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Interviews

The Future is Assured

That's me on the cover again just like in Master C.

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.

  • Master C++: Let the PC Teach You C
  • Visual Basic How To
  • Windows API Bible
  • Workout C
  • Image Lab
  • Multimedia Creations
  • Windows Programming Primer Plus
  • Fractals for Windows
  • Virtual Reality Playhouse
  • Windows API Bible
  • Object-Oriented Programming in Microsoft C++
The Waite Group is growing. From the left clockwise: Mike Van Horn, Lynn Cordell, Janet Jones, Michael Pardee, Kim House, Mitchell Waite, Robert Lafore +

Through loyalty, I was committed to producing titles for Howard Sams, but this number was beginning to dwindle as Sams recognized Waite Group Press as a legitimate competitor. During the 1992 season, we followed Master C with a similar book on C++, Master C++, as this language began to take over the C market.

But it was Visual Basic How-To that emerged as our gigantic hit. Based on a new language from Microsoft. VB 1.0 inspired me as much if not more, than HyperTalk had on the Macintosh. What spurred me on was a masterful programmer named Zane Tomas. Zane conveyed VB secrets to me, and soon we had another bestseller. Our earlier programming books had done well, and this prepared fertile ground for the VB title.

Moreover, the "How To" nomenclature captivated readers since it implied "we have the answers" in a concise text presentation. Today the "How To" moniker has become legion. Sometimes it's difficult to remember that someone must craft a new approach and pitch first.

But this was only one in a season of calculated risks.

Microsoft Windows was gaining a foothold. We decided to risk attempting the documentation of the Windows application-programming interface, the functions that Microsoft makes available to third-party developers. The result: Jim Conger's Windows API Bible. The choice of title was a risk, but we had used the keyword "Bible" before. The book touted a $40 cover price, an outrageous sum for this period in time! But the book did boast over 1000 print pages. The cover price was necessary if we hoped to see a profit. Our decisions proved to be well-tuned. We could not print enough copies to meet market demand. Our group sold over $100,000 in rights sales to Japan alone! In addition, author Jim Conger bought a new home with his royalty.

The Mayan Temples made the perfect metaphor for an API.
No one had ever put a compiler inside a book.

No one had ever put an entire program inside of a book, but our group pioneered the practice when we bundled a low-cost C Compiler (Power C) with a book, Workout C. The concept? To parallel aerobic exercise with a programming language. We followed with a content-rich title containing a collection of shareware and freeware programs for the graphics experimenter. The book Image Lab offered graphics file viewing, image conversion, paint programs, fractals, and ray tracing, and thus allowed every kind of image alchemy.

Multimedia Creations was our foray into CD-ROMs, followed by Jim Conger's Windows Programming Primer. Finally, we produced a new Fractal book for the Windows platform: Fractals for Windows. Our group-–now numbering ten employees–closed the year with sales of over $2,000,000. We all believed we were on a rapid ascent to the Computer Book Himalayas.

1992 was also the year that IDG launched its "…for Dummies" series, while Ziff Davis Press first offered its "How it Works" series. The smart money was on Ziff Davis, who had the necessary monetary reserves to fund a bold new initiative such as this. No one gave a second thought to IDG, whose "Kodak yellow" book jackets looked like reconstituted Cliff Notes when they first hit the shelves. So much for history; the Dummies series took over bookstore shelves, pushing the large business books into the dumpster.

Today Ziff Davis Press is no more. IDG became a $400M mega-gorilla, even if it did ultimately oversell its product and assume the branding identity Hungry Minds. Today it is owned by John Wiley Press.

Multimedia was a buzzword that included everything about graphics and audio.