Mitchell Waite - The Early Years
 

Page 1

 

"Three months later a check arrived in my mailbox for $10,000."

Build an Alpha Brain Wave Feedback Monitor

Remember 1972? Hippies? Tune in and drop out? Sideburns, boots and VW buses? Back to the earth? Become one with the universe? I was not the only one fascinated by the lure of Zen practice, nor was I alone among would-be adepts to encounter many obstacles to attaining a state of meditation. Brainwave monitors that enabled one to tune in to hidden EEG waves was the new way to achieve a Zen state. But for a struggling college student the main obstacle was price-these devices cost hundreds of dollars-a month’s rent on my room. What to do? I worked tirelessly to construct a custom brainwave monitor from Radio Shack transistors-a quest for a new technology that might empower the Quest. After a year of work, I attained my electronic nirvana. I could journey to the stars with my mind and a 9-volt battery! But what a shame, a friend pointed out, to not share this with the world at large. He insisted that I simply must publish the new solution. I contacted Popular Electronics. The excited editor asked me for a “parts” kit to accompany the “how-to” article. I reluctantly located a small company in Berkeley to supply the kit. I then produced the article and returned to my studies in physics. Picture this: It is December of 1972. The article hits the stands. I am proud, but broke, and subsisting solely on frozen burritos. Three months later, a royalties check for $10,000 finds a new home in my mailbox! Never the ‘A-List’ English student, I nevertheless now know this: I am a writer.

Download Alpha Brainwave Tutorial Article PDF format

Download Alpha Brainwave Construction Article PDF format

1972

 

"I spent all the funds I had made from the Brainwave Monitor article. The book was a flop."

Projects in Sight, Sound and Sensation

On the heels of my 1972 success with the biofeedback project, I focused on a goal to deliver a book covering the sum total of provocative "edge" technologies that I had experimented with to date. After all, I was now “the writer”, so I needed to prove my meld. How many such “deep exploration” technical aids fired our imaginations in the mid-1970s? Biofeedback devices, laser light shows, ESP detectors, Kirlian cameras, not to mention 3-D oscilloscope graphical drawing devices! I was devoted to the cause-my efforts were the embodiment of a labor of love. But moving into my first apartment, and writing for so many months with no income, I found that I had expended every cent collected from the former Alpha wave biofeedback article. The new book, Projects in Sight, Sound & Sensation, did a swan dive and crashed in the market that was 1974. Perhaps I was too far ahead of the curve, but not enough people seemed to resonate with my labor of love. I was not deterred. Using the manuscript for leverage, I landed a technical writing assignment for a major electronics firm, my first “real” job in the tech field. A job I would soon find I hated.

1974

Your Own Computer

 

"To everyone's amazement the book sold over 100,000 copies."

Microcomputer Primer

Projects in Sight, Sound & Sensation had failed to capture public imagination in 1974. I knew my next book had to be more universally appealing. Where was the real revolution going to experience birth and take hold? The mid-1970s were the days that saw the infancy of microprocessor chips. I became certain that these tiny ‘silicon minds’ were poised to transform the world. But few too many people-at that time-would have agreed with such a prediction. I suggested to my staid electronic book publisher-Howard W. Sams-a new book on the magical microcomputer. Sams was skeptical. My best friend, programmer Michael Pardee, joined with me to convince Sams otherwise. Not only was the book produced in record time, to everyone's amazement, the title sold 100,000+ copies the first year. Now I had explicit career fever! Computer books were my trade. The microchip was my blade (aka: launch platform). A dream based on these silicon marvels awaited me, but first I needed to exit the corporate world of technical writing. The little cartoon character was a big hit, it was created by my friend Robert Gumpertz.

1976

 

"Short and cheap it rocketed to the top of the best seller charts."

Your Own Computer

Never underestimate the virtue of simplicity-such was the lesson of the Your Own Computer book project. While I had conceived and written Microcomputer Primer for techies, the average Joe was struggling with what-in 1977-seemed a bizarre question indeed: "Why would I want a personal computer in my home?" We tried to answer this perplexing query with Your Own Computer, a title I co-authored with Michael Pardee. Concise (80 pages) and inexpensive ($2.95), Your Own Computer ascended to the top of the bestseller charts. To glance at the narrative of this title today is an act that illuminates the astonishing trajectory of change in computer technology. Your Own Computer details, among other wonders, the fact that a computer memory board holds 65,000 bytes. By contrast, the PC of the new century arrives ‘out-of-the-box’ with 128,000,000 bytes of memory-a 2,000 times increase in capacity!

1977

 

"Steve Jobs came up to my houseboat, in his torn jeans and VW bus and asked me to write a book about the Apple II."

Computer Graphics Primer

Fast forward to 1979. I have now performed a mind-meld with the technological marvel that is known as the Apple One computer. Steve Jobs-a figure who emerges from a Volkswagen bus in torn jeans-arrives dockside at my houseboat. He asks to see the weather station I have created with the Apple. I oblige him with a boat-based demo. He asks me to loan him some gas money to get home. Then he asks me to write a book about the Apple- specifically, the Apple II. I agree. Guess what? Steve enriches my existence with a new Apple II, introduces me to Woz (Steve Wozinak, the technical wizard of the Apple), and Computer Graphics Primer is born. In full color! And you thought ‘bleeding edge publishing’ was a recent phenomenon? I get Midwestern editorial flack for the word “Primer”. Some say it is the undercoating of paint. Others tell me it is what makes a bullet go bang. It’s all a lesson in how incredibly anal editors can be. Another bestseller, the book helps me pay for my first house. Now if I could just meld with a girlfriend who does not protest that I love computers more than . . .

