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Editing a novel - royalties?
Thread poster: Sophie Paterson
Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 8, 2008

Hello,

I know this may not be exactly the right place to ask, but I was hoping someone out there might be able to help me!

I've been shortlisted to edit/proofread a novel (about 175 pages) and have been offered a 3-5% share of the royalties for 2 years from sales in the UK only, with a 'voluntary' donation to charity (which I'm quite happy to do - I think the sum would be up to me). I neglected to ask what would happen after the two years... :/ The novel will then be sent to the publisher for a final edit. The author already has a literary agent who is in talks with these publishers, one or two of which are relatively big names (i.e. I've heard of them!) The author has been published in his country (not one of my language pairs), but this is his first English-language work.

Does anyone know whether royalties is usual for an editing job of this kind, and if so, whether those terms seem reasonable? Or, what you would recommend otherwise. I've looked at a few posts on editing fees here, and have seen that people charge 35%/40% of their normal rates, etc.

I guess it's hard to tell when you don't know what sales will be like! The author was talking about contracts etc, but come to think of it I'm not sure the book has been accepted as such yet anyway.... erk. Should I stipulate some advance payment in that case?

Any advice much appreciated.

Thank you!


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Ana Rita Simões  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 11:52
Member (2009)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
ask for an advance Sep 8, 2008

Hello Sophie,

I may not be the best person to give you advice, but from my (short) experience in a publishing house, you should ask for an advance payment - just like authors/literary agents ask for. I don't think it's wise to rely only on the sales - you will do your job and should not depend on the book marketing/author's writing skills to get a proper payment. Actually, I've never heard of editors/proofreaders being offered a share of the royalties.

I also think 2 years is not much - it should be at least 5, unless it is a best-seller author.

Hope it helps! Good luck


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
never heard of receiving royalties for editing a book ... Sep 8, 2008

Sophie,

The arrangement you describe seems odd to me, but perhaps, it is in your favor. I have edited academic books for authors who hope to find a publisher (and the author pays me directly), and I've also edited (including one novel) books that are already under contract (in other words, I was paid by the publishing house).

I've always been paid by the project--usually a per page fee. I've never been offered royalties, and most of the books I've done are only going to earn thin royalties. I think that the novel I edited may be a hit, but no one knows for sure. It could potentially become a detective series, but it seemed wiser to accept a flat fee for that job and then hope that if the author is successful, that he would come to me as a private client to work on subsequent books. I was not shy about suggesting that possibility.

If the book you are being offered hasn't been accepted by a major press, I think that you are taking a risk by accepting royalties in lieu of a flat fee. On the other hand, if it has been accepted by a press with a good marketing department, then perhaps you aren't in such a bad situation.

I was curious if the author wrote the work in English or had it translated? I am talking above about editing material written in English (one publishing house asked me to edit a translation, and I refused after seeing the quality). In general, I don't get paid very much for editing, and I accept those sorts of jobs only when there is no translation work available (I work only with direct clients).

Anyway, I hope this helps you a bit.

Patricia


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Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Sep 9, 2008

Thanks to both of you for your advice/comments on this.

I did think the whole arrangement was a bit unconventional, hence my uncertainty about the whole thing!

In answer to your question, Patricia, the novel has been translated and is of a reasonable quality; there are a few incomphehensible bits, but mostly it's just a question of flow and rhythm. (At least from what I've seen.) The author seems very friendly and willing to answer any queries I may have.

Based on what you've said, I will find out for definite whether it has/will be accepted by a publisher first, and ask for some sort of advance. I think I'll also Google the author and the literary agent to see what comes up!

Do you mind me asking what sort of rates are reasonable per page? (Hope that's not too rude!)

Thanks again,

Sophie


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:52
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Sounds way too low for me Sep 9, 2008

Sophie Paterson wrote:

I've been shortlisted to edit/proofread a novel (about 175 pages) and have been offered a 3-5% share of the royalties for 2 years from sales in the UK only,


Hi Sophie,
So, you will get 3 to 5% of the royalty that the author receives, right? Depending on his contract with the publisher, she will get somewhere between 6 and 10 % of the price of the book - and it is still unclear whether it is the list price or the actual selling price (which can be easily 30% lower on amazon). Do the maths with a first print run of 5 or even 10 thousand copies (which is not at all bad).
The best scenario: you get 5% of 10% of the list price. With 10 thousand books, you get the list price of... 50 books. If it is a hard cover, this may be as high as GBP 1000. Which makes 6 GBP per page. If you can edit 4 pages (which is quite a lot) per hour (including the discussion with the author), that makes 24 GBP/hour - which sounds acceptable. The deadline will probably be fine, the work can be pleasant if cooperation with the author is good. And you have a great reference.
But this best-case scenario can fall through very easily. First and foremost: if there is no contract with a publisher. Second: if the above figures turn out to be smaller. Third: if the book needs more than two years to start to sell. I think the two-year limit is very short. Also: your work will also improve the quality, so if the book starts selling overseas, why shouldn't you get something after that, too?

Getting a royalty is not altogether bad: it is nice to receive some pocket money years after a job has been done. But make sure to ask for a fixed sum in advance. You may consider lowering your standard price in exchange for the royalty share. But zero advance payment is way too risky.

Good luck,
Attila



[Edited at 2008-09-09 09:28]


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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:52
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I'd be leary Sep 10, 2008

I've edited a number of academic texts as well (mostly directly for publishers, but also working directly for authors), and I've never heard of such an arrangement here in the U.S.

If you're unsure of what to propose as a flat fee, I should say that the market and rates for book copyeditors is somewhat different (and rather grimmer) than the proofreading/editing market for translations. I don't know about the UK, but in the US, academic publishers are paying hourly rates (or their equivalent in per-page rates) that most translators would laugh at ($20-25/hr). Per page, for a "medium" edit I see rates over here of $4-5/page, with the expectation that most experienced editors should be able to edit a halfway decent piece of writing at a pace of 5-6 pages/hr (that's a ~250-word page).

Rates may be higher in your market, and may also be higher in fiction than in academic texts. If you're being asked to compare the translation to the original as you edit, you could safely ask for a bit more than the going rate for straight English copyediting.

The biggest problem is that the supply-demand equation is worse for editing than it is for translation. Book copyeditors are the proverbial dime-a-dozen.


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Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Feel a bit better now... Sep 12, 2008

Thank you Attila and Kathryn for your comments. I'm writing a list of questions to ask the author/agent now based on everyone's advice, so I feel a bit more confident about the situation!

Like Attila says, I'll have to do some provisional maths now! Not my strongest point!!

Sophie


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:52
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Number of copies Sep 12, 2008

Sophie Paterson wrote:

I'll have to do some provisional maths now! Not my strongest point!!

Sophie


Just one more advice: don't forget that determining the first print run and the price are almost always exclusively at the publisher's discretion. If you are negotiating with the author, he/she may have a figure in head - but he/she may not have any control over it. So, if the author insists that x number of copies will certainly be sold, why not put it down in the contract as "y per cent after the first print run but at least x number of copies" - or something similar?

Attila


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