DAN ATCHESON-AUTHOR

    At this point in time, I have 199,305 books in print, and this is a brief history of my writing career. The story actually begins in 1976, when I landed a job with a general contractor that was willing to train me to estimate the costs of construction projects. In 1979, I was offered a job at Texas Tech University to teach the subject in the Construction Engineering Department. Taking the job meant about a forty percent cut in pay, but I always wanted to teach at a university, so I took a risk. I thank God for a steady job playing in a country and western nightclub three nights a week during my teaching career. This allowed me to pay the bills and survive. The job at Tech also provided me with time to do research, experiment  and attempt to make a science out of construction cost estimating.


     I started writing my first book, quite by accident in 1981. I intended to publish a 30-page manuscript on the subject of estimating earthwork quantities to be circulated throughout the department with the hope that the department head might be impressed and give me a raise. LOL It didn't work. But after only a few weeks into the project, I realized how little there was that had been written on the subject, and there were a lot of errors in the existing literature. I began to envision a book. I told family and close friends, "If I can create enough information to make a book, it's going to sell like hotcakes when it's published." I'm sure everyone I told figured that like so many others who intend to write a book someday, the idea would soon fade into history. But I was dead serious, and determined to make the dream come true. Weather permitting, I wrote in the backyard on a card table under the shade of a large pecan tree. Here's the only photo taken of me during the writing of the book in 1981.

   I sent the manuscript to all of the major publishers I could find that published anything related to construction. I received the typical, "Thanks, but no thanks" response from all of the major publishers. But I did receive one good response, and it came from the Frank R. Walker Publishing Company, and this was exciting because they're a big construction book publisher. They actually flew me to Chicago where I met Eugene Callahan, the president, and before the visit was over, Gene offered me a verbal contract, to be followed by a written document. You cannot imagine how excited I was! A contract with a big publisher, and the opportunity to call myself an author! The only problem was that they needed more than a 30-page manuscript. So it would be back to the writing table to produce a bigger book, and they gave me a year to write it. The book was to be entitled Walker's Earthwork Estimating.
   One of the biggest breaks I ever got, and one of the greatest acts of love was my dad's willingness to draw the illustrations for the book. What you've got to understand is that Dad was in his mid-seventy's at the time, afflicted with glaucoma, and was still working eight hours a day at his architectural firm. Now that's love, and guts and stamina! And he created some of the most brilliant illustrations you'll ever see, and all hand-drawn and hand-lettered. Several nights each week for a year, Dad and I got together during the evening to discuss the book, review his drawings, etc. 

Here's a photograph I took of Dad during one of my evening visits.

 As Dad and I carried on with our business, Mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner for us. I'm so thankful I captured the photo of Dad and Mom during this period of time.  

   

Here's a color photo taken of Mom and Dad during this period of time.
Well, Dad and I made the deadline (within a year to the very day) with a 450-page book. The work and stress almost killed the both of us.  I waited for months, awaiting the publisher's opinion. 

Then came the bad news: "The book will cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to produce, and without knowing what sales will be, we feel that the financial risks are too great, so we have made the decision not to publish your book."
   You can't imagine how devastating this was! Not only had a year's work apparently gone down the tube for Dad and me, but now I also faced the embarrassment of having to tell family and friends that the dream had gone up in smoke. 
    It's hard to put things into a time frame after all these years, but I think I went into depression for a few hours, and then I began to think about alternatives. I just refused to give up on this goal and dream that I believed in.  So I started calling around and ended up at Texas Tech Press. Since I was on the Texas Tech faculty, they agreed to produce the book for me, but first, I had to winnow out the unnecessary topics in the book. When I delivered the final draft to Tech Press, they gave me a quote of around $12,000 for typesetting and printing 5000 copies. I gave them the go-ahead and they accepted my handshake as a contract and promise to pay them after the book was printed! That was a blessing from God, because I didn't have the money, and I doubt that any lender would make a loan and take such a risk. It was scary for me, too. I knew there was always the possibility that I was wrong, and would have to eat the books. I decided to give the book the title, Estimating Earthwork Quantities. The first edition was published in 1983. I decided to call my company, Norseman Publishing Company, since my mom was full-blood Norwegian.  Here's what the book looked like.

   While the book was in production, I did some digging to determine the best way to advertise the book. During my research, I met a gentleman with Craftsman Book Company named Bill Grote, the advertising manager. This has turned out to be a long-lived friendship that eventually paid dividends to me, as well to Craftsman. I determined that advertising using 3"x 5" cards inserted into a deck and sent out in mylar packets sent throughout the nation was the best way to go. I made a promise to Mom and Dad that if they'd loan me the money to run the first ad, I'd repay them within six months with interest, even if I had to borrow the money from a bank. As another act of love, they loaned me the money. I paid Mom and Dad back within three months, and paid off my debt to Tech Press within six months.