1979

 

"The result: 200,000 copies sold in less than 6 months and reprinted in 14 different languages."

CP/M Primer

Twisters do not inevitably touch down on the Kansas plains, and Microsoft was not always king of the desktop.  Set the time at 1980. A company called Digital Research owns the operating system for Intel based PCs. It is called CP/M. The concept of a "primer" strikes a chord with readers, and so do concise, easy-to-digest computer books. This is why I conceived and authored CP/M Primer. Weighing in at 92 pages, and costing only $11.95, this 8.5 x 11 spiral bound format title appeals to businesses selling computers with CP/M built in. The result: 200,000 copies sold in less than 6 months. The title is reprinted in 14 languages. CP/M Primer employs two colors, a good number of blue screens, and cartoon characters-an approach that made this CP/M offering both inviting and useful for the beginner.

1980

Welcome to New York
 

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McGraw Hill

Word Processing Primer

Computer Animation Primer

Apple Backpack

8086/8088 Microprocessor Primer

The years 1982 to 1984 marked a critical shift in the computer book trade. The markets for these titles were accelerating, and so were the challenges! Previously I had placed each of my books with Howard W. Sams, then a small press based in Indianapolis Indiana. Sams was directed by people I would characterize as ‘shirt sleeve farmer’ Hoosiers. These fine down-to-earth people had souls whose motivations were fused with the corn stalks that rose from soil to sky just beyond their office windows. Over time, they evolved as parent figures to me.

1982 - 1984

1

There was just one problem! I now was ready to author more book projects than Sams was positioned to produce. It was time to beat my wings with greater force and speed. A new path before me, I began to test the larger technical book publishing firms. Joining forces with the mighty McGraw-Hill in New York, I created 4 titles for their Byte Books division. New York City intoxicated me, I felt like I had reached the peak of my career. Lovely women editors worked me over till I was willing to sign anything. Still these books sold well, and opened me to a whole new kind of publishing, allowed me to work with professors and professional writers, but I will not soon forget the ‘back story’ that I lived during these times: unproven authors, over optimistic delivery dates–all conspiring to make these books significantly more work than first imagined. David Fox’s Computer Animation Primer became a cult classic, and today its pages have been immortalized at http://www.atariarchives.org/cap/ David completed this title in 1982 but the publisher did not get it on the market until 1984! As you can see, I had to grow another beard.
Discovering The Waite Group

 

"Then in 1985 my world exploded"

CP/M Bible

Soul of CP/M

MS-DOS Bible

C Primer Plus

BASIC Programming Primer

Unix Primer Plus

Pascal Primer

Having partnered with McGraw-Hill to produce a string of successful titles, my horizons were now expanding with increasing velocity. I went to work to harness professors, friends and family members to help me build an authoring group. Our focus? To specialize in producing friendly computer books of superior quality on CP/M, Basic, Assembly Language, not to mention a new product called "DOS" from a modest firm in Seattle run by a guy named Bill. It was at this juncture that I chose to produce a custom The Waite Group "logo" to appear at the top of each book slated to originate from our author team. I reasoned it was important that readers learn to quickly recognize our books from all the other titles that where flooding onto the market. This tactical move placed our team at an awesome advantage. Only years later would the publisher at Sams confide to me a sobering reality: our logo had served as a vital ‘stake in the ground’ such that readers began to think that I was the publisher only because our logo was more prominent than that of Sams.

1984 - 1985

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Don Juan or slick Mitch? I chuckle when I see this picture today. I recall sporting actual make-up for this photo. While it wasn’t “me”, it did appear to sell books. Yet these ‘dust jacket follies’ did not prompt phone calls leading to romance!

A vital logo represented only part of the action phase of this period. During this time, I started to push the perimeter of what was acceptable for typical computer book titles. We hot-wired concepts phases such as "Soul" and "Bible" to computer topics. Imagine the flack I took from the US Bible belt when those first titles landed in distributors’ bins! Computers had become my trade but words were not enough. I began to probe the challenges of programming itself, only to find both heart and head captured by a computer language known as Microsoft BASIC. I took a personal hand in authoring Basic Programming Primer with my friend Michael. Another great seller! I had arrived at a crossroad. I was now making enough money to quit my job as a tech writer and devote full time to writing itself. I became involved with the Pascal language, and made a good friend of David Fox, the man who founded the first computer-learning center. I introduced my first book on the C language, C Primer Plus. This title, authored by my two physics instructors, and myself emerged as a huge success. I also produced a book on Unix (also in the Primer series). Then, in 1985, my entire world exploded.

The Million Dollar Deal

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"Great fortune had walked up to me and pumped my hand. I was scared to death."

1984

BASIC Programming Primer for PC

Bluebook of Assembly Language

DOS Primer for PC

Pascal Primer

Assembly Language Primer for PC

The personal computer boom had reached its peak in 1983. I met a New York literary book agent named John Brockman. John took one look at my record of accomplishment and said: "Mitchell, all the big New York fiction publishers want to jump on the computer book bandwagon. I can make you a rich man." John exuded confidence and was a consummate dealmaker. “Mitch, everything is image in this business,” John told me. So I got together all my authors, took a photo, and hired a friend to make me a brochure that showed off all our titles. John’s plan was to conduct an auction, sending out the brochure and copies of my books and giving publishers 24 hours to make their bids.

