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Translating a novel: price range?
Thread poster: Fannie Poirier
Fannie Poirier  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:08
English to French
Nov 12, 2016

I usually ask for .10$/word for regular contracts, but am now presented with an opportunity to translate a 117 000 word biography. 11 700$ seems sort of overwhelming to ask... How much should I charge my client when signing the contract? What kind of price would be reasonable for this type of work? Has anyone ever charged deals for big contracts like this?
Thanks!

[Edited at 2016-11-12 17:19 GMT]


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Lucie Podhorná  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 00:08
Member (2016)
Swedish to Czech
+ ...
Usually much less than translations for common clients Nov 12, 2016

Hi, when you translate a book into Czech, you need to count with much less money than when translating "normal" texts. I recently translated a crime fiction novel from Swedish to Czech for which I got about 1/3 of my usual rate. And it was still a pretty high rate when it comes to rates for translating literature.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:08
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
That's an easy one Nov 12, 2016

Fannie Poirier wrote:
I usually ask for .10$/word for regular contracts, but am now presented with an opportunity to translate a 117 000 word biography. 11 700$ seems sort of overwhelming to ask... How much should I charge my client when signing the contract? What kind of price would be reasonable for this type of work? Has anyone ever charged deals for big contracts like this?

How much would make enough income for you to make it worthwhile? I presume you're a professional, rather than an amateur translator? So, if you work for half your rate, can you still earn a decent income? Probably not.

A lot depends on deadline. If you're going to be working many hours a day on this, how about all the $0.10 jobs you'll have to turn down? How about your regular clients being turned away? But if the deadline allows you to fit the work into "dead" times, the sums will be different.

You don't charge less just because there's more. That makes zero economic sense. Nor do you charge less because it "seems sort of overwhelming". You only charge less if it makes business sense TO YOU to do so.


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 00:08
Member (2016)
English to German
Depends on your speed Nov 12, 2016

In my personal experience, translating fiction is faster than translating business content, therefore I do offer somewhat lower rates. Do you have your own experience with translating fiction (or let's call it "prose", since a biography is not exactly fiction)? It boils down to the hourly rate you are aiming at. But apart from that, as Sheila said, there is no particular reason to cut back your rate just because the amount is so big. You need a sustainable income for your work, as we all do. And on top of that you have to be extra careful with the commitment and the risk that is involved in such a project that will keep you busy for months. Make sure that you receive regular and timely payment in installments.

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xxxToon Theuwis  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 00:08
English to Dutch
+ ...
huh? Nov 12, 2016

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

In my personal experience, translating fiction is faster than translating business content,


Come again...


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 00:08
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Toon.... Nov 13, 2016

Toon Theuwis wrote:

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

In my personal experience, translating fiction is faster than translating business content,


Come again...


I see your "huh"? and raise you a hundred more.....


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Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
Don't cheat yourself Nov 13, 2016

I don't think 10 cents per word is unreasonable for translating a full-length book. It is actually on the low side when you take into account the amount of time involved and the need for highly polished, sophisticated language. When translating my first novel, it took me about a year to complete the work. I was so busy with the project that I did not have time for other jobs. It was a learning experience, to be sure...and although the per-word rate was acceptable, the total payment was nowhere near as much as I would have earned during a year of "regular" work.

I am stunned that someone could think that translating fiction is easier than business content. For most of us, it is not. But I guess a lot also depends on how straightforward the writing is. Some novels are highly symbolic or contain imagery that is very difficult to convey in another language. You are basically "writing" a novel, much as the author did in his own language.

Publishers and other business entities have budgets for such projects and know the costs.

And private individuals often have motivations for translating books that you may be unaware of. Some are wealthy or have funding from another source. Some are willing to pay in installments.

If your client is an author trying to find an agent or publisher, they might only need the first two chapters translated before seeking representation.

You should try translating a chapter or two of the book to determine your speed. This will help you decide if this is an "easy" project or a more difficult one requiring research or consultation with the author or other experts. It is crucial to know how much time you will devote to the book each day and whether you will need to put other work on hold.

Do not worry about being rejected for your rate. State your rate, and see what the client says. They may or may not balk. But you need to have a firm idea about the time involved before you start negotiating and possibly hurting your interests in the process.

Finally, biographies are not novels. But the principles regarding rates and negotiation remain the same.

[Edited at 2016-11-13 07:51 GMT]


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:08
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Book translations Nov 13, 2016

To my knowledge, book translations are rarely - if ever - paid per word. Usually you charge per page, per chapter, or even a flat rate for the entire translation.

You need to calculate the time you will need to complete the translation, whether you need/want to fit in work from your regular clients, and then figure out how much income you need/usually have per months or per week, depending on how long it will take you do complete the translation (including possible revision requests). The resulting amount defines your hourly or flat rate.

