You’re going to need someone at your company who is the primary information contact for the author (and initially for the publisher as well). This person could be a senior writer, the technical publications manager, the product manager, or the engineering lead. They will be responsible for running around and tracking down information for the author (who may well live in another part of the country) from anyone directly connected with the product¾the developers, the documenters, the sales people, the product manager, and so on. Management must also grant a fair amount of authority to this person so they can get this job done and not be shuffled to one side. (Depending on the tightness of the book schedule, a mandate from management that allows the primary information contact to pre-empt all but the most critical tasks is not inappropriate.)
The primary information contact will also be responsible for coordinating reviews, identifying potential problems to management, and generally removing as many obstacles to the creation of a good book as she or he can. When the book is done, the primary information contact should get a large acknowledgment in front of the book for their work, as well as a cash bonus from the company.
The publisher will usually have a clause in the agreement about “final editorial control.” If you like the look of the publisher’s other books (and you probably will, or why did you choose them in the first place?), then it’s in your best interests to trust the publisher’s judgment. They’re in the book biz, not you, and they’re unlikely to make a decision that will adversely affect their ability to sell additional copies of the book. However, you will be able to heavily influence the shape of the book by approving the initial detailed outline and by working with the author for effective reviews. Similarly, while your company will usually have the clout to negotiate substantial input into the cover design, the publisher will have final control over the design. Again, the publisher’s design choices will be aimed at selling as many of the books as they can. Relax and let them do it.
If you’re considering doing a really small book (such as a pocket reference or tip guide), the cost per unit is likely to go down. The cover price will be around $7.95 or $9.95, so 20,000 copies might cost as little as $2.50 each. You can probably accelerate the writing and production schedule as well, and produce the book in as little as 3 or 4 months rather than the usual 8.
If you’re planning on doing several books, you might want to talk to the publisher about a specialized imprint, with its own special logo or a snipe across the spine. An imprint will set the series off on the shelves and further bolster the market position of your company and its products in the minds of shoppers. The imprint will also probably appear on a separate page of the publisher’s retail catalog, drawing the casual shopper’s attention to the books. For example, Sun Computers arranged for a special SunSoft imprint through Addison-Wesley. Keep in mind, however, that getting an imprint or a series of books for products and companies that don’t have a significant mindshare is pretty ambitious. The bottom line here is “Money talks.”
What if your company doesn’t have a lot of visibility in the marketplace for a specific product or venue and you don’t have a need to underwrite the number of books necessary to justify the book to a publisher? You might propose a book on a more general topic that has a strong market appeal and then include a version of your software. For example, suppose your company has developed an amazing tool for developing Java scripts using a visual interface. The book might be about developing and using Java scripts in general and then be illustrated with examples that use a cut-down version of your product (conveniently available on a website for download or, less frequently now, included on a CD in the back of the book). The value that’s been added is usually not only an inexpensive version of the product, but a number of additional tools, libraries, scripts, and information that is not currently available anywhere else. For a demo version, you can also include a discount or an upgrade option for users who want to get the full retail product.