Like any other creative types, in their secret hearts, writers long for legitimacy and recognition. For most of us, having our work published, not merely spat from our own printers, represents success. Even bad writers want it. Even writers who don't acknowlege the existence of a spectrum of quality. Even writers who don't or won't work to improve.
Smelling the opportunity, in slunk vanity presses, named because the author pays for the privilege of being published. (See correlation with predatory "agents" who charge to read a hopeful's material.) This mercenary exploitation of dreams was greatly abetted by internet technology and mercantilism, both of which I adore, even with their manifold abuses.
Now, I have no objection to a press that charges for printing, provided that it's obvious to the author that what he invests in is not a career but books, perhaps boxes of them, the remainder to accrue dust and smells in the garage after initial distribution to family and friends. Also, I'd like it clear that although a POD (print-on-demand) website will make a book available for orders, these websites don't advertise themselves as bookstores for adventurous readers. Instead, their advertising targets the aspiring author, the true revenue stream for these enterprises. Hardly a soul will visit these sites except the author whose book became a line item among a mammoth, undifferentiated database of similar, cheap-looking covers. There will be little, if any, editing provided other than digital formatting. And for those who imagine that producing a physical book will be their foot-in-the-door of a paying house, the name of one of these on a book's spine is viewed largely as synonomous for C-R-A-P, since the barrier to entry is nonexistent.
That said, there are ethical operations to help people self-publish. There are even good authors (not coincidentally, they're also aggressive self-promoters) who've parlayed their vanity/POD experiences into mainstream writing careers. There are too few of each for me to feel comforted. So, that's the premise as we meet our heroes, the widely published and often good-selling writers of the maligned genre called science or speculative fiction.
The scifi authors involved in this scheme proved that a "traditional" publisher, as Publish America touts itself, is a camouflaged vanity press. Publish America earned this attention from the scifi community after its "editors" discounted the quality of writing found among the genre's purveyors.
To test this august body's standards, several scifi authors wrote a chapter each of what they intended to be the worst book ever written. Continuity is non-existent, cliches abound, and the works demonstrates exceptional awfulness from amateurish goofs to fully-realized examples of how-never-to-write. Chapter 34, beginning page 234, was actually computer-generated from other texts. Naturally, Publish America offered author Travis Tea (say it fast) a contract. The details of the sting as well as links to PDFs of the complete manuscript and accompanying correspondence are available here.
Atlanta Nights is both hilarious and instructive in its epic badness. Hard copies are available via LuLu, an unapologetic POD operation that offers free online publishing and seems to candidly identify what they will and won't do. The authors are donating all the proceeds to a writers' emergency medical fund. I've suffered through unintentionally terrible writing from every genre, but I might need to own this stellar achievement. Even the jacket blurbs are a scream. So bad, it dazzles.