Mitch Waite

Computer book author, publisher, web designer, and entrepreneur

The Playhouse Era

If 1992 put Waite Group Press on the publishing freeway, 1993 emerged as the year of rapid road construction and experimentation. That year, we released 18 new titles, doubling the growth rate from the previous year. The only problem was that the rapid expansion went to my head. I became overconfident in my success.

As a result, I rented out my beloved houseboat on the SF Bay, then purchased a large home in Marin County, close to the ocean, where the fog rolled in every night and bathed the redwood trees with moisture from the Pacific Ocean. I bought a red Corvette and a Shar Pei puppy, then fell in love with a beautiful girl. The new house required a ton of expensive construction work. I soon realized I was not a landlord and needed to sell the Boardwalk houseboat. I started Waite Group in the houseboat. I shed tears when I finally sold it but later but smiled, thinking of the fantastic profit I’d made in the SF Bay area housing market. Things have a way of working out. Here are the books from 1993.

  • Artificial Life Playhouse-Evolution at your fingertips
  • Nanotechnology Playhouse-Building Machines from Atoms
  • Sound Effects Playhouse-Create, Explore, and Manipulate Sounds on your PC
  • Virtual Reality Playhouse-Explore Artificial Worlds on your PC
  • PDA Playhouse-Book of Personal Digital Assistants
  • Lafore’s Windows Programming Made Easy
  • Windows API New Testament
  • Multitask Windows NT First Edition
  • Microsoft Foundation Class Primer
  • ObjectWindows How-To First Edition
  • Visual Basic SuperBible First Edition
  • Fractal Creations, Second Edition
  • Fractals for the Macintosh
  • Ray Tracing Creations-Generate Photorealistic Images
  • Walkthrough and Flybys CD-500 Megabytes of Animated Presentations
  • Making Movies on Your PC-Design and Direct 3D Movies
  • Flights of Fantasy-Programming 3D Video Games in C++
  • EMF Handbook-Understanding and controlling electromagnetic fields in your life

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 how many pages a book should contain to sell well at the $24.95 price point. Can expensive yet slender titles on “edgy” 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 book returns—books 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 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 our years of teasing barriers was the title Virtual Reality Creations. It was bundled with a VR programming language that allowed one to make 3D objects the reader could merge 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 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.

Years later, Google would use my idea of cardboard to hold an iPhone and turn it into a VR system. They bought a lot of copies of VR Creations.

I had a blast working on this great-selling title, as did my friend Colin Kennedy (who designed the glasses). 1992 was also the year we published the second Edition of our fractals book and a book for the Macintosh platform called Fractals for the Macintosh. We were not alone in that we loved our Macs, but the volume needed to be there for Mac lovers such as us.

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 exciting 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!

They say you don’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge a book by its size? And just how big is a big book? 1993 was the year we produced a title that pushed the limits of telephone book heft. Visual Basic SuperBible was an immense 1620 pages and weighed 5 pounds. To make a profit, this monster had to retail for $44.95. (That is about $90 in 2023). No publisher had attempted to put so many keywords between two covers, but fortunately for us, the tech-buying public loved it. The downside: this project took forever to complete. Of course, just as the book arrived at the stands, Microsoft shipped a new version of Visual Basic, dating our book right out of the gate! Luckily updates to programming languages don’t kill the old stuff, so books like this are still valuable—for a while.

Speaking to heft, the entirety of our published titles for 1993 comprised a stack of books 24 inches tall. Not enough to reach the moon, but enough output to take pride in!

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