Ever wanted one of those Wall Street Journal artist rendered ‘photo-ops’ of your very own? So did I. This did not turn out as I would have liked, but it trumped the former ‘Don Juan’ image

Yet the entire process was preempted by a publisher called New American Library who begged John to postpone the auction and cut a deal. In less than a single month, he proffered me a 15-book contract accompanied by a $1,000,000 advance. Bang! Overnight I had to hunt and secure office space, hire editors, select managers, and arrange for typesetters. There exists a peculiar kind of heaven where one’s head is capped by a halo, while one’s knuckles go white with fear. Great fortune had walked up to me and pumped my hand. I was scared to death. One of the best things to emerge from this project? The relationships I forged with several of my authors, who subsequently joined ranks with me as employees. One writer stands out in particularRobert Laforeauthor of Assembly Language Primer. I was a fortunate witness to Robert’s career trajectory as he fired off numerous best sellers. He set a high standard for my own career efforts. Publishing can be, at times, a bush of thorns. My million-dollar deal would later reveal a few sharp barbs. A brief clause in the contract labeled "joint accounting" would prove to be an unpleasant reality. Watch out for that one if you ever sign for a group of books!

If your interested in how crude my first brochure was, click out these images.

The Microsoft Years

 

"My valued authors were in tears and revolt. I found myself in an impossible squeeze."

HyperTalk Bible

Macintosh Midnight Madness

Microsoft QuickC Programming

Tricks of the HyperTalk Masters

Microsoft Multiplan: Of Mice and Menus

Microsoft Macinations

Microsoft has honed the science of fingering human “prospects” at the prime of their life then like a spider they extract all vital creative juices from their brain stems until dry. Okay maybe that is an overstatement; I should say they often leave them wrapped in a web of stock options worth millions. I was not to be immune. Early in 1985 a frantic marketing manager from the new MS Press division seduced me into writing a number of computer books. Company standards were driven against our best efforts; our people were abused to absurd extremes. At the end, Microsoft had nailed my entire staff into hard wood and wormholes with “the requirements”. My valued authors were in tears and revolt.

1985 - 1989

The beard is back, and it befits the image of a Microsoft author--proud, smart and burned out.

Yet the book topics we had selected seemed so promising. I personally had dived into HyperTalk, only to discover later that this technology could not live up to its dream. I was justly proud of our productions, but I would come to swear I must never work with Microsoft again. One has to make a comprehensive and fair assessment of such a flap. And the reality is this: the creative effort that went into this series of 6 books was stunning. Even titles and cover art telegraphed our best ideas to readers when books hit the marketplace. The last title we produced for Microsoft was Microsoft Machinations. I was shunted in to the studio for a sparkling color dust jacket photo. Microsoft spent more money on that single photograph session than they did on the proofreader. Go figure.

Off with the beard again and back to the slick n' wise look; check the ivy league shirt.

The Starting Over Years

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"In one year I went from 18 people to just 2"

 

Turbo C++ Bible

The Unix Papers

C: Step by Step

Tricks of the MS DOS Masters

Supercharging C with Assembly Language

Inside the 80286

Framework from the Ground Up

 

The years 1985 to 1989 were notable not for successes but for stumbles. The PC industry sunk into a major slump in 1985 and my business followed it down. There is a one-to-one relationship between PC sales and book sales. Lucrative book advances and royalties for The Waite Group vanished. Publishers everywhere pulled back. Unable to pay my office rent, and worried about salaries, I made the move to cheaper accommodations. There are times in business when one just cannot make the call as to who will be left standing: Eighteen of my nineteen employees quit or were laid off. I was devastated and demoralized.

1985 - 1989

One employee remained, my hero Robert Lafore. Yet even he was burned out. Personal troubles and losses also took a toll. Ever been truly sad? At that point, a wonderful friend, Henry Dakin, resuscitated me with a $100,000 investment. I relocated to his new building and restarted the business with one employee, Jim Stockford. What is that primary spiritual lesson–"failure”–the great teacher?" Jim and I started over. We focused on the bottom line, watched our expenses, and kept a larger share of the income. Henry helped me find a truly great attorney who mentored me with wiser legal and contract advice (Nick Unkovic of Graham and James now Squire and Sanders.) We learned to value what we offered to authors on a new scale.

Slowly sales of the solid books we had produced came back, and from 1985 to 1990 the company’s fortunes rose at a steady pace. We packaged books on Unix, including our first "collected works" Unix Papers. Following this came titles on extending computer languages, such as SuperCharging C with Assembly Language. It was at this time that we found ourselves, quite without warning, the principal players in a controversy worthy of the tabloids. In publishing Tricks of the MS-DOS Masters, we placed a fanciful wizard on the cover, surrounding him with Zodiac symbols. The Bible belt phoned in again, informing us that we were promoting devil worship! I called several of these readers in person, pointing out that the “wizard” came from the Disney movie Sorcerer's Apprentice. The publisher eventually relaxed into more gentle dreams of ‘white magic’, to focus more on the God-fearing daily routines that make up life in the computer book business. For me it seemed a continual lesson of some kind that my magic was upsetting to many people, yet on the other hand I was continuing to get accolades from masses of programmers that studied from our texts.

