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Rates for book translations?
Thread poster: Terese Whitty

Terese Whitty
United States
Local time: 11:50
Member (2004)
English to Swedish
Jul 9, 2004

Hi!

I got an offer for a book translation and I am not sure what rate to quote. I suppose I cannot charge the same price as for normal "shorter" business translations. I was hoping any of you could give me a hint or a range?


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Selçuk Budak  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:50
English to Turkish
+ ...
Rates should be higher than routine jobs Jul 9, 2004

I have no idea about the current rates in USA publishing industry, but I can give some hints.

Generally, there are two practices adopted in this regard.

The first, and I think the more frequent practice is to pay a fixed percentage over the target retail price of the literary work x number of copies in print. And this fee should be paid for each and every reprint!
In my country, average rates range between 5% and 10%. To illustrate: Lets say that the book in question is intended to be sold at $ 20.00, and printed in, say, 100,000 copies.
A minimum fee would be 20 x 100,000 x 0.05 = $ 100,000
Similarly, maximum fee would be $ 200,000.
Seems fantastic!
This is because translation of literary works requires artistic talents. And the publisher uses your name on the book. Also, translation of literary works is regarded as a property by law.

You should check current legislation in your country on intellectual property rights as applicable to translation. You may have certain rights that you may not be aware of.

The second practice, and this is the least preferred by translators,is to pay a fixed amount per page, or word, or whatever it is, for once and all. This should be a multiple factor of your regular fees.

But before anything else, I advise you to check current legislation throughly.

h.i.h.


In Turkey, translators of literary, scientific, etc. works are even exempt from income tax to a certain limit to promote translation of works contributing to either scientific, or cultural development of the country. And this exemption is not specific, i.e., all translators of books benefit from this exemption, regardless of the type of books be it a scientific treatise, a novel, play, etc.


I should add a note about actual figures:
In Turkey, the average number of copies in a single print is around 3,000. And the average price of a book, say, 300 pages is $ 10.
Therefore
A minimum fee would be 3000 x 0.05 x 10 = $ 1500
And maximum fee would be 3000 x 0.1 x 10 = $ 3000
Not so fantastic!

Just to reveal a bit more:

I have 23 books in print. And my annual income from these books is around US$ 15,000
It is very modest when compared to Western standards.
But when we consider the fact that the average wage floor in my country is only $ 250, it is quite good. Isn't it?



[Edited at 2004-07-10 09:53]


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:50
German to Italian
+ ...
Not so in Italy Jul 10, 2004

[quote]Selçuk Budak wrote:

You should check current legislation in your country on intellectual property rights as applicable to translation. You may have certain rights that you may not be aware of.

The second practice, and this is the least preferred by translators,is to pay a fixed amount per page, or word, or whatever it is, for once and all. This should be a multiple factor of your regular fees.

But before anything else, I advise you to check current legislation throughly.

[quote]

It's quite different in Italy, where literary translation, no matter if the book is succesful or not, is not well paid at all - not even by the most prestigious publishers. AFAIK, there are no translators in Italy earning a living from literary tranlation only - you also have to do technical translations, or teach etc. So, this difference shows you that every country has its own legislation and rates. You can either ask colleagues working in the US or have a look in the sites of the American associations of translators.


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Anjo Sterringa  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:50
Member (2003)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Also low in the Netherlands Jul 10, 2004

In the Netherlands, in order to (maybe) get a government grant (as literary translations are not something you can really live on), the price per word should be EUR 0.057.
That is a relatively high rate.
Apart from that, you may be able to negotiate a percentage on the sales of the book, but even that is not always possible. Anyway, it depends on whether you are translating a bestseller or not - if only 1500 copies get sold, there is not a lot of money to be made there. And if you are translating into Swedish, not many copies will be sold - there are not as many Swedes around as Turkish readers ...


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nettranslatorde
Member
Russian to German
+ ...
It depends... Jul 10, 2004

..on whether your client is the authour of the book, a publishing house or an industrial enterprise. I have translated books for all of them, and the industrial enterprise was the best payer. I could live on the income generated by that book translation (I'm based in Germany where living costs are relatively high.)
As a rule, publishing houses are the worst payers, and it would be wiese to agree on a deadline which allows you to keep on translating for your regular business clients besides the book translation if you need to live on your income.

As others said already, it does matter if the book is a bestseller or not, and how many exemplars will be sold...

I don't know how the situation in your country is, but that's how it is in Germany...

Good luck,
Kerstin


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:50
Member
English to Turkish
Baffled Jul 11, 2004

I am surprised to hear that book translators would be paid so poorly in the European zone when their Turkish colleagues have been receiving a percentage on sales with rights on repeat editions since years, and in a country with relatively recent and still rudimentary intellectual property laws? Dear anjoboira and Lorenzo, don't get me wrong please, but are you sure about the accuracy of your input?

