They want a payment. Let’s make this clear. Publishers pay authors. Period. Advances a few and far between unless you are a recognized author, but royalties flow from the publisher to the writer. NEVER sign a contract that requires you to pay for services.
Now there are publishers who offer a ‘menu of services’ but most of those services are overpriced. For example: You are offered a cover design for $400. Ten other authors pay the same amount. Total: $4000. The ‘publisher’ has an artist on staff or on call. The artist gets $200 per cover. The ‘publisher’ pockets the difference.
Once you have a book out there, you may get a cold email – something that offers services like the following –
“The attached PDF provides info on the email campaign to 100,000 avid fiction readers. Typically, an email blast of this quantity runs over $4000 … an amount that no author can afford, thus we decided to create a co-op campaign … where multiple authors share the cost. Now an author can present a book to 100,000 avid fiction readers for a flat $999 fee … less than 1 penny per name.”
Contests are a wonderful way for the designer to make money. For example, you pay $25 to enter the contest which has one prize of $500. The contest designer gets 200 entries – $5,000. Not bad – for the designer – a profit of $4,500.
Legitimate contests are great. Check who is running the contest, how many years it has been going one, who were the previous winners and where were they published. Check the web for the contest and see if there are complaints.