Waite Group PRESS Born 1990

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"It wasn't that I wanted more of the pie, its that I wanted more freedom to publish unusual books, and my publishers where a conservative lot."

1990 - 1991

Master C: Let the PC Teach You C

Word Perfect Bible

Fractal Creations

Object Oriented Programming in Turbo C++

C++ Primer Plus

 

Over the last 10 years I had developed The Waite Group to be a “packaging” enterprise. That meant we never actually owned our inventory; rather, we let publishers own it and they in turn earned the most profit in exchange for our taking less risk. What a favorable arrangement! I operated a very fun business with a small number of good editors. I would have loved to stick with this paradigm. After all, it had served us quite well from 1973 to 1990.

But something strange happened next. Canadian professor Rex Woollard approached me with an ingenious program of his own invention. Woollard had devised a teaching program that employed the PC itself to teach one how to program in C. Furthermore, his efforts were based on the content from our best selling book: C Primer Plus! .

Clearly an exciting concept, I presented it to my publisher at Sams, Richard Swadley. "But this is software not a book!", he balked. I countered: "We will offer the package with an integral reference to C, so it will be both software and a booka new way to learn, and perfect for the book store." But Swadely could not be convinced. I was stumped; a Sam’s employee had never rejected me like this. But Richard was a rising star and the company felt I had too much power, so Richard had the job of putting me in my place. I almost gave up but then had an idea. I found a distributor in Berkeley called Publishers Group West. Not only did they dance to the conceptI decided to publish Master C: Let the PC Teach You C myself. Waite Group Press was born. As I needed to invest $25,000 to print enough books to supply bookstore shelves, this new direction was a sobering proposition. Richard told me I would suffer defeat and beg him to take me back. But six months later, the book had generated sales of over $400,000. This was more income than the combined royalties from ten of our other books. I knew now beyond doubt that publishing was for me.

I was very fortunate to have a stellar work group with me at this time. My point man was Scott Calamar. Scott and I really clicked. We where both excited and bold about creating our own publishing program. Yet my “non compete” clauses with other publishers gave me cause for concern. The solution? Carve out a niche that could not edge out those other books! Not so difficult to accomplish, as things change quickly in the computer milieu. I witnessed a sequence of eras morphing into newer eras still:  the C++ language replaced C, Visual Basic replaced Basic, and Windows replaced the venerable standby DOS. The outcome? It became clear that the computer book world was a moving target. It turned out that as long as they are not too restrictive and encompassing, signing non-compete clauses was no barrier to our evolving next steps.

1991

What a wonderfully puzzling world it is when success barrels into your life. Our Master C book emerged as such a winner that a new issue confronted us–what must we produce as the logical follow up title for the year 1991? A debate ensued among us, “we” now being a team of five full time employees. Attend to the conservative path or remain on the freewheeling liberal highway? The answer? "Why not do both!"  We chose to produce four titles. We would offer two titles as programming books from our best authors, Stephan Prata and Robert Lafore. Another book would be in the area of applications and would address WordPerfect (the conservative entry), and the fourth and final title would treat the emerging topic of Fractals. Fractals, complex mathematical functions that can be used to generate beautiful patterns on the computer, comprise the foundation of a significant arm of scientific endeavor. I had become enamored of a realm of new possibilities when I encountered a fractal generating program called Fractint from the Stone Soup Group. The image below by David Hop is just one of millions of amazing examples of a fractal generated with Fractint. One can access many others at The Fractal Database. The book, written primarily by Tim Wegner, seduced the reader with everything one needed to get started: the program, examples, source code, even a fold out poster. And did I mention 3D glasses? But I had a tough time selling the concept to my distributor. I intended to mail the poster to bookstores as a “high-flying” PR campaign teaser. "Too expensive," came the inevitable reply. But persistence paid off–PGW collaborated with me on the poster. Fractal Creations emerged as an awesome success once it hit the market, inspiring the conservative computer book publishing industry to admit that much more might be possible than what had been produced in the past. Computer Science was suddenly Computer Art Science.

Our group followed Fractal Creations with a book on Object Oriented Programming in Turbo C++ and a C++ Primer Plus from our best selling authors Robert Lafore and Stephan Prata. These where yet to be recognized languages, and still in their infancy. So why did our books sell well? Simply this: we merged our best efforts perfectly with the ramp up of the OOP curve. Waite Group Press was off and running. I was excited beyond illusions. The lesson? "Perseverance pays! Don't be afraid to take a risk."

Is the Future Assured? 1992

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"1992 was the most creative year in the Waite Group Press history."

1992

Master C++: Let the PC Teach You C

Visual Basic How To

Windows API Bible

Workout C

Image Lab

Multimedia Creations

Windows Programming Primer Plus

Fractals for Windows

Virtual Reality Playhouse

Windows API Bible

Object Oriented Programming in Microsoft C++

 

1992 marked the most creative year in the legacy of the Waite Group Press. This is when our business pulled out from the slow lane and entered the computer book freeway. While we had no speeding tickets in 1990 with just one book, in 1991 we produced 4 books. But in 1992 we took on the challenge of producing 11 unique and high quality computer books (hyperbolic growth). We were simultaneously committed to put out titles for Howard Sams, but this number was beginning to dwindle as Sams recognized Waite Group Press as a legitimate competitor

During the 1992 season, we followed Master C with a similar book on C++, Master C++, as this language began over the C market. But it was Visual Basic How To that emerged as our gigantic hit. This title was based on a new language from Microsoft. VB 1.0 inspired me as much, if not more, than HyperTalk had on the Macintosh. What spurred me on was when I encountered a masterful programmer named Zane Tomas. Zane conveyed VB secrets to me, and soon we had another bestseller. Our earlier programming books had done well, and this prepared fertile ground for the VB title. Moreover, the How To nomenclature captivated readers since it implied "we have the answers" in a succinct text presentation. Today the How To moniker has become legion. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that someone must craft a new approach and pitch first. But this was only one in a season of calculated risks.

