Publishing print books is an easy category. This diagram offers you only two choices, CreateSpace and Lightning Source. I agree. Here's why.
It sometimes seems that for every aspiring author, there is a shady book publisher waiting to take those dreams and turn them into cash for their own pockets. You need to understand how book publishers can fleece you and how different types of presses work.
Vanity Presses have been around a long time. They will publish almost anything short of pure pornography, so long as the author agrees to pay ALL expenses. The author keeps all rights to the book and retains all profits, but these deals come with the requirement that the author purchase a large number of books up front. Unless you have a huge empty room you can fill with unwanted books, steer clear of any deal that says, "we'll publish your book if you buy 3,000 copies, or 30,000 copies at whatever price we want to charge you." The press gets the money for the books up front; you must recoup all the expenses by selling the books yourself. How many friends do you have?
Subsidy Presses may sound like a better deal. They still charge the author for most expenses, although they may offer a few limited services such as marketing or editing. They retain all the rights to the books and you get to sell them by sending people to the company to make their purchase. The company makes a huge profit and the author gets a small royalty, sometimes as little as 5-10% of the proceeds. And they sell about 40 copies per title.
Print On Demand sounds even better. Thanks to the miracles of digital printing, books are only printed when they are sold, so no one gets stuck with a huge unmovable inventory. However, most of these companies still charge large fees up front by offering package deals of services. You must pay them to do your cover, your layout, your editing, your press releases, and your marketing, and you get only a part of the proceeds of the sales. Most also insist on providing the ISBN, which gives them the rights to your book. Care to sell your soul while you're at it?
After you've looked at all the deals and one-time great offers, we can recommend only two companies -- CreateSpace, which is the POD arm of Amazon, and Lightning Source. In both cases, you can purchase services that you need, but you are not required to pay for anything you can do for yourself. With CreateSpace, it is theoretically possible to have your books printed and distributed on Amazon.com at NO CHARGE. They make books available to you on a copy-by-copy basis for a small fee that just covers the printing cost, and you can sell them for whatever the traffic will bear. You retain all rights.
Now in the real world, you are going to need some services. I chose to have CreateSpace do my layout and my cover, based on my own rough design. I did my own editing because I'm an editor. I also pay them a small percentage of the profits from each book they sell on Amazon.com, but that seems only fair, since they are paying for advertising, handling, and shipping. I made one additional purchase, which I came to regret. I paid CreateSpace to do my press releases. They were sloppily done and showed little understanding of the book. I had to demand that they be redone several times before I was satisfied. They then sent those releases out to a list of some 10,000 outlets -- TV stations , radio programs, newspapers, magazines, talk shows, libraries, etc. But out of the entire list they sent me, I received exactly one inquiry for further information. And it came from my own local newspaper! Lesson learned the hard way.
How do you choose? Every author has his or her own opinion. For me, CreateSpace (except for their press releases) was totally satisfactory. They were responsive when I had questions, and they turned out a superior product. People who use Lightning Source are also satisfied, although LS offers fewer services and expects its authors to do more of the work. It's a toss-up, depending upon how computer savvy you are.
Once you've made your choice, the rest of this chart applies. Save your manuscript as a PDF file, open an account with the company, and upload the files. Voila! I had my books in six days!