My First Book at Boydell: Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year

From admin to rights

Upon graduating the Publishing BA from Oxford Brookes with a first-class degree I applied for an Editorial Assistant position at Boydell & Brewer Ltd. My Publishing skills and experience were enough to get me the interview but my lack of knowledge on the subject area of the books being published was not enough to get me the job. Instead, I was offered the opportunity to do some temping work with the company until the position of Receptionist became available shortly after.

This administrative role evolved to cover specific digital areas which eventually specialised in the metadata and coordination of editions and digital projects. After approximately a decade this role transitioned into the rights management of Boydell & Brewer Ltd owned content including contracts, royalties, rights and permissions. Essentially, this means that for the last few years my main role has been managing the sale of subsidiary rights for content to be repurposed for other medias and in other publications issued by third parties and for the last three years this has expanded to include the sale of foreign language translation licenses. 

From English to Japanese

One of the first translation rights deals I recall being involved with was the sale of a license for Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year to a Japanese publisher.

Music in 1853 shows how musicians were now more closely connected than ever before, through the constant exchange of letters (which are mostly preserved) and through the rapidly expanding railway network. The book links geography and day-to-day events to show how international the European musical scene had become. A larger picture emerges of a shift in musical scenery, from the world of the innocent Romanticism of Berlioz and Schumann to the more potent musical politics of Wagner and of his antidote (as many saw him) Brahms.

Typically, we receive notice of interest from a foreign language publisher by email and my first port of call is to check if we have been granted the subsidiary rights to negotiate on behalf of the copyright owner, usually the author, and then if the language has already been licensed. From here the interested publisher investigates the compatibility and viability of translation before we enter into negotiations for the sale of the license.

In this case the request came to us through a Japanese literary agency. This helps with the language barrier of communication and enables some standard terms of practise to come into play.

From first contact, it took approximately nine months to get to a signed contract with negotiating and contractual considerations filling in this time. The Japanese book was published nine months after that on 25th December 2017.

From the first book to the many more

Since this first translation license I have gone on to sell Boydell & Brewer Ltd book licenses into a variety of languages including Slovak, Spanish, Catalan, Hebrew, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Italian. I have also been negotiating the sales for foreign language translations into Hungarian, Polish and Portuguese.

I have always had pride for the attractively-produced books for the general reader published by Boydell & Brewer. The investment to produce revised editions to the same standards or to digitise works that predate our now current digital workflows are considerable. It is therefore very rewarding to see subsidiary licensing, including translated editions, enable our books to have a renewed lease of life in their repurposed formats and be released to a wider range of readers – often in support to our still available original editions.

Since my humble days beginning with the company, I have come to think of many of Boydell & Brewer books as old familiar friends. It is easy to associate books being published in timelines of current affairs and things going on in my personal life. Since becoming an employee-owned company, we have a staff allocation for books and so there is a real opportunity to finally understand the subject areas that were so unknown to me when I was a graduate all those years ago.

Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year
by Hugh Macdonald
Hardback / 9781843837183 / £18.75 or $26.21
eBook for Handhelds / 9781782041504 / £14.99 or $18.75

Do you have your very own “first book at Boydell”? Do you remember the first Boydell & Brewer book that you read, bought, borrowed, referenced or even wrote? We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories on the Boydell & Brewer books that have impacted you or stir up strong memories. You can email them to Sean at [email protected]

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