Microsoft Windows was just gaining a foothold. We decided to risk attempting the documentation of the Windows application-programming interface, the set of functions that Microsoft makes available to third-party developers. The result: Jim Conger’s Windows API Bible. The choice of title was a risk but we had used the keyword “Bible” before. The book touted a $40 cover price, an outrageous sum for this period in time! But the book did boast over 1000 print pages. The cover price was necessary if we were to hope to see a profit. Our decisions proved to be well tuned. We could not print enough copies to meet market demand. Our group sold over $100,000 in rights sales to Japan alone! In addition, author Jim Conger bought a new home with his royalty 

No one had ever put an entire program inside of a book, but our group pioneered the practice when we bundled a low cost C Compiler (Power C) with a book, Workout C. The concept? To parallel aerobic exercise with a programming language. We followed with a content-rich title containing a collection of shareware and freeware programs for the graphics experimenter. The book Image Lab offered graphics file viewing, image conversion, paint programs, fractals, ray tracing, and thus allowed every kind of image alchemy. Multimedia Creations was our foray into the world of CD ROMs, followed by Jim Conger’s Windows Programming Primer. Finally, we produced a new Fractal book, this time for the Windows platform: Fractal for Windows. Our group –now numbering 10 employees- closed the year with sales of over $2,000,000. We all believed ourselves to be on a rapid ascent to the Computer Book Himalayas.

 

1992 was also the year that IDG launched its Dummy series, while Ziff Davis Press first offered its How it Works series. The smart money was on Ziff Davis, who had the necessary monetary reserves to fund a bold new initiative such as this. No one gave a second thought to IDG whose “Kodak yellow” book jackets looked like reconstituted Cliff Notes when they first hit the shelves. So much for history! Today Ziff Davis Press is no more. IDG become a $400M mega-gorilla, even if it did ultimately oversell its product and assume the branding identity Hungry Minds. Today it is owned by John Wiley Press.

The Silicon Sandbox 1993

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"Perhaps intoxicated by success, or determined to set new standards, we began to ask the hard question: what makes a book sell?"

1993

Nanotechnology Playhouse

Artificial Life Playhouse

Sound Effects Playhouse

Ray Tracing Creations

Making Movies on your PC

Walkthroughs and Flybys CD

Virtual Reality Creations

Fractal Creations 2nd Ed

Fractals for the Macintosh

EMF Handbook

Windows API New Testament

Visual Basic SuperBible

Flights of Fantasy

Lafore's Windows Programming Made Easy

 

If 1992 put Waite Group Press on the publishing freeway, 1993 emerged as the year of new road construction and experimentation. The year saw us deliver 14 new titles–not quite the growth rate of the prior year, nevertheless impressive. Perhaps intoxicated by success, determined to set new standards born from our new legitimacy, or wanting to have my moment in the sun, we asked questions such as these: How many pages should a book contain to sell well at the $24.95 price point? Can expensive yet slender titles on "edge" topics still make money? Or are thick compendiums the key to kettles of gold? What about “my crew”? What motivates these key people?

Such were my chief questions and concerns, especially now that I had discovered what it was like to have returnsbooks that no one wantedsitting in my warehouse. (Such returns had to be calculated into our sales figures ahead of time, not later when our budgets were fixed.) Harkening back to my days of tinkering with Alpha wave biofeedback, psychic-consciousness machines, and cutting edge technology, I discovered a still newer field called Nanotechnology. This science presupposed that one might build infinitesimal machines from atoms. Taking the concept of “small” and “thin” to seemingly absurd proportions, I proposed a series of Playhouse books: cutting edge topics in small packages. Nanotechnology Playhouse was our first title in this new series, followed by Artificial Life Playhouse. We further infused the concept with a marketing campaign that included cardboard bookstands sold to bookstores together with a set of 10 of each book title. Based on the success of the books on fractals and Image Lab subjects, we brought out a series of books that related to visual effects and multimedia: Ray Tracing Creations, Making Movies on your PC, and Walkthroughs and Flybys CD. In this last title, we had a real showstopper, containing hundreds of megabytes of seductive multimedia effects and movies. The content was rich to the point that we crafted a promotional video and gave it away with the book

But perhaps the most far-reaching book we produced in all of our years of teasing barriers was the title Virtual Reality Creations. This production was bundled with a VR programming language that allowed one to make one’s own 3D objects that could be merged into VR worlds. Our most extraordinary aspect of the offering? The VR glasses! Using Fresnel lenses, the glasses were based on a fold-out cardboard device that one placed in front of the computer screen. The VR program then generated a distinct left and right image on the screen, while the glasses resolved the images to give depth. I had big fun working on this great selling title, as did my friend Colin Kennedy (who designed the glasses). This was also the year we published the second edition of our fractals book, as well as a book for the Macintosh platform, called Fractals for the Macintosh. We were not alone in that we loved our Macs, but alas, the volume just wasn't there for Mac titles.

