The Effect of a Free Prequel

Numbers update

I’d like to start by re-iterating that I pinch myself every morning when I look at my numbers. My apparent fixation with bettering those numbers in no way suggests I feel I’m not doing well. I am enormously happy with how well Bite Back has done and even happier with the feedback that you’ve been feeding me with. I feel very lucky.

The benefit to readers from this kind of fixation is that it isn’t focused solely on the numbers.  I also look at my writing and wonder how I can make it better. This may get me into trouble…They like complex stories, huh? Well let’s make it more complex…and so on.

All that said, the purpose of this post is to update you on my sales with specific reference to the effect of releasing a free prequel.

I will also post a couple more times over the course of this weekend. The first post will be to review my writing schedules, the second will be concerned entirely with a review I didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. Watch this space!


I wanted to write a prequel because feedback showed that some of the events in Amber’s history were interesting enough to readers that I have been asked for the stories. The three main items were the attack in the jungle, the failure of Amber’s first attempt at a job as a civilian, and the death of the three rogues while Amber was in the police. None of these is enough to make a full novel (of the length I define as a novel). What I decided to do, with advice from my editor, Lauren Sweet, was to write Raw Deal this year and then at some stage in the future write another novella which combined the jungle scene with Amber’s accounting job.

BTW, other frequent requests include what happened in Obs and more about what happened immediately prior to Amber joining the army. Those actually will come out in flashback as we go forward with the main series.

So, having decided to write Raw Deal, how should it be positioned in a marketing sense? I decided I wanted to make this a freebie. The commercial reason for this is that a freebie catches a lot of eyes and ushers new readers into the series. Amazon have separate freebie lists which serve to promote them, even if they’re ambivalent about freebies themselves. The noncommercial reason was that I wanted to give readers a bit of a thank you for being involved enough to ask questions!

I was fairly confident that Raw Deal would do well on the free book listings, because of the number of readers the series already has.

So, to put this into perspective, I hoped to get Raw Deal on the first page of free book recommendations in Contemporary Fantasy or Paranormal Fantasy, have about 9,000 copies downloaded in the first month and to get a boost in sales of Sleight of Hand of 3,000 by the end of SoH’s first year, i.e. by August.

Wow, aim high.


That didn’t happen.

First hurdle, setting the price. Amazon will not let me enter a zero value for the book. The method of making a book free is to put it in at $0.99 and then put it on a competing book provider for free (I used Kobo). Amazon then (eventually) changes the price to zero.

The problem with this is that it dissipates the ratings effect that would have been achieved if the book had been free from the start.

But no matter. The book is now free in all Amazon country stores. Thanks for those readers who bent Amazon’s ear about Kobo.

In the UK, Raw Deal has been sitting around number 10 in free Contemporary Fantasy. That is definitely the first page of Amazon recommendations. In the US, it’s been around 32 in Paranormal & Urban Fantasy. Not quite the first page, although it was there briefly.

Sales and downloads to date:

  • USA : 760 sales and 4,800 free downloads.
  • UK : 150 sales and 650 free downloads.
  • Germany : 96 sales and 321 free downloads.
  • Rest of the world about 60 downloads.

All together coming up to 7,000 copies of Raw Deal are out there. One slight uncertainty – Kobo does not report the number of downloads of free books, so there could be more.

It has had an effect on SoH sales, however the daily average has only gone from 26 (and descending slowly) to 34. So it looks as if the boost in sales to the end of the year will be under 1,000. And that’s with saying the boost will pick up from current levels.

Obviously, this marketing ploy has yet to bear fruit!

Has this cost me? What’s the situation right now? If I’d left it as a 99c book, I’d have sold about 3,000 copies Raw Deal (estimate based on sales when it wasn’t free). Amazon pay 29c per copy at that price. Total $870. My gut feel is that most of those purchasers would already have read SoH, so I’m saying there would be little extra income other than that.

Against that, with the prequel free, I have 240 extra SoH sales at $3.99. Amazon pay me $2.80 per copy at that price. Total $670.

But the real results will become visible over time. I can see from reviews that people are buying the prequel and moving to the series. I know that free books tend to stay unread on the Kindle longer than ones you pay for. Many of the newcomers in the 7,000 sales may have yet to read

Raw Deal. But only Amazon knows how many of that 7,000 are new to the series.

Other results

Sleight of Hand has now over 16,000 sales and on the current trend will end its first year (August) at about 17,500 sales. That’s lower than the 20,000 I predicted when sales took off after Christmas, but still represents an excellent track record.

Hidden Trump has over 10,000 sales and on the current trend, it too will end its first year (December) with about 17,500 sales. What’s been fantastic about HT sales is the retention from SoH – currently running at 68% and creeping up month by month.

Pinch myself again.


On the prequel: It’s a long game, or at least, it’s longer than the month I’ve given it to see the effects.

On the rest of the series: I’m happy with the numbers. I’m not going to spend time ‘marketing’ to try and squeeze more sales in. I’m going to spend time writing. There are people who won’t buy a series until there are 3 books. There are people who wait for 4, or 5. If I have an overriding plan, it’s to keep writing books that get the response that my readers have given me. Do that and the marketing can take care of itself.

