Self-publishing is not for those who have nothing to spend. If you can’t spend money on editing, cover design, and book formatting, self-publishing is not for you–unless you can design and format on your own. Instead the best route for you would be the traditional route because the traditional route often costs nothing.
I mention this because books are heavily judged on cover, editing, and interior design. Self-publishing nowadays is cheaper because you can go right to e-book instead of having to do print. But it costs publishers to produce a book, and so it should cost you money to produce a book as well.
There are some really horrible self-published covers out there. The one to my left is one such example. It makes me think the book is violent and that all Christians need chainsaws to prove a point. I can’t even tell if the cover is trying to be symbolic or what the author was even thinking when choosing this cover. And the colors are too bold. Bold colors paired with bold colors are often tacky. It’s not Kindergarten anymore. Primary colors worked then but they don’t work now because there are so many shades and tones and hues of colors that there is an entire class devoted to color theory at some universities. So if you want to design your own cover art, take some sort of design class or book production class.
As for editing, you can only edit so much before you need someone else to look at it. If you can’t afford an editor, please don’t self-publish. Use beta readers and go the traditional route because if you don’t even have money for a proofreader, what makes you think your book is going to be able to make it without some sort of paid marketing, like giveaways and what not? Even though my book is technically going traditional, I have some money I’m going to use for giveaways once the book is published. But it is impossible to fully edit on your own because you are the writer, not the reader, your audience. You NEED another pair of eyes, professional eyes, preferably, to whip your book into shape.
The interior design of a book can be just as important as the exterior design of a book. I’ve seen so many self-published books whose interior design has been brutally destroyed because the author did not hire a book designer. Said author likely formatted a .pdf file and put it through the Kindle converter, expecting the book to come out with publishable quality, when more often than not the paragraphs are wonky, not indented, words are missing, pages are missing, and so on and so forth. Also, a lot of readers don’t like to read .pdf. If all you can manage is a .pdf file and nothing more, don’t publish because your book is going to suffer without pre-release marketing and some reviews. You might be able to find some who will read .pdf, but if you want really good reviewers, they might end up requesting various formats, and there are just some reviewers you don’t want to pass up because you only have .pdf.
Self-publishing takes money. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because everything is digital now that it’s not going to take a lot because it is. If you want your book to compete with traditionally published books, you’re going to have to spend some money to make some money. Otherwise, don’t go this route and go the traditional route, be it large or small presses.