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.
I would have loved to stick with this paradigm. After all, it served us quite well from 1973 to 1990.
But something strange happened next. Canadian professor Rex Woollard approached me with an innovative program of his invention. Woollard devised a teaching program that employed the PC 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 bookstore.” But Swadley could not be convinced. I was stumped; 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 across the Bay in Emeryville, an industrial city next to UC Berkeley. PGW was run by young, intelligent guys who understood technology and admired my work as a packager. They dance to the concept of a scrappy computer tech packager who wants me to get more committed. So I decided to publish Master C: Let the PC Teach You C myself and hire PGW to distribute it. They were your sales and part marketing team. For that, they took 20% of your net revenue. The chains took a 55% charge. So, a $20 computer book I print would net $20 x .45 = $9. PGW takes $1.80, leaving us about $7 on a $20 book. And for this, you must write it, create the design and do the production, print it, and ship it to a warehouse. If we sold 20,000 copies, an optimistic number, could I make a profit? Twenty thousand copies would net $70,000. The cost of printing, if I could keep Master C under 200 pages, would be $30,000. That meant we had $40,000 to get this produced and break even. If I kept our costs to $10,000, I would have $30,000 to pay for all the work, rent, etc. My final decision…
Waite Group Press was born.
Then things got complicated. Have you ever been asked to make a decision that could easily wipe out your entire business? There were things PGW forced me to accept if I wanted to be in their catalog. "You must commit to publishing at least three titles with us; otherwise, our booksellers won't see a future with Waite Group Press." When delivering manuscripts to publishers, there was no commitment like this. I pushed back and offered two titles. Next, PGW wanted the second book to focus on business software, a safe and booming publishing space. Titles were either about WordPerfect or Microsoft Word. I felt neither was in our vision wheelhouse, which was cool, edgy, and high-tech. WordPerfect was uncool, rote, and low-tech. They pushed back that Master C was enough of an edgy book. I reluctantly accepted publishing WordPerfect Bible. A total mistake I still regret.
This new direction was a sobering proposition as I needed to invest $30,000 to print enough books to supply bookstore shelves. Richard Swadley had told me this reality would make me suffer defeat and beg him to take me back. But six months later, Master C had generated sales of over $400,000. This amount was more income than the combined royalties from ten of our other books I did as a packager.
- Master C – Let the PC Teach You C
- WordPerfect Bible
- Virtual Reality Playhouse- Explore Artificial Worlds
- Visual BASIC How-To
- Falcon 3 The Complete Handbook
- Master C++ Let the PC Teach You OOP
- Workout C-Learn C through Exercises
- Turbo C++ Bible
- Microsoft C Bible
- C++ Primer Plus-Teach Yourself OOP
- Object Oriented Programming in Turbo C++
- Object-Oriented Programming in Microsoft C++.png
- Windows API Bible
- Windows Programming Primer Plus
I was very fortunate to have a stellar work group with me at this time. My point man was Scott Calamar. Scott and I clicked. We were both excited and bold about creating our 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: 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. As long as they were not too restrictive and encompassing, signing non-compete clauses was no barrier to our evolving next steps.