In several author groups, I often see posts from new authors with only one or two books out, asking if they should do promotions for free books.
When I first started in the indie book community, I found several blogs, articles, posts, etc, that said it is very uncommon for indie authors to develop a large following and start to see a steady increase of sales (over $100-200 per month) until after their 4th or 5th book release. This held true for my experience as my 5th book was the one that started getting the ball rolling for me (along with a few shoutouts from authors with much larger followings who I’d either become friends with or who’d found my books and read them).
So don’t panic when your first book, or even your second or third book, fails to do well. Readers like to see a series with more than a book or two out so they can binge read if they like the first one. The same holds true if you don’t have a series, but your books appeal to them. It’s hard to get exposure with just one or two books, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, just that it’s very uncommon.
I was lucky in the fact that I was out on disability when I first started writng. I’m single with no kids (other than furbabies) and until my mother got sick two years ago, I didn’t have much getting in the way of my writing like some people do, so I was able to publish several books in a short amount of time. I know that’s not always the case for other authors, but the results are still the same. You need more than just a book or two out there to get noticed.
Don’t give your first book away for free (unless it’s to a review site like Booksprout or Hidden Gems) without books that readers can purchase when they’re done with the freebie. Without followup books immediately available, it’s highly unlikely that the readers will remember your name when your next book is finally released, especially if they read over a dozen books per month.
Also, don’t deep discount or run freebies on your books less than 6 months after the release. This annoys people who paid full price for your book only a month or two ago.
One other point, don’t make your new releases 99c unless you’re trying to get on a list or have some other valid reason for doing it other than you’re an unknown author. Readers will come to expect your books to be cheap and some will be annoyed when you finally start asking $2.99 and up for your books. Don’t devalue your work. Since Day 1, I have never released a full novel under $3.99 or novellas under $2.99. Will I in the future? Yes, I might if I want to hit a list, but I also have a backlist of 27 books (as of this posting) to make up the difference.
So again, don’t panic when your first few books don’t sell. Find ways to promote them without giving them away unless it’s to a small group of people—i.e. takeovers, book signings, Booksprout, etc.—until you have more than 4 books out. Until then, just keep writing. You’ll get there.