Payment for literary translation in Italy
Thread poster: Kimberly De Haan

Kimberly De Haan  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:44
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Feb 19, 2012

Hello Colleagues,
I need help from my Italian colleagues. I've been approached by a local author who has written a novel and would like it translated into English.
As payment, he's offering me 50% of the royalties.
I need to know how literary translations are paid in Italy.
Is his offer reasonable? good? pathetic?
Can anybody help?


Local time: 19:44
French to English
this could help a bit Feb 19, 2012

I know that literary translating isn't the fastest way to make some money and payment in Italy isn't always clear-cut (I lived there for 6 years), but the following link may give you some ideas on whether to accept or not:

Personally, just getting paid on royalties sounds risky, as if the book doesn't sell you'll not really get paid... unless he's written the next Da Vinci Codeicon_wink.gif

Hope it helps!


Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Arabic to English
+ ...
Risky Feb 20, 2012

As mentioned above, there is a risk that the book will not get published or sell. I recently translated a novel and was paid by the page for my work.


Lorraine Buckley  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:44
Italian to English
+ ...
Be very cautious! Feb 20, 2012

I know literary translation is very badly paid in Italy - suffice it to say that the standard 'page' is 2000 strokes against the 1500 for all other translations - and then the rate per page is usually much lower, with the excuse that 'there are lots of pages'....

I would advise you to stick with the Italian saying 'pochi, maledetti ma subito' as the only way to be (relatively) sure of being paid at all. Books don't sell in Italy (unless as previous contributor said, it is the next da Vinci code, or a new Saviano), so royalties would be equivalent to non-payment.
Agree a price per page and according to length ask for 50% up front and 50% on delivery, or instalments as you go along if it's very long. Or if you trust the person, 100% on delivery of project (that is how I always work, and the 'on delivery' goes up to 3 months..... but I only work with academics or friends of friends. I would NOT trust any publishing company without a proper contract and good references - for translations into Italian, lots split books into chapters which they send out as "tests" to prospective translators, and then cobble the result together as a fully-translated book...... and it shows! But this is for translating INTO Italian; for translations into English, publishers will demand mother-tongue level translation quality, so hopefully things are better).


Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:44
German to Swedish
+ ...
50% of nothing? Feb 20, 2012

Apparently he can't get a publisher to believe his work will interest enough readers to be profitable.
(If he did, you'd be approached by the publisher and not the author.)

50% of nothing is nothing, but if you prefer your own judgment as to what sells, go right ahead.


Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:44
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Questions Feb 20, 2012

Hi Kimberly,

Has the novel been published in Italian? Was it a remarkable success?

These will be among the first question of any potential English-language publishers. If the answer to either question is "no", chances are extremely slim that they would show any interest.

Both in the UK and the US, about 3% of all published books are translated, which is a very low percentage compared to other European countries. This low figure means that it is even more difficult to convince a publisher in these countries to publish a book that they did not choose themselves.

If your author does not have any firm proposal from a publisher, then you could very well end up earning nothing for your precious time. With a 50% share, you would become a partner, and you could end up losing even more time trying to find a publisher.

This does not sound reasonable at all to me. Instead, this is what you could propose:
a) A Z% share and a guaranteed minimum of EUR XXXX, to be paid in two installments: before you start the translation and when you have finished. Z could be less than 50% - but EUR XXXX should be sufficiently high to make up for your time even if the book is not published.

b) Propose a flat fee for translating a chapter, preparing a portfolio with synopsis and any relevant background info that could be sent to various publishers. That is a much more reasonable way for the author to start out: the publishers will be able evaluate whether the book proposal is interesting. Give a hand with the first contacts.

If the publisher decides to publish the book, they will buy the rights from the author - and choosing the translator will be up to them. This is something that publishers are very likely to insist on; they have their trusted translator, and an author trying to impose who the translator should be is not at all common practice. If you do a great job, they may very well take you - but they will want to keep that decision for themselves. The author simply cannot guarantee anything to you. (That applies to the print run and the price of the book: these are determined by the publisher alone.)

Version a) is closer to the author's original request but b) sounds much more reasonable to me. Give him a choice.



Barbara Carrara  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:44
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Biblit Feb 20, 2012

Hi Kimberly!

I agree with all previous comments.
If you don't know it yet, have a look at the biblit website ( and the "Inchiesta tariffe" page.
Good luck!


Local time: 20:44
65% May 31, 2012

I would like my book action-translated from Russian into English for the Americans. The book has been published in America, but in Russian. I offer a translation of my book 65% of the royalty in America. Should I agree?


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Payment for literary translation in Italy

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