In essence, in the ancient days before self-publishing (grin) everything out of necessity was done as a prerelease. In the earliest days of assembling books by moving tiny little pieces of lead around to form sentences, it could take weeks if not months simply to SPELL OUT a book. Can you even imagine constructing a book like this? In reverse?
As technology advanced it got easier to actually lay out and set a book, but there was still a lead time involved. This was because books had to be physically printed, gathered up, shipped, and received at the bookstore. If a book's official release date was October 14th, it could mean the printing would start way back on July 14th to give the printers enough time to make books for all the stores. There had to be time for the trucks to move the books to all the locations. So, working backward, the book might have to be finished way back in January of the year to allow time for the editing, layout, and other processes to go on before that October 14th release date.
How times have changed!
For many modern authors the idea of a pre-release makes no sense. They finish writing their book on Monday. They spend the week editing it, with help of their editing team. They post it to Amazon and other systems on Friday. It releases over the weekend! Why wait?
Here are some benefits and issues with the prerelease option.
Benefits of Prerelease
When you load a book into Amazon (and other systems) as a prerelease, instead of it going live immediately it remains in the system until whatever release date you set. So, for example, book 14 in my medieval series, "Wearing a Mask," is set as a prerelease book. Even though I put it into the system in September, it won't be officially live (readable by users) until October 14th.
This is a huge advantage for the author. It means I as the author can market, market, market this book for all of those days leading up to October 14th. I can convince as many people as possible to order it. And note that the book isn't done yet. I'm allowed to keep editing the book up to 10 days before the release date. Amazon makes that nice and clear on the editing admin pages.
So the author can market a specific URL to get people to buy in to the book. The author can keep editing up to that 10-day-before milestone.
When the book DOES release, let's say that there are now 1,000 people who all get it on that first release day because of all the pre-orders gathered up. This vaults the book high into the rankings. That's a lot of sales all aggregated onto one specific day. The book shows up in all the "movers and shakers" lists. Lots of people see news about this book either by browsing the top-selling ranks or by seeing those movers-and-shakers promotions. Even more people buy it. This is a far, far better result than if 10 people buy it on day 1, 10 people buy it on day 2, 10 people buy it on day 3, and so on. As an author you really want that large block of sales on a single day.
So why might a pre-release be a challenge?
Issues with Prerelease
This first issue is an emotional one but it should not be overlooked. When you get within that ten-day window of your release YOUR BOOK CANNOT BE TOUCHED. It cannot be changed at all. Whatever state your book is in, this is what your readers will all receive on release day. So let's say you are now at eight days before the book releases. In our example this would be October 6th. On October 6th you're re-reading your book and you find, to your horror, a HUGE ERROR. You discover you mistakenly use a wrong name in a key scene which totally changes how the scene is read. And now you can't change it. Now you spend the next eight days in absolute horror knowing that hundreds of people are about to get a huge mistake and there is nothing you can do about it. On release day, instead of being all excited, you are in trauma and furiously trying to now update the book.
Note that Amazon does NOT by default give all existing readers a new version of a book when an author posts that new version. There's a complicated process an author has to go through to lobby for why their book deserves to get updated to existing readers. There are extremely good reasons for this system. It's not that the system is wrong. It's just that for an author in this pre-release situation they are now being tortured. It might be that those hundreds of pre-release readers never realize there is a typo or a new version available. They just mis-read that scene and perhaps hate the book as a result.
Next up is a money issue. For authors used to instantly getting money rolling in the moment they release, the idea of waiting another month (or more) for that process to start might seem a lifetime. Especially if an author is near a key selling holiday. Let's say someone writes a Christmas story and has it done on November 28th. Why would they wait an entire month to release it on December 28th, after Christmas is already over? There are many times that it's best just to get that book live and available.
Finally, posting a pre-release gives other authors an exact idea of what you're doing and when. If they are the mercenary types they can leap in and post their OWN book which is similar before yours comes out. They can steal your thunder and have an earlier publishing date on their version. By the time your book finally goes live it could be old news.
There are definitely reasons to go with a pre-release and reasons to simply release the moment you're ready. It's important to consider all sides of the equation and then choose what's best for you!
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