When it comes to pre-selling books, there are three techniques that come to mind. The first two are targeted, and the third is more broad.
One. Sell to established readers of the author or genre. If you track sales through a customer loyalty program, you can pull a sales report of customers who purchased books by the same author or similar reading styles. If you do not track sales, you can still make of list of readers from memory. Either way, reach out to the reader by phone or email letting them know a new book is coming and you’re happy to hold one for them. Since they already have an established reading habit, the gesture should be perceived as thoughtful instead of a sales call. (Especially if you treat the call as thoughtful instead of a sales call. Make a little small talk. “Did you read anything great this summer?”)
Two. What if you’re reading a debut author with no sales history? As you’re reading the ARC, make a list of customers with similar reading styles and reach out to them. (And if you want to avoid losing the list, write it on the inside cover or inside back cover. Just don’t lose the ARC!) I don’t know why any customer would be upset if they received a phone call or email from you saying, “I thought of you as I was reading this book. This is her debut, so I didn’t want you to miss it.”
Three. Make a broad appeal through your email newsletter. Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kansas, does a great job with this. Most issues of Watermark News & Notes feature information on visiting authors and upcoming events. But every two or three issues, Watermark will feature a pre-order sale or promotion. Here’s their latest newsletter with a pre-selling focus. The focus of this issue was Women’s Lit. The one before that featured a Fall preview. And this one featured a flash sale of musical memoirs. I like that each issue is focused, giving the pre-sale more of an purposeful intent. I like that the pre-sale discount window is short, which will make email recipients open the message in a timely manner for fear of missing out. And I like that the graphics have a similar look, so readers become trained to recognize the visual as a pre-sale.
No matter which method you choose (and I recommend all three), the key to pre-selling is to embrace the fact that this is active. You are not passively waiting for customers to come to you; instead, you are making some effort to shift your bottom line.