Authors whose work is not published by a traditional publishing house are said to have self published a vanity book. The idea behind the name is that the work was not good enough to be published, but the author’s vanity is the motive that justifies someone printing hundreds of thousands of copies of a book and selling them in whatever way possible.
The Internet changed that model, allowing would-be authors to upload files and have them shaped in book form for only several hundred dollars, including receiving an ISBN (the book’s serial number) and placement on sites like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.
Some of these books are excellent and only lacked a publisher getting behind them with fact-checkers, copy editors and a marketing campaign. Others are very good simply because they fill a small niche that would make traditonal publishing too expensive.
Amazon’s brand of these books is called BookSurge. If you’re about to buy a BookSurge book on Amazon, do some homework. You’ll want to especially check the reviews to look for friends, family and obvious shills. If the book is non-fiction by a recognized expert in your field, you may want to gamble. I’ve bought several books this way that I enjoyed and others that I threw across the room because they were unreadable or flat-out wrong.
In the world of citizen-as-journalist, anyone can be an author and have a publishing credit. Just like you can’t trust images in the Photoshop era, be wary of attaching any level of gravitas to a publishing credit until you understand how the book was published.