Share The Wealth: A Radical Solution To Translation Costs

The opening of Amazon Spain on Wednesday and a planned Kindle Store for later this year, as well as widely rumored expansions into France, Italy, and India, has many writers thinking about international markets.

In my blog post on Friday, I discussed the opportunities that present themselves in Spain for self-publishers who aren’t hamstrung by territorial restrictions and whose competition will be high-priced books from local publishers, which Amazon are legally prevented from discounting by more than 5% for the first two years of publication.

Several commenters pointed out that for most writers the cost of a professional translation is prohibitive (running to several thousand dollars per book). And you really need a professional to do the job – automated software will make an unholy mess of your book, and someone without the requisite experience and qualifications can do just as badly.

I knew that Scott Nicholson had been pursuing a creative solution, and when he appeared in the comments hinting at that again, I emailed him for details, which he kindly agreed to share. In short, his idea is to pay no upfront fee to translators, instead sharing the profits with them.

It’s like a foreign language deal except there is no agent involved and no publisher. Which means more money for the writer and the translator, and cheaper books for the reader. Sounds a lot like indie publishing, right?

And it’s not just talk. Scott has struck deals in six languages to translate his books, and one of them – the German version of The Skull Ring, translated by Christa Polkinhorn, who Scott speaks very highly of – has already been a Top 100 smash there (until an Amazon snafu caused the book to be unpublished and lose all momentum).

I asked about the specifics, and Scott said:

I originally started out paying a 10 percent royalty but have increased it to 20 percent, even for translators who did the work for 10 percent (a retro raise). The 20 percent is off the net revenues of the translated edition. I pay quarterly, unless the payment is less than $20, in which case I roll it to the next quarter.

Every quarter I have to sit down and crunch the numbers, but I expect it to be the bulk of my income in a few years–and I suspect I will be way better off than those who sell their foreign rights through an agent.

Scott also agreed to let me reprint the relevant chapter from his superb book The Indie Journey: Secrets To Writing Success. I bought this on Saturday and read it in 24 hours. You can read my Amazon review of the book here. Needless to say, I liked it. A lot.

I’ll talk a little more at the end, but here’s the excerpt:

Indie Translators: Money Is Waiting

Amazon just opened its German store, and more digital and paper markets are going to open up for indie authors, and overseas readers will finally get an incredible range of choices. But it’s going to take a new kind of indie—the “indie translator.”

I currently have three foreign translations available for independent sale and three more in the pipeline, as well as a creative split-revenue, cooperative deal inChina. None of them required an agent, and each project was entrepreneurial and unique.

You hear some indie writers say “Well, I’d still need an agent for foreign and movie deals.” Like everything in this rapidly changing environment, that’s not necessarily true, and certainly not absolute. In fact, the same principals apply to indie digital publishing in foreign markets as in the US—all you have to do is upload a digital file. And paper books, especially print-on-demand, will follow the same pattern.

Here’s how I did mine—I met Paolo Albrizziti on Facebook and struck up a conversation. He is an aspiring Italian writer. He translated The Red Church and had his brother proofread it. I worked with Christa Polkinhorn, author of Love of a Stone Mason, on her book, and as a German-speaking Swiss, she agreed to translate The Skull Ring. A small Polish company published a paper version of The Red Church, and since the amount of money was not great and I was having difficulty getting paid, I traded rights to the translated file for the payment.

Sure, it would have been “easier” to have someone sell foreign rights, mail me a check, and then sit back and smile in 17 languages. But authors actually LOSE MONEY FASTER on a foreign deal than they do in domestic publishing. Not only is the agent commission usually 20 percent for such sales (since a second agent is often involved), the author will continue to experience loss of revenue over time as paper sales decline and e-book sales grow. Not to mention that digital markets are just as accessible from your home computer as they are through a publishing company in Hong Kong. Their tools are no better, with the exception of existing relationships with translators.

Guess what? There are as many unemployed translators as there are unemployed writers. If people need jobs, this is a new opportunity, although professional translators are used to getting an upfront flat fee, and generally work for large businesses with deep pockets. Those willing to think outside the box and work hard can make not just a living, but a small fortune.

For example, I pay a 20 percent royalty of net sales to my translators. For a $2.99 book, that would earn around 40 cents a pop. Not much, until you consider that’s income for life on a one-time job. Imagine if you translated 10 bestselling titles at 10 percent–you’d be making more than the US author currently does when he/she sells a foreign right through a publisher!

