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How much should I charge for the translation of a book?
Thread poster: Dolores Gadler
Dolores Gadler  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
Nov 2, 2008

Hi everyone,

A direct client in the USA has offered me the translation of 2 technical books on architecture from English into Spanish.
-The books are 165,400 and 187,500 words-long;
-The file format is MS-Word;
-The deadline for both books is April 2009.

The texts are fairly repetitive and could be done with a CAT tool. However, no glossary is provided and I should build one from scratch for them.
I'm also worried about the deadline, which I find very tight and would take all my time from other jobs.
I usually charge them $0.10 per word, but the customer has already said that this price would be too high for the books.

Any suggestion on how much I should charge?

Many thanks,


[Edited at 2008-11-02 15:14]

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Harvey Utech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:01
German to English
What are they willing to pay? Nov 2, 2008


My suggestion is to do all of us a favor and stick to your guns. All the more justified since they are specifying a deadline as well.

If they balk, ask them what they are willing to pay. Then, bargain from there, both in terms of price and completion date.

Since you have other work to fall back on, prepare yourself mentally to turn down the job altogether unless they meet your terms.

Hope that helps.


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:01
Spanish to English
I agree with Harvey Nov 2, 2008

Also, once the job is finished it takes a while for your other clients to look for you again.

You would probably want to organise part payments too.

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Dolores Gadler  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
Rates Nov 2, 2008

Thank you Harvey and Lesley.

Now my question is if my rates are ok for this kind of work. I've never translated texts this long and I´m not sure about how much I should charge. As Harvey said, I could ask them what they are willing to pay and bargain from there. However, I would like to know first if my rates are fine for this kind of translation job, or if I should apply a different rate.

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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:01
Swedish to English
+ ...
That's up to you Nov 2, 2008

Dolores Gadler wrote:

Now my question is if my rates are ok for this kind of work.

Can you live comfortably on the net income this rate would give you? If your answer is yes - go ahead. If your answer is no - maybe you should reconsider.

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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:01
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Get more information from the publisher Nov 3, 2008

Having your translation published can be gratifying, and may also serve as a great reference – you may therefore consider some more flexible payment options.

Unlike an electronic appliance, whose manual needs to be translated in order that the product could be solved, in this case the text itself is the product that is to be sold - which may pose much more severe restrictions on the budget. It is easily possible that the publisher is not in the position to pay USD 0.10 per source word: if the book is for a niche market, and the first planned print run is low, their budget may be insufficient for paying USD 16,500.

For example: want to keep the list price below USD 80, and they plan to have a first print run of 1000 books - in which case the translation would take up 20% of the budget. Keep in mind that distributors take a very hefty share - often 40 to 50% of the list price; the author's royalty is around 8%, plus there are production costs etc.

There are quite a lot of factors in this calculation that are known to the publisher and unknown to you. Therefore it is a good idea to ask them what they propose. They may also propose compensating for the lower amount by adding a royalty after sold copies; it is certainly nice to get some extra for several years after the book has been translated, but make sure to use realistic figures: if their first print-run is 1,000 books, and they offer a royalty with which you break even at 10,000 copies, then their scheme sounds unrealistic.

Also, consider taking only one book for April 2009, and leave the second one to someone else. 350,000 words until April is a very tight deadline indeed; it would not leave you enough time to keep a reasonable amount of time for your present clients.
Further issues that you should definitely clarify with the publisher: once the MS is submitted, it will be edited. What is your responsibility after that? If the author speaks the target language and he/she will also take a look, be prepared that it can entail a lot of extra work to you. Been there, done that. Make sure that you are compensated for your time and effort.

As others have pointed out: do not make excessive concessions. It is certainly nice to have a book translation published - but 165,000 (or 350,000) words is a lot for having a great reference. Get informed, and have the specific details fixed in the contract. Publishers often present you with a boilerplate contract, in which your responsibility is set out in detail, but not theirs (e.g., the publisher undertakes that the MS will be edited by a qualified native expert of the subject field, sent back to the translator for approval by a certain deadline, the book will then be published by another deadline, in XX copies at USD YY/copy, etc.).

Good luck,

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Damian Harrison
Local time: 02:01
German to English
Here's my math on this... Nov 3, 2008

Total volume: 352900 words
Deadline: 1 April
Days to deadline: 148
Weeks to deadline: 21 weeks
Minus 1 week for Xmas
Minus 1 week for illness
Minus 2 weeks for proofreading, revision etc.
Equals 17 weeks
Equals 20759 words per week

That, my friend, is a very, very serious workload. I know I certainly couldn't manage that for a full 4 months.

Oh, and building a glossary? That can also be very time consuming.

Better to split the project between two translators, build a glossary together (assuming the subject is the same) and work on this through to April while also providing services to your other clients.

[Edited at 2008-11-03 16:29]

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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:01
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
some advantages for you Nov 4, 2008

All else being equal, it takes less time to translate 160,000 words of a single text on a single subject than it would take to translate 32 texts of 5,000 words each on a variety subject matters. Or 80 texts of 2,000 words each--you get the picture.

Another advantage to big projects like this is the assurance of a steady workflow. If you already get more work offers than you can handle, all the time, then this is not much of an advantage. But if you occasionally experience slow periods, it may be worthwhile to accept a slightly lower rate in exchange for a steady diet, rather than your turning down the project and going it feast-or-famine at your usual rate.

Taking this into account, I think it is not bad business to offer a "volume discount" for such a large project.

The issue of the workload and time commitment is another matter entirely, however, and I'd be uncomfortable taking on a project that represents a full-time commitment for 5 months.

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