Which all the talk that has occurred about the supposed contest at FirstOnePublishing (I'll leave you to decide. You can read about it here, here, and here.), I thought it might come in handy, especially for those just starting in their quest toward publication, to explain the different types of publishing.
Mainstream or traditional publishing is the term describing a publishing house that incurs all the costs of publishing a book. They sometimes pay an advance (this mostly applies to NY publishing while most E-publishers do not) and the author receives royalties on every sale. Editing, cover art, marketing, and promotion (this also varies as many e-pubbed authors know are all provided by the publisher. Self publishing is the publication of any book by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. All the things I mentioned above, editing, artwork, etc. are done at the expense of the author.
A vanity press or vanity publisher is a term describing a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense.
Now I am not going to get into which form is better; I think that is a personal decision for each author to make on his or her own. The problem I see with self publishing is the upfront expense (I’ve heard as much as $500) might be more than a new author has to invest, which is why there is such a broad spectrum of novels at places like Amazon. Some just are not willing or able to invest what is needed to make their novel read-worthy, which is a great disservice to the self publishing industry.
As for vanity publishing, believe me, all of here at RTM understands the desire to be published. And we have all suffered the heartbreak of rejection (more times than we would probably care to). Rejection doesn’t just go away once you’ve been published. But please, please (I can’t stress this enough), don’t allow yourself to duped into ever paying exuberant fees to have your book published (or to enter a contest for that matter). You’ll only end up regretting it.