Over the last 10 years I had developed The Waite Group to be a “packaging” enterprise. That meant we never actually owned our inventory; rather, 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 a very fun business with a small number of good editors.
I would have loved to stick with this paradigm. After all, it had served us quite well from 1973 to 1990.
But something strange happened next. Canadian professor Rex Woollard approached me with an ingenious program of his own invention. Woollard had devised a teaching program that employed the PC itself to teach one how to program in C. Furthermore, his efforts were based on the content from our best-selling book: C Primer Plus!
Clearly an exciting concept, I presented it to my publisher at Sams, Richard Swadley. “But this is software not a book!”, he balked. I countered: “We will offer the package with an integral reference to C, so it will be both software and a book–a new way to learn, and perfect for the book store.” But Swadely could not be convinced. I was stumped; a Sam’s employee had never rejected me like this. But Richard was a rising star and the company felt I had too much power, so Richard had the job of putting me in my place. I almost gave up but then had an idea.
I found a distributor in Berkeley called Publishers Group West. Not only did they dance to the concept–I decided to publish Master C: Let the PC Teach You C myself.
Waite Group Press was born.
As I needed to invest $25,000 to print enough books to supply bookstore shelves, this new direction was a sobering proposition. Richard told me I would suffer defeat and beg him to take me back. But six months later, the book had generated sales of over $400,000. This was more income than the combined royalties from ten of our other books. I knew now beyond doubt that publishing was for me.
I was very fortunate to have a stellar work group with me at this time. My point man was Scott Calamar. Scott and I really clicked. We where both excited and bold about creating our own publishing program. Yet my “non compete” clauses with other publishers gave me cause for concern. The solution? Carve out a niche that could not edge out those other books! Not so difficult to accomplish, as things change quickly in the computer milieu.
I witnessed a sequence of eras morphing into newer eras still: the C++ language replaced C, Visual Basic replaced Basic, and Windows replaced the venerable standby DOS. The outcome? It became clear that the computer book world was a moving target. It turned out that as long as they are not too restrictive and encompassing, signing non-compete clauses was no barrier to our evolving next steps.