These are a few basic survival tips when it comes to choosing a publisher and then dealing with that publisher that you may want to keep in mind.
1) Take your time
If a publisher is encouraging you to hurry up and sign by offering you a special deal if you sign up before a certain date then that's a red flag. Choosing a publisher is a delicate decision and you need to weigh all your options carefully, a publisher that is too eager to have you sign up ASAP may be trying to hide something.
Keep in mind that all too often you are dealing with experienced salesmen who may be telling you what you want to hear. Use the same caution when dealing with a POD publisher as you would use with a door to door salesman or a used cars dealer.
2) Don't take the publisher's word as to what you can expect
A publisher is trying to sell you a product and they often do this by making it seem like they are doing you a favor. If you want a more balanced idea try to track down the authors of at least two books released by the publisher. One of them should preferably be the author of a recently released title, so that you can get some inside info as to what kind of service they are currently offering, and the second one should be an author whose book was released at least six months prior to help you get a clearer picture of what you can expect down the road when it comes to royalties and continued support.
To track down those authors you need their pen names and their books' titles, with that information you can use a search engine to try and see whether or not they have a website with an e-mail address. Do NOT ask the publisher to provide you with these references as chances are they will be carefully screened.
You may also want to consider joining a mailing list for POD authors but keep in mind that a number of publishers have infiltrated those lists so they may be less reliable than contacting a couple of authors directly.
3) Quality control
Publishers will often tell you that the quality of their books is top of the line and so on, that their books can successfully compete against any book printed by a traditional publisher. You may want to double check that claim by ordering a copy of one of their books from a bookstore and then torturing that book. Hand it over to a three year old and see how it does... and do this before you sign your contract.
4) Beware of publishers who market themselves too aggressively
A common problem seems to be the concerned publisher who pays too much attention to a perspective customer only to vanish once the fee has been paid. If you are getting constant e-mails, personal phone calls and so on you may want to be careful. This doesn't necessarily mean that there is a problem, just that there may be a problem. In a sense this ties in to the warning about taking your time when you make a decision.
A publisher's emphasis should be on producing top quality books and helping those authors who have already signed up. Its emphasis shouldn't be on marketing themselves to new authors. While you may relish the attention the fact is that the time and effort they are dedicating to talk you into signing up is time and effort that the authors who have already signed up are not getting.
5) Expect delays and glitches
You can expect to run into some delays and quite a few glitches in the process. When they are promoting their services publishers try to get you to believe that everything will run smoothly... chances are it won't. A few problems are to be expected so try to be patient and have a sense of humor about it. Drawing a line between normal glitches and serious problems can be difficult for new authors, so here I'll try to provide you with a couple of basic rules of thumb.
Over all I'd say that there are two kinds of glitches: those that arise from within your own publishing company and those that creep in when dealing with other entities, and these glitches must be dealt with in different ways.
In both instances the first thing you must keep an eye on is the publisher's attitude toward the problem (are they responsive, do they acknowledge that there is a problem and that they have to help you fix it?) and then the second thing is how long it takes to solve it. It is here that the differences come into play.
If it's an internal problem it should be fixed almost immediately, usually within a week. If you are dealing with a problem that originates outside the publisher then you may have to give them a couple of months to straighten things out. In extreme circumstances external factors may cause even longer delays, but that is rare (for instance, 9/11 and the anthrax scare caused a major backlog in the Library of Congress, this was a problem but obviously there was nothing publishers could do about it).
6) Be polite
Your book is important to you and you need to look for a publisher that understands that, but on the other hand you have to come to terms with the fact that as far as your publisher is concerned it is not an only child. You need to be vocal enough to make sure that it gets the attention it deserves but you must also try to respect the fact that it's not the only book your publisher is working on. If you find a problem you must obviously contact your publisher and you are entitled to a reply but you must also give your publisher a couple of days to correct things. You should also prioritize your concerns. If you are contacting your publisher every other day to complain about the tiniest glitch then you may end up dealing with a publisher who is used to dismissing you as background noise if you ever run into a serious problem.
Of course there is a limit as to how polite you should be, and you need to make sure your publisher knows you are keeping a close eye on things.
7) Who do you turn to?
This is one of the reasons why I tend to prefer small to mid-sized publishers over large ones. When you are dealing with a small publisher you usually know whom to turn to when you run into trouble, if you are dealing with a larger company your book is more likely to fall through the cracks. In a small publisher chances are that you will be able to get in touch with someone who is deeply involved with the company and has a direct interest in making sure things run as smoothly as possible, in fact more often than not you may be able to get in touch with the owner if you have a problem. If you are dealing with a large, nameless corporation you are more likely to be dealing with an employee who has no stake in the company's future, who may resign, be fired or reassigned at any given time and so on.
Another difference is the power you have. Small publishers rely for the most part on word of mouth to promote themselves, so keeping their authors happy is a top priority. Larger corporations have promotional budgets that allow them to market their services through paid ads and professionally designed campaigns in specialized mass media. These campaigns may seem impressive, but they detract from the authors' power when dealing with the company because disillusioned authors are not seen as a major problem.
Of course this is a trade-off as the resources of a small publisher can't compete with those of a major corporation..