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 booksâ€”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