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Is it naive to take on royalty only job as a beginner?
Thread poster: Kashah
Kashah
Canada
Local time: 22:37
Jan 2, 2015

Hi y'all
I hope someone here can help me make a more informed decision!

I've recently become interested in the translating business and answered to an add on craigslist from a ebook-publishing company looking for english to german translators for their romantic fiction.
When they answered, they made it clear that it's meant only as a supplementary income, then continued to say that they only offer royalties as compensation. They gave no specifics on the percentage.
With no experience in the field and my sole assets being growing up bilingual and being accustomed to oral and some written translation through my bilingual high school experience, I didn't expect a high compensation anyway.
I'm currently on job search (unemployed, yay!) and would like to gain some experience in the field while I have the time, but from what I've read on this forum, most of you seem to have quite a negative attitude towards this kind of translation work and consider it to be working for "free"...

I like that they offer a potentially steady flow of work, and say that they hope to build up a good relationship with their translators and work with them in the future...

I have no idea how much work it is to translate a novel, so I can't really judge.
So my questions:
Is it worth the experience gained as a bloody amateur to take on a royalty only contract?

Will it be easier to find better paying jobs if I have this reference?

Am I doing the translating community an injustice by taking this on?

Is this a total rip-off since their focus is e-books?

Thanks for you help!!!


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Don't do it. Jan 2, 2015

Unless they can provide you with concrete examples of other translators who have accepted royalty-only deals and made lots of money, it sounds like they're trying to get something for nothing.

If you're good at translating and self-marketing, you should be able to charge proper market rates from the word go.


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:37
French to German
+ ...
Don't do it. Jan 2, 2015

A company which tries to make a lot of money by paying nearly nothing to the translator. Don't do it.

There are quite a few e-book publishing companies on the market which try to pay as less as possible.

I have been approached by one in 2014 as well. Their proposition: 0,02 € per source word for the translation of a book (which had already been filmed and a big success on TV!!!!!). My offer was of course much higher - something around 0,10 € per source word plus 2 % of royalties. We were in contact for a few months because they could not find any German native to accept their conditions. Finally they decided to have the books translated by a non-native-speaker in Russia who accepted that price but they had a rather poor quality for it and wanted me to proofread it for 0,03 € per source word... I refused.


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:37
French to German
+ ...
References Jan 2, 2015

References are always good but don't work for nothing to get some!

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Usch Pilz
Local time: 04:37
English to German
+ ...
No ... because ... Jan 2, 2015

You: I have no idea how much work it is to translate a novel, so I can't really judge.
Me: Depends on length, style, subject matter, required research and many other characteristics of the book in question, of course. But most novels will take you several months to complete.

You: Is it worth the experience gained as a bloody amateur to take on a royalty only contract?
Me: You'll gain some experience, sure. But you are paying for it out of your own pocket. Several months of work with no pay or low pay. Can you afford that?

You: Will it be easier to find better paying jobs if I have this reference?
Me: Hard to say - it might work in your favour, but in my experience it is hard to start out with low rates / no rates and try to increase them. It is - however - easy to be perceived as a kind of bargain basement outfit.

You: Am I doing the translating community an injustice by taking this on?
Me: Yes. That's how rates spiral lower and lower - for people who try to make a living with their solid translation work.

You: Is this a total rip-off since their focus is e-books?
Me: Quite possibly. Unless the book in question turns into a top-seller and you get a good percentage.

You (fictional): Why do you think you are competent to answer my post?
Me: Because I have translated more than 30 novels by now. Some for a flat fee, most for flat fees plus royalties. Don't underestimate the amount of work that goes into novel translation and the skills needed to do it well.

Hope this helps!
Best - Usch


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Frankie JB
France
English to French
+ ...
Royalties, ebook, translation Jan 2, 2015

Servus kiddo,

Kashah wrote:
Is it worth the experience gained as a bloody amateur to take on a royalty only contract?


You don't need to find real buyers if your goal is just to gain some translation experience: just search for texts or short stories or books you like and try and translate them on your own, taking as much time as necessary to work on them until they become polished diamonds. This way, you will enjoy the added benefits of 1) working at your own pace, with no deadline pressure, 2) won't feel exploited by tricksters making money on your back* and 3) will have samples to show to prospects, something often much more useful than references (which most translators are never requested to provide, by the way).

(*For fiction works, you need about 8 hours to translate 2,000 words)

Will it be easier to find better paying jobs if I have this reference?


NO! A reference is meant to be a proof of endorsement by credible professionals, and obviously those are neither (compensation model = ridiculous & policy of entrusting newbies with editorial translation = amateurish). A reference by some nondescript ebook publisher of third-rate novels would be close to worthless.

