Re: What's with the new docs?

Subject: Re: What's with the new docs?
From: Richard Mateosian <srm -at- C2 -dot- ORG>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 20:49:12 -0800

>All you have to do is look
>in any Barnes and Noble, Bookstop, Borders, or other bookstores and
>the shelves are packed with documentation. The catch is that these
>folks aren't employed as tech writers by contract or by permanent
>employment. They write the books and hope some publisher will pick it
>up and then you and I, driven by sheer desperation, will go buy it.

It's true, usually, that the authors are not employees of the software
company or the publisher. However, authors rarely write these books on spec.
They usually have a publication contract and an advance payment before they
do any work.

It's a competitive business, and there's not usually much money in it for
the authors, but it's not haphazard.

Book publishers have a better feel for what their target readers want to
know and what form they want it in than the software manufacturers do. The
book publishers work closely with the software manufacturers. They know
what's coming out, and they usually have reasonably good advance versions of
the software to work with. They know fairly far in advance what books they
need to produce, and they actively seek out authors to write them. Often a
technical writer will team up with a moonlighting developer of the software,
just as they would for an in-house manual.

One of the main reasons that third party books are usually better than the
manufacturer's documentation is that the books are the product.
Manufacturers often regard documentation as an overhead item, since software
buyers don't pay extra for it. The publishers know that their reputation and
profits depend on giving buyers books they'll be happy with.

Microsoft has taken this one step further. Its captive press publishes books
on all of their software products. That way they can essentially sell
documentation and treat that business as a profit center. ...RM

Richard Mateosian President, Berkeley STC
Freelance Technical Writer srm -at- c2 -dot- org Review Editor, IEEE Micro

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