What I'm about to say flies in the face of just about every piece of marketing advice out there for new writers right now. I realize that. I promise I have not gone off the deep end (yet). Stick with me and I will explain.
The best thing a new author can do to promote their work is write the next book.
If you follow any of the big blogs or listen to the most popular podcasts, this is going to be the advice you hear most often. Authors and marketing pros who will tell you that nothing sells a back list like a front list.
Respectfully, I disagree.
I say that as an author who is currently seeing a significant uptick in sales after just publishing the third book in my trilogy.
I realize those statements look like they contradict each other. They don't and here's why.
Ten years ago when eBooks were infants in the book world everything was different. Amazon Kindle launched with right around 400,000 books. When you break down all the different genres and subject matters you can see that discoverability wasn't as much of an issue ten years ago. Good books floated to the top without much friction and authors didn't need to jump through hoops to get the word out. Early Kindle adopters were eager to find new books to read. Even just a few years ago an author could make their book free for a few days and ride the tails of increased visibility for months.
So, it made sense that the best thing for an author to do was write more books. After all, Amazon already made it remarkably easy for your book to be found and your target audience was much smaller (based on early Kindle users) so large base marketing efforts would likely have been overkill.
Today, the landscape is remarkably different. Instead of 400K, Amazon boasts millions of books. Millions. And since eBooks never go out of print, that number will only continue to grow. Books are rarely discovered organically. There are just too many on the market for that to happen. With new books coming out daily, readers don't need to go digging to find their next read.
So if you launch your book with minimal marketing and don't really gain any traction, what exactly will launching a second book do for you? Another book is pointless if no one knows who you are.
Many authors will talk about the importance of virtual shelf space. The more books you have available, the bigger your shelf and the more visible you are to readers. And this makes sense to an extent. If a reader does happen to find you, they are more likely to commit if they see you have several books. It makes you appear as an established author instead of just a lone wolf with a single title. But the reader has to find you first. You aren't visible to them by virtue of just having a lot of books. You are visible when they discover one of your books (via some marketing effort) and then find all your others. Simply having a huge back list won't move you up the charts.
I also worry about this advice when it comes to burn-out. I feel bad for the authors out there who keep focusing on putting out more books. They are shelling out a good amount of money on covers, editing, formatting, etc. But they aren't seeing results. So they spend money on another book...and another. Until they have a handful of books out, and should be doing fine according to the conventional advice, but they still don't have readers. So they quit. Because no one told them that just writing another book won't cut it.
Before readers can find your virtual shelf, they need to know you exist. Readers have to find you in the sea of millions of eBooks. You have to put in some marketing efforts.
I consider myself lucky. I'm not making enough to support myself (yet), but my books do fairly well. While I recognize that luck does play a huge role in publishing, I will also tell you that I've put in a lot of effort to both my pre and post launch marketing efforts. My book came out over a week ago, but I still have a summer filled with marketing tasks. I know that my books existing isn't enough to keep them selling. Yes, the third release helped. But the time and effort I put into marketing carried the brunt of the load.
I'm not saying you shouldn't keep writing. More books keeps you fresh for the fans you do have and helps you continue to grow as an author. Always keep writing. Also, it's important to note that sometimes, regardless of your efforts, a book never really catches on. In that case, you need to be able to put out your next book and try again. Just understand that putting a book into the market without letting anyone know it exists is not a marketing strategy for your back list. It is an almost guaranteed way to increase a virtual shelf that no one is reading.