(Such an author would probably be earning 6-10 percent, minus agent fees, assuming the book ever earned out its advance, and that author’s e-book prices would almost certainly be higher, which hinders sales volume). And some foreign publishers are notoriously slow in paying—like that Spanish company that still owes me the “advance” more than a year after publication. But, hey, it’s acceptable, because they’re “legit,” right? Personally, I’d rather have the money popping up in my bank account every month, instead of trusting an overseas entity in which you have little legal recourse if they shaft you.

Of course, there are challenges in marketing overseas, but the author would have those anyway. And I can’t sell my Polish edition on Kindle or Nook because Eastern European symbols are not yet supported–but surely that will change as the digital markets sweep across the globe. I understand many writers don’t want to be bothered with rounding up their own translators, preferring to pursue the fantasy of “I just want to write and let someone else take care of the business stuff.” That’s cool, and may even be wise for most.

By self-publishing your foreign books, however, you retain control, maximize your income, and make new friends, and help other creative entrepreneurs make some money—the exact same reasons many now choose indie publishing in the first place.

Translators will also enjoy the benefits that indie writers do—choice in which genres they work in, flexible schedules, and a sustainable business that can be built over time in an industry promising tremendous growth.

Interested translators, authors are waiting for you—or, heck, get a collective together, get organized, and launch a new business!

Interested authors—beat the bushes for your own translators. Try author websites in foreign countries, the local university, or the large translation organizations.


Thanks to Scott for sharing that chapter with us.

You can pick up The Indie Journey: Secrets To Writing Success for the bargain price of $2.99 at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. I never tell you guys to buy a book, but seriously, do yourself a favor and at least check it out, it’s really great.

The rest of Scott’s 30 or so other books are here, and his fine blog is here.


This idea might be quite a leap for translators, forgoing a guaranteed paycheck for a share of the royalties. Nobody knows how well a book will sell after all, especially in a foreign market.

But, for once, translators have all the power here – they can choose to work on a project or not, selecting those that they will find most enjoyable or lucrative (or a mix).

From what I understand, translators are pretty badly paid by publishers. I have a huge amount of respect for the work they do. One of the first translated works I read was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (translated by the peerless Edith Grossman), which remains one of my favorite books.

I also read a lot of Haruki Murakami (and if you don’t, you should). He has had, I believe, three different translators bringing his books into English. At this stage, I could open one of his books at random and tell you which translator worked on it.

Each translator has their own style, their own way of capturing the nebulous nuances of each individual writer, and a good one is worth their weight in Fabergé eggs.

But they have never really been valued by publishers, often scraping by on salaries just above minimum wage.

I, for one, would be more than happy to share 20% of my profits with an open-minded translator, and I’m sure plenty of you would be too.

If there are any translators out there (both non-fiction and literary) who are willing to work on this basis for indie authors, please register your interest in the comments, or by email (david dot gaughran at gmail dot com) and I will try and put a list together.

Registering your interest doesn’t commit you to anything, and translators will be free to cherry pick whatever projects they like. And, if you would just like to express an interest, but have your details kept private for now, just let me know.

Right now, I am looking for Spanish and German translators for a non-fiction project and for a fiction project, and if anyone is interested in that in particular, send me an email and we can talk further.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

138 Replies to “Share The Wealth: A Radical Solution To Translation Costs”

  1. That was an interesting read … all the comments too. I have been approached by a Spanish author to translate his novel for the English-speaking market on a 50/50 royalty split basis with no upfront fee, so I’ve been reading up on the pros and cons. Lots of food for thought here …

    Did anything come of the idea to compile a list of interested parties?

  2. Count me in, if you are still working on this idea, I can translate English to Spanish and would love to work translating non fiction books. But I am open to some fiction too.You can also find me on fiverr and workana sites.

    Luis Rodriguez


  4. I work as a translator/proofreader on Babelcube too and, yes, it all depends on how you and your author do the marketing. You need a bit of luck and a LOT of hard work sending tweets, posting on Facebook, writing blog posts but all this work will pay off in the end, or at least this how I see it: you market your work and (hopefully) get it downloaded and, at the same time, you market yourself as a translator.
    In a world where only 1 out of 100 agencies will ever answer your carefully crafted “First contact” e-mail, you’ve to pop up on social media to be seen and to get a job.
    Oh, and if there’s anyone interested in an EN/IT, ES/IT and DE/IT translator please feel free to look for me on LinkedIn.

