Advice about a book translation
Thread poster: Hadas Elber
Hadas Elber
Local time: 16:02
English to Hebrew
Feb 20, 2007

Hello everyone,

As seasoned literary translators I would like to ask you for your advice. I am rather new at translating, and have been recently offered a project of translating a fantasy novel from English to Hebrew.

This novel is 730 pages long and quite challenging. I have been offered approximately 1.5 USD per page. Moreover, I am expected to finish translating the entire book in 7 months, or the payment will be reduced by 25%.

I am a new translator (I recieved the offer due to the fact that I'm an Israeli writer), and I'm also starting to study this year. Therefore after some thought I told the publisher that I'm willing to accept the financial terms, but I need more time for the project. He told me that he'd get back to me, but that basically he needs the book to be translated fast and will be looking for a faster translator. I am not quite sure that I did the right thing.

What do you think? Should I have accepted the challenge? I can still try to call him back and reduce my studies.


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:02
German to English
+ ...
don't bother Feb 20, 2007

You can probably expect to produce deliverable copy (translated and proofread) at an average of (say) 2 pages per hour (depending on the page size, font size, etc.). That means around 365 hours, or a bit more than 50 hours per month for 7 months -- but do you want to work for USD 3 per hour?

[Edited at 2007-02-20 09:13]


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Jim Tucker  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
+ ...
agree fully with ken - don't let them do this to you Feb 20, 2007

that the rate you quote is outrageously low. There are of course many variables involved, but it sounds like a minimum $5000 job.. (When I say this, I'm assuming the text is fairly easy to translate; otherwise it could be many times that.)

I would make them a much higher counter-offer (say $6000 with 3k to be paid up front and another 3k upon completion). That way, if they refuse you won't feel you have been exploited, and they will learn (?) that they shouldn't treat people like this.


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Alan R King
Local time: 15:02
Basque to English
+ ...
No way! Feb 20, 2007

Shalom, Hadas. It sounds like a really bad deal to me too. Depending on the number of words on the page, level of difficulty of the translation, and of course your experience and speed as a translator, it may take you even longer than Ken calculates. When deciding on something like this, you need to think about "worst scenario" possibilities too. Both in terms of money (earning enough to make it worth it) and of time (meeting the deadline), I think accepting on these terms would be a bad decision. I like Jim's suggestion!

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:02
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Per PRINTED PAGE??? Feb 20, 2007

A typeset, printed page can contain 250% or more than a typewritten manuscript. If we put Times Roman 10 pts. at 600 words per page, you get the whopping word rate of 0.0025. It's just as well you weren't "fast enough". (As regards that, your publisher got his figures right: a full-time translator would have taken around 7.3 months on the book under these circumstances -- if he had chosen to enjoy his weekends -- at $150 a month).

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Hadas Elber
Local time: 16:02
English to Hebrew
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you everyone Feb 20, 2007

Thanks folks,

You've made me feel alot better. It seemed like a rip off to me too, but I wasn't sure, and it is quite a relief to be backed up by the experts.

I don't have any experience in book translation, and I assume the publisher thought that he's doing me a favor by offering me the job, but I don't think anybody should work for practically no payment.


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Gillian Scheibelein  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:02
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
the key goal of a new translator is to develop a customer base Feb 20, 2007

Hi Hadas,

if you are new to translating it is important to gain a good and wide customer base as soon as possible - and to keep it. If you take on a book with a tight deadline, it will make it difficult or even impossible to expand your customer base. Not only that, you may not have enough time to work for existing customers who will then go elsewhere - maybe permanently. If the pay is good enough to compensate for this problem that is another matter. If they are going to pay peanuts and you lose or worsen your current footing in the translation industry, forget it. $1.5 per page is simply too low to be advantageous to you in any way, even if the book is a good reference project. I am translating a student's textbook at the moment. Unfortunately, I have alienated more than one customer because I can't take on their projects as usual.

