and they will compare notes. And that will be your downfall. So you need to budget for 2/14, or for several hours of quarreling that may or may not end with make-up sex. Best to plan ahead.

I’ve always wondered how chocolate became so important on V-Day. It’s actually a bit counter-intuitive on some level. I mean, I’m a total sucker for dark chocolate on any day of the year, but if Valentine’s is all about love, which normally involves sexual attraction, and excess chocolate tends to fatten people (which could make them less sexually attractive), then why are we encouraging chocolate on V-Day? I don’t get it. Maybe giving chocolate says: “I will love you even after making you fat.”

And what about flowers? OK, they smell nice. But then they shrivel up and die on you in a few days. What kind of love is that? Why not get plastic flowers that last forever? I guess they’d feel a bit fake and aren’t biodegradable, so nix that idea. Better plan: Bonsai trees. Those plants last a long time. True, they aren’t really fragrant, but which brain-washer decided that we need fragrance on V-Day? Can’t you just spray some perfume on the Bonsai and then you’ve solved that problem?

Can you tell what a romantic guy I am? Probably because I’ve been stuck in my writing cave for FAR longer than is socially acceptable. I need to get out more and buy some chocolates and flowers for someone. Will you be my Valentine?

My Thoughts on the film “Maleficent”

Maleficent is a 2014, live-action film directed by Robert Stromberg, and starring Angelina Jolie (as the eponymous Disney villainess character). The movie is a spin off of Walt Disney’s 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty, and portrays the story from the perspective of that film’s antagonist, Maleficent. The cinematic experience is visually powerful (which is hardly surprising for a Disney production) and the Lana Del Rey soundtrack song (“Once Upon a Dream“) is perfectly dark and mysterious. But I was most impressed by the screenplay, because it managed to make a potentially unidimensional fairytale into a more nuanced story about greed, betrayal, and love — thanks to characters who are both good and bad in ways that make them more interesting (and human).

Stefan’s royal ambitions cause him to betray his childhood love, Maleficent, but his conscience prevents him from taking her life, so instead he takes only her wings. And she too is a complex character, something one might expect from her very name, which is a portmanteau of the words “magnificent” and “malevolent” (and the antonym of “beneficent” and “munificent”). She is indeed a complicated and sympathetic villain whose most evil act — cursing an innocent to an almost irrevocable coma — becomes understandable thanks to a skillfully crafted story setup. In a sense, Maleficent is both hero and villain, setting up the very danger that she then tries to undo, thereby reminding us of our own impotence to reverse certain mistakes and the added remorse that haunts poor decisions motivated by a temporary anger or vengefulness.

The film’s screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, deserves praise for a few other things:
1) renewing an outdated notion of “true love’s kiss” (predicated on validation by a male suitor) by supplanting that idea with a “truer” meaning of “true love”: unselfish attachment to another, like the kind found between parent and child. And yet Linda accomplished this without diminishing the possibility of a romantic “true love” emerging later in the life of Aurora.
2) solving a story problem (i.e., how to activate Maleficent’s curse) with a philosophically clever device that makes a profound statement about destiny. After not being invited to a royal christening, Maleficent curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, but it’s not at all clear how such an elaborate and specific curse can be triggered when King Stefan takes every sensible measure to keep his daughter far from any such spindle. Rather than conjure up some contrived or barely plausible scenario in which Aurora happens to encounter the spindle of a spinning wheel, the screenwriter wisely had Aurora search for the very spindle herself, as if she craved the coup de grâce of her fate. In this way, the story makes a much more powerful statement: there is no escaping your destiny because, at some point, you will actively seek it out.

If you haven’t seen Maleficent, I highly recommend it (for both adults and younger audiences).

My Author Manifesto

As I was mulling the best content for the home page of my author web site, I searched for some all-encompassing words that could somehow capture all of my published works and — more broadly — the very reason that I write.

The result, it seems, is a kind of “author manifesto.” But I don’t know if that is even the best thing to have on one’s home page, and some day a marketing expert (far more Internet-savvy than me) will probably take pity on my web traffic numbers and advise me to redo my entire home page. For that reason, I thought I should at least store these thoughts in the form of a blog post for posterity (or just to remind myself, after I’ve forgotten why I’ve spent countless hours holed up in my writing cave, what my manifesto is!).


My Author Manifesto

Words and stories have always fascinated me because of their mystical power.

They can travel from the author’s mind to the prison cell of a man serving time for a crime he didn’t commit (or has finally come to regret).

They might appear in the hospital bed of a woman fighting cancer and craving the smallest pleasure to balance out her day of pain.

Even more often, words and stories can entertain a hard-working employee stuck on an otherwise long and dreary commute.

Books can reassure lonely or bullied souls that they are not nearly as alone as they think, and they can give inspiration or courage to people facing great challenges of almost every kind.

There is a magic to storytelling and language because these are so essential to that which makes us human — from laughing to crying to sharing.

And literature combines the beauty of storytelling and language with imagination, which then frees us from our natural limitations and transports us to new horizons.

Fiction is the playground where language and imagination reunite to run about freely.

From the comically absurd to the dramatically poignant, the great record of our collective experience and individual journeys is stored in the bank of humanity known as literature. And I am here to make my tiny deposit.

As you wander about my web site a bit, I hope you discover something that intrigues you.

Above all, I hope that you enjoy my words and stories.


Immortality Giveaway – Your Chance to Name Characters in “The Syrian Virgin”

A $50 Amazon Gift Card can last just one minute (depending on your shopping habits) but IMMORTALITY never ends!

Have you ever wished that you could be part of that story-telling magic that lives FOREVER?

Imagine people everywhere experiencing and discussing a story that has a part of YOU in it. Pretty cool, right?

Well, this is your chance to be IMMORTALIZED by choosing the names of certain characters in The Syrian Virgin. You can choose your own name, or that of a relative or friend, or just invent one. Totally up to you. But TWELVE winning entries will determine the names of the TWELVE characters listed below.

1. Leave a comment on this blog post with your preferred name and which character you want to name. If the name has special significance (or is dedicated to someone), you are welcome to share that information too.
2. Go to this Facebook link, like it, comment “done,” and share the link. For extra credit (which may improve your odds of winning): tag some friends!
3. No more than one entry per person, but each entry can enter a name for every single character. All entries must be posted on this page by October 31, 2014.
4. Winners will first be announced on my newsletter for this book, so sign up here to find out if you won:


–MALE (the first two should be LAST NAMES, the others first names)

1) Julien — Anissa’s professor and the billionaire owner of a major hedge fund. To enter your choice for Julien’s last name, leave a comment on this post with the exact spelling of the surname you want me to use. If the name has special/personal significance and you’d like to share it, please do!
2) University Dean — The man with academic authority over Julien’s position at the university. I’m probably just going to use a last name here (as in “Dean [LAST NAME] said…”) but you can enter a first name as well, if you like.
3) The top-performing male student in Anissa’s college class (taught by Julien).
4) The second best-performing male student in Anissa’s college class (taught by Julien).

–FEMALE (all entries should be FIRST NAMES)
1) Julien’s therapist
2) Julien’s hot assistant in the university class he teaches
3) the ex-girlfriend of Michael (the Syrian-Christian political activist, and the other powerful man in Anissa’s life)
4) Anissa’s university friend who also has a crush on Julien
5) the Filipino maid who lives with Anissa’s family in Syria
6) the gorgeous woman who works at Julien’s $20 billion hedge fund firm
7) Anissa’s therapist
8) one of Julien’s lovers who will cause him a scandal





Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!