  5. Update: I translated a short novel from German into English last year via Babelcube under a royalty share agreement. The author had no interest in pursuing any sort of marketing in English, so the book has sold less than 20 copies although it was a bestseller in German. I think the German market is maybe not so saturated as ours in English. So I worked approx. 100 hours and have seen no return over 6 months after release (20 copies is not enough to trigger a payment threshold). Anyway, I would tend to warn translators away from this kind of deal. It’s been said that we should shoulder the burden of speculation along with the author, but I don’t agree. Translation is a service, not an act of creativity that someone is driven to complete as a life’s work. What does this mean for me? I plan to translate my own novel into German, then have it proofed by a native speaker. Other languages will have to wait until I can pay a translator properly, upfront. Royalties – a good idea, but simply not good news for translators unless the author is prepared to launch a parallel marketing campaign.

    1. Well, Grace, you have had a very bad experience, but I think this is in part due to the fact that you think “Translation is a service, not an act of creativity that someone is driven to complete as a life’s work.” I honestly think that you would be better suited to the standard format of translation and not creative, literary or marketing translations that really are “an act of creativity”, and that you have completely missed the point of Babelcube.

      I am thoroughly driven to write creatively when translating, and that is why I love to translate literature. I would do it for free, just for the joy of reading new works and being able to get them out there for other people to read.

      Of course, you do have to be careful with Babelcube and you do have to have certain rapport with your author, otherwise there will be little sense in going thorough with it as nobody will ever know the book exists. Marketing (collaborative marketing) is a key factor in Babelcube translating.

      I have worked for a fixed rate (for a novel that is now an amazon best seller, and I would have made quite a lot of money on it if I had known about “royalty based platforms”), I have worked through Babelcube, and I have worked on a small fee and then royalty based up to a certain figure, which is a happy medium.

      Most of all, I do it because I love reading, I love translating, and I love the creative act of having to make a book work in another language, with all the nuance and style and beauty that the author intended in the original.

      Plus, it looks great on your CV as a translator when you can say “I have translated several books, you can look up my name on Amazon”… Because, after all, getting work all comes down to marketing yourself and getting your name out there.

      I don’t think you wasted your time Grace… I think you made an investment that didn’t go as you planned.

      When you say ” I would tend to warn translators away from this kind of deal.” I think that is a terrible thing to say… You have had ONE bad experience and this makes you think that the whole idea is bad? I think that the Babelcube site is very clear about the conditions and possible pitfalls. They clearly state that sales in one language do not guarantee sales in another in any way or form and that you may end up translating something that sells 0 copies or you might end up translating the next New York Times best seller.

      My advice to any translator wanting to work royalty-based is to have a good long talk with your author, make sure you agree on key points of strategy and marketing; make sure you both know where things stand, how much time you are both willing to spend on the project and how it will affect other paid work. Think of it as a pet project, only translate books you absolutely fall in love with or stories that you think are great for some reason… That way you will never be disappointed with sales, because you are doing it because you love doing it, not because you want to make money on it. Babelcube is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is a collaborative platform where authors and translators come together to do what they love, which is communicate and internationalize communication. My take on it is that if it makes me enough money to go out and have a nice meal a couple of times a year, then I am very happy with the result.

      In any case, Grace, now you can set up a cyber-marketing campaign yourself, with very little help from the author, and if you just spend maybe an hour a day for a month doing a bit of pushing on literary blogs, facebook pages and maybe manage to get a review on a website, then you will probably set up a small snow-ball effect and drive in some sales.

  6. Wow… a 3-year-long thread 🙂 Interesting stuff.

    I am currently translating on BabelCube and I think the whole idea and concept are absolutely fantastic. Wish I had come up with the concept 5 years ago!

    If anyone needs a Spanish to English, English to Spanish or Catalan to English translator I would be happy to work for a percentage of royalties and will do my best to make sales work. 😉

  7. I can translate from English into Portuguese-BR (9000 words per day), and from PT-BR into EN (1200 words per day), considering a working day of 8 hours. I live in Brasil. My email is diego4779 at gmail dot com

  8. Hello!
    I am an EN>IT, FR>IT translator. Yesterday I attended a conference about “Editors, readers and translators: new roles in the digital era” at the Turin International Book Fair.
    It was really eye-opening. They talk about a US platform such as “Bubble cube” on which writers and translators can meet each other… Actually I can’t find it on the web… Do you know it?
    Anyway I am really interested in this oppportnity, I am interested both in fiction and nonfiction, but also in handbooks about homemade cosmetics, natural solutions, scrapbooking, recycling.
    This is my profile:
    My e-mail:
    I look forward to hearing from you!

