There are a variety of different ways to get your book off your computer and in front of the public. Most of them have passionate supporters; one of them is a total scam. The terminology can get a big muddy (partly because of the "scam" aspect, partly because authors like to play with words, partly because... elves? mischievous elves?), but in general terms, we're looking at: Traditional/Gate-Keeper/"Real"/Legacy/Trade Publishing/A Publisher (no qualifications) If you go to your local bookstore, most of the books on the shelves will have gotten there by this general method. An author writes a book, sends it to her agent (or, in a limited number of cases, directly to the publisher), the publisher reads the book and rejects it or accepts it based on its marketability (expectation that the publisher will make a profit). If the publisher wants the book, they negotiate a contract, generally offer an advance, and then pay royalties once the advance is satisfied. But within this category, things can be complicated. A couple sub-categories: Big Five: the really big publishing houses, made up of smaller imprints (eg. Berkley is an imprint of Penguin Random House). Big advances, big distribution, but hard to get into. Independent Publishers (fun with terminology begins - some self-publishers call themselves Independents): publishers of various sizes that follow the "traditional" model of publishing outlined in the paragraph above, but that aren't part of the Big Five. This category can be tricky, because there are Independent Publishers with great reputations and fantastic sales, and there are tiny one-person operations that open and close practically overnight, destroying their authors' dreams, and there are loads of companies somewhere between the two extremes. You need to do some serious research if you're looking at an Independent Publisher. The smaller Independent houses are unlikely to have bookstore distribution, but may sell well on-line. Self-Publishing/"Indies"/Independent Authors/Independent Publishers For clarity, I never use any term connected to "independent" for this category because that term is already being used to make an important distinction elsewhere. There's nothing wrong with the term or the practice of "self-publishing". It's pretty rare for self-published books to get much bookstore distribution. Your local store may stock some copies if you ask nicely, but that's probably as far as you'll get. Most sales will likely be online, or through "hand-selling". That said, there are a lot of books being sold online today, and a good chunk of them are self-published. If you're self-publishing, you don't have to worry about getting anyone else to accept your book; you're good to go. (This can be a blessing and a curse). You can either do your own editing, covers, and formatting or you can trade services with someone or you can pay someone. You get your produce ready to go, you upload (to Amazon, and maybe elsewhere) and you join the throng of authors trying to get notice for their work. A sub-category here might be Assisted Self-Publishing. I include this term with great trepidation, because most companies offering Assisted Self-Publishing are total scams, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that, in theory, this could be done without being a scam. If you want someone to take care of the details of publishing your book for you, there are companies that will do that. But be very, very careful of how much you're paying, and make sure they're not flattering you into using them. I found an example of what could be legit Assisted Self-Publishing at http://askthepublishingguru.com/ under Publishing and Editing Services. It seems like a list of services they'll provide to you, with some pretty extravagant fees, but not a total scam, until I found the line: you'll "have the knowledge that your book is up to the standards of any traditionally published work." And that's where you can see the flattery working its way in. If your MS is total crap, paying $200 for an "Editorial Critique" is not going to get it up to the standards of a good book. They're lying, and that introduces us to: Vanity Publishing/Vanity Presses I could be here all day if I tried to reproduce all the different terms vanity presses use to disguise their slime, so I'm just going to call them all Vanity Publishing. They generally come with lots of horror stories about how impossible it is to get published these days, etc. - a lot of their rhetoric sound really similar to the most virulent of the self-publishing cheerleaders, but while the self-publishing guys seem to really believe what they're saying and don't take a profit off it all, the vanity presses are absolutely taking authors' frustration to the bank. Lots of vanity presses will cloak themselves in a "submission" process that mimics that of legitimate publishers, but really they accept every manuscript they see. I don't really know how an author can guard against vanity presses at this stage (except by doing loads of research on publishers before submitting to them) but it's the next stage where things become clear. Because vanity presses will ask the author for money. Loads of money. Vanity presses stay in business by taking fees from authors, not by selling books to the public. They charge thousands and thousands of dollars, make promises about promotion and distribution that never materializes, and break authors' hearts. I think back to how happy I was when I got my first publishing contract and then I imagine how I'd have felt if that had turned out to be a scam, and I just... yikes. I HATE vanity publishing. So, as soon as a publisher asks for money, you know you're not dealing with a real publisher. A lot of them will wait until really late in the process to hit you with the fees, because they're bastards. They tell you your MS is being considered, oh, they really like it but they need to be sure it's a good fit, they get back to you and yeah! they're going to take it, you're going to be published, and you tell everyone you know and go out for a celebration dinner and start dreaming about quitting the day job, and then they tell you it'll be $4 000 to get started. (To get STARTED - there'll be more later, don't worry). How to avoid scams? Be wary of publishers who focus on "finding new authors" or "making authors' dreams come true". You want your publisher to be focused on selling books to readers. Do your research. Search Bewares and Background Checks at the AW Water Cooler (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?22-Bewares-Recommendations-amp-Background-Check) and the SFWA's Writer's Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/). Google the name of the publisher and the word "complaints" or "vanity". Most of all, keep things straight in your mind. If you want to self-publish, self-publish. If you're not self-publishing, there's absolutely no reason to ever pay money to get published. Real publishers pay you, not the other way around. Make your choice and stick to it. Vanity Presses prey on the wavering and unwary.