I like that they offer a potentially steady flow of work, and say that they hope to build up a good relationship with their translators and work with them in the future...


LOL! Steady workflow... of course... with no counterparty...!!! (except maybe some meager royalties in years from now) - that's nonsensical! Build up a good relationship? It would be a bit rich from them to mistreat suckers who are toiling to enrich them... As Phil said, "it sounds like they're trying to get something for nothing" -- in other words, it's just a softer variation of a Ponzi scheme...

Am I doing the translating community an injustice by taking this on?


Double yes Sir.


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Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:37
Serbian to English
+ ...
if you had the good sense Jan 3, 2015

to ask people who should know a thing or two about the translation business for an opinion about this "offer", you will probably also have the good sense to let it pass.

As pointed out by other colleagues, there are many other far better ways to hone your skills and make yourself known (you surely noticed that money is conspicuously absent from this equation)


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:37
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
The "royalties-only issue" Jan 3, 2015

As our colleagues have stated, if you can afford to work for no pay at all just to gain experience, you could accept the job...maybe. However, I don't think that you - or anyone else, for that matter - can afford to work for free while waiting (probably in vain) for the meager royalties to arrive some distant day.

The fact they they didn't specify the royalty percentage should raise all red flags. Someone offering royalties as compensation only and then being that unspecific about it can hardly be called a professional in whatever s/he's doing.

Furthermore, ebooks never turn into bestseller (I'd have to see one yet) and usually sell at a very low price. Having translated a pretty much unknown ebook - for free! - is not the kind of reference I'd even consider presenting to anyone due to its worthlessness.

Even if you only want to gain experience in the translation industry, I'd recommend that you take on smaller assignments and get paid for it. Above all, stay clear of those who only want to take advantage of you in order to increase their profits.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
There can only be one possible justification, IMO Jan 3, 2015

If you've read a book in your source language and you're so impressed with it that you have a burning need to translate it into your target language, then you have justification. Your reward will be one of personal gratification. If it sells well and makes you a few cents, well that will be the cherry on the cake, but if it doesn't then it doesn't matter.

I'm actually editing a book right now on that basis. A book written by a neighbour that I really enjoyed reading, despite the poor punctuation and various inconsistencies. I want to see it tidied, for me. If my neighbour becomes a successful author, we'll talk terms. But I doubt that will happen - everyone's an author these days.

You won't get feedback if nobody buys it; you probably won't even if they do. It isn't much use on your CV if you're a business or technical translator. And the vast amount of time you spend on the project could have been put to much better use. BTW the question of time needed was raised. 250 words per hour is often quoted as an average (and it works for me). You might be able to translate this book faster at times, but checking for consistency etc will probably bring the hourly rate back down.

Responding to someone else's need for a translation is what a professional translator does: for profit. Not a bit of pocket money some time in the future but enough now to maintain a certain lifestyle.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 11:37
Chinese to English
Phrases which don't go well together: Jan 3, 2015

Kashah wrote:

...the translating business...romantic fiction

One further point which no-one else has mentioned yet: the "translation business" rarely involves fiction. There are a few people who make a good living out of translating fiction, but for the most part your professional translator works on materials of a decidedly non-artistic bent. The types of documents that flow across our desks include:
Business correspondence
Contracts
Patents
Advertising materials
Medical histories
Research reports
Certificates
Policy papers
Tourist guides
...

I'm sure my colleagues will fill in more. There are many good clients out there offering this kind of work. But you don't want to come knocking on the door of Siemens (or rather the translation agency through whom they contract) saying, I'd love to translate these manuals for you, I've got lots of experience in the trashy paperback market.

If you're going to do some pro bono work to gain experience, then either find some texts in a genre which will in future turn into a real professional niche, or do some pro bono translation which might do some good, for a charity.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 11:37
Chinese to English
Phrases which don't go well together: Jan 3, 2015

Kashah wrote:

...the translating business...romantic fiction

One further point which no-one else has mentioned yet: the "translation business" rarely involves fiction. There are a few people who make a good living out of translating fiction, but for the most part your professional translator works on materials of a decidedly non-artistic bent. The types of document that flow across our desks include:
Business correspondence
Contracts
Patents
Advertising materials
Medical histories
Research reports
Certificates
Policy papers
Tourist guides
...

I'm sure my colleagues will fill in more. There are many good clients out there offering this kind of work. But you don't want to come knocking on the door of Siemens (or rather the translation agency through which they contract) saying, I'd love to translate these manuals for you, I've got lots of experience in the trashy paperback market.

If you're going to do some pro bono work to gain experience, then either find some texts in a genre which will in future turn into a real professional niche, or do some pro bono translation which might do some good, for a charity.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:37
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, it is. Jan 4, 2015

The authors or the agency, whoever they are, just want the work done for free. Translator's royalties only make sense if the author becomes very famous, or rather sells millions of books. Famous or an excellent writer with limited audience is not enough either.

