26 December 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 18 comments

Paul Taylor left me a most insightful comment on his experience with McFarland Publishing. McFarland published Paul’s recent regimental history of the 26th New York Volunteer Infantry.

I was just looking through McFarland’s list of titles, and there is some REALLY interesting stuff there. The company bills itself as a “publisher of reference and scholarly books,” and it shows. As Paul pointed out in his comment, they have published a number of very useful regimental histories, as well as some interestng campaign studies. I just noticed that they have what appears to be a major scholarly work on the Battle of Brandy Station slated for 2006 that I was previously unaware of, and which looks interesting.

They also have two books listed in their list of forthcoming titles by Robert P. Broadwater, whose stinker on the Battle of Bentonville has been the subject of some of my ranting here. It’s an absolutely atrocious book, so I have no reason to think that these two will be any better, either.

Here’s the thing. McFarland has very little in the way of marketing; libraries seem to be their primary niche. The following statement from the company’s website really struck me about their marketing: “McFarland successfully sells directly to individuals. Specialists, professionals and enthusiasts form an important market for many kinds of books. For applicable books, college classroom adoptions play a role in sales. Most major online book retailers carry McFarland books—you may wish to keep a watch on your book’s listings. Chain book retailers will carry McFarland books in their system for special order, but are unlikely to stock books in stores (the same applies to the majority of our academic publisher peers). Specialty bookshops, on the other hand, can make suitable arrangements with McFarland. We welcome sales tips from authors for the latter. If you know of a mail-order distributor, museum shop, specialty bookshop, or internet-based book dealer that handles a specialized line, please provide addresses.” In other words, unless you’re willing to go and out and sell the hell out of your book by yourself, you’re pretty much out of luck. At least some university presses do a decent job of marketing.

Another issue, as Paul quite correctly points out, is that McFarland’s primary market sector is libraries, meaning that pricing is less of a concern than with normal commercial publishing houses. Consequently, most of their titles run in the range of $45-65 or so, and I am concerned that the price will scare off most potential buyers. This is basically a wash, irrespective of whether McFarland does the book or a university press does–university presses have the same pricing issues. There’s little enough demand for this book, so it’s something to be seriously concerned about.

Finally, there is the issue of timing. As I have pointed out here previously, university presses take forever to get stuff out. I have no idea whether McFarland does. So, the issue is how to handle this trade-off.

So, there’s a real trade-off here. They do some really good books that might not otherwise find a publisher, but outside of libraries, their marketing is pretty much non-existent. Talk about a Hobson’s choice….

I’m a little over one-third of the way through my new biography of Ulric Dahlgren. I went into this project knowing that it would be no small challenge to find the appropriate publisher for this work. Like so much of what I do, it’s a topic that interests me and that I find compelling, so I tackled it. Because I tend to choose topics that nobody else has, it means that the market is completely untested. And let’s face it–this book is not going to make the New York Times best seller list any time in my lifetime. So, I have to find a publisher for it, and it looks like my choices are a university press or McFarland. Neither excites me much, but I’m enough of a realist to know that there aren’t too many other options out there. So, let me ask my gentle readers your opinion–and you will be part of an active decision on where to shop this manuscript–where should I pitch this thing?

I look forward to your feedback, and thank you to Paul Taylor for inspiring this particular post.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Harry
    Tue 27th Dec 2005 at 2:40 pm

    Eric,

    Have you tried Butternut & Blue? He has published biographies of some of the “lesser lights”, most recently Alexander Hays. I’m not too sure of his distribution – seems to me that it is similar to McFarland, but I could be wrong. I get catalogs from him but not McFarland.

    Harry

  2. Mike Peters
    Tue 27th Dec 2005 at 3:33 pm

    Eric:

    If it was me, I might go with McFarland. I like the diversity of topics/bios catalogued on their website. And they even cover the less popular subjects. They have publsihed bios of General Justus McKinstry & General Robert H. Milroy, as well as campaign studies of Olustee & Hanover Court House. Not exactly the Grant, Lee or Gettysburg that some of us are used to seeing again & again.

