Before you sign with a publisher, there are some important questions to ask. Make sure you know what type of publisher you're dealing with by asking these questions.
Is my book returnable to the distributor?
Big bookstores like Barnes and Noble, B Dalton, Walden Books and Borders order through distributors, not the publisher.
Are you printing a run on my books or are they Print-on-Demand?
A run of books is when a large quantity of the same title are printed at one time then stored in warehouses. Print-on-Demand books are stored electronically then printed as there is demand.
Why does this matter?
What will my cover price be?
Get the estimated cover price in writing before you sign anything.
Are you going to charge me for editing?
Editing is a vital part of any book's creation. If you're talking to publishers, the editing they offer is a big clue that will tell you what kind of publishing house they are.
How will you publicize my book?
A traditional publisher will put time and money into publicity. Even before they puchase a title, they will create a marketing plan.
What are the distribution responsibilities of the publisher? What are my responsibilities?
I represented an author who published through a supposed traditional publishing house. It would stand to reason that the publisher, who should have a lot of experience with distribution, would guarantee that the book was listed correctly with all major sales venues before the release date.
What if I am unhappy with your services? Are you going to sue me if I complain on a public forum?
I have been hearing rumors that some contracts stipulate you cannot complain about the company on any public forum.
What will the quality of my finished product be?
This is a very important question but a hard one to get a straight answer that you will understand.
How long until I see my book in print?
This is a big tell about the size and status of the publisher.