Terms for a book translation contract
Thread poster: The Misha
The Misha
Local time: 05:01
Russian to English
+ ...
Jun 27, 2007

Hello, everybody,

I am currently negotiating a contract with a small independent publisher to translate a book by a foreign author into English. From the excerpts I've seen, it appears to be a novel, maybe 200-300 pages, something along the lines of romantic reading for women - like the stuff that Harlequin churns out by the dozen every month. As much as the enterprise does not look to me like an especially lucrative way to make a buck, I'd love to get the job and get paid for it. After all, I am providing a service, not going into business with them. My problem though is that they refuse to put up any earnest money up front, or to make a down payment. The entire translation is to be paid for in a lump sum after the job is completed. How standard is this? What would be the standard terms for a book translation contract? Honestly, I do not like this particular arrangement one single bit. Even if they are honest and have every intention to pay now (I like to give people the benefit of the doubt), they will probably blow all their money on this fairly hopeless venture and have none left in the end to pay me. What do you think? Any comments and opinions from those of you who actually had experience translating books would be sincerely appreciated.


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gailverhasselt
Local time: 11:01
French to Dutch
+ ...
working whit publishers Jun 27, 2007

Usually you get 1/3 before, 1/3 during and 1/3 at the end of the translation. Also, it is diffiult working when you accept to forward chapters before having translated the whole book. If in the middle of the book you notice some translated terms are wrong because you did not in the beginning understand the full meaning, you want be able to change it.

The Misha wrote:

Hello, everybody,

I am currently negotiating a contract with a small independent publisher to translate a book by a foreign author into English. From the excerpts I've seen, it appears to be a novel, maybe 200-300 pages, something along the lines of romantic reading for women - like the stuff that Harlequin churns out by the dozen every month. As much as the enterprise does not look to me like an especially lucrative way to make a buck, I'd love to get the job and get paid for it. After all, I am providing a service, not going into business with them. My problem though is that they refuse to put up any earnest money up front, or to make a down payment. The entire translation is to be paid for in a lump sum after the job is completed. How standard is this? What would be the standard terms for a book translation contract? Honestly, I do not like this particular arrangement one single bit. Even if they are honest and have every intention to pay now (I like to give people the benefit of the doubt), they will probably blow all their money on this fairly hopeless venture and have none left in the end to pay me. What do you think? Any comments and opinions from those of you who actually had experience translating books would be sincerely appreciated.


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The Misha
Local time: 05:01
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Just like I thought Jun 27, 2007

Thanks for your prompt reply. It is just like I thought it was - lump sum payment at the end is highly unusual and suspicious - after all, we all have to eat while working. You have just confirmed my reservations. Thanks.

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Gemma Collinge  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:01
Member (2007)
Japanese to English
+ ...
lump sum not so unusual Jun 27, 2007

I've done quite a few novels that sound quite similar to the one you're being offered. I've been translating that kind of material for two years now (between 200-300 pages) and I've always been paid a lump sum sixty days after the project has been completed. I've never had any problems with non-payment but that might be luck!

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:01
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Survival strategy Jun 27, 2007

The survival idea dawned upon me when I was called to translate a huuuuge technical book in my specialty area, the reason they chose me. Yeah, the book was huge: 900 pages A4 in Times 11 pt, very few illustrations. The publisher, a quite solid, prestigious, and large one offered a low per-word rate, but it would have been worthwhile... were it not for the short delivery term: 5 months.

They explained me that the book would involve a huge investment in DTP, printing and paper, so if the translation were also heftily paid, the selling price to the end-user (supposedly MBA students) would become prohibitive.

All right. If I had one year to translate it, I could intersperse this book with more profitable jobs and make a living. As I explained them upon declining the job, to do it in 5 months I'd have to focus exclusively on it, and would starve before being halfway through. No matter if they'd pay me 10 minutes after delivery.

So as long as the publisher is financially dependable, if you can survive through the book with other short-term jobs, all right. But if they need it finished so fast that you can't do anything else, there is no way to stay financially or elsewise alive until then.

As one translator includes in his bids:
- LOW COST
- QUALITY
- SPEED
Please select TWO of the above when ordering.

... though I wouldn't know what to do if a client told me explicitly to compromise quality. Maybe I'd have to use machine translation.


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The Misha
Local time: 05:01
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your comments Jun 28, 2007

Gemma and Jose, thank you both for your comments. I'll let you know if anything happens with this job so that hopefully, we can all learn from this one way or another.

Michael


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Yaotl Altan  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:01
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Time Jun 28, 2007

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

The survival idea dawned upon me when I was called to translate a huuuuge technical book in my specialty area, the reason they chose me. Yeah, the book was huge: 900 pages A4 in Times 11 pt, very few illustrations. The publisher, a quite solid, prestigious, and large one offered a low per-word rate, but it would have been worthwhile... were it not for the short delivery term: 5 months.
...

All right. If I had one year to translate it, I could intersperse this book with more profitable jobs and make a living. As I explained them upon declining the job, to do it in 5 months I'd have to focus exclusively on it, and would starve before being halfway through. No matter if they'd pay me 10 minutes after delivery.



That's the point, José. We keep translating these long texts but they refuse to make some payments. What would we do meanwhile? Pick some other texts, smaller indeed. We all have children/family and they insist in eating everyday.

This situation makes almost impossible to select these jobs unless we have several exprt colleagues to do it....or the whole year you say.



So as long as the publisher is financially dependable, if you can survive through the book with other short-term jobs, all right. But if they need it finished so fast that you can't do anything else, there is no way to stay financially or elsewise alive until then.

As one translator includes in his bids:
- LOW COST
- QUALITY
- SPEED
Please select TWO of the above when ordering.

... though I wouldn't know what to do if a client told me explicitly to compromise quality. Maybe I'd have to use machine translation.


Wow! Is that a joke?


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Elizabeth Ardans  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 06:01
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Loved your comment! Jun 28, 2007


As one translator includes in his bids:
- LOW COST
- QUALITY
- SPEED
Please select TWO of the above when ordering.

... though I wouldn't know what to do if a client told me explicitly to compromise quality. Maybe I'd have to use machine translation.


Loved it!


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Yelena Pestereva  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 12:01
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
I work with several publishing houses... Jul 11, 2007

only Russian so far, though I hope one day to offer my services to some U.S. or British pubishing house, and I was never paid in advance. The usual practice is to pay monthly on the basis of output for the previous month. Once a publishing house wanted to pay to me only when I translate half of the book but I said I was not going to starve the following 3 months and they also agreed to pay monthly.
Of course I credit them but they are very trustworthy. And they also risk because there is always a chance they will get a bad translation form smb. they collaborate with. However some publishing houses apply 80% of contractual rates till the editor reviews yout text and pay the remainder only if the text is OK.


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The Misha
Local time: 05:01
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jul 15, 2007

Thank you, Yelena, for your comment. The information is duly noted and much appreciated. SO far, the publisher has been dragging their feet though, I am not even sure at this point how serious they are. Oh, well ....

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