Book translation: is it necessary to sign a contract?
Thread poster: tradumarian

Local time: 06:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jul 8, 2009

Hello. Thank you very much for your support. I am new in this. This is the first time I am in a forum. You have been of great help to me because I didn´t know whom to ask for a piece of advice. It is only a couple of days that I thought about the fact that my client is going to sell hundreds or thousands copies of my translation and that I should have the right to receive a retribution on the copies sold. I am a translator from Argentina. My client is from the United States. What I find somewhat strange is that though I asked her information about her, asked for a percentage in advance, asked her whether it was possible for her to phone me and required her to talk about payment conditions twice, she did not send data about her and did not answer to my requirement of talking about payment either. She seems reluctant to talk about payment terms. My fear was that she would not give me the job, so I sent my cv to her all the same and began working on the translation. I found information about her in the web and found that she published the book I am translating last year. It seems that she is the president of her own company, a publishing house, and that part or everything ( I am not sure) got from the books sold is to be donated to help single mothers. And it seems that she seeks marketing and media networks to make her voice bigger. That must be related to sponsors. The trademarks I told you about are “big names”. Think of products for babies and you´ll know which trademarks I refer to. She did not send me the whole book. She sent me it by chapters. I have already finished the chapters. I have to translate one more page and then improve and revise the whole translation. I began working at the end of March. I was asked to translate the book into two Spanish versions, one to be sold in the United States (for Latin American readers) and one to be sold in Argentina. First she wanted a version that could be sold in all Latin America, but I told her that it was not possible due to cultural differences, different uses of language, and many other factors. In fact, I had to omit many things she mentions that do not apply to my country and would be nonsense. For instance, she mentions the name of a big and prestigious store known throughout the US, but that is not in my country. And I was the one who told her I was not going to mention the trademarks in the Argentinian version because I supposed I would need a permission. (Anyway, it would be free publicity for them). Now I prefer waiting to have the translation ready to ask her to talk about payment. I was thinking I could ask her an amount of money that includes a percentage more on the copies she is going to make of my translation, taking into account the fact that I am making publicity of the trademarks she mentions as well.
Do you think it is necessary to sign a contract and ask for legal assistance? I was thinking that I could set my conditions and see if she agrees and pays me what I asks her. I would ask for legal assistance in case she did not send the money to me. But I am not going to send her the translation until she doesn´t send the money.
Do you think a money order is a safe transaction?

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2009-07-08 09:47 GMT]


Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:18
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Yes, it is Jul 8, 2009

Dear tradumarian,

Yes, it is necessary to sign a contract. It is perfectly common practice, it reduces the possibility of later disagreements on the terms, it gives you a piece of mind, etc.

The importance of the latter should not be underestimated. From what you have written, I gather that you already feel the insecurity of the situation. The decision that you took – not to send the translation before being paid – is in the good direction. However, it is not enough: the precise terms should be negotiated before investing too much energy into this work – simply, because if you won't be able to agree on the terms, your work will be lost. And you may be tempted to give concessions – lower price, long payment terms, etc. – because you are in a particular position: you have something to sell that can be sold only to one person, and that person is not under sufficient pressure to buy it from you: she can, if she likes, decide to say: "OK, that price is high; I will need to look around if I can find a better offer". As you don't have a written contract, you won't be able to achieve anything in front of a court.

So, if I were you, I would immediately stop translating, and I would phone the client (using some low-cost solutions, eg skype, which works toward landline numbers at a very reasonable rate). I would require to have everything in writing – and I would definitely not mention that I have already translated most of the material, as that would just indicate that your negotiating position is rather weak.

Don't get me wrong: it is perfectly possible that your client is perfectly fine, just she is very bad at administrative things, and does not realize its possible implications. If this is the only book published by her company, she may not be aware of the standard practices of the publishing industry. So, when you talk to her, give her the benefit of doubt, but clearly express that the situation should be clearly that of two equal business partners. Cite some standard resources, such as the Pen model contract. If the client is reluctant to proceed along those lines, it's a strong indication of possible future problems.

You will have sufficient time to finish and polish the translation later; the most important thing now is to ensure that if you finish your part, your dream of having your translation published comes true. I understand that focusing on the contract is a dull and stressful thing compared to the translation – but, as you have certainly realized, it has to be done sooner or later anyway, and if you wait for your client to initiate it, you may have some sleepless nights. Read through the forums (under Money matters, for example), and keep in mind that even though your project is special, the client-translator relationship should be just as favorable for you as with any other projects, say, for an agency. Search in the forums, and get informed how colleagues go about it.

Best of luck,


Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:18
English to Turkish
+ ...
Contract is a must in any business relation Jul 9, 2009

You have a contract with your landlord, if you're renting, or with your bank, if you're on mortgage. You have a contract with your phone company. With the companies that you buy water, electricity, gas... from... Right? Why would you even consider giving your labor away without stipulating conditions thereof beforehand? Of course you must make a contract and must not even think about starting to work on a book translation (or anything else) without it!

On your other thread, in Money Matters, you said that you were also the author of the book. Now you say she has already published it! If you are the author, how come could she have published it without your authorization? Am I missing something here?


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:18
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Dear Özden Jul 10, 2009

I think in the Money matters thread tradumarian's post said "I am the author of the translation", and it can be easily misunderstood. Your answer struck me then that you thought she was the author of the book.
Nevertheless, your and Attila's advice is great help for somebody who is in serious need of it.


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Book translation: is it necessary to sign a contract?

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