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The True Story Behind the “For Dummies®” Books Success Story

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I’ve always been an avid reader, tinkerer, and a serial entrepreneur.

One of my first ventures was a mobile marine hardware business catering to the bait boats and sport fishing boats in San Diego. My partners and I lasted about three months before our money ran out and we couldn’t get financing. We managed to liquidate our business and still keep our shirts on. Even so, I continued to try out my ideas. I started a small delivery service called “Two Men Will Shop for You”. I brought in a partner to help with the shopping. We had no budget and no real business plan. Finally, we landed our first customer. But the logistics of shopping for someone’s groceries without much help from the supermarkets was daunting. The business ended as a big flop.

Even though I had regular jobs, I could never shake this entrepreneurial bent. I’d keep a log of ideas and thoughts. Many were oriented around words, text, screenplays, or book ideas, often combined with design ideas. Others were machines or improvements on already-existing products that needed “help” to be what they should’ve been in the first place. I learned to keep a pencil and paper handy next to the bed because I’d wake up in the middle of the night with some fantastic idea that I just know must not be forgotten. So I spent lots of time either solving a problem by creating something new or making improvements to what had already been created. Sometimes it seemed as if there were no rhyme or reason to my scribblings. But I’d write them down anyway.

So here I was with these piles of notes and ideas wondering what it all meant. Maybe I could write a book and get it published. Of course, that meant another trip to the book store looking for some reference material to help me out. That’s when I discovered a self-publishing manual by Dan Poynter. He outlined the whole process for me – perfect! I bought the book and followed his instructions as much as I could and formed my own publishing company. Brookes-Redhouse Publishing was born right there at my kitchen table.

This article is all about  how I created the For Dummies® book concept — the concept, which according to published reports has sold over 200 million books in 30 languages and spawned a new generation of fun, readable, interesting books. The first Dummies book was “DOS for Dummies®” which made perfect sense because DOS was still a viable operating system.  And alliteration has my name all over it.

So I decided to write my first book about how to save money by building your own computers. Yes, I was a nerd at heart (and still am). Part of the research I was doing for the book involved the use of DOS, the operating system at the time. So I haunted my local bookstores for nearly an entire year trying to find some book or resource to help me understand DOS and help me use it efficiently. Needless to say, I became very frustrated with most of the book offerings. All I could find were pamphlet-like books with sophomoric information or monolithic engineering beasts with 200 word run-on sentences. It seemed that nothing was out there that was interesting to read and informative enough to act on. I also talked to hundreds of book and software shoppers about books they were buying or considering. What an earful!

It’s been said that sometimes the best ideas show up when you least expect them. That definitely rang true for me. My car had been having problems all week shifting into gear. And I didn’t have any money to take it to a shop. So I pulled out my trusty how-to car repair manual. I remember the dread setting over me as I figured out what was wrong and opened the manual to find out what to do next. And right there, staring boldy at me from the pages of this book was the author sitting in his garage surrounded by VW parts.  He had just torn apart his car and it looked as if he were sitting in a sea of nuts, bands, and bolts. He was scratching his head and smoking a joint. That’s when the idea for the Dummies concept flashed me the full monty.

And this is where the real For Dummies® book story really begins…sitting next to my car with grease under my fingernails and a clutch cable in my hand…

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