Starting Over

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.

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.

  • 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

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.