    Even found one that interests me — “The Mutinous Regiment: The Thirty-Third New Jersey in the Civil War,” by John G, Zinn. I believe this is the only regimental to date on Mindl’s Zouaves.

    Mike

  3. Tue 27th Dec 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Mike,

    Vote noted. Thanks!

    Eric

  4. Tue 27th Dec 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Harry,

    Not a bad idea. I will have a chat with Jim about it.

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Eric

  5. Jack
    Mon 08th Jan 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Hi,

    I am working on my second McFarland civil war title (1st still with proofreader). I have also published other works with them, including a big bibliography on baseball.

    Going way back with Robert Franklin, I can honestly say that I think they do a very nice job given the size of their operation. Sure there are times when I’d like to choke one or two of their editors, but that is the case with others publishers that I’ve worked with as well. Their foreign distribution is pretty good and on the whole, you could do alot worse with some of the university presses. Not everyone gets to publish with Kansas, Kentucky, or UNC and, to be frank, publishing is better than not publishing at all.

  6. paul garson
    Mon 09th Jul 2007 at 4:32 am

    I read with interest you comments concerning McFarland as they are interested (along with the University of Ohio Press) in publishing my recently completed book concerning the Third Reich, a volume containing a large amounts of original photos. Having published books with larger firms, I found they had little interest in the project since they complained of the costs of “photo” books. In any case, three years of work and a large outlay of personal funds aside, my focus is having the book published and read. Compensation that would even pay for my expenses in producing the book apparently is not something I should hold my breath for. A figure of some 10% of my expenses was give to me. Reading the comments posted here at least helps me stop berating myself for lack of business savvy. Now if I had a book about Paris Hilton…. In any case, history writers and researchers work under the dark cloud of general lack of interest by the public…which reminds me about the adage…”those who don’t give a farthing about history are doomed to make the same costly mistakes…or something to that effect. So while I would probably not see too many farthings, I hope my book will leave an indelible impression with at least some of its readers and add something to the world at large. Isn’t that what it’s all about in the first place?

  7. Andrew Schiff
    Tue 20th Nov 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Hi,

    My book on Henry Chadwick, “The Father of Baseball” is coming out in January. Should I have gone with University of Nebraska Press. Would they have done a better job of getting my work in Barnes and Noble?

    http://www.henrychadwick.com

  8. Carolyn R. Russell
    Tue 20th Nov 2007 at 7:33 pm

    My two cents… I am currently working on my second film studies book for McFarland. I have been very happy with them…especially given the horror stories I’ve heard from those who have gone elsewhere to publish their
    niche material.The folks at McFarland are uncommonly supportive, flexible, and personable.

  9. Sun 25th Nov 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Andrew,

    I would have to say you definitely should have gone with Nebraska. They’ve brought out a new edition of one of my books, and I’ve been thrilled with their marketing/sales efforts.

    Good luck with yours.

    Eric

  10. wishnevsky
    Fri 06th Mar 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I have a book on McFarland, and although they give no support post publication, they are OK. They seem to be happy selling a few hundred copies of a title, and moving on.

    I have a self published book on iUniverse, and they at least sent me a tear sheet of a review.

    But a friend of mine has two books on university presses, and he has never gotten a penny from them.. I have made a few bucks on the McFarland book, and made back my publication fees on the iUniverse one.

    If i hustled, like another friend of mine who has books on MacFarland, i could have sold a lot more, but i’m not motivated to do so.

  11. Mon 25th Jan 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Just curious if anyone considered or queried Osprey or Casemate?

    They seem to have much more aggressive marketing than McFarland, which does seem very user [writer] friendly…

  12. Mon 25th Jan 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Jamie,

    The problem with Osprey is that you’re limited to 12-24,000 words, and they own the copyright, since everything is done as work for hire. Casemate specializes in World War II and British stuff, which makes sense because David Farnsworth, the owner, is British. It was not an especially friendly niche.

