When I’ve totally invested in a book via my illustrations, I want that book to do well. Not only for myself, because of course I’ll be earning a modest royalty on each sale and that is a part of how I earn a living, but because I want any author I’ve worked with to be rewarded for what will often be years of hard, dedicated work — and years, quite probably, of building up to starting it, planning, thinking, dreaming (these are the people who didn’t just dream about it — they did it!)
Contrary to how it might look on the chirpy and colourful bookcentric feeds of Twitter and the ‘Gram, books do not magically spring from nowhere, fully formed with glittering covers and smiling, selfie-ready authors. By the time you see that part, the writer has spent years chipping away at a manuscript they didn’t necessarily have ANY idea would ever be published, months honing it, weeks editing it, and the illustrator has spent weeks or months working on the illustrations to go with it — and all the sketching and roughs and versions that entails. Most of the time they’ll have created a cover for the book too, which often actually comes before the insides are decorated.
A cover reveal happens some time before a book’s release, to introduce the book to the world in visual form and to remind you, if you didn’t know already or had forgotten, that its publication is imminent. And again: by that time, the illustrator’s work on it will have been finished months before that moment.
And when all that’s done, when the book’s become ‘a real object’, a definite point on the horizon, authors and illustrators will encourage you to buy a copy of their book BEFORE it comes out, from the moment it’s made available to buy online. I know as a species we’re used to hitting ‘buy’ and getting the new thing thrust in our hands pretty much the day after — or even the same day, if you use a certain grotesquely popular service — and it might be an odd concept, having to wait for the thing you’ve paid for.
But that is exactly what an author and illustrator have done; just for much longer. They’ve made the investment, a substantial one at that, and they’re now waiting patiently, and probably quite nervously, for the pay-off; the sales, the reviews, the readers receiving their book and enjoying it, and the opportunity to engage with the readers for whom they’ve laboured all this time.
Here are the reasons why buying a book before publication is immeasurably important to, and massively appreciated by, authors and illustrators.
Pre-orders (or ‘pre-sales’) are THE BIGGEST hint to booksellers that there’s interest in a book. Bookshops used to have to use a combination of educated guess, their experience and previous sales by an author, to order in the stock of books they think they can sell. Not any more. Figures from pre-sales give them a vivid picture of what readers are anticipating — and they can order in stock of it, ready to meet demand. Books without pre-orders make it difficult to size up how many to order.
Similarly, publishers need to know how many to print! Obvious, when you think about it. Although an initial print run will have been agreed months before, or even at the time of contracts being signed, no publisher wants to under-print and not be able to meet demand — selling out straight away might be a flattering surprise for an author/illustrator, but they’d rather keep selling!
By the same token, they don’t want thousands of copies too many — buying the book you fancy as a pre-order puts the publisher one book closer to getting the quantities right.
Book sellers will sometimes offer a book at a lower price prior to publication. This is likely if it’s by an author/illustrator whose work has done well, or it’s a follow-up or one in a series. Obviously this is a ‘nudge’, as it’s known in retail, but you save a couple of quid/dollars by buying it early!
Pre-orders create anticipation, excitement and momentum for the book. An author/illustrator will be getting on The Promo Train for his or her book (nope; unless you’re on the boy-wizard level of popularity, book will NOT sell themselves) which means visiting schools and libraries, doing online talks and interviews, maybe some radio or even TV; their confidence will soar as a result of knowing that, by the time they hit the road for all this, the book is actually selling decent quantities already.
Which means an engaged and engaging speaker, who is excited and confident.
When a book is in its pre-order stage, there’s every chance the author/illustrator is working on its follow-up (keeping in mind what I said above about the timescales of book-making). Nothing says ‘keep going’ like good sales on the one you’ve already done, that’s about to come out!
WORD OF MOUTH. If you’ve pre-ordered a book, it means you’re into it and excited about it — and that means you can tell other people about it, and they can pre-order it too. I mean yes, you can do that if you order it after publication, but there’s nothing quite like the gently teenage smugness of ‘psst…I know this is gonna be a good’un…and I get my copy first.’
Finally, we author/illustrators HAVE IDEAS for stuff we want to do around the book — stuff we couldn’t put IN the book itself! A pre-order campaign allows us to make those things and offer them as little creative nuggets of encouragement to the potential readers. “Buy it now, rather than waiting till publication, and we’ll send you a bunch of swag!” In the case of Josh Allen and myself, that swag consisted of enamel badges, cards, a free illustrated story and signed art prints — for the book we’re currently promoting, that’s book plates, glow in the dark badges, signed art prints and more. Since the book launches those things stop, because, of course, we can’t offer them to every single buyer!
Think of it as not only your reward for having faith that what we’ve made will be ace, but your badge to show you’ve been inducted into our little gang of like-minded, book loving people.
And what could be nicer than that?
You can pre-order ‘Only If You Dare’ by Josh Allen & Sarah J Coleman in the UK and the US here.
And you can still get the some of the swag for Out To Get You, here.