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Rates for Translating a Small Book of Poetry?
Thread poster: David Lavie

David Lavie
United States
Local time: 22:16
Russian to English
+ ...
Feb 27, 2007


The descendants of a Russian gentleman, who had immigrated to New York in the early 1900s, have asked me to translate some of his Russian-language poems with the aim of having them published privately. As a test, I translated two very different poems of his, and his granddaughters (themselves translators, but from French and Italian) now want me to translate the rest.

That 'rest' has yet to be identified. I will be making the preliminary selection, which will then be approved by them. At the end of the day, there will be about thirty-forty or so poems, which as a rule average about a page in length (the shortest are about 20 lines, the longest - 50). I'm not being rushed, but would prefer to complete the translation ASAP.

I'm particularly eager to get on with the project because there are other, long-term ones waiting in the wings, and also because this is the rare breed of literary translation that will actually pay something. The clients have asked me how much I would charge, but since this is my first time receiving money for literary translation (until now, I'd done it for my own pleasure, with thoughts of some day publishing what I have), I'm stumped.

Are there any rules of thumb in determining a fair figure for a project such as this?

Thank you in advance.


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Faruk Atabeyli  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:16
Member (2009)
English to Turkish
+ ...
An alternative strategy Feb 27, 2007

Dear Gennady,

Just a suggestion: Try finding out how many copies they will print (not actually sell) and what the cover price will be. Then you can calculate a certain percentage of the proceeds which you think is your fair share, based on the amount of time and energy you dedicated to the book, and then ask for it as translation rate.

Make sure you retain your copyright on the translation, i.e. do not turn it over to the publisher for the translation fee you asked for the initial work, instead ask for same amount (or less if you want) for future printings of the book.

If the book sells well and is republished, a good translation will be one of the major reasons, therefore you should be rewarded as long as the book is on demand.

Best of luck

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Myriam Garcia Bernabe  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
Guidance Feb 27, 2007

Hi there,

Poetry translation is charged per line; prose per page or number of characters on one page.

Try to find if there is a literary translators association in the US and they should have a charge guide for this.


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Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:16
Member (2004)
German to English
Charge by time Feb 28, 2007

My suggestion would be to come up with an offer based on the time you expect the job to take - you presumably know how long you spent on the two poems you have already translated, and could therefore work out long, on average, it will take you to do the remaining ones. Then charge whatever hourly rate you are going to feel comfortable with; that could be your usual hourly rate, or it could be a bit lower than your normal rate if you want to do these people a bit of a favour, or it could be higher than normal if you feel that they are going to make money from the project and you want to share in that - but if you weigh up all the considerations you will probably gain a sense of what feels right for you.

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