    Eric

  13. David
    Sun 14th Aug 2011 at 4:40 pm

    McFarland is publishing my frst book — it’s coming out this fall — and I’ve been very pleased with the whole process (admitting, of course, that I have nothing with which to compare it). It does seem like McFarland isn’t all that agressive in marketing its titles, but, then again, , being retired, I’m not in it for the money anyhow.

  14. James Elfers
    Tue 28th Aug 2012 at 12:33 am

    I turned down a contract with McFarland because their contracts are not very good to authors. My book which was published by the University of Nebraska Press and has a huge potential for a movie deal. After years of chasing dead ends I finally got my book into the hands of a major producer. I am hoping for the best with my fingers crossed. If I sell the movie rights the split is 90-10 my favor between my publisher and myself. McFarland movie rights are 90-10 the PUBLISHER”S favor.

    Even if I had the most parasitic agent on the planet he would only take 25 percent!

    McFarland will almost literally publish anything. One of their books is “Jewish Chess Masters On Postage Stamps!” What’s the worldwide demand for that book? 100 copies perhaps less?

  15. Johnny
    Wed 21st Nov 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Are there contracts negotiable at all?

  16. Sat 24th Nov 2012 at 10:04 am

    As a writer in search of a publisher, I found your comments very enlightening. I heard about McFarland just last week end when we were at Gettysburg for Remembrance Day. I went to a book signing. An author Robert Broadwater was selling his book “Gettysburg as the Generals Rembered it” and I was asking him about his experience which he said was favorable. Although I was put off by the price of $35.00, I still bought the book.

    My book is a play entitled “The Trial of Phillis Wheatley,” and he suggested I query McFarland. I checked them out and they do fiction only in rare instances. Still I sent them an e-mail just this week and have not had a response.

    I would be interested in your opinion on self publishing. My first book ” A Song of Africa,” was republished on createspace after the original publisher went out of business..

    Thanks

    Ronald Wheatley
    Treasurer Sons of Union Veterans Post Scituate, MA

  17. Glenn Knoblock
    Tue 10th Sep 2013 at 10:38 am

    I have published a number of books with McFarland and have been very happy with those experiences. If you have a topic with limited overall or regional appeal, they are a perfect choice….otherwise, where else might you find a publisher willing to put out a book about New Hampshire’s Black soldiers and sailors of the American Revolution. The royalties are higher than are currently the standard for many similar publishers (10% vs. 8% or lower), editorial staff is easy to work with, and production values are excellent. Sure, there are the normal disagreements at times over things like the number of photos, etc., but this is minor stuff. As to after-publishing promotion, I think they do a good job getting reviews where they can, and communicating with authors. However, as with any niche title, the best sales agent will always be the author.

  18. Fri 06th Jun 2014 at 12:35 pm

    My last book http://theforeignburialofamericanwardead.com
    and next book http://www.americansatwarinforeignforces.com/
    to be published this summer are with McFarland. My experience has been very good, but it depends on what you want to accomplish with the writing of a book. Because of their focus on academic sales, and high prices you’re not going to get easily to the B&Ns and other bookstores, but getting onto those shelves is difficult for any book. Through Google books I can see that the last book is in about 100 important libraries and specialized libraries world wide. The book is also available in various online locations, so I can easily target market potential buyers through email and point them to the point of sale. The prices of both my books are higher than the popular market for them might support and in both cases I have asked/suggested that they lower their initial pricing and they’ve agreed to that. If you want to make lots of dollars writing these books, go elsewhere, if you can find the right publisher. My goal is to find and develop new information, put it on the record in a credible, visible and durable way, and do my own marketing to target interests – not just to sell books, but to expand information and ideas on topics I’m interested in. McFarland helps me to do that.

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