    1. It is I just found it recently, signed up, and sent an offer to translate a novel, but have not heard back from the author in nearly a week. I guess the response time will vary from person to person!

      1. Thank you so much Grace! I have been looking for it without success… But fortunately I hit on this eye-opening article! 🙂
        Thank for help! Hope your author calls you soon! 🙂

  9. David et al.: We are likely to try your idea for our self-published textbook (, at least for selected languages where there’s likely a good market. The book has proven itself with good US/Europe sales, which should help.

    My question is: who would you propose owns the rights to the translation? Traditionally, the translator signs over the copyright in exchange for a lump sum payment. We’re going with a royalty model (including an advance payment) per your suggestion,and our initial instinct is open-ended fixed royalty rate for the life of the book (ie no cap). Do you have an idea regarding at what point the rights are considered “ours”?

  10. Hi, I am a native bilingual EnglishGerman translator and just stumbled across this whole thread…. I am a marketing translator extraordinaire and would really, really LOVE to translate scifi, horror, thrillers or similar genres. I am an avid reader of all of the above, and could definitely live with the royalties idea if I felt the book was special and had a good chance….. As I am always really busy with paid work, in return for holding out for royalties – which may or may not come – a deadline as such would not really be feasible – but you would get a much pondered over, excellent translation in return for leeway with time!. If there is any writer out there interested: please do get in touch!!!

  11. Hello, I’m a professional indie translator specialising in artistic translation. I work with German, Slovak, Czech and English languages. Check out my website I look forward to working with you! Elena

  12. As a professional literary translator from English and Spanish into German, I am still unsure about indie translating. All the risk would be shared between the author (who has to depend on finding the right translator for a foreign language and market) and the translator (who has to provide not only a proper translation but also an editor – okay, we know our editors -, a new cover, solve all sorts of technical aspects, kick off the marketing campaign and so on). I translate 5 to 6 books per year which is about 500k English words. And I have to make a living of this, feed my children and the dog. The author should be prepared to at least pay the editor, the cover, and the formatting. And if the translator is expected to run a social media campaign (maybe not the best idea – translators tend to live quite secluded and concentrate on their books), there should be an agreement on that, too.
    This said, I assume that indie authors will either end up with highly idealistic translators (who may or may not be professionals or who just desparately want to see their name on a book cover next to the author’s name) or else with experienced translators who will only take on projects if they firmly believe that they will be successful on their local market.

    1. Hi Imke, sorry if it isn’t clear above, but under this model, the author pays all the publication expenses (editor, cover, formatting, and any marketing) and that neither affects the percentage the translator receives, nor has to be repaid before the translator starts getting any money.

      1. Hi David, maybe I have missed some posts before answering – it is a really long thread. Thank you for clarifying! I have been translating books for the last 20 years. I have had some contacts with self-published authors so far (and some of their books were excellent!), I am reading “Let’s get digital” in the moment, and I really wonder what will change in the translation business within the next few years.
        For those who follow this thread and look for German translators: Many German literary translators are organized in the Vdue, Others can be found via the usual networks or for example on the Frankfurt Book Fair (perfect place for networking for everything concerning books!).

  13. Hi, I am a translator and blogger. I translate from Czech into English and English in Czech. If you have a book that needs translating into Czech/English contact me via my blog. I think the idea of getting a percentage cut from translating is way more lucrative then getting paid a lump sum. If the book is a success there is constant flow of income for years to come and benefits both the writer and the translator.

  14. With SCX out there offering audio production for a 50/50 spit, this doesn’t seem all that radical to me. In fact, why hasn’t or why doesn’t someone start up such a website for translation? Anyway, I’m hoping to find authors willing to go 50/50 in translating The Fateful Series into German and/or Spanish. Please contact me via my blog.

  15. Hi everyone,

    My attention has only now been called to this post/discussion and, as curious as I am, I’d love to see if anybody is interested in having their fiction translated into Croatian. I translate from English to Croatian and have translated three novels for a publisher thus far.

