At a recent Board meeting, one of the editors brought up the subject of the author as a customer. Seems that one of the authors he was working with claimed that he was a customer of Drake Valley Press because we were his publisher. An interesting conversation ensued, as you might imagine.
When a person self-publishes, there is no doubt that he or she IS the customer. They are paying for their work to be edited, the cover designed, and the book formatted for print or a variety of eBook platforms. The self-published author pays for their own marketing and publicity campaigns, and they foot the bill themselves for any advertising.
So what happens when the publisher is footing the bill?
In the case of a traditional publisher like Drake Valley Press, we pay the salaries and overhead for everything pertaining to the publication of a book. We pay for the editor and when a book must go through several passes, each pass eats up potential profits we're gambling on making down the road. We pay for graphic artists and often for photographs used in the covers, book trailers and promotion of the book. We pay for formatters. We also foot the bill for distribution chains and administrative fees associated with each book - fees an author probably doesn't think much about.
So how can the author be our customer if we're putting our money on the line?
In the end, we decided that each project required a partnership.
We are not the author's customer; we don't demand that they rewrite until we are satisfied, or demand that they market and promote relentlessly until we've recouped our investment. And when we publish a dud (which happens to every publisher at one time or another), we don't require that the author pay us back for all our overhead costs - though the typical cost is in the thousands.
Neither is the author our customer. We don't need to suffocate our own professional expertise in order to please the author. If we believe a particular book cover will hurt the chances of a book, we needn't be afraid to say it. If we believe the marketing plan the author proposes will not reach the target audience, we needn't sit on our hands and watch him fail.
It's a partnership. Each party assumes certain responsibilities, and we each enter into this venture (and adventure) assuming that the other party will be willing to work with us. When one side assumes the position that he or she is the customer and the other side must do anything to please them - well, it isn't a partnership anymore.
The loser is ultimately the book itself. When the author isn't speaking to the publisher (or co-authors are not speaking to each other), it hobbles the project so it can not move ahead. The wheels grind to a halt. If the editor requests information and the author chooses to ignore the request, it's the equivalent of running out of gasoline and refusing to replace it. We simply can't go anywhere.
If, however, the author does wish to be the customer and make every decision autonomously, then he or she certainly has a viable solution: self-publish. Hire someone to edit. Hire someone to design and create the cover. Hire someone to format the book for print. Hire someone to format the book for whatever eBook formats are desired. Figure out the distribution channels and enter into the agreements with wholesalers and distributors and retailers. Figure out the marketing plan or hire a marketing or promotional company to assist. In each of these instances, the author is then footing 100% of the bill, and then there's no question: the author IS the customer.