Here's what one of the earlier cards looked like. The book eventually sold for $39.95 a copy.

To everyone's surprise, including me, the book became an overnight success. We got rave reviews from many construction publications. Here are just a few of them.

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For a few years, I kept track of where the books were going, and used colored map tacks to track what ads were working the best for us. 

Here's a photo of the map after a few weeks on the market.

 

 

I quit sticking pins when Los Angeles and San Francisco pins became intertwined. The book was actually selling in practically every free country in the world.

 

 

 

Along with the success of the book, came invitations to speak at national estimators' conventions.

This is me with my wife, Kay at the American Society of Professional Estimators' national convention in New Orleans in 1985. I gave my first sermon here. Immediately after the convention, Kay and I flew to Montreal, Canada, where I'd been invited to give a technical speech at the American Association of Cost Engineers' international convention. It's funny. I was so nervous before my first gig, I threw up before leaving our room to go give my speech. But after I got started, I found that I was having a ball. I'm basically a quiet and somewhat shy guy, but if you put me on a stage in front of a crowd, I'm transformed into a showman, and in "hog heaven." 
Here I am with my daughter, Tami at another ASPE convention in Reno, Nevada, in 1986. 
I eventually taught estimators how to estimate earthwork in many parts of the country, and Guadalajara, Mexico. Before it was all over, I couldn't stand traveling, any longer.   
What I'd like for you to appreciate is the fact that less than ten years prior to the writing of this book, I worked as a laborer on construction sites. For this reason, I go out of my way to treat the lowliest labors with respect on a job site during a visit, or photo shoot. You just never know what, or who that person might be, someday. And after all, he's a human being with feelings and dignity, and I treat him as such. 

 

Mom told me this was Dad's favorite photograph. I'm so thankful that Dad was aware of the success of the book, and for his help in achieving the goal. 
I stayed late after the family Christmas tree trimming party at the folks' house in 1985. I got a little tipsy on wine, and I'm so glad I did. I opened my heart and soul and told both Mom and Dad how much I loved them and how thankful I was to have them as parents. Little did I know we'd be burying Dad less than two weeks later. But Dad was around to see that the book was a huge success, and I'm so grateful that he got to know this. He never saw my future books. Mom lived long enough to see the next book, and I'm grateful for that. I’m grateful to God for giving me parents like these.

But just as records and movies, a book also runs it's course in history, so I realized I'd better write a second one if I were to survive as a publisher. So I decided to write one on estimating wood framing quantities. Tami was already working for me, so she agreed to illustrate this one. And she did a fantastic job creating some very complex illustrations. I gave it the title, Estimating Framing Quantities. The first edition of the book was published in 1986.

During the 1990's, I wrote two more books. The framing and equipment books were huge financial gambles, since I also published them at my own expense. While writing the equipment book, I wanted to use the production data from the Caterpillar Handbook, and asked for permission to use it, early on. Caterpillar told me to write and present the manuscript to them for review, and then they'd make a determination. This was a huge risk on my part. Had they said, "no," a year's work would have gone down the drain. I waited on needles and pins for two weeks awaiting an answer, after I sent the manuscript. Then came the good news: "You have our permission to use our data."!!! I entitled the book, Earthomoving Equipment Production Rates and Costs, and the first edition of the book was published in 1993.


Writing the Equipment Book

Writing the Roofing Book


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The fourth book I wrote was Roofing Construction and Estimating. When I sent the original manuscript, I had covered only the topic of estimating roofing material quantities. After Craftsman reviewed it, Laurence Jacobs called and said, "This looks fine, but we also want a 'how-to' book." Now, this was a big kick in the hiney! I realized that there would be at least another year's work in creating the additional material. But it eventually got done. And Laurence was right. The additional material increased the size of the potential market. The first edition of this book was published in 1995. It's a required book for anyone taking a roofing state license exam in the states of Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and Illinois.

The roofing book has done very well for me, as well as Craftsman Book Company, which has given me the privilege of communicating directly with Gary Moselle, the president of the company on a personal basis, either by e-mail, or telephone. We've often talked in the evenings, after things have quieted down at his office. Gary is a genius with a great staff of professional people. Gary's a soft-spoken, gentle and kind man. He's also established a very huge and successful publishing company. Here's an image of his vacation home in Scottsdale, Arizona. His main home is in the San Diego area. Gary also flew a helicopter in combat missions in Viet Nam and Cambodia. Thanks for serving your country, Gary!

I was also involved with Craftsman when I did the initial editing of this engineering book, that has turned out to be a good seller for the publisher. The note attached to the book is from their editor, Laurence Jacobs. It says, "I think your contribution to this book deserves at least a complimentary copy."

