The years 1985 to 1989 were notable not for successes but for stumbles. The PC industry sunk into a significant 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 moved to cheaper accommodations. There are times in business when one 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 and best writer, 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, who owned Dakin Inc., the most widely recognized brand name in stuffed animals, had remained a good friend since we met over Kirlian Camera circuitry in the 1970s.
While having cappuccinos at the Café Trieste in North Beach, Henry offered to rescue me with a $100,000 investment in my stock, valuing the company at seven figures. He also offered to rent me space in an auto body shop he’d renovated into a technology think tank. He wanted to rent to creative groups he had supported over the years and see what synergy resulted. At once, 3220 Sacramento St A in San Francisco became a hub for cold war diplomacy, the Apple Multimedia Lab offices, the Association for Space Explorers, the San Francisco Tesla Society, and of course, The Waite Group.
Along with Robert Lafore, I restarted the Waite Group, hiring our 2nd employee, Jim Stockford, who was the perfect partner in our regrouping. What is that primary spiritual lesson: failure, the great teacher? Jim, Robert, and I started over.
We focused on the bottom line, watched our expenses, and kept a larger share of the advances and royalty income. Henry helped me find Nick Unkovic of Squire and Sanders, a great attorney who mentored me with wiser legal and contract advice. 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 steadily. 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 for UNIX Developers and Power Users
- C: Step by Step
- Tricks of the MS-DOS Masters
- Supercharging C with Assembly Language
- Inside the 80286
- C Primer Plus Revised Edition: User-Friendly Guide to the C Programming Language
- Microsoft C Bible
- New C Primer Plus
- Framework from the Ground Up
At this time, we found ourselves, entirely 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, but I was continuing to get accolades from masses of programmers that studied our texts. I became convinced that pushing the envelope of technology and magic was an excellent endeavor.