The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries has become a ratings bonanza for the History Channel, attracting 13.9 million viewers on its initial Memorial Day showing and 17 million overall. Surprisingly, it has also propelled the Commonwealth’s own scholarly publisher to the top of bestseller lists and into the national spotlight.
Originally published by the University Press of Kentucky in 1982, The Hatfields and the McCoys by Otis K. Rice only ever enjoyed moderate sales during its thirty years in print. Today, the ebook is topping Amazon and Barnes and Noble bestseller lists over titles by Bill O’Reilly, Erik Larson, and Rebecca Skloot. The secret to its success is not a major promotional campaign but the changing face of the book industry.
While publishers have struggled to take advantage of the new markets opened up by ebooks, the power of making electronic editions widely available and discoverable online is highlighted by this surprise hit. The University Press of Kentucky has made it a priority to make all its published content available electronically to readers around the world. The result is that the press has seen a title from its deep backlist become a blockbuster.
Southern Living has called Rice’s The Hatfields and the McCoys “A captivating account of two families whose stubbornness and loyalty were exceeded only by their capacity for a terrible revenge.” It draws upon an impressive array of court records, public documents, official correspondence, and other documentary evidence to present an account that frees, as much as possible, fact from fiction and event from legend. After the gun smoke clears on the History Channel tonight, readers can pick up a copy of The Hatfields and the McCoys to learn the whole story behind America’s most infamous feud.
The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries concludes tonight at 9 p.m. ET on History. The Hatfields and the McCoys by Otis K. Rice (epub ISBN: 978-0-8131-3850-3, cloth ISBN: 978-0-8131-1459-0) is available wherever books are sold.
Otis K. Rice (1919–2003) was professor emeritus of history at West Virginia University Institute of Technology. He was the recipient of many awards and was named West Virginia’s first Historian Laureate on July 22, 2003.