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 Writing a technical book will take a chuck out of your rear end, especially if you’re under the pressure of a deadline.  You heal after a while, but there’s a lot of scar tissue where healthy skin once was.  So I took a break from writing, I thought for life. But I guess God had different plans. While working for a contractor in Sarasota , Florida, one of my tasks was doing concrete and masonry cost estimates, including a detailed list of specific materials to be ordered for the job. I visited a lot of job sites, observed and asked a lot of questions. I also often ordered lunch from the back of a “roach coach.” At first, the takeoffs were done by hand, and eventually, I programmed the takeoff methods in Excel. The outcome was an "F-16" and "F-18!" These saved me time, reduced human error and improved the accuracy and detail of my estimates.

 

 

Here's an example of one of the equations used to figure the reinforcing steel in a given assembly in the concrete program:
=ROUND(IF(B1116=0,0,((((B1115+B1116)/((B1115*B1116)/144)/12)*B1109*B1110)+B1109)*$B$4/20),0)
It's not rocket science, but my education while getting a degree in mathematics turned out to be a very useful tool.

In late November, 2004, I called Gary Moselle and asked if he would be interested in marketing the programs. I also e-mailed the programs to him and stepped him through them over the phone. He was impressed, but his interest was in my using the programs to develop data for a cost data book. The book would be entitled, National Concrete and Masonry Estimator.

I agreed to write the book, and a contract arrived a few days later. I assigned Zack the task of scrutinizing the contract. Not one "party to the first part, party to the second part, or farty to the most smart" escaped this boy's astute eyes.

 

The only hitch, again, was the deadline. I had to create at least 400 pages of data by July 31, 2005, so the book could be ready for sale by January, 2006. If I missed the deadline, the book wouldn't go out until a year later. The pressure was tremendous, and to be honest, I didn't know how to get started. I was almost in a state of panic. Then it dawned on me that all cost data books give a single price for installing, say a brick, in a wall. I knew from experience that the labor cost would increase as the wall gets taller. Also, you have scaffolding and other equipment involved as you get above a certain height.

So I went back to the writing table, and started producing cost data assemblies for different scenarios. But this time around, I had a helper. All of my pets have been so patient with me all these months, watching me work my tail off, seven days a week on the book. I'll always think of this as the season that didn't happen, because of the work load. We had no social, or fun life. It was like being in a spaceship for months, with little contact with the outside world. All of Baby's normal activities (helping the local Marines with their Toys-for-Tots campaign, collecting donations for the humane society, etc.) had to be put on hold.

 

 

As the book progressed, I placed George in charge of checking the data after it had been converted to a Word document.
And every morning, without fail, Delilah jumped up on the kitchen table and waited patiently for me to make the coffee, and start work.

We made the July 31 deadline. The book is now ready for its release in January, 2006. I was pretty beaten up before it was all over with. The beard came and went, since I shaved about once each week.

 Here's an image of what my concrete/masonry book cover looks like. This one was published in mid-November, 2005.

Here's what the actual book look like. To me it's like trying to haul around a telephone book. This thing is HUGE--662 pages! 

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A tremendous thrill was to see an article about the book in the Kappa Alpha Journal.

 

Here's an original quote: When I work at what I love, I endeavor to be the best in the world at it; 
not for the bragging rights, should this come to pass, but because 
no matter the outcome, I know I've done the best I can.
(Dan Atcheson, 2004)

Here's my latest book. Sales of this book began in December, of 2006. Here's what the front cover looks like:

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This is what the 2007 editions of my cost books look like.

Here's an image of me signing a contract for the next book that will be entitled National Earthwork and Heavy Equipment Estimator. This book is scheduled for publication in December, 2007.

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This is my latest book published in 2011. It's a revision of a book written in the 1980's. My job was to update the book, add more topics and capture new photographs. It's a very good book and it's required for state license exams in Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Utah, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada.

To order this book on line, click HERE.

I updated this book and it was published in June 2012 as an E-book.

This book will be published some time in 2012. Rob Adair is a friend from childhood who studied electrical engineering and did the majority of revisions in the book.

Published in 2013. This will probably be my last technical book to write, or revise. It's time to retire and enjoy life!

 


Photo by Diane Rostad taken 09/09/06

And when given the invitation, I'll deliver a "sermon" in this area, since I no longer travel. Here's an image of me imparting "knowledge" to a gullible group of estimators at the 2005 Quest Solutions Annual User Conference. LOL

 

  Dan giving a seminar in Reno, Nevada,  to the American Society of Professional Estimators

This page is dedicated to Dr. Fred Wagner, who showed confidence in my abilities and hired me to teach construction cost estimating classes at Texas Tech University.