Is this translation fee too low?
Thread poster: Hayley Johns

Hayley Johns
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
German to English
+ ...
Sep 18, 2018

Hi everyone,

I hope this is the right place to ask this question! I'm speaking to a British publisher about translating a German-language non-fiction book for them. Previously I've worked on books for private clients who have agreed a flat fee for the work.

The British publisher has declined my flat-rate offer (£0.10 per word - is this too steep?) and instead offered payment of £2000 and then 12.5% of any physical copy sold + 25% of any e-book sold.

This
... See more
Hi everyone,

I hope this is the right place to ask this question! I'm speaking to a British publisher about translating a German-language non-fiction book for them. Previously I've worked on books for private clients who have agreed a flat fee for the work.

The British publisher has declined my flat-rate offer (£0.10 per word - is this too steep?) and instead offered payment of £2000 and then 12.5% of any physical copy sold + 25% of any e-book sold.

This seems far too low to me, but admittedly I'm inexperienced in working directly with publishers at the moment. At the risk of sounding cheeky, I'd like to negotiate a higher fee and also having my name included on the cover and the title page, while also keeping the royalties the publisher has originally offered. Could anybody give me any advice as to how to do this? The book sounds fascinating and I'm really keen to translate it, but I'm equally aware that 'fascinating' doesn't pay the bills...

Any advice or experiences would be very gratefully received!

Thank you,

Hayley
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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 01:13
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Publisher rate Sep 19, 2018

The fee is relatively very low.
In my experience the publisher controls translation costs so that they could make profits as a vendor, not an end service user.
My latest English - Thai translation of a religious booklet falls into a semi-charity service.

Soonthon L.


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 02:13
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
You need to set different expectations Sep 19, 2018

...for book publishing.

I have a self-publishing contract in front of me, in which I receive anywhere from 25-45% of net receipt from physical sales, depending on the venue of sale, and 45% from e-books. The original author receives 6-8% in royalties from physical sales, which comes from my proceeds, and 25% from e-books, which comes directly from the publisher and not my proceeds.

Even taking into account that the English-speaking market is much bigger than the Hong Ko
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...for book publishing.

I have a self-publishing contract in front of me, in which I receive anywhere from 25-45% of net receipt from physical sales, depending on the venue of sale, and 45% from e-books. The original author receives 6-8% in royalties from physical sales, which comes from my proceeds, and 25% from e-books, which comes directly from the publisher and not my proceeds.

Even taking into account that the English-speaking market is much bigger than the Hong Kong Chinese market, I would say it's a fairly generous offer from the perspective of the publisher. I don't know what royalties are in various parts of the world, but I understand that in Japan the standard author's royalty is 10% of the marked price.

At the same time, this doesn't necessarily mean that it makes sense for the translator. If we assume the book has 80,000 words and retails at £20, your break-even point is 2400 copies sold. It's your call whether you feel it's reasonable, and how much value you place on having your name on the book.

I do not believe you have any chance of negotiating a better deal with the publisher. In all likelihood, your options are to take their offer, or decide that other work is more profitable and decline it.

[Edited at 2018-09-19 04:37 GMT]
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Francisco Vare
enrfer
Alexey Balynov
 

Hayley Johns
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Sep 19, 2018

Thank you both for your replies!

I completely agree that my expectations of book translations may be a little out - as I say, I've not worked directly with a publisher before in this way, so I'm still gaining experience.

I'd love to make literary translation my full-time work but I realise that it'll be necessary to balance it with commercial clients in order to make ends meet.

I'll go back to the publisher to accept the rate he offered - the fee aside, the
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Thank you both for your replies!

I completely agree that my expectations of book translations may be a little out - as I say, I've not worked directly with a publisher before in this way, so I'm still gaining experience.

I'd love to make literary translation my full-time work but I realise that it'll be necessary to balance it with commercial clients in order to make ends meet.

I'll go back to the publisher to accept the rate he offered - the fee aside, the royalties seem to be quite generous.

Many thanks again for your advice.
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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Publishers Sep 19, 2018

Hayley Johns wrote:
The British publisher has declined my flat-rate offer (£0.10 per word - is this too steep?) and instead offered payment of £2000 and then 12.5% of any physical copy sold + 25% of any e-book sold.


As a published author myself, let me tell you that in my experience British publishers are full of charm, and will cordially take you for a ride. The payment of £2000, once you've paid the tax on that, will not even cover your expenses.

After that you'll need a contractual agreement that requires the publisher to tell you, monthly, how many paper copies/ebooks have sold, but even if you do have that agreement you'll probably never be given that information.

And what happens if the British publisher sells the book on to a different publisher in another country? (a very common practice).

One of my books was part of a series and sold far more copies than any other in the series. I got £1000 up front, and never saw any more money despite an agreement on royalties. Later, by pure chance, I found that it had been translated into Chinese and was selling in China. Nobody ever told me.

Be warned!


Kuochoe Nikoi
 

Hayley Johns
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Oh dear Sep 19, 2018

Thanks for your reply, Tom. I'm sorry to hear about your experiences!

The German publisher is still looking into whether the British publisher is somebody they want to work with, then the author will have to agree to the translation too. The German publisher has also commented on how low the fee is, but has said that I should weigh up whether this will be a good project to have my name on in the longer term. I suspect that it might be, because I'm looking to get into the industry an
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Thanks for your reply, Tom. I'm sorry to hear about your experiences!

The German publisher is still looking into whether the British publisher is somebody they want to work with, then the author will have to agree to the translation too. The German publisher has also commented on how low the fee is, but has said that I should weigh up whether this will be a good project to have my name on in the longer term. I suspect that it might be, because I'm looking to get into the industry and get my name out there, as it were, but I'm wary of the royalties situation for the reasons you've given.

