The Playhouse Era

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.

  • Nanotechnology Playhouse
  • Artificial Life Playhouse
  • Sound Effects Playhouse
  • Ray Tracing Creations
  • Making Movies on your PC
  • Walkthroughs and Flybys CD
  • Virtual Reality Playhouse
  • 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

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 returns—books that no one wanted—sitting 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 Playhouse. 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. Today, with the universal presence of cell phones, the 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!