“Vanity publishing” tends to sucker a lot of wanna-be writers who don’t know any better. A regular publisher will take on the costs of publishing and marketing your book at their own risk, and give you an advance calculated upon their estimate of probable sales. Needless to say, it’s not easy to get a book published in this way: they have to be absolutely convinced of the quality of your work and its potential in the marketplace. Vanity publishers, on the other hand, will pass on the costs of publishing to you, and only offer a royalty as a contractual token (usually $1). Certain of these will pretend to be valid and respectable publishers, claiming that their crack editorial team will carefully adjudicate your book and pass their judgement upon its quality and suitability, but then offer contracts to publish materials that would give a Vogon Captain the shudders. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America conceived of a brilliant sting to shed light upon one such vanity publishing firm and what they would actually consider publishable material. From their page Atlanta Nights – The Worst Book Ever Written:
A collection of SFWA authors (and, ahem, non-authors) concocted to write a very poorly written book. Under “direction” of James D. Macdonald, each author was given minimal information from which to write a chapter (with no idea of the chapter’s location in the book, time of year, background of the characters, what the plot was, etc.), and encouraged to write poorly. It’s a truly awful book, a serious contender for Absolute Worst Book Ever Written. The result was submitted “for review” by PublishAmerica to see if “has what this book publisher is looking for.” It did. 🙂 PublishAmerica offered a contract.
You can read the actual book (disclaimer: may cause spontaneous hemorrhage), the acceptance letter, the contract, and more. See also www.WriterBeware.org.