Once the editor at Brown Paper Publishing expressed an interest in publishing my novel, my initial skepticism grew. I started to reach out to other authors who'd been published at this house (there were only two at the time). I did as much research as time (and the Web) would allow. All I could parse was that this was a very, very new company and they were hungry for titles. What I could not ascertain was whether or not Brown Paper Publishing was a vanity press. To my knowledge, they were not. But I had to be sure.
So I wrote the publisher and chief editor, Juan DeCarlo (not his real name) directly. After some back and forth, I asked him point blank: Are you a vanity press? Indeed, my very words were, "Just to put it bluntly -- is there going to be any cost to me for publishing my book?"
Here was the acquisitions editor's response: "Brown Paper Publishing is not a vanity press, we are a literary publisher. In this day and age, as a matter of fact, we feel that the existence of Vanity Presses is something of an outrage, as there is, in our opinion, no legitimate reason to ever charge an artist any sort of fee (whatever language these presses may use to mask that this what they are doing) for the publication of their work. Further, any cost of promoting your work (the brief description of what Brown Paper Publishing does can be found on our website and we will give more Title Specific information later in the production process) falls to us and we work very closely with our authors to maximize exposure to the furthest extent our means allow."
I was soothed for the moment.