When I was a teenager, I got suckered by one of the biggest vanity presses of the time. I thought, really thought, I was good enough to be a "finalist" and have my poetry read by someone at an award banquet. It made me soar until I realized they had been whispering sweet nothings to every person bothering to enter their so-called contests. And this, I'm sorry to say, went on for years before I realized what was happening.
Some people believe vanity presses can actually be good because of the confidence they inspire. And I would agree, up to the point the person finds out those praises ring more hollow than a coconut being dropped into the Grand Canyon. When I figured it out I felt more than foolish, I felt like one of the worst poets... ever. It didn't matter to me that I had a few legitimate publications behind me. All I could think about was that the bulk of my writing was accepted by a vanity press and that meant it wasn't good enough to be accepted elsewhere. I stopped writing for quite the while. (My mom even bought a plaque from them and a "lifetime" membership when we hardly had the money for anything extra because she was just so proud of me. I still cry when I think about it.)
The major problem with vanity presses is they don't advertise what they are. If you knew and went along with it anyway, you at least know what's going on and what they want from you. Then you could buy what they're selling without buying the bologna.
I was one bogus contest away from dropping my pen from public view. No one besides myself would have seen my words. Oh well, you guys are stuck now. **Chuckles