Ask them for 2/3 of your pay up-front and then some royalties.


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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 04:37
French to English
+ ...
Do not look a gift horse in the mouth - it's not always a negative Jan 5, 2015

Kashah wrote:

Hi y'all
I hope someone here can help me make a more informed decision!

..........

Will it be easier to find better paying jobs if I have this reference?

Am I doing the translating community an injustice by taking this on?

Is this a total rip-off since their focus is e-books?

Thanks for you help!!!





No one has so far mentioned that there have been translators who have made a lot of money out of such an arrangement.

Better to consult a copyright lawyer about any royalty percentages and even - expensively - draw up a contract, one reason being that I know a writer of a book in EN/DE who received a one-off payment, but no royalty. The book - an encyclopedia of music - did go on to become a best-seller.

The amorphous translating 'community' - ebbing and flowing all the time - won't ask you for your blessing when intending to work pro bono.

If you do end up out of pocket, you will still have a useful asset to show for the 'rip-off' and that no one can take away from you: enhanced knowledge of fictional or factional translation technique and financial experience.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
You might as well do it Jan 5, 2015

Kashah wrote:
When they answered, they made it clear that it's meant only as a supplementary income, then continued to say that they only offer royalties as compensation.


By "supplementary income" they mean that the remuneration isn't going to be high. If they offer only royalties as compensation, then it's fairly certain that you'll never get paid for the job.

They gave no specifics on the percentage.


Then ask them.

With no experience in the field and my sole assets being growing up bilingual and being accustomed to oral and some written translation through my bilingual high school experience, I didn't expect a high compensation anyway.
...
Am I doing the translating community an injustice by taking this on?


The argument regarding undercutting your colleagues only applies to quoting unrealistically low rates on jobs that would otherwise have meant a good income for your colleagues. I don't think it applies here. You would not be acting unethically by accepting this job.

I'm currently unemployed, and would like to gain some experience in the field while I have the time...


If you have no experience working as a translator, then I think starting off with a novel will help you attain interesting insights. You can also ask friends and famliy for their opinion about your translation, as you finish each chapter.

I like that they offer a potentially steady flow of work...


All clients offer that, and it doesn't really help if the steady flow of work is a steady flow of unpaid work. If they offer only royalty-based payment now, then they're unlikely to offer paid work later.

... and say that they hope to build up a good relationship with their translators...


Oh, that's actually another way of saying that they're looking for translators who won't give them any trouble, i.e. translators who will bend to their wishes. Ignore the statement. All clients hope to get translators like that.

I have no idea how much work it is to translate a novel, so I can't really judge.


It's a lot of work, very tiresome, especially if you're new in the field. About 500-1000 words per day is what you will be able to achieve, and after the first few days it will become drudgery.

Is it worth the experience gained as an amateur to take on a royalty only contract?


Yes, absolutely. You'll gain a lot of experience.

Will it be easier to find better paying jobs if I have this reference?


Yes and no. Some clients just want "references" without asking anything about the reference. If you get such a client, you'll be able to use this translation as a valid reference. Other clients may want your references to show that you are skilled in their type of work, and for such clients, this job will not be a valid reference. If you're considering doing this job purely for the reference, then you'd be wasting your time. The reference is a tiny perk.

Is this a total rip-off since their focus is e-books?


Although e-books are often pirated or sold for very little, we can't tell whether it's a rip-off solely on the basis that it is an e-book. It depends on the company's track-record.

If I had to take a wild guess here, I'd say that this is an existing e-book publisher that likes to expand their business to other countries. Some countries make for good candidates, since people in those countries prefer to read books in their own languages, even if they speak good English. Try to find out what other e-books this publisher has published, and how successful they have been.


[Edited at 2015-01-05 13:54 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
A couple of points Jan 5, 2015

Adrian MM. wrote:
Better to consult a copyright lawyer about any royalty percentages and even - expensively - draw up a contract

Which would mean that the OP stands about a 99% chance of actually being out of pocket in real terms at the end of the day, as well as having given up hundreds of hours of free time, or time when (s)he could have been gainfully employed.

The amorphous translating 'community' - ebbing and flowing all the time - won't ask you for your blessing when intending to work pro bono.

I'm not sure quite what you meant by that. I took it to mean that you think the community won't give their blessing for the OP to do pro bono work, but I see that isn't what you wrote. I'm sure I'm not alone in giving my own time for pro bono causes and I certainly wouldn't dissuade others. But pro bono means "for the public good" and I really don't think it includes translating works of fiction. That's either remunerated or done for free (and a vague promise of future royalties amounts to free today).


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