Get paid by royalties, words or page?
Thread poster: noeliabg

noeliabg
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:41
English to Spanish
Aug 23, 2012

Hi,

I received an offer to translate a book into Spanish and they're offering to pay me in royalties. I've never translated a book before, so I don't really know how this field works. Do translators get paid by page/word plus royalties? How much should I charge?

Thank you very much!

NBG

[Edited at 2012-08-23 19:41 GMT]


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:41
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I asked for a fixed price Aug 23, 2012

I translated a book a few months ago. I was given a week to look at it and then I quoted a price; I decided to charge per page. Once the book is published I will be given five copies and my name will figure as the translator.

I would never agree to getting paid by royalties as you don't know how the book is going to sell. Imagine spending hours translating the book, having to refuse other work and then not getting anything from the sales. Unless of course, the book is another 'Harry Potter'icon_wink.gif


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Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:41
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends Aug 23, 2012

It really depends, all those options are valid, some people charge by page, others by word and others charge royalties.

The thing with royalties is you are completely dependent on the sales of the book so if the book sells poorly you won't get paid much, on the contrary if the book sells well you can make a fair bit of money.

First of all treat this as a normal assignment and determine what you would charge for the text, this amount is what you would have been paid to do your job normally, if you are going to run the "risk" of getting paid less than this (if the book doesn't sell) I believe you are entitled to expect quite a bit more than that (what's the point of running the risk if the reward isn't proportional).

Now how much you believe that risk is worth is up to you, but normally I believe there is no point in running that risk (think of all the time dedicated to the book that could have been dedicated to other jobs) unless you can make 3 or 4 times that amount, this is my personal decision, I don't know what other people do, but I consider that a fair "return" on the "risk".

So now that I know how much I want to make (3 or 4 times my normal rate) from this job I need to look at the chances of that happening, what royalties am I getting? how many books have to be sold?

Now that I know how many books need to be sold I can look at the sales of similar books and determine the chances of the book selling the required amount. Obviously this will depend a lot on the quality of the book, and this is the really tricky part, when working for royalties I recommend you don't translate books if you don't read a lot of similar books as this is the only way you can have an idea (not a guarantee) of the book being any good.

Once I know all this I can make my decision.

This is all very summarized and does require some work on your part but it can give you an idea were to start.


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Alexandra Schneeuhr  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 02:41
Member (2012)
English to Russian
+ ...
A translation agency or a publisher? Aug 23, 2012

Hello,
I was just wondering whether it was a publisher (direct customer) or a translation agency that contacted you? I was approached recently by an agency and they offered me a regular per-word rate for translating a series of biography books... dealing and agreeing on terms with the publisher could be totally different, I guess.

[Edited at 2012-08-23 20:38 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 07:41
Chinese to English
Authors get about 15% of sales Aug 24, 2012

So as the translator, the most you can ask for would be a fraction of that. Probably they're thinking just a few percent. If that's the case, how many books would they have to sell to get you a decent payday?

100,000 word book X 0.10 per word = 10,000 - acceptable payment?

Book retails for 7, you get 0.20 (for example); 10,000/0.20 = 50,000.

That's a pretty successful book. Most books don't sell that many. Plus, remember that your payment would be long delayed.

My numbers might be completely wrong, but it sounds like a bad deal to me.


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nordiste  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:41
English to French
+ ...
Fixed price for the translation + royalties as a bonus Aug 24, 2012

A typical contract with a publisher should be:
a fixed price for the translation (per word/per standardized page depending on the usual way in the publisher's country)
+ royalties on the sales (5%, 10% ?)
+ royalties for all other usages of your translation like DVD / TV play/ video games

Your name should always be credited as the translator of the book.
If there is a literary translators association in your country, ask them for clarification regarding normal rates and usage in the field.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:41
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Fixed sum plus royalties Aug 24, 2012

nordiste wrote:
A typical contract with a publisher should be:
a fixed price for the translation (per word/per standardized page depending on the usual way in the publisher's country)
+ royalties on the sales (5%, 10% ?)
+ royalties for all other usages of your translation like DVD / TV play/ video games


I'm surprised that there is so little information about this on the web. I agree that the translator should receive a fixed price and royalties. I believe that that is what the author would get, if his book was commissioned by the publisher -- he would get an advance on his royalties, and when his royalties exceed his advance, he'd get royalties. AFAIK, if the book doesn't sell well, and the actual royalties end up being less than the advance, the author is not required to pay back his advance.

So it would make sense that the translator is paid royalties, of which a fixed sum is paid in advance (i.e. before the books sell), and if the book doesn't sell well, the fixed sum that was paid in advance doesn't have ot be paid back.

I'm surprised at the figures 5, 10 and 15% mentioned by others here -- I was under the impression that authors get about 2%...


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:41
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
Same here Aug 24, 2012

Samuel Murray wrote:

I'm surprised at the figures 5, 10 and 15% mentioned by others here -- I was under the impression that authors get about 2%...



But it's a legal question only recently being tackled. The problem stems from the question as to whether or not a country's law recognizes translations as intellectual property. Thanks to the efforts of instutitions like UNESCO, some countries already do. Translators are credited in books, to begin with, and depending on their contract, may or may not receive royalties. An unpublished translation may be registered for proper copyright, for example, if the translator suspects it is in danger of being used without his/her consent. The 2% I've heard of in these parts is over and above a flat rate for the translation per se.

That's books. But whether or not a specific translation is used in adaptation to stage, video games, etc., is another question to be sorted out separately. Different media have their own restrictions and may use different translators/adapters.


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oxygen4u
Portugal
Local time: 00:41
English to Portuguese
+ ...
In Portugal Aug 24, 2012

In Portugal translators get no royalties and we are paid per page (1800 characters). I don't expect things to be very different in Spain...

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nordiste  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:41
English to French
+ ...
European Council of Literary Translators' Association Aug 24, 2012

http://www.ceatl.eu/translators-rights/legal-status

All you need to know about literary translation in Europe: rights, good practice ... and the current situation


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Usch Pilz
Local time: 01:41
English to German
+ ...
What if the book does not sell at all? Aug 24, 2012

If you have been working for royalties only, and the book does not sell, you have been working for free - or worse: You have subsidized the book project with your own money because you have been eating, drinking and paying the bills during the time of translation.
So working for royalties only is definitely HIGH RISK.
I usually get a fixed rate, sometimes plus royalties, sometimes without.
I work from American, British or African English into German, and I love it.
However, it is very important to do the maths carefully before accepting a project. Calculate the time you will probably need for the translation, add extra time for changes and last minute requests as well as proof-reading (you always do that yourself first before you hand the text in to be read again by an editor) and know how much money you have to earn during that time to be able to live on the proceeds.
All the best!
Usch


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:41
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Per page/word Aug 24, 2012

nordiste wrote:

A typical contract with a publisher should be:
a fixed price for the translation (per word/per standardized page depending on the usual way in the publisher's country)
+ royalties on the sales (5%, 10% ?)
+ royalties for all other usages of your translation like DVD / TV play/ video games

Your name should always be credited as the translator of the book.
If there is a literary translators association in your country, ask them for clarification regarding normal rates and usage in the field.


I agree with nordiste. Especially that the translator's name must be included in the book/on the cover.

Unless the book you are about to translate becomes a guaranteed bestseller (which nobody can), you need to be paid for the work you do within a reasoinable timeframe.
Royalties can take a long time to accumulate, and there's a chance that you might have been working for nothing or for pennies in case it doesn't sell at all or very few copies.


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