Good luck,

Jill


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 16:02
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Too cheap Feb 20, 2007

Hadas Elber wrote:
This novel is 730 pages long and quite challenging. I have been offered approximately 1.5 USD per page. Moreover, I am expected to finish translating the entire book in 7 months, or the payment will be reduced by 25%.


I don't even ask if it's a source page or a target page, which is probably very important for Hebrew, with its omitting vowels in their written speech.

In all cases, it's way too cheap, incredibly cheap, abusingly cheap.

To give you something to compare, when I was a freshy green newbie and started to translate books in 1996 in Ukraine -- it was just 5 years after the collapse of the USSR and one still was able to buy a virgin for $5 here (well, joking, people) -- they paid me $2 per page = $1 per 1 Kb of target Russian text in txt format (including spaces).

Just do the simple arithmetics: if the novel is 730 page, and it's $1.5 per page, you will earn about $1000. The volume like this will take you no less than 2 months even if you do nothing except of translating the book.

Is $500 per month a good income for Israel? From what I know about the country (and I know a lot, I have a lot of friends there), it's nothing.

[Edited at 2007-02-20 15:36]

[Edited at 2007-02-21 08:30]

[Edited at 2007-02-21 08:30]


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Sergei Tumanov  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:02
English to Russian
+ ...
oops! Feb 20, 2007

I do not know for sure but I think that rates for simple retyping of a text are not as low in your country.

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shfranke  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
English to Arabic
+ ...
Pass on that horrendous project Feb 20, 2007

Greetings... shalom...

May I add to the good comments of earlier respondents in advising that you pass on undertaking that dog of a project.

The description of that imposed production and delivery schedule, coupled with that atrociously-low compensation package, clearly make that project a loser.

Also the lack of those basic factors of business practice in that requestor's discussions with you cast doubt on the seriousness of purpose of the prospective agency, which seems to be trolling for cheap talent.

"Good, cheap or quick... you can only deliver on only any one of those."

Hope this helps.

Regards and shalom,

Stephen H. Franke
English Arabic,
Kurdish and Persian
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


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Hadas Elber
Local time: 16:02
English to Hebrew
TOPIC STARTER
You've definetly convinced me Feb 21, 2007

Thank you all for your kind responses and support. You are a very big help, and have certainly made my decision much easier. I'll definetly turn down the project.

May I ask what is a reasonable offer for translating a novel?


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 16:02
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Do your calculations Feb 21, 2007

Hadas Elber wrote:
May I ask what is a reasonable offer for translating a novel?


Hadas, I would calculate the reasonable price in the following way: try to evaluate how long it will take you to translate the book, then apply your preferrable monthly income to the period of time, and you'll get a rough estimation of the sum total which should be paid for the book.

As someone mentioned before, there is only one reason to work for peanuts - if you are a new one in the industry, you might want to have a book translated in your resume. Otherwise, I see no reasons to sell oneself so cheap.


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Nicole Blanc  Identity Verified
France
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
Don't work for peanuts! Feb 22, 2007

Hadas Elber wrote:


This novel is 730 pages long and quite challenging. I have been offered approximately 1.5 USD per page. Moreover, I am expected to finish translating the entire book in 7 months, or the payment will be reduced by 25%.

I am a new translator (I recieved the offer due to the fact that I'm an Israeli writer), and I'm also starting to study this year.
What do you think? Should I have accepted the challenge? I can still try to call him back and reduce my studies.


Hi Hadas,

Being new in the translation trade is no reason to ask you to work peanuts, as Kiril said. Because you gonna work for peanuts, really! Is the project really worth it?

Personally, I would try to discuss again firmly with the concerned person and demand a much higher rate. And then decline politely in case of a negative feedback.

If you accept the job, don't forget to demand a down payment (at least 50%) before starting the job. This is particularly applicable if this customer (and his payment capacity) is totally unknown to you. That's what I've done systematically within big volumes for some time (particularly after I was trapped by a crook).

Good luck. nb


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