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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:50
German to Italian
+ ...
I'm sure Jul 11, 2004

Xola wrote:

Dear anjoboira and Lorenzo, don't get me wrong please, but are you sure about the accuracy of your input?


I don't get you wrong, don't worry; however, I am 100% sure that literary translation is not well paid in Italy. I'm relatively lucky, as I work with one of the most renowned Italian publishers, whose rates are not bad. But I couln't earn a living without technical translation. There's kind of a survey on rates in a website for Italian literary translators (www.biblit.it), and it confirmed me what I've been hearing for years from teachers, colleagues etc.: literary translators never get rich in Italy. For some reason, in Italy literary translators (but sometimes translators in general) are considered a special kind of human beings that only need air to live We're usually paid a fix amount, depending on the length of the target text, no matter if 10, 1000 or 1,000,000 copies are sold. Getting a share of the sales is also possible (as an alternative to a fix amount), but it's very risky, so not many translators choose this option.

ps: we usually sell the copyright on our translation to the publisher for 20 years, and after that we can sell them again -either to the same publisher or to another one, provided that they still want to publish it. Needless to say, most books are not long sellers.

[Edited at 2004-07-11 16:07]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:50
Member
English to Turkish
Don't get me wrong, once again :-) Jul 11, 2004

I don't get you wrong, don't worry; however, I am 100% sure that literary translation is not well paid in Italy. I'm relatively lucky, as I work with one of the most renowned Italian publishers, whose rates are not bad. But I couln't earn a living without technical translation. There's kind of a survey on rates in a website for Italian literary translators (www.biblit.it), and it confirmed me what I've been hearing for years from teachers, colleagues etc.: literary translators never get rich in Italy.


The same is true for Turkey, and I guess for the rest of the world. A rich literary translator must be something unheard of on a global scale. I know a couple of instances where the translation of one book alone -a book about a British teenage wizard, for instance- bought an apartement to the translator, but after long years of hardship and toil in the business, this is nothing, and absolutely doesn't mean being rich. However, it is possible to live with literary translation alone, in Turkey, as far as I know. I did, for one, but I might have been lucky to find the right contacts and translate a couple of best-sellers for which I am still being paid; plus, I didn't translate books alone, I also translated stuff like articles in literary magazines, and edited books. Anyway, I think I should make this point clear, so that you won't get me wrong: no one can become rich in Turkey translating literature, it may be possible, though, to make a living.


We're usually paid a fix amount, depending on the length of the target text, no matter if 10, 1000 or 1,000,000 copies are sold. Getting a share of the sales is also possible (as an alternative to a fix amount), but it's very risky, so not many translators choose this option.


The standard practice in Turkey, as Selçuk explains above, is to pay the translator a percentage (usually around 6% after taxes) on the sales, and this applies to repeat editions, as well. (Though some publishers tend to lower the percentage 1 or 2 points in the repeat editions. This may depend on your negotiating capabilities, mine were on the weaker side.)

ps: we usually sell the copyright on our translation to the publisher for 20 years, and after that we can sell them again -either to the same publisher or to another one, provided that they still want to publish it. Needless to say, most books are not long sellers.


This period is 5 years according to recent legislation, but does not affect the translator's right on the repeat editions.


My surprise was that, we in Turkey had been clamoring so much because we lacked the decent copyright and intellectual property laws which were thought to be the case in the West. I guess we should try to distract our guys now

[Edited at 2004-07-11 23:51]


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Nazim Aziz Gokdemir  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:50
English to Turkish
+ ...
How about increasing the percentage for subsequent editions? Jul 12, 2004

Xola wrote:

The standard practice in Turkey, as Selçuk explains above, is to pay the translator a percentage (usually around 6% after taxes) on the sales, and this applies to repeat editions, as well. (Though some publishers tend to lower the percentage 1 or 2 points in the repeat editions. This may depend on your negotiating capabilities, mine were on the weaker side.)


My Turkish publishing contacts are very few compared to Xola's but I know a couple that actually increase the royalty percentage for repeat editions. However, in the examples that I have, this applies only to copyright holders and authors, so I'm wondering whether translators might be treated similarly some day (or if any do, today). The rationale is, of course, with repeat editions there's less overhead and the publisher has already recouped the initial investment; therefore it can afford to pay a higher percentage. It would make sense to give the translator a bigger cut at that point -- though I realize life isn't always fair...


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Ziaei  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:50
Member (2011)
English to Farsi (Persian)
+ ...
Literary translation is not well-paid anywhere in the world! Sep 13, 2004

I just want to mention that this type of job is not well-paid anywhere, esp. in third world countries. In Iran it could be really frustrating.
But my advice is to consider the bulk of the job too.


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