 

Did you know that electrometric fields can damage the human body? You have doubtless heard the stories about cell phones doing such harm. However, good evidence exists that subtle heating effects from numerous manifestations of electrical fields can damage the delicate cellular systems of our bodies. With this in mind, I began researching these fields that surround us, only to discover that they exist everywhere. I constructed an EMF meter that allowed me to measure the magnitude. I experimented with this device in several places that I frequented. EMF Handbook was the result of this investigation. Unfortunately the title was too ahead of its time to sell profitably. Todaywith the universal presence of cell phonesthe book would doubtless find its readership. The most interesting lesson learned in 1993 was the discovery that a computer book of 400 pages could merit a good profit at a cover price of $34.95. However, a $24.00 120-page title on an esoteric subject such as Nanotechnology could not! The entirety of our published titles for the year 1993 would comprise a stack of books 10 inches tall. Enough output in which to take pride!

Just how big is a big book? Can books be sold by the pound? You guessed it: this was also the year we experimented with size. We produced a new book that pushed the limits of telephone book heft. Visual Basic SuperBible weighed in at an immense 1620 pages, a monster that sold for $44.95. No publisher had ever attempted to put so many keywords between two covers, but the buying public loved it. But this project took forever to complete. Then, just as the book arrived at the stands, Microsoft shipped a new version of Visual Basic, thereby dating our book right out of the gate!

Playing God at the Book Store Spring 1994

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"Profound Quote."

1994

Artificial Life Lab Windows Animation Festival CD
3D Modeling Lab PDA Playhouse
Playing God Simple Internet
Morphing on your PC Simple C++
Animation How To CD Fatal Distractions
Viewer How To CD Modeling the Dream CD
Create Stereograms on Your PC Compuserve to Make You Rich
The Road to 2015 Gardens of Imagination
Ray Tracing Worlds POV Ray Erotic Connections
Ray Tracing for the Macintosh

 

1994 could be thought of the year of playing God. Basking in the success of 1993 and feeling that the buying public was enjoying the books that where on the "edge", I took the company even further across the line that separates the safe from the scary. Almost every book tested the mettle of the book stores, and every book answered that test with success.

More Playing God at the Book Store Fall 1994

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"Not listening to my own advice and singing the mantra 'if it ain't broke, break it', we went ahead and created an interactive CD ROM catalog."

1994 Fall Season

Create Stereograms on Your PC
Gardens of Imagination
Fatal Distractions
Animation How To CD
Viewer How To CD
Using Compuserve to Make You Rich
Windows Animation Festival CD
PDA Playhouse
Modeling the Dream CD

 

Autumn of 1994 was witness to a computer book publishing universe that was experiencing profound changes. One can only call 1994 the "year of the low reader expectation". IDG's ongoing Dummy series skyrocketed to the top of the bestseller lists, while CEO John Killkullen emerged as a veritable Wall Street hero. Killkullen also could boast the distinction of having become the nemesis of the computer publishing mega corps! 

Ziff Davis Press, which had only recently been voted most likely to succeed, was bleeding in returns. How could this have happened? The reading public is the ultimate arbiter of what is relevant, and this public had rejected Ziff Davis’s broad title offering, a line of books that was judged to be both too slick and expensive. The users of 1994 chose instead books that most pundits had predicted could never sell. Meanwhile, the term computer graphics had become part of a common folklore. I now had to question our publishing program's push towards innovative technology. Stereograms, game playing, and animation all gave me pause as I watched our sales of these books slip.

 

Not heeding my own advice, I was chanting the manta "if it isn’t broken, break it!" as of Spring 1994. We proceeded to implement an interactive CD-ROM based catalog that focused on the concept of a space station in which users freely navigated in order to access information about our books. Simply pop the CD-ROM into a PC! Instantly the reader was guided on a custom 3D trek into distinct “rooms” where we showcased each title. The most spectacular offering of our Autumn 1994 season? Creating Stereograms on Your PC. Stereograms, you may recall, consist of graphic images that appear initially as though they are random graphics. Looking closer in a particular manner, however, reveals a striking 3D image “inside” the page. One example: a swirling vortex that seems to descend “into” the page. (You can view this on your PC display right now: stereogram #1. Allow your eyes to relax, then focus at an area “behind”  the image. Now blur your eyes just a bit to reveal the 3D effect!)

 

We populated the remainder of the 1994 season with titles from topic areas that no one had yet addressed in print. Gardens of Imagination instructs one how to program 3D maze games such as Doom in C++. Fatal Distractions boasts a collection of no less than 87 freeware and shareware arcade games on a CD-ROM assembled by David Gerrold (the author of the classic Star Trek episode Trouble with Tribbles). Animation How To CD demonstrates how to create skydiving frogs, or engineer columns of marching pencils and elastic diamonds dancing the lambda! Viewer How To offers instruction on how to create one’s own multimedia demos with the same program that empowered classic Microsoft multimedia programs such as Encarta, and Cinemania. Using Compuserve to Make You Rich is a high tech online approach to the management of stocks and investments. Windows Animation Festival CD contains a 650MB bundle of windows animations, together with a 150-page manual describing how they work. PDA Playhouse was called The Interactive Book of Personal Digital Assistants. It was designed to assist users in exploiting the full range of PDA functions and features. Unfortunately, PDAs would not take flight until five years in the future. Moreover, buyers would declare only an interest in using the handheld devices, not reading about them! Modeling the Dream CD emerged as another multi-megabyte collection of dazzling animation and sound effect demos.

