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March 13, 2013

DOS For Dummies Knock-Off Hall of Infamy

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

After DOS For Dummies hit, other computer book publishers decided to take it on the only way they knew how: Cheap knock-offs.

The other publishers couldn’t invent something new, of course. And they were confused about why the book was successful. So they took some existing titles, perhaps not even beginner books, and wrapped new covers on them.

Computer book shelves that were normally filled with somber, almost textbook-like tomes, were suddenly splashed with color and cartoons. That’s because, to the other publishers, DOS For Dummies was a success because it was silly.

Wrong!

voodoo-dos

Sybex’s Voodoo DOS was one of the first knock-offs, even though it didn’t pander like other titles. It was basically yet another DOS book, but with “attitude.”

That really bothers me when publishers talk about “attitude.” What they really mean is personality. An author’s personality should come through in any book. Lamentably, Sybex was one of the worst offenders when it came to removing personality from my own titles.

Voodoo DOS didn’t leave a mark. I think I picked it up at the time because it was a title you probably wouldn’t have ever seen had DOS For Dummies not been a phenomenon.

dos-for-non-nerds

This book offended me because I used the term “Non-Nerds” as a Part title in DOS For Dummies. So, obviously the publisher was reading my book, but they still didn’t understand why it worked. In fact, the title and the stupid cartoon have nothing to do with the runner at the bottom of the cover, which says, “The Essential Guide for Busy People.”

Busy people or non-nerds? Which is it? Or did the publisher even care?

The contents were boring. They tried to be like For Dummies with fancy icons and such, but they just didn’t get it. Once you peeled back the awful cover, you had just another computer book, but one with condescending and patronizing humor. It was rude, in fact.

idiots-guide-to-dos

I don’t believe the Idiot’s Guide to DOS was the first knock-off, but it was one of the most obvious. Unlike the others, it actually had some legs. The publisher wanted the books to be good, but not really a direct rip-off of For Dummies. So they tried a different approach.

First, the price point was cheaper than DOS For Dummies. The Idiots Guides originally sold for $15 whereas my book went for $16. The book stayed on topic, too, and avoided the obnoxious pandering and silliness of the other titles. The series is still around today, but it doesn’t have the impact of For Dummies.

i-hate-doe

For me, this book was the most offensive of all the DOS For Dummies rip-offs. It was also the one that came closest to what I’d call plagiarism. Much of the text in this book was simply my own text lifted and paraphrased from DOS For Dummies. Even that slimy trick didn’t help sell the thing.

The author of this book actually phoned me up to apologize. Turns out he was a college professor who has written a regular DOS book for the publisher. Then the publisher took his book, eviscerated it, and replaced it with the carefully crafted crap that resembled DOS For Dummies. Later, I discovered that they actually would count the number of words between jokes in my book and try to replicate that in the I Hate DOS title. It was pathetic.

In the end, the most silly of the knock-offs died. In fact, reports from the bookstores said that those books moved only when the store was completely out of stock with a For Dummies title. That says a lot.

As far as I’m concerned, the moral of this episode is that publishers are the last people on earth to appreciate the value good writing can bring to a book. Or, in the immortal words of Jules Renard:

“Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none.”

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