Just when you think that computer publishing has been permanently broken into niches of novice, intermediate, advanced and programmers, along comes a company with a brand-new idea-ease of use.
Nerdy Books LLC, headquartered in Flemington, N.J., is the brainchild of Wendy Richardson and Bob Flisser, two computer trainers with more than 20 years' experience between them. In 1994 Richardson opened her own business, the Software School, and hired Flisser. What they learned convinced them there was still an unserved need in the world for handy information that anyone could get quickly.
"We've trained secretaries and MIS people, teenagers and retirees," says Flisser, "and what we found was that there were all these techniques for making programs work, but there were so many, and some were so buried in the big manuals, that nobody could find them. These aren't undocumented, they're just not accessible."
And thus was born this fall Nerdy Books, with Richardson and Flisser as sole owners and authors, and the series called Just the Tips, Man.
Each Nerdy book contains "more than 500 tips, tricks and shortcuts," according to Flisser. "Nobody needs to know all of them; in fact, almost nobody uses more than few, but everybody needs some of them, and you want to be able to find out how to do it quickly, and get back to what you were doing."
So Wendy, an industrial engineer and designer by training, designed Just the Tips, Man to work like a flip chart or desk calendar. Each book has a Wire-O binding, like a calendar, and a cardboard stand built in so it can stand open on a desk next to the mouse pad for quick reference.
Will Richardson, Wendy's husband and one of a half-dozen employees, deals with marketing and production. "The idea is that those big computer books are just too much-too heavy, too expensive, too intimidating. Less is more; Nerdy books are more usable because it's so easy to find just what you want, fast. And they're small enough to be more portable-we can really see people carrying these books with them."
Design and production are done in-house; printing and binding at Eerdmans in Grand Rapids, Mich. "We chose Eerdmans because they have both sheetfed and webfed presses," Nisser reports. "That way, if our books begin move fast, we can print up to 50,000 copies in the same plant."
Cast of Characters
Just the Tips, Man uses a cast of five cartoonlike characters to give the reader clues about how easy or advanced a particular tip is.
Kenneth, a propeller-head preteen, appears on the "really easy" pages-such as a reminder on the table of contents to check the index at the back, too. "Fairly easy" tips-such as how to set tabs-are pointed out by Shagg, a hippieish character.
Mr. Nester handles longer and more involved tips, but also is impatient with things that don't make sense to a lot of computer users: Tip # 150 shows him tearing his hair out and asking, "Whose idea was it to make the same button change depending on what you selected?"
Guy Martini is a slickster who handles the "cool" tips, such as shift-F5 to find the last five places worked on in text.
Professor Lester, a more erudite brother of Nester, handles the really hard or complex techniques, such as the five steps to create a new paragraph style the long way.
"That's the point," Flisser says. "Today's software is so powerful and complex, there are often several ways to do the same task. It's not just knowing the keystrokes or mouse clicks: Some people prefer to use the mouse for everything, and others like to use the keyboard. Sometimes the software companies want it to be easy to do something from any place, and sometimes they want it to happen only one way-but they aren't very good at explaining these things to users. So we have Nerdy Books."
The first eight titles are in production now, with first printings of 10,000 each. The first to hit the market will be Just the Tips, Man for Microsoft Word 2000, scheduled for official release in April through Seven Hills Books in Cincinnati at $15.95 retail.
The Word title will be followed within a month by titles on PowerPoint 2000, Excel 2000, and Windows Millennium Edition. Early in the summer, four more titles will follow, covering Windows 2000, Adobe Photoshop 6, Corel Draw 10, and the Internet and e-mail.
Nerdy is also taking orders directly via its Web site, www.nerdybooks.com.
Finding New Niches
Queried about the Corel Draw title, Flisser points out that Draw is the bestselling illustration program in the world. "People think of Adobe Illustrator first, and Illustrator is number one among Macintosh users, but when you look at the number of Windows users, there's no comparison."
Future plans for Nerdy include a series called Just the Tips, Kid, aimed at younger readers. "That's my area," reports Will. "I have been a high-school teacher in English and technology. When you think of it, these tips are just good habits to get into. And teaching kids is all about getting them to form good habits early and stay with them. So we see this as a really good market for us."