Toward the close of 1994, the realization was forced upon us that world was no longer so enamored with 3D animation. People suddenly were voting for more practical books. The Dummy titles were thriving. Our biggest competitor  -Macmillan (with its Sams, New Ryders, and Que imprints)- was effectively bidding to steal our lunch. Their publication of VR Playhouse came across to me as nothing less than a “soul stealing” market maneuver. How did I feel? Spell the word angry!

Year of the T H I C K Books 1995

Page 10

 

"I had a company growing like a weed in a rain forest and I needed help."

1995

Certified Course in C
Virtual Reality BASIC
Internet How To
Ray Tracing Creations, 2nd Edition
Visual Basic How To, 2nd Edition
Black Art of 3D Game Programming
Engines of Creation
DOOM Construction Kit
Image Lab, 2nd Edition
Photoshop Special Effects How To
Master C++ for Window>

 

 

Was I in my prime? Or at the end of my power curve? I wasn’t sure! The year 1995 would nevertheless surely emerge as the pivotal juncture of my career. Why? I now headed up a company growing like a weed in a rain forest, and I required help. Ill equipped to direct the activities of 30 people, I hired a general manager. Charlie Drucker came on board with solid experience in the corporate world. I loved Charlie- he was the perfect GM! However, the choice angered my right hand man, who would in time depart to start his own business. Personal dynamics can be tough at a critical juncture or size transition. That said, Charlie’s skill and direction empowered me to focus on product again.

 

We began to experience distributor-based limitations. Our books were simply not marking up sales in the chains that we required. We appealed to them for a better rate, so we could direct more funding into advertising. No dice. Next, we considered a dynamic partnership with a larger publisher. The goal? To leverage a larger entity so as to move our books into the chains in greater quantity. To my surprise, Charlie approached our biggest competitorwhich now owned Sams--Macmillan. Sams responded positively: they were “green” on the prospect of distributing of our book line, but “double-green” on the possibility of purchasing Waite Group Press outright. I had never anticipated such a direct offer!

 

1995 is the year I determined I wanted a child. Selling Waite Group appeared to be the logical life choice to empower my choice to start my own family. 1995 was also the year we created a New Media division (an imprint inside Waite Group) to address the reality that CD-ROM based programs and courses were proving to stand as an increasing cornerstone of our business model. Certified Course in C, a New Media title, facilitated students to earn a graded / certified degree from the University of Phoenix.  Virtual Reality Basic emerged as our first software product. The balance of our line of titles built on the foundations of previous Waite Group efforts. Internet How-To was produced as the second editions of our ray tracing, visual basic, and image lab books. Engines of Creation was our first shelf offering to address the Macintosh platform as a base on which to construct virtual reality realms. We also jumped into the world of Photoshop with our Photoshop Special Effects How To title. DOOM Construction Kit served as our first game book. Finally, 1995 stands as the year we discovered Andre Lamothe. Andre authored his first book on programming video games in C, called Black Art of 3D Game Programming. He then evolved his career to become the world's best selling computer game programming author. Andre's new company is called Extreme Games. Don’t miss investigating this one!

We had anticipated that our book sales at the chains would fall, and our output of titles had in fact diminished. With shifting market realities before us, the prospect of a deal with a capital “D” with Macmillan was looking ever more attractive.

Takeover and the End 1996

Page 11

 

"It was like I watched my child grow then end up in a foster home."

1996 - 2001 1996 - 2001
Truespace3D Modeling Construction Kit
Certified Course in Visual Basic 4
CGI How To
CGI Primer Plus for Windows
HTML 3 How To
C++ Interactive Course
HTML 3 Interactive Course
Perl 5 Interactive Course
Java Language API SuperBible
Java How To
Java Networking & AWT API SuperBible
Java Primer Plus
Open GL SuperBible
Oracle How To
Perl 5 How To
Spells of Fury
Visual C++ 4 How To
Web Database Construction Kit
Web Database Primer Plus
Web Publisher's Construction Kit
 
 

I devoted the final half of 1995 to the negotiation of the sale of my company to Macmillan. This emerged as one of the principal mind-bending experiences of my life. What motivated me so much to make this sale? David Israel: the Macmillan VP of Marketing who engineered the deal. David related to me that the major reason Macmillan wanted to buy my company was to position Waite Group as an internal corporate "think tank" for innovative book concepts. Macmillan believed that we had built the most creative publishing program in the industry. Accordingly, MCP wanted to ensure that the sum body of such superior ideas ought to be wrapped in gold foil and conveyed direct to their own firm’s doorstep. In short, they wanted to engage me in a long-term employment contract. All of this talk appealed to the “boy wonder” in me, the part of me that did things for fun rather than for money. The aggressive hawking of think tanks, big research budgets, and lab visits made my imagination spin. What could it signify if not the authentic confirmation that I was now indisputably valued for what I did best. I remember communicating to my negotiating attorney how happy the offer had made me. But my counsel, speaking to me in a cautious tone, said: "Mitch you can't count on any of the talk about ‘think tanks’ and ‘super idea mills’. MCP is in the business of making money. This purchase of your company may not be with the intent to capture your best ideas. Rather, they may well want to simply capture the shelf space you have denied them over the last 6 years." I protested, but he looked at me as if I was still learning how to tie my shoes.

