Before You Sign | Negotiating Payment for Translators

20 January 2020 Before

Never feel uncomfortable about asking to be paid fairly! Fair remuneration for the use and exploitation of your work is at the heart of our CREATOR campaign. As the translator you are entitled to share with the author and publisher in the success of your work. 

Remuneration is a matter for negotiation between you and the publisher. In our experience translators and publishers currently negotiate fees starting in the region of £95 per thousand words. The word count can apply to either the source or target language; just ensure you and the publisher agree. 

Publishers sometimes assume £95 is a recommended rate. It’s not. Competition law does not allow us to recommend a rate. Neither is it a standard rate nor a maximum rate. It is based on our extensive observations of contracts from the 700+ members of the SoA’s Translators Association and provides a professional and flexible framework for negotiations between translator and publisher.   

The fee may be considerably higher than £95 depending on various factors which you and the publisher will want to consider. How long will it take you to complete the translation? Does the publisher need the translation by a very tight deadline? Is there grant funding available to support the costs of your translation? Are there specific difficulties with the text? Will you need to do extra research? Don’t forget to check when and how the fee will be paid. This can make a big difference to your cash flow and make you vulnerable to any delays with the project.  

Get as much information as possible from the publisher about their plans for your translation. What is the print run? Which sales do they expect to generate the most royalties? Books are routinely discounted by at least 50% so pushing for 52.5% rather than 50% as the cut-off for high discount royalties will help you earn out your advance more quickly. Any plans for a US edition? Your contract should include provision for you to benefit from income from the sale of your translation. 


It’s all about context 

Context is all important when it comes to contracts. Our Translator-Publisher model contract (free for members, click to access on our Guides page) gives you a guide to the basic terms we expect to see in a contract as well as a commentary to help you understand the implications for your work. It’s important to look at all the terms in your contract, not just specific points in isolation.  

Remember that fair remuneration is not just about the agreed sum you are paid for the translation. Is it a flat fee? You may be getting a very good fee but nothing in royalties or subsidiary rights. Will you get a royalty on sales? If so, is the fee an advance against royalties or a fee plus royalties from the first copy sold? A royalty from first copy sold may help to offset a low fee. 

We’re often asked to make a standard recommendation on royalties and again this is difficult, not just because of competition law but because it is hard to give figures out of context. As the translator, your royalty comes out of the author share, usually 80:20 in favour of the author. But this depends on the terms of head contract terms with the original publisher and author. There is often little left in the pot for the translator. We are working with publishers to encourage greater awareness and transparency on this issue.  


Your rights are an asset 

Don’t forget your rights are an asset too. The more rights you can control the more you can exploit your work. Ideally, the rights you grant in your translation should mirror those held by the publisher in the original work. Retaining dramatisation rights is another way of earning income from your work. A publisher may take film rights but is unlikely to be able to use them. 

If you translate from a less widely translated language your translation may be used as a bridge into a third language. Hold on to your Relay rights. The financial compensation is minimal – usually around £100 – but it gives you more control over the use and credit of your work. Check out our Guide to Relay Translation for more information (free for members, click to access on our Guides page).

Think creatively about how you can improve terms and boost your income. Will the publisher extend the deadline? A longer deadline gives you the flexibility to increase your income by fitting in shorter, better paid work whilst working on a project which is less well paid.   

Negotiating on what seem to be small details can cumulatively make a difference to your income. It also makes a difference to you as a translator. It’s professional and empowering to take ownership of your work as a creator. It’s good for the publisher too. If you’re treated professionally and paid, then you will be fully engaged and committed to the project’s success.  

Don’t forget that SoA members are always entitled to unlimited advice and vetting of individual contracts from the SoA Advisory team. Remember, members will need to sign in on the SoA website to access our full range of guides.