Do you have any advice for how to work best with British publishers? I wonder whether, once you get in with the right publisher, they'd give you repeat work for your language combination and that might lead to better pay?
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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:13
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
I'd be interested to know the total word count of the book. Sep 19, 2018

Hayley Johns wrote:

The British publisher has declined my flat-rate offer (£0.10 per word - is this too steep?) and instead offered payment of £2000 and then 12.5% of any physical copy sold + 25% of any e-book sold.

Hayley


 

Hayley Johns
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Word count Sep 19, 2018

Jyuan, I'll let you know when I find out - I don't know at this stage, although I'd estimate 70 000 - 85 000?

At my usual flat-rate, that'd be upwards of £7000's worth, hence my reluctance.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:13
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Hayley Sep 19, 2018

Hayley Johns wrote:
The British publisher ... offered payment of £2000 and then 12.5% of any physical copy sold + 25% of any e-book sold.


1. The offered royalty for physical copies seems unusually high.
2. The e-book royalty seems normal. However, do not count on e-book royalties because e-books are often given away or sold at extremely discounted prices.
3. Also make sure that the £2000 is separate from the royalties, and is not considered merely an advance on the royalties.
4. Anecdotal reports suggest that translators basically never get any income from royalties even if the agreement includes payment of royalties.

If your usual rate for this job would be £10000, then £2000 plus royalties is much too low. The publisher would have to sell 2000-2500 copies before you get your usual amount in royalties (ìf we assume that that high 12.5% rate is really real), and depending on the genre, that could mean it must become a best-seller in your language.

(By the way, you're using the term "flat-rate" in a way that I would use to refer to the £2000.)

[Edited at 2018-09-20 07:14 GMT]


 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:13
French to English
Feeding the birds Sep 19, 2018

Hayley Johns wrote:

Jyuan, I'll let you know when I find out - I don't know at this stage, although I'd estimate 70 000 - 85 000?

At my usual flat-rate, that'd be upwards of £7000's worth, hence my reluctance.


If this boils down to the publisher offering GBP 2,000 for something around 80,000 words, you'd be working for GBP 0.025 gross. The net rate is likely to be close to working for free. Perhaps the publisher would like you to pay for the privilege of translating the work?

The song "Feed the birds" immediately springs to mind. Tuppence a bag. It's barely enough to feed the birds and certainly not enough to feed the translator! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHrRxQVUFN4

Walk away from this one.


Kuochoe Nikoi
 

jcjenkins  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:13
German to English
SoA guidelines for translators Sep 20, 2018

I think this advice from the Society of Authors may help you:

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Groups/Translators

Based on this, your per word rate is perfectly reasonable, as is your desire to get a translator's credit on the title page. It's not cheeky at all, it's about establishing your reputation and being acknowledged for your work!
You may want to
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I think this advice from the Society of Authors may help you:

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Groups/Translators

Based on this, your per word rate is perfectly reasonable, as is your desire to get a translator's credit on the title page. It's not cheeky at all, it's about establishing your reputation and being acknowledged for your work!
You may want to negotiate how you are paid, i.e. 50% upfront, 50% on completion of the manuscript and then royalties once the book is published (for example), but the overall amount you are paid should feel like a positive reflection of the effort and experience you are providing.

I went through exactly the same process last year for a German > English non-fiction book. In the end, I accepted a high one-off fee and low royalties as it benefited my cash flow at the time. I might regret my decision if the book sells a million copies...!

There is a very good video / webinar available through ECPD Webinars called 'Breaking into Literary Translation and Negotiating a Translation Contract', which contains lots of helpful information about the world of publishing and contracts.

Hope this helps.
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Kuochoe Nikoi
 

Hayley Johns
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:13
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, all! Sep 20, 2018

Thank you all for your replies, it's really useful to see your different takes on it.

Samuel, sorry for the confusion! I'm new to all the terminology, really - is there a term you would use for the £0.10 a word rate?

Nikki, very true! I knew that this could be an issue in translation, but if I'm honest, I wasn't expecting it to come up this soon in my work and certainly not with a reputable publisher. It's a bit disheartening.

Thanks, Jenny - I'm still wo
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Thank you all for your replies, it's really useful to see your different takes on it.

Samuel, sorry for the confusion! I'm new to all the terminology, really - is there a term you would use for the £0.10 a word rate?

Nikki, very true! I knew that this could be an issue in translation, but if I'm honest, I wasn't expecting it to come up this soon in my work and certainly not with a reputable publisher. It's a bit disheartening.

Thanks, Jenny - I'm still working on being assertive in asking for what I'm/the work is worth! I think it will come with experience but at the moment it can feel cheeky. Thank you for the video recommendation and the SoA information too, I'll take a look!

Thanks again to everyone for your advice and expertise, it's great to meet you all (if we can call this meeting!) and to start to get to know the translation community.
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Kuochoe Nikoi
 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 14:13
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Samuel Murray is right Sep 20, 2018

Samuel Murray wrote:
3. Also make sure that the £2000 is separate from the royalties, and is not considered merely an advance on the royalties.


BING BING BING BING! (Sound effects indicating that Samuel Murray has won a prize... haha). The point he makes there is hugely important.

If the 2000 is only an advance, and the book will sell on average (physical and e-book) for, say, 10 pounds, then the book would need to sell something like 11,000 copies before you would even start to earn any royalties beyond the initial 2000 quid. And then, of course, it would need to sell something like 22,000 copies for you to earn another 2000 quid... and so forth. (I'm approximating the numbers by applying a 18% royalty rate, since the proposed royalty is either 12.5% or 25% -- so this is just to give you a rough idea of what sales would have to be.)


 


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