Volume of test translation for publishing house
Thread poster: Hristo Kostadinov

Hristo Kostadinov
Local time: 11:00
English to Bulgarian
+ ...
Jan 23, 2015

Dear all,

Recently I applied for work at a publishing house. They instructed me to do a test translation - the first 20 pages of a new book, which was "of great importance" for them, they said.
Now I have two questions - is this volume normal for trial translations of books and wouldn't be more correct for them to let me choose the book from which to translate. Do I have reasons to fear they could use my work for translating the book for their own needs?

Thank you for all the answers!


Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Too much Jan 23, 2015

Far too much in my opinion, but to be fair, I haven't translated books. Let's hear what others say, but I think I can guess. It sounds like they are trying to get a free ride.


gerasimchuck  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:00
English to Russian
+ ...
It's fine if it is not for free Jan 23, 2015

I've heard about such a practice when reliable companies (who bother about their good will) pay translators for performing of test translation. If the publishing house is ready to do so, then why not? Otherwise I wouldn't even bother to make "test" translation of 20 (!!!) pages for free. I've applied once to publishing house to be their translator. They've sent me 2 pages as a test translation free of charge. That is normal enough to see if you can actually translate books (literature language).


Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:00
Member (2014)
French to German
+ ...
One or two pages Jan 23, 2015

I'd say one or two pages. But if they want to pay you a 20 page test translation, why not?icon_wink.gif


Edwin den Boer  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:00
Member (2009)
English to Dutch
Way too much Jan 23, 2015

I don't translate books either, but in other fields, a free test translation should be between 300 and 500 words. And some busy translators will refuse to do any free test. So one or two pages would be OK.

wouldn't be more correct for them to let me choose the book from which to translate

No, that would be a sample translation rather than a test translation. Sample translations may be useful in an earlier stage, before clients contact you, but people can't judge the quality of your work very well if you're able to choose a text that's easy for you.

The correct way would be to pay for the test. That would be a financial risk for the publisher, but not as big a risk as having a whole book translated without a test.


Hristo Kostadinov
Local time: 11:00
English to Bulgarian
+ ...
Thanks Jan 23, 2015

Thanks for your answers. They haven't mentioned anything about paymenticon_frown.gif


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:00
Member (2007)
+ ...
Do they want to test the market, perhaps? Jan 23, 2015

I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were wanting to publish that somewhere, probably on-line, as a "taster". Then they could gauge reader reaction and be better informed about whether there is actually a market for a translation. That would seem to be a reasonable thing for them to do (though it's not a part of the industry that I know well). But it isn't acceptable for them to do their market research at your expense. They must pay you for your work.

Make it totally clear to them what you will do for free. As a guide, most of us agree on 1-2 pages (i.e. 250-500 words) maximum. And make it clear that this free sample is NOT for publication - get their agreement to that in writing. Of course, should they then want you to translate the book, you can choose whether to include or exclude that work in your final invoice amount, and once they've paid the invoice they must be free to publish it all.

OTOH, if they really want a larger chunk translated now, you should charge your normal literary rate. If you decide to give them a discount as a sweetener, make it clear that this is indeed discounted i.e. not to expect future work to be at that rate. For that reason, I always make out my invoices for the full amount, then add a line with a negative sum, marked "discount" or whatever term is suitable.


Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
20 pages could be 2k+ words Jan 23, 2015

Which means you will have to spend almost full day working on it. If your hourly rate is 25-30 EUR an hour (based on 0.08 per word * 300 words you can do in one hour, and I am speculating here), you will be "missing" an income of about 200 EUR.

No free test should ever be longer than 350-400 words (you can always "spair" an our of your time to take on board a new customer).


The Misha
Local time: 04:00
Russian to English
+ ...
Funny how no one who has responded so far translates books Jan 23, 2015

From what I know, lengthy test translations are more of a norm in the publishing business - because how else would they know they (and the authors) like the style? Naturally, you could negotiate some kind of a payment but believe me, no one is going to give you a 100K novel to translate based on a 200 word sample. Unless, of course, you are someone they know and worked with successfully in the past.

Of course, you don't have to translate books. I usually don't.


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:00
Chinese to English
I have done shorter test translations for books... Jan 24, 2015

...but I've also done quite a long reader report on a book.

The publishing industry is certainly different to commercial clients. Many translators report having to complete quite large samples and "sell" it to a publisher in order to get a commission. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, then you can refuse. But it's not obviously silly or unfair for a publisher to ask for a large sample.


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Volume of test translation for publishing house

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