So the question arises of what the options for distribution are for any given author and I thought it would really help to go over everything there is methodically both traditional, less traditional and new.
~A Full Service Publishing House: Okay so this is the old school, old flavour, way of getting published. You submit your manuscript and it emerges from the slush pile, [or not]catches the eye of an editor and they offer you a deal. Lately this route has been closing and it has become more regular (especially in Fiction) to have an agent make the deal happen. The agent champions the manuscript and negotiates the deal and also acts a pre-selector or initial filter for the publisher.
You will not be asked to pay for publication and you will be paid a royalty (and more than likely an advance). The publisher will do their best to market the book but in all likelihood as a first time author much of the support will be your doing and you will need to be good at it to build momentum (unless you are a celebrity, preferably a chef). of course they do solve the distribution issues [most of the time].
~ Vanity Publisher: A good vanity publisher will always let you know where you stand. You are paying them to publish your book, it is that simple. They will not pretend to be a publisher with a sales channel, they will not pretend to have an outlet that will build sales and recognition just you pay money and you get books, it is not a bad deal, it is necessary sometimes and is a route to market for some people who really know what they are planning and how to get there. They may offer some associated services, like distribution and order fulfilment but it should cost more and also be up to you to find buyers.
I think to be fair to the changing field of Self-Publishing that it needs a clean post of its own. I will set that up and hopefully run it before the end of the week.
Working hard this week