    Do get in touch via email or Twitter (@Sententica)


  16. I’m already working with a translator on the French editions of my work, and I was happy to suggest a 50/50 split. I know this is a lot higher than the suggested rate above, but bear with me…

    The way I look at it, I’ve already written the book(s) in question, and any foreign translations are just icing on the cake. Given the amount of work the translator has to do, I feel 50/50 is fair. After all, they’re only earning from the titles they’ve translated, whereas the author gets 50% from as many translations of their work as they can organise.

    I’m currently seeking Spanish, German and Italian translators for my fiction. I have about a dozen short stories on KDP, as well as four adult science fiction novels and two junior SF novels (both print and ebook.)

  17. That is very interesting!
    I love literary translation, which I practice as a hobby, but hate technical translation. This would be perfect for me!
    Are you still making that list? Just for info: I’m a French student of literature (not for long, the defense of my Master’s thesis is next Monday) and can translate from English and Spanish to French.

  18. Well, this was very informative indeed!
    I am half French half Irish and can translate from German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish into English and French.
    Contact me if you need me ;-)!

  19. The idea is great—indeed, translation is one more frontier for self-publishing. As regards the quality of work, at least the translator can be in touch with the author to ask questions/get a better feel of the tone.
    Like others have said, a hybrid model would seem best.
    I’m a French translator with a literary background. Count me in as interested by the experience.

  20. It turns out that me an Mr. Gaughran are on the same page, since I’ve not only understood this issue or opportunity, to put it more aptly, for some time now, I’ve actually already taken a bet like this (go to my website, it’s the post to the left). I’m an English-Polish translator, and while I generally like to tackle texts I like (somehow that makes me overcome all potential translation problems), I mainly enjoy crime stories and various off-kilter pieces of fiction. I have some experience with literary translations, but I’m still relatively new to this field (I have about 3 years of experience, two books published, and other smaller works that have not seen the light of day yet), so I only take on projects that I can actually do justice to. Give me something on the level of “Game of Thrones” or Lovecraft and I’ll probably fail miserably, at least at this point in time. Those 20 years of experience don’t just materialize out of thin air, you know.

    1. Kris,
      If you’re looking for literary translators, I suggest you start with professional associations; they usually have a list of members on their sites. There is the American Literary Translators Association and the American Translators Association based in the US but very international; there is also the British Centre for Literary Translation in the UK.
      You can find translators on and other sites, but I would imagine it would be hard to find anyone who is specialized in literary.
      Good luck!

      1. Thanks Lisa!

        Your reply, lead my curiosity to find the Canadian Literary Translators Association (because I’m Canadian). And now that I’ve clicked on your profile link… I see you are Canadian translator as well.

        Should I assume the American and UK associations to be of a higher calibre of talent?

        I am aiming to release both English and French versions of my first book for the official release (which I plan to do Ebook). And then I would like to do German and Spanish translations as soon as possible after that.


      2. Yes, of course, LTAC! I failed to mention them out of a simple oversight not anything more nefarious than that. Sorry! The Canadian Association will be particularly useful to you if you’re looking for a Canadian French translation — excellent translators there. For the other languages, you may have better luck at the US/UK associations simply due to numbers of available translators. And yes, literary translation is what I do, from Spanish into English. If you have other thoughts/questions, feel free to contact me via my website I’m always happy to help guide translators and authors new to literary translation. 😉

  21. Hi Dave,

    First off, this is a great post. It explores indie translations, which is something I’ve been mulling over for a while, but while I think this is viable, and I’m actually placing my bets on translating some indie books into Spanish, I think there’s a misunderstanding.

    Please note I’m a professional literary translator in Spain, so I can’t quite talk about other markets, but anyway, since we are the second biggest target audience out there… I think this might be relevant.

    If a translator chooses to embark into an indie translation, he is not, under any circumstances, getting royalties instead of an upfront, fixed check. Why?

    Because a translator is the *author* of the translation. He’s going to get royalties anyway. The famous check is just the advance, same thing as legacy published authors get their advance checks. We’re getting around 2,5% from print books and around 8-10% from e-book copies sold in the traditional world.

    While I’m willing to take (actually, when I’m taking) the risk of investing a huge amount of work into a project that might not work (because at this moment, the european market is not half as ready for the e-book revolution as the American one), there are a number of terms that need to be addressed. The royalty rate needs to be adjusted, way higher than that 20% because the translation is going to need a lot of time, and a lot of contacts (editing, proofing, support for marketing…) I’m not saying that you, as an author, need to give everything over to the translator, but I believe that authors need to understand that, once the book is translated, they are no longer the sole authors.

