I am bad at waiting. Actually, I'm downright dismal at it. I have very little patience at all; I'd have made a laughable 19th-century housewife because I'd have jumped into the ocean long before my husband returned from sea, or wherever it was husbands went off to in those days. As unglamorous as it might be to admit, I'm a big fan of good ol' fashion instant gratification.
On the surface, then, I'm about the worst possible ambassador there could be for preordering books. One of my favorite things is having something the moment I make up my mind to have it. Preordering books is — well, it's the opposite of that. It's getting really, really excited about something you can't have, then paying money for that thing, and then continuing to not have it for a long while yet.
But I'm going to let you in on a secret: Preordering books is just about the greatest life hack there is.
Like many adults of my generation, the first books I ever preordered were in the Harry Potter series. This was largely practical; as anyone who was between the ages of about six and 16 in 2000 can attest, the Harry Potter books sold out fast. If you wanted any chance at all of reading them before there were spoilers everywhere, then you had to preorder the latest installment at your local bookstore, which often involved picking up said book during a midnight release party. On at least one occasion, though, my parents (probably sick of staying up until 3 a.m. just to get me a book) had the newest Harry Potter volume delivered directly to our house, which involved anxious pacing (on my part) until the mailman at last showed up on our porch.
Harry Potter, though, is the exception. For the most part, the excitement of preordering often lies in forgetting you ordered the book at all.
People who regularly preorder books will rave about the pleasure of giving "a present to your future self," but it's hard to understand just how satisfying it is until you're the one opening a package, having completely forgotten about an order you placed half a year ago. Sometimes I'll realize what the package is when I see the return address; other times I'll have no idea what I'm in for until I'm burrowing through the packing peanuts.
Some people who have really figured out the preordering game might even take to leaving little letters to their future selves:
While I have nothing against libraries, I do have something against being number 526 on the waitlist for Three Women (again, it's that pesky waiting thing!). But having the foresight to preorder books can have bigger advantages than just saving you time. While it may be hard to justify shelling out money for a hardback, certain stores — including Amazon — have "preorder price guarantees," which means that if the price of an item drops between when you place the order and when the book is released, you pay the lowest price that was ever offered. It's a good way to confirm you're getting the best deal possible, even if you're splurging on a brand new book. Many publishers and booksellers will additionally offer incentives to readers who preorder books, like signed editions, swag, or discounts. Sometimes individual authors will also sweeten the deal, like The Ringer's Shea Serrano, who is known for offering cool rewards to Twitter fans who buy his books early.
Still, I get it — it's a great feeling to browse a bookstore, chance upon a cover that catches your eye, and take it home right then and there. But if that thrill of serendipity and spontaneity are what attract you to bookstores in the first place, then preordering is like taking the game to the next level. Still, it always helps to do a bit of research beforehand. Next time you find yourself browsing, ask your local bookseller what to look forward to; most stockists are reading months ahead of everyone else to prepare their inventories. Or take a look at one of the many most-anticipated book lists that comes out each season (here's mine for this fall!), and keep an eye on trade publications like Publishers Weekly, which will keep you in the loop about what's coming down the literary pipeline. You can also follow favorite authors on social media and sign up for their email lists so you're the first to know when preorders of their latest books become available.
The biggest reason to preorder books, though, is because it is one of the single most significant ways you can help an author. Bestseller lists like The New York Times' actually lump pre-sales into a book's first week sales, meaning authors can use the months before a release date to build up enough attention (usually somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 presales) to make it onto the charts. Preorders will also push books up Amazon sales lists and grab the attention of booksellers, publishers, and critics, who in turn can help sell even more books. "preorders can have a ripple effect ... and a pre-publication buzz campaign in support of preorders can build anticipation for your book launch, allowing you to carry momentum through the weeks following your on-sale date," is how Penguin Random House puts it to its authors.
At its simplest, though, preordering books is just a great way to give yourself a small something to look forward to. Even if you end up forgetting about the order by the time it finally makes its way to your mailbox, that tiny burst of surprise and excitement when you open the box makes it all worth the wait.