Lockdowns, WFH, and other measures taken to isolate people and keep them from interacting with others (including job loss) afforded some folks the time to do what they said they always wanted to do: writing a book. In doing so, those people discovered two things:
The logical next step is publishing the book. That brings with it another set of problems encompassed by one word: ignorance. Ignorance can be cured. Many guidebooks exist to help newcomers find their way around this new realm, but many of these new writers don't know which are good resources and which aren't. They don't realize that there's a whole lot of work they must do before their books are ready for public consumption.
When I come across the "what now?" question, I direct these newcomers to two venerable standby resources: the Writer's Market and Literary Marketplace. These two resources have been around for decades and remain relevant and helpful today. Other resources I recommend is Preditors and Editors (which has a web page, but moved to Facebook) and Proper Manuscript Format by William Shunn, both oldies-but-goodies. These resources are regularly updated to remain relevant as times, industry preferences, and technologies change.
The path to publishing begins on the same road with the same two milestones:
The second milestone proves a stumbling block for many newbies: they don't know that their first draft sucks. Yes, it does. They don't realize that a traditional publisher has no obligation to publish their book. There's no guarantee that a publisher or literary agent--a whole other topic--will consider your submitted manuscript a good enough risk to publish, because publishing costs money and publishing is a business. Poor business decisions don't generate profits.
I don't care how good/smart/competent you are; that first draft is not ready for publishing. A professional understands that self-editing and revising is part of the extended process for publishing. Before anyone other than the writer lays eyes on the manuscript, the author serves his or her own best interests by reading through it, fixing errors, filling holes, cutting unnecessary verbiage, reorganizing scenes, checking facts, and otherwise improving the quality of the content. This may require multiple rounds of self-review and self-editing supplemented by editing software such as Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or AutoCrit. Spell-checking utilities included in most word processing programs do not suffice.
Software in general cannot take the place of human eyes, human comprehension, and human insight. It can't understand nuance, irony, sarcasm, or slang. It won't catch inconsistencies or detect plot holes. It won't know the evolving standards of a particular genre, whether a word is used correctly, or reader expectations. That requires a human, an editor.
Only after the content is as good as you can get it will it then be ready for formatting. Formatting for a publisher follows certain standard rules. Many new writers don't take the time or make the effort to learn standard manuscript formatting, although the aforementioned resources provide assistance with that. They don't realize that a publisher doesn't want to work with an author who can't or won't follow instructions. Instead they fiddle with cover art.
Don't get me wrong: cover art is critical. But at this stage of the game, it's not appropriate.
If you decide to self-publish, then you assume all the responsibility for the tasks a traditional publisher performs. These include editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. Editing comes first and is best accomplished by a professional. It's not uncommon to request a sample edit; just be reasonable about it. A freelance editor's time and skill are valuable and any request for a free sample should consider the value of that professional's time and skill. In other words, keep it short. (I offer a free sample edit for up to 500 words.) Editing--competent editing by a professional editor--costs money, oftentimes a lot of money. Editing is not a one-shot deal; it involves multiple passes through the manuscript in a give-and-take process through which the editor makes corrections and offers suggestions for improvement and the writer then accepts them, rejects the, or acts in some other manner (e.g., revising or rewriting). The author has the responsibility to review all edits and suggestions.
When the manuscript reaches the "it's ready" stage, then it's time to format it. Cover design and formatting often occur simultaneously; however, formatting a full book cover (front, spine, and back) depends upon the interior format. The number of pages determines the width of the spine. Every genre has standards and trends regarding cover art; the trick is to comply with those standards while making your cover art distinct. That ain't easy. Again, it's best to hire a professional who understands the genre. That same professional may or may not also be adequate for formatting the interior pages, which should comply to publishing industry standards, too. Formatting is best done using the software professionals use, such as Adobe InDesign. Cover design and formatting, by the way, also benefit from professional assistance which--yes--costs money. Sometimes a lot of money.
When formatting and cover art are complete, the book is ready to be uploaded to your preferred publishing platform. This, too, involves a step-by-step process that differs with each self-publishing platform. The process will involve rights, keywords for SEO, pricing, etc. Some authors prefer to leave this in the hands of professionals who can accomplish this process with a minimum of fuss and charge for their time and expertise to perform that service. Others more tech-savvy do it themselves.
Marketing oftentimes begins before the book is published to build excitement. Publishing platforms offer pre-release orders to launch the new publication. Marketing continues long after the publication date. This often involves paid advertisements, personal appearances at events, and more. Yes, this costs money, too. Oftentimes a lot of money.
Self-publishing doesn't mean you pay to publish the book; it means you pay the professionals who help you refine, design, and publish your book.