And yes, it is highly unlikely that someone will pay you $ 0.10 per word.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:08
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
$0.10/word Nov 13, 2016

I translated a novel earlier this year, 114,000 words, and I was paid (on time, no problems) at a rate of $0.10 per word.

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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 23:08
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Book translations Nov 13, 2016

I was always paid a flat rate for the entire translation after lengthy contract negotiations involving a very comfortable deadline so that I wouldn’t risk losing other clients…

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:08
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Funding is certainly sometimes available Nov 13, 2016

I did a proofreading/light editing job for a private individual last year, prior to self-publication. Not translation, not even bilingual revision, just polishing the English target text of a novel written in German. There was no haggling when I quoted a four-figure euro total.

Quoting per word may seem a little odd to the client if they have some knowledge. But a total for the job can be calculated from that basis. It's being paid adequately for your time that's essential to you; and the total cost is what matters to the client.


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 00:08
Member (2016)
English to German
Regarding the speed Nov 13, 2016

I can only speak for myself, and the kind of fiction I translate is certainly not the sort of literature you'll read about in the feuilletons; I'm translating mostly fantasy novels. But for me this sort of work is indeed faster than translating for example a technical manual, a website or even a computer game with lots of fantasy content.

There are two reasons for this: first, I found that using dictation software works particularly well with fiction translations, and therefore I am no longer limited by my typing speed and cramped fingers. I'm using Dragon and I've not yet figured out how to make use of it with online CAT tools, but for a fiction translation I simply open two Word windows side by side, and then I read on the left and dictate on the right.

Second, when I really get into it, I experience a different state of mind, a kind of "flow" where I'm completely immersed in the subject at hand and can write away for hours. This does only rarely happen when I translate business texts, but often with novels, and makes for a big difference in productivity. To be honest, I never measured this difference and it might be not so big as I think. The fact that I like and enjoy this work so much is also to be considered, it often simply does not feel like work to me. Maybe I deceive myself here, but I still think it's a substantial difference.


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Bernhard Sulzer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:08
English to German
+ ...
You need to work for an adequate price Nov 13, 2016

Kay-Viktor
Stegemann wrote:
I can only speak for myself, and the kind of fiction I translate is certainly not the sort of literature you'll read about in the feuilletons; I'm translating mostly fantasy novels. But for me this sort of work is indeed faster than translating for example a technical manual, a website or even a computer game with lots of fantasy content.

There are two reasons for this: first, I found that using dictation software works particularly well with fiction translations, and therefore I am no longer limited by my typing speed and cramped fingers. I'm using Dragon and I've not yet figured out how to make use of it with online CAT tools, but for a fiction translation I simply open two Word windows side by side, and then I read on the left and dictate on the right.

Second, when I really get into it, I experience a different state of mind, a kind of "flow" where I'm completely immersed in the subject at hand and can write away for hours. This does only rarely happen when I translate business texts, but often with novels, and makes for a big difference in productivity. To be honest, I never measured this difference and it might be not so big as I think. The fact that I like and enjoy this work so much is also to be considered, it often simply does not feel like work to me. Maybe I deceive myself here, but I still think it's a substantial difference.


Especially:
Kay-Viktor
Stegemann wrote:
The fact that I like and enjoy this work so much is also to be considered, it often simply does not feel like work to me. Maybe I deceive myself here, but I still think it's a substantial difference.


So what are you saying here? That you'll give away your knowledge for free because you enjoy your work?! It's work, right, you are pursuing it as a career, right? No?


How you come to produce your text is your business. If a technical tool helps you speed up your work, that doesn't mean you become cheaper and give your work away for cheap or free. I am not going into discussing the reasons for that. It's pretty logical if you run a professional business.

But one main point is that what you are selling is your valuable knowledge, not how fast and cheap you can apply it.
Many on job portals like this one don't understand that or don't want to understand it because they rather work for a pittance and let themselves be exploited than look at translating/language services as a professional career.

And regarding the poster's question, why would you be afraid of charging an adequate rate for a large text?! There are many specific challenges with regards to large texts. And it doesn't become "wash, rinse, repeat." Don't kid yourself. Unless you are an amateur, you know about that.

Sheila asked:
I presume you're a professional, rather than an amateur translator?
That indeed is the big question.


[Edited at 2016-11-13 19:53 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:08
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Book translation is never a good field for you to make money Nov 13, 2016

The publisher takes a lot of risk in publishing a translated book, and the net profit from its sales could turn out to be less than what you have charged for its translation. That is why most publishers are not willing to accept higher rates.

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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:08
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
The famous... Nov 13, 2016

Jack Doughty wrote:

I translated a novel earlier this year, 114,000 words, and I was paid (on time, no problems) at a rate of $0.10 per word.


... exception confirming the rule.


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