This article is from the misc.writing Writing FAQ, by Wendy Chatley Green firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
It depends. If all you want is your book printed and
bound, then a vanity/subsidy publisher might suit you well
(although a local printer may do the job as well or better
for less money.) If your book appeals to a very narrow
market and you are willing to sell it yourself then a
subsidy publisher might fill the bill for you. However,
small presses, regional publishing houses, and university
presses often accept niche books. Self-publishing, in which
you do the printing, binding, marketing, and all the other
chores, also might be a viable option. Consider all the
costs and the work involved carefully before deciding.
Several vanity/subsidy publishers masquerade as
royalty publishers. They solicit manuscripts and accept a
writer's work just like the royalty publishers but their
contracts require you to pay. Stay away from these
companies; charging to publish a book is not illegal but
duping people into paying for publication is wrong.
A listing of duplicitous companies in this FAQ
undoubtedly would bring lawsuits. As a general rule of
thumb, if the publisher fails to mention its fees up front
then run from them as fast as possible. Reputable
publishers, like reputable agents, do not charge hidden