 

Negotiations dragged on, and I became ever more convinced that MCP wanted me for my talent, not to recoup shelf space. As the deal closed, however, I witnessed bargaining moves that Simon and Schuster (the owners at the time of MCP) put into play, which worried me. A nebulous fog was wafting inland from just over the horizon. When we took receipt of our carefully worded contract, we noted that changes had been made without a redline. In other words, the new changes had been merged into the document in a clandestine manner. Here was cause for true paranoia. To assess the full extent of the changes, we were reduced to evaluating the contract word by word to compare it with the previous version. Did we find that the changes were in our favor? What do you think?

 

The “deal” went though. I was paid as expected. This was more money than I could have easily imagined prior to this juncture in life. It was off-putting, even frightening. Some directed karmic debts began to come to fruition. For example, during a down cycle in my previous business, I had sold some private stock to a good friend to keep the business running. The sale afforded me the cash reserves to steer through a bad year, even get back on track. Nevertheless, I had felt bad that the stock return my friend had coming was not a match for the performance of the rest of the stock market. When I finally sold the company, however, my friend's investment was returned to him ten-fold. Clearly, he was pleased.

 

The deal congealed in 1996. Macmillan immediately went to work to "integrate" the redundant processes in my business with theirs. I was under the impression that this implied elimination of what are known as "back end processes"-functions such as accounting and ordering. But to MCP it meant a lot more. Over the next few months, I watched as the Waite Group was slowly dismantled as a business, up-ended as a think tank, and turned into something akin to a soap factory for technical books. The words of my attorney haunted me. I knew that what was happening was not something I could complain about, after all it was no longer my company, I had to be a good corporate solider and obediently obey my new masters.

 

I became particularly despondent the day we lost our desktop production division, since this segment had been key to ensuring that quality and uniqueness prevailed in our titles. At the same time that we confronted the realities of the so-called “integration”, we endured seemingly endless meetings having to do with the design and content of books we planned to publish. MCP’s Unleashed titles were great market performers. Thus, the firm wanted me to focus on the large volumes that had brought them this degree of success. They also desired that I back fill technical areas I had not cultivated to date. I believed this to be a mistake, as the topic areas the firm desired published already boasted a good number of well-written books. I wanted to focus instead on new product ideas. The result? We did both. I worked on the more exciting initiatives, and my crew produced the back-fill titles. My own most exciting project during this juncture was known as the eZone Interactive Guides. This series represented an adaptation of the old Master C concept of transforming the PC into a personal instructor. We infused the project with the conception that the Internet represented the new way for groups of people to collaborate. Thus, this emerged as a combined book / web site that allowed anyone reading the book to step through online tests to confirm the results of their instruction. The approach also encouraged readers to meet with other users and to thus obtain free tutoring. Upon the completion of all tests, readers would be offered a diploma. We garnered our best authors, and then coupled them to the top programmer subjects, such as C, C++, and HTML.

 

While MCP supported the intrinsic concept of eZone, the firm was experiencing turmoil at the same time, conflicts that distracted them from growing and abetting new ideas. IDG and its Dummy series had captivated the marketplace. The once proud Que books series was displaced by IDG’s yellow-and-black covers poking from bookstore shelves. Now every conceivable topic could be learned by a dummy. Ultimately, MCP was sold, and then sold again¾finally finding a berth with the UK's Pearson Group. With distractions such as these, little time remained to leverage the ‘technology kid’ in California to good effect. Waite Group Press diminished in size, then shrank still further. After two years of witnessing these events at close range, my employment contract expired. I walked away financially more secure than ever before but at the same time psychologically disappointed as I had ever been to see what had happened to my once proud company.

And so it is that we arrive at the close of the narrative of my career as publisher and its adjoining tale of the evolution of the computer book.

 

The Rest of the Story 1996 - 2008

Page 12

"Armed with cash, time and no job, what would any red-blooded American do?"

The Next Decade

identify birds, bird watching, bird guide

An era of writing and publishing ends. During the time Waite Group Press was winding down, the stock market was going nuts. The dot com boom was in full swing and what would any hot blooded american boy with a boat load of cash and time on his hands do? Diving into the stock market and learning about investing seemed like a natural path. But what about all the needs that went unmet during the years of struggling to build the company? I had no steady girl friend, no children, and a big empty house. And I wasn't a boy -- I was a 50 year old man with all the pieces of the American dream. So why wasn't I happy?

Could it have anything to do with that basic human need to procreate, to want a family? I could hardly believe my own brain cells were being reformatted from the species "nerdus maximus" to "soccer mom-mentis". Kicking and screaming for most of my life I promised not to go there and yet I loved children and they loved me, I was like the pied piper to my nephews and nieces.

 

You see up to when I sold my company the old Mitch had focused on career, money, fame and fortune. Relationships took a back seat. Actually they were in the trunk. Nah let’s be honest, they were in the trailer of my friend's car. I just did not see myself as mate material.

So to cut to the final act I met a wonderful woman, we had a child and the most joyous time in my entire life unfolded. There is much to tell but for now I will put this story to rest as it’s a tale to be told but not right now. Trust me with this parting thought--no event in my tumultuous roller coaster of a life can compare to the birth of my daughter.

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