Keep tuned. Later this weekend – how is Wild Card coming along (and Bian’s Tale 1 – Saigon after it). And that review…

About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first books are available on Amazon at

14 responses to “The Effect of a Free Prequel”

  1. soireadthisbooktoday says :

    Miss talking with you. Hope all is going well. Been trying to push your books as hard as possible to all my compatriots!

    It has been over 100 until last night when there was finally a thunderstorm. It was soooo nice!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Leiah
      I can see the effects! JC mentioned it on Goodreads and I got a couple of messages as well. Thank you for your efforts.
      I read about the weather in the Mid West. Those thunderstorms that break after a long hot spell are magical. When we were youngsters, my sister and I used to shower in the rain in Africa when the dry spells ended.
      (*Not* something we do in the UK!)

  2. Debra Dunbar says :

    I agree with your theory that freebies tend to sit a bit before they get read – I know I’ve got some freebies I picked up 6 months ago I’m just now getting to. Those books are from authors I’ve never read, and I have been known to buy a series introduced to me through a good freebie. So basically, my gut is it’s a good strategy, it just will take longer to pay out than if you’d put it at 99cents and kept it there.

    Congrats on your sales to date! I love hearing good news like this 🙂
    BTW – the new covers I did for my Imp series resulted in a significant sales increase – yay! Not anywhere near your numbers, but any upward trend is good news.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Good news on the effect of the new covers! I think Demon Bound, with the woman wrestling the lightning is especially distinctive and I love the prequel cover.
      Samantha is a damned good character. Or is that a good character who is damned? 🙂

      Any marketing plans you’d like to share? Insights into the indie world? Guest blog?

      • Debra Dunbar says :

        Thanks 🙂 – glad you like the covers, and I’m always thrilled when someone enjoys Sam. I’ll really hate to write that final novel in the series – she’s been so much fun as a protag. I’m probably beginning to identify with her a bit too much though, LOL. I know how actors feel when they say it’s hard to pull away from a role!

        Did a huge guest blog tour in May – 22 stops. Helped spread the word and got me exposure. I picked up some sales, but I think there’s more of a long-term effect on that sort of thing too.

        I shelled out for Goodreads ads earlier this year. They’re pay for click, and I haven’t had a whole lot of “clicks” or “books on shelf” additions from the ads, but a marketing friend said those are more about visibility and establishing a recognizable brand. She says even with the low clicks, the views will eventually translate into sales. We’ll see! I had success with my first Goodreads giveaway of Elven Blood driving sales back to the first of the series. My advice on Goodreads would be to use the giveaways much like the Amazon freebie strategy.

        Goodreads is tough – it’s definitely where a lot of readers are, but authors have to tread so carefully that we really can’t be visible without irritating everyone. I stick to the ads, giveaways, and participate in freebie-for-review programs if they’re well set up and through a reputable forum.

        My Twitter buds are mostly other authors. Quite a few have bought my books, and I do market there, but it’s easy to get drowned out by thousands of other book tweets. My experience there is to balance intriguing book tweets with personal tweets and links to interesting blogposts.

        Overall sales are increasing in 2013 each month, although at a slow, steady rate. I think a combination of the new covers, blog tours, and other advertising is helping sales. I’ve gotten really good feedback from readers, so I know it’s just a matter of patience and determination!

    • soireadthisbooktoday says :


      And posting notes on other authors sites apparently works too – I had never heard of your books until I just saw this note to Mark! I just added your “Imp” series to my “To Read” list on GoodReads. Love “A Demon Bound” cover, Like the “Satan’s Sword” cover. The “Elven Blood” cover feels very YA to me, but of course all my likes and dislikes are just my personal tastes 😉


      • Debra Dunbar says :

        Yay! Thanks Leiah, I hope you enjoy the books.

        The next book in the series (Devil’s Paw) has a similar look IMO, but the 5th (Imp Forsaken) and the 6th (Angel of Chaos) are move “Adult” in feel. My favorite, oddly enough, is the Imp Prequel cover. Everyone seems to have different likes/dislikes as far as favorite covers though.

  3. Mark Henwick says :

    Thanks Debra. Very interesting to hear about the Goodreads adverts and giveaways.
    I agree, you have to tip toe around on Goodreads.
    I have a twitter and pinterest accounts, but I’m twitter-less and pictureless! Can’t do everything!

  4. Gail says :

    Well – if my brother (Mark Henwick) likes your books, I am very likely to as well – so I have just downloaded ‘A Demon Bound’

    • Debra Dunbar says :

      Woohoo! I think I should buy Mark a cold brewski 🙂

      • Mark Henwick says :

        You brew your own don’t you?
        Long ago, back in Africa, my Dad brewed his own lager in a concrete storeroom at the back of the house. The brew fermented in huge glass barrel-jars (can’t think of what else to call them, barrel shaped with a spout on the top). The glass on these was so thick, it had that pale green/blue colour glass gets. Anyway, this all ended when the barrels exploded, destroying the storeroom. Yeee-ha! That’s real beer!

        And yes, the prequel is the best cover IMO.

      • Debra Dunbar says :

        Whoa! Exploding beer, that’s some good times!
        Yep – Frey’s Brewing Company currently has a smoked farmhouse ale, a weiss, and a rocking imperial amber called Wacktruck McDonkey. Don’t ask what we were on when we named that one 🙂

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