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 1991?
I devoted the final half of 1995 to the negotiation of the sale of my company to Macmillan Computer Publishing (MCP).
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 Publishing and eventually President of MCP who engineered the deal. David related to me that Macmillan wanted to position Waite Group as an internal corporate “think tank” for innovative book concepts. He 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 should be wrapped in gold foil and conveyed directly to their own firm’s doorstep. In short, they wanted to engage me in a long-term employment contract.
Approaching 50 years old, authored, coauthored, or published over 100 books, I started questioning the future. 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.
Virtual Reality was constantly in the news, and technologists saw it as how everyone would enjoy computers. We tied VR to programming at Waite Group with VR BASIC: The Virtual Reality World Maker Book. The book came with a scripting language with 55 statements and functions that allow the user to create CAD constructions, animate them and watch in 3D on the computer screen.
Was it 1994 or the year of playing God?
Basking in the warm glow of our 1993 success streak and convinced the buying public enjoyed tec books on the “edge,” I led the company further across the line separating the safe subjects from extreme exploration. Each of our cutting-edge titles tested the mettle of the bookstores, and each book successfully passed user examination and sales. Waite Group Press expanded, as did its book output. We published ten books that spring, 19 books altogether–a record high.
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.
1992 marked the most creative year in the legacy of the Waite Group Press. Our business had pulled out from the slow lane and entered the computer book freeway. While we had no speeding tickets in 1990 with just five books, in 1991, we only produced four books. But in 1992, we took on the challenge of producing 11 unique and high-quality computer books, doubling our output.
Over the last ten years, I developed The Waite Group as a “packaging” enterprise. That meant we never actually owned our inventory; instead, 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 an enjoyable business with a small number of good editors.
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.
Microsoft has honed the science of fingering human “prospects” at the prime of their life, and 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 Microsoft Press division seduced me into writing several computer books.
Microsoft’s company standards were driven against our best efforts; our people were abused to absurd extremes.
The personal computer boom reached its peak in 1983.
I met a New York literary book agent named John Brockman. John looked at my accomplishment record 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.