Have you ever come across an advertisement in a magazine along the lines of "Publisher seeking new authors - send us your book for free appraisal" This is the mark of the vanity press and it has been the downfall of many a would be writer.
Basically the vanity presses are glorified printers; they make money off the backs of people who have dreams of being published authors, by offering to 'publish' their book 'at a very competitive rate' etc, etc. Don't touch them with a barge pole!!
The vanity press is so named because it appeals to your vanity as an unpublished writer. They will praise your work to the skies, will not seek any editorial changes to the typescript and will draw you in with promises of how your awesome, amazing book deserves to reach a wider audience. Then they offer to 'publish' it - for a significant fee. This is not how the publishing industry works.
A legitimate publishing house pays the author - never the other way round. Of course vanity publishers don't call themselves vanity publishers; they go by the handle of subsidy publishers; self- publishing services; or self-publishing co-operatives. If you enter into an agreement with them, they will indeed present you with x number of copies of your book; but these are likely to look cheap, with little attention given to cover art etc, or limited cover art options if you get to 'design' your own.
They will take your money off you and leave you with boxes of books you are unable to shift. This is because book shops and libraries won't stock vanity books. The high street book chains sell shelf space to all the traditional publishing houses - they have very strict contracts, and terms and conditions as to what books they stock, where and how they are displayed in the store. Publishing houses spend more to have their books displayed face on, or to have them presented on a display table, or in the window. The vanity published writer will be dismissed without thought, because the shelf space in bookshops is not free, it has to be purchased under contract.
Using a vanity publisher means that you will see your work printed up, but you are unlikely to make your money back on it and might still be trying to shift copies in your dotage. You might sell a few copies at a car boot sale, or on Ebay and such like - but you can forget the bestseller status. You can also forget ever being taken seriously in the publishing industry, with that book.
One of the reasons vanity books are viewed with such disdain is because it demonstrates the writer as someone who is looking for an easy way into a very elite industry. Publishing can be a snobby world - like all snobby worlds, you have to be invited in, and earn your place there. Another reason is that these typescripts rarely meet the minimum word count to be called an actual book - they are usually more akin to novellas. A vanity published book is unlikely to get picked up by a traditional publishing house, who don't take kindly to those who try to leap-frog their way in through the back door. So you will have effectively ruined any chance your book had of being properly published. You can't just buy your way in.
The bottom line is, there are no short cuts to publication. If you want to be a reputable author, you need a reputable publisher and this takes time. So many people view writing books as some kind of hobby - something to do on the side, when they've retired, or at the weekends when the kids are at the grandparents. But it isn't a hobby. It is a business and like any other business it takes time to establish yourself and build something to be proud of. It takes years to establish yourself in any elite profession - publishing is no different.
The consolation for taking the time to find a traditional publisher to take you on their list, is that you will have a whole team of people
working hard to make your book look fantastic. Copy editors, legal teams, artists, designers, marketing teams, publicists and so on - all working to make your book a success. It is a team of expertise well worth waiting for, and it doesn't cost you a penny.
But then, as long as there are people who look for the easy way, the vanity press will continue to advertise. As long as there is a sucker for them to sell their printing contract to, the vanity press will thrive. Some potentially great books will never get the chance that they deserve, being left to linger in boxes, with no-one to buy them because they do not have the expert backing of the publishing industry. And all because their writers were too impatient to enjoy the vanity being able to call themselves authors. It's a shame.