Translation Cost
Thread poster: German Ardila

German Ardila
United States
Local time: 03:32
English to Spanish
+ ...
Mar 13, 2017

Hello, can anybody tell me what could be the cost of translating a book (biographical) with 75,000 to 80,000 from English to Spanish. Your prompt response is greatly appreciate it. Thank you!


Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
French to English
How long is a piece of string? Mar 14, 2017

The English expression "how long is a piece of string" is used when it is impossible to provide an answer about how long something is, how long it will take, etc. You have 12 years' experience as a translator, so you already know that it is difficult to give a quote, or even a useful estimate, without seeing the text to be translated. That is true here.

Many things will determine the cost. Those things will include type of text, specialist knowledge, layout requirements, etc.
You say this is a biography. It still may require specialist knowledge of the fields covered in the person's life. it will certainly require the ability to respect the register of the original. It is likely that the style is familiar, but that is not always the case.

So, how much would the 75,000 to 80,000 word biography cost to translate? I don't know. Publishing houses generally pay low rates, around half the usual standard bottom rate for the language pair in the country where the work is to be done. it is a fact. You can sometimes get more. Volume is guaranteed, so the client is in a relatively strong position. However, what you can do is negotiate payment terms. I have translated three books, technical ones, not literary. I have always managed to get 30% upfront and the balance either at the end, or in monthly instalments as the work was supplied in batches.

[Edited at 2017-03-14 08:34 GMT]


Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:32
English to Spanish
+ ...
For Germán Mar 14, 2017

One of my personal dreams is to translate a chunky book. Alas, one has to have contacts in the publishing industry. Believe me, I've tried.

Some questions for you:

1) Is this your own book? Or are you seeking advice or quotes for a potential client?
2) Are you collecting information to prepare a quote for your potential client? Refer to (a) below.
3) Are you trying to find the cheapest rate? Refer to (c) below.

Some answers:

a) Find relevant publishing industry contacts
b) Contact PEN, the organization that includes writers and literary translators
c) Whether this is for a book you wrote or a potential client's book, consider self publishing (Amazon, and other providers offer useful advice on self publishing a book).

Good luck.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:32
Member (2007)
+ ...
For me, the deadline is important Mar 14, 2017

German Ardila wrote:
can anybody tell me what could be the cost of translating a book (biographical) with 75,000 to 80,000 from English to Spanish.

As others have said, it depends on so many things. If I were to translate it - which of course I couldn't - then one important factor would be the length of time I'd have to do it. If I'm to work on this book for a good chunk of every day, then it's going to be my major source of income for a while. So there's no way I could accept less than my normal rate per hour. In other words, this would attract my normal per-word rate. However, if I can use this job to fill time that wouldn't normally have brought in any income, then I can afford to reduce my rate somewhat. But the client would have to accept that they wouldn't see their translation for quite some while.

One thing I would not do would be to offer a discounted rate on the basis of volume. This sort of text doesn't lend itself to savings through CAT use nor particularly through familiarity with the subject matter, so there are no grounds for a reduction. In fact, maintaining consistency - of terminology, style, punctuation, layout, etc. - takes time, so there's even a case for increasing the per-word rate. If the deadline is tight then there's also the risk of losing regular clients through unavailability - another good reason not to lower your rate; maybe even to raise it.

I've heard a lot of people say that authors - and their publishers - can't afford to pay decent rates, so everyone works for low rates. All I can say is that the authors whose books I've copy-edited or proofread, all self-publishers, have been prepared to pay a "normal" rate. Putting myself in their shoes, it has always seemed a staggeringly high amount of money to pay - into four euro figures, just for proofreading - but they've been happy. And of course there have been a few who have disappeared without trace after getting the quote.


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Local time: 09:32
Member (2016)
English to German
Self-publishing? Mar 14, 2017

Mario Chavez wrote:
3) Are you trying to find the cheapest rate? Refer to (c) below.

c) Whether this is for a book you wrote or a potential client's book, consider self publishing (Amazon, and other providers offer useful advice on self publishing a book).

Mario, just curious, but how does self-publishing help with finding the cheapest rate for translation? If you self-publish, you still have to pay the translator, or not?


Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:32
French to English
Profitability and variability Mar 14, 2017

Sheila makes the highly valid point of making sure you make money from what you are doing. I don't down my rates for high volume. 1 X 10,000 words = 2 X 5,000 words. Why accept half with one what you would expect to get from two paying full rate?

The fact remains that the publishing industry has been patting itself on the back for years paying low rates to translators. They never know how well a book is going to sell etc. That's their business, not the translator's. So, you can try to quote your usual rate. For that type of volume, you should get money upfront and payment in instalments, whatever the rate you charge.

I've translated an encyclopedia on yachting. I managed to get a reasonable rate. It required specialist knowledge. Another time, I translated a small book on stock market trends, at a time when I had specific and fresh knowledge on the subject (which is no longer the case). I have also translated books for in-house corporate publications being sent to clients free of charge. All that has been related to sailing and yacht racing. There have also been manuals on racing techniques and meteorology. For these types of jobs, I have specific experience and can quote a normal rate. The work came to me through word of mouth or because I already worked for the client and the client was able to insist I did the job.

I know a couple of people who have worked with publishing houses on and off and they have always had rotten rates for it. Publishers also sometimes have in-house translators. When they outsource the work, it is because skill and time is not available in-house. it is very hard to break into publishing as a translator. When a well-known author is involved, they tend to track down a well-known translator/writer. And some actually do it for free for fun!!! When you are fighting against thoses sorts of odds, you do need a very lucky break.

Something that has not been mentionned yet, is royalties. You can, depending on the country, negotiate a percentage of sales. A good translation will bring in sales, which is the idea after all. It is sometimes useful to consider that aspect too.

Back to add one last point. When publisher A sells the rights for a book to be published in country B, the translation rights are sold at that same time. As a rule, it is company B you need to be contacting, not the publisher of the original work.

[Edited at 2017-03-14 18:11 GMT]


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