    That little clarification aside, yes, I think this idea has future. I’d offer a few pointers about the right translator for the right job, but I think that’s already been added by the previous commenters – find someone professional, never ever hire someone without some experience unless you understand the target language and can verify their translation, make sure your translator can and will use a neutral language for your book…

    If you’d like to go into any of this in more detail, just hit me up. I’d love to talk more about it!


    1. Hi Ron,
      I found this blog today, and as an attempt to get informed, I have been reading the entire post, along with others like it. I’m asking a few people who have posted here the same question. I am doing research on a translation project that has been proposed to me. I am an early career translator with a literary background of a degree in English, and experience writing, editing, and some translation for personal material as well as freelance jobs. I’m actually a teacher by profession, but with my degree and interest in writing, I have developed an environmental education curriculum, and most of my writing experience is in education.
      The bulk of my writing has been curriculum and other education related materials, not a lot of time for creative writing, however I have produced some. Recently, a friend has become more and more popular with her YA books here in the US. I approached her regarding editing, and its evolved into talking about translating her books. After living in both Senegal and France and being married to a frenchman for 20 years, I am both fluent and knowledgeable of both cultures. I’m also a writer who cares about good writing and creativity. I edit and write according to preserving and transmitting the essence of the writing–not just isolating the words without context. I have a strong work ethic, and I am committed to the work that I take on. Also, the author and I seem to share literary sensibilities, plus a friendship.
      She’s offered me 20% commission off net sales. Currently, her books are doing well on amazon here in the US.
      Could you please give me, as an amateur translator, some helpful advice and guidance so as to make this opportunity mutually beneficial for myself and my friend?
      Also, I forgot to mention, she currently publishes through Evolved Publishing, based here in the US, but she is open to something new for the foreign market. She has confidence in me and has said that if I have connections and can find the right publisher with integrity over there, then we can do it without her current publisher. She owns her foreign rights.
      What kind of provisions would you suggest to make this worth my while?
      Thank you for your time,
      Anne Dijoux

  22. Here I come, a French – strictly literary – translator since 1983 and the days of the typewriter. For the last 20 years, it has been my only source of income, and I make a decent living.
    At present, I wouldn’t be caught dead on such a risky venture, and here is why.

    It’s a gamble. Hit a best seller, and you probably stand out to earn more than you would in regular publishing.
    But best-sellers are not the rule. And there will be fewer of them if the e-market gets saturated.
    On an average sort of book, the translator has a good chance of losing out, and quite a lot.
    Can literary translation remain a profession in this context?

    Let’s talk numbers with a concrete example.
    Long ago, before the computers, I translated a book about Japan, a mammoth which took me nine months to translate. Very full time.
    1,500 pages (approx. 250 words per page) in translation. In present days terms, this would mean an average of 30,000€ up front.
    It sold 8,000 copies – very good for the French market and for such a lengthy and involved document.

    Let us now suppose that I am paid 25% royalties on sales, and the digital edition sells for, say 12€. I’ll get 3€ per copy.
    At 8,000 copies sold, I will get a total of 24,000€ in royalties.

    I loose out. By 6,000€.
    Not exactly peanuts. The price I get paid for translating an average YA novel.
    The money will start rolling in way after publication, possibly in dribs and drabs over a period of years.
    And what pays the rent in the meantime? How do I make a living? Plan my budget?

    Now, let us say this same book is sold online for 1€ a copy and I get the same percentage – i.e., 0,25€ per copy.
    Let us say the attractive price boosts the sales to 20,000 – unheard of for this kind of work in my neck of the woods.
    I will then collect a grand total of 5,000€ over a period of time for the exact same 9 months spent working on the translation.
    One sixth of what I would get now for the same job in traditional publishing.
    Now, this is unreasonable.

    No established professional literary translator would take the risk. Not in France, where there are other matters to consider.
    Here, literary translators are a separate category. They are considered as authors. The contract they sign with their publisher is an assignment of rights. The money they get is not a flat fee, but an advance payment on royalties. In other words, the publisher buys the rights to exploit the translation (which remains property of the translator).
    And literary translators stand out to collect royalties as well once this payment is refunded by their percentage on the sales (usually 1% or 2%).

    Furthermore, the patrimonial nature of their earnings as authors implies much lighter deductions in social charges and taxes – some 25% less than our free lancer colleagues.
    And here comes the second crunch.

    Translating for an Indie writer, i.e., a private person – not a legitimate publisher, no rