I am not the first person to try to explain the concept of vanity publishing, and I won’t be the last, I’m sure; but here’s what I wrote in an attempt to steer my correspondent away from the precipice:
Please do not be deceived by vanity presses that talk about self-publishing. They are intentionally misrepresenting themselves and trying to confuse you.I hasten to add that there are many fine POD vendors that provide good, honest service. There are even a few vanity presses that are straightforward in the dealings and provide a valuable service for noncommercial publishing ventures (family memoirs, company commemoratives, abstruse academic monographs). However, the companies that say signing up with them will result in getting your books sold in major bookstores are stretching the truth to the breaking point.
You are a self-publishing author if you publish the book under your imprint, with an ISBN that you own. Period. You can choose to self-publish your book using offset technology or print-on-demand technology (POD). In either case, you can get quotations from printers who provide those services.
The vanity presses talk about publishing, but they are lying. The vast bulk of the books they print (generally fewer than 100 copies per title) are sold directly to the authors for free distribution to friends and relatives. Only a minuscule number of the titles they handle ever reach a bookstore. They promise all sorts of help—editing, design, marketing—that they either fail to deliver or outsource to the lowest bidder. This is a well reported scam; I’m not making any of this up. In addition to confusing customers with talk of self-publishing, they also try to make vanity publishing synonymous with POD, which is merely a printing technology they take advantage of.
So, back to your case. If you are ready to be a true self-publishing author, then you need to find a printer (offset for long run, POD for short run). There are lots of good vendors of both types, and selecting the right one depends on a number of specific factors. Your best bet is to look for book printers on the Web and get quotes. When you find prices you can live with, ask for printed samples to verify that their work meets your standards.
If you are not ready to be a self-publishing author and you want to pursue vanity publishing, I cannot recommend any because I don’t think any of them are truthful with their customers.