Protecting yourself as a writer is necessary. There are scams, poor-quality publishers, and editors who take the money and run. There are agents that try to charge fees when an agent's source of income should be commissions.
How can you protect yourself? It can be pretty hard to if you don't know what to look for. Enter SFWA's Writer Beware.
Writer Beware is SFWA's public efforts to expose scammers that would try to take advantage of hopeful writers. It pursues shady publishing houses, agents, editors, and writing ‘services'. It provides information on what to look for, how to go about looking for it, and what to do if you've been caught by a scam.
I strongly recommend that you check out this site if you are planning on publishing, no matter what genre you write in. While the SFWA is for science fiction and fantasy, the general rules apply to all genres of fiction and even to non-fiction.