Literary vs. commercial pay rate
Thread poster: Henry Hinds

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:23
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jun 17, 2008

"The translator will be credited in the book and should expect a literary rather than commercial pay rate."

Seen recently in a job posting. Just what would this mean in terms of cash?

All opinions are welcome...


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 01:23
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I was just pondering the same posting. Jun 18, 2008

I was intrigued at first (though I can't quote), because the book deals with a subject which I studied for many years, but the same phrase you mention brought me up short.
I happen to be spending my evening alternating among a novel and another book (on educational reform) which I'm translating, and strange to say...I'm being paid the same highly enjoyable amount per word for both. Unusual? Nope, not really.
I find it interesting though that the price for the text will be decided based on "literary" rates, given it is not fiction as far as I can tell. Maybe the next time I'm offered a legal doc I should quote based on the rate for biotech translations?

On the other hand...the translator is guaranteed "quite a racy read". That should make up for the rate, right? One of the perks of the job.


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Jack Qin  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:23
English to Chinese
+ ...
My understanding Jun 18, 2008

The job poster would like to put the translator's name on the book to be published. In this way, the rates will be lower than usual.

If the field to be translated is my taste, I can accept the offer.

Jack


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The Misha
Local time: 01:23
Russian to English
+ ...
They want to pay less, of course Jun 18, 2008

Otherwise, why would they bother making a distinction? Supposedly, the book credit is an extra benefit that would make up for smaller pay. Go tell that to your landlord or your grocer ...

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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:23
English to Dutch
+ ...
Your name on the cover Jun 18, 2008

If this is a literary translation, the translator's name will be mentioned anyway. If it is not literary, but it IS a book, then your name SHOULD be mentioned (even if it isn't always, as I know of personal experience). So that is all beside the point.
Point is, you can (only) accept lower per word or per hour rates, if you get a share in the profit from sales. This is of course a gamble, but it's up to you to decide if, and how much, you want to gamble. If you believe the book to become a high profile multi-seller, you might actually wave all payment per word or per hour, in exchange for a (high) percentage.
But lower rates, just because your name will be mentioned? As if vanity is a payable reward (or even resource)... Like Misha said: I can picture my landlord or greengrocer, when I tell him, look, see this book, I'm famous, I'm sure you'll give me a discount for the sheer joy of selling tomatoes to a celeb!


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Ammerins Moss
Netherlands
Local time: 07:23
Member (2008)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Literary vs commercial Jun 18, 2008

Literary rates are lower, but you should then be able to get royalties from every book sold. Here in the NL, eg. the literary rate is 5,7-6 ec p word (don't fall off your chair), but you can get subsidies for the translation and you get 1% of book sales...
Commercial rates, well, it depends on what a company is willing to pay...


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Raffaella Cornacchini  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:23
English to Italian
+ ...
still less optimistic... Jun 18, 2008

"we won't pay you at all, but you will get a royalty from the sales of the book"
which means:
1) you will have to wait until the book is in the bookstores (4-6 months at least),
2) you won't see a penny because they will tell you that the book is not selling well
3) if the book is selling you will get yearly reports (and payments), meaning your royalties will be paid 18 months after delivery at the very best
but...
your name will appear in the work.
raffaella


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:23
English to Portuguese
+ ...
A different setting Jun 18, 2008

There is a huge difference in the whole setup around book translation.

Let's see some of the other possiblities. News must be translated ASAP, before they go stale. A legal document has its deadline, of course. Technical documentation must be ready to be shipped together with the equipment to be exported. And so on.

A book, after it has been translated, will at least go through DTP, cover design etc. and still - if it's not POD nor an e-book - photolith, printing, binding, distribution, and so on. So the timeline is certainly much longer, and there's a lot to happen after the translation is finished.

So the opposite of the rush rate applies, and lower rates can be expected. A translator may perfectly intersperse working on it with more profitable, more urgent jobs.

It has nothing to do with the individual's self-esteem flying high from having seen their name on the cover.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 07:23
English to Hungarian
+ ...
my feeling Jun 18, 2008

... is that people quite simply like translating interesting and quality texts for a change, and they will happily do that even if the pay is preposterous. It's nice to translate coherent sentences written by someone who knows how to write, as opposed to product manuals and sales contracts...
Publishers know that so they pay less. A lot of the time they don't make much money themselves so paying 2000+ euros for translation is out of the question anyway.

I personally know a few people who translate books they find interesting or important for outlandish fees like 2 euro cents per word. I would if the right job came along. Why not? It's just money, I'll earn more.


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James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:23
Russian to English
+ ...
Can be rewarding in other ways Jun 18, 2008

I'm currently translating a book at a fairly low rate and enjoying the hell out of it. Not only can the author write coherently, but if I have a problem, or I think something is ambiguous or wrong or not appropriate for a U.S. readership, I query the author directly and we hash it out. Plus, the subject is fascinating. This author, at least, is always ready to help me out and is willing to take a good suggestion.

When a better paying assignment comes along, I take it. If there are no other assignments, well at least I'm working.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:23
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Degrading Jun 18, 2008

My own opinion is that when any sector of our profession is so blatantly degraded, we are all degraded. I think it is degrading to the utmost that a "literary translator" should be offered less (that IS the idea, after all) for his or her work than others just because the text might be "racy reading" or they might have their vanity massaged by the great honor of having their NAME published in the book!

But how many thousands is that going to cost you? And is anyone else going to care?

Sure, I recognize that many a literary translation has been a "labor of love", often with little or no monetary compensation. In some cases academics can also use it as a means to publish, not perish, which does have a material reward.

But I strongly believe that any effort to degrade our profession in such a manner should not be tolerated by any of us.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 07:23
English to Hungarian
+ ...
my perspective Jun 18, 2008

I thinks it's just a basic law of supply and demand which I have no problem with.
If people are willing to work cheap, then let them do so. I see no point in getting worked up about that. But then I'm a free market kind of guy.
With literary translation, quality does not necessarily suffer.

Also, books will fetch a lower price because of basic factors like:
- It's a long job, you can (hopefully) play with time and fit in other jobs as they come, while never being without work.
- You may not need to do much terminology research (think fiction) , and even if you do, you'll only have do it once for the whole thing. It's unlikely that you'll spend significant energy on terminology once you're halfway through.
- Non-translation work like dealing with the client, checking out the job etc. are also done just once.
- The security of having work for a few weeks/months is worth a discount for some.

Frankly, I'd find it absurd if a book of fiction or, say, a biography was paid with the same word rate as a 5-page technical/legal text the client needs for tomorrow.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:23
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Add #4 Jun 18, 2008

Raffaella Cornacchini wrote:

"we won't pay you at all, but you will get a royalty from the sales of the book"
which means:
1) you will have to wait until the book is in the bookstores (4-6 months at least),
2) you won't see a penny because they will tell you that the book is not selling well
3) if the book is selling you will get yearly reports (and payments), meaning your royalties will be paid 18 months after delivery at the very best
but...
your name will appear in the work.
raffaella


My experience exactly (as a co-author, not a translator)!

Add 4) the publisher only pays when the royalties exceed $100.00.
Basically this means that after the first few years, you may get nothing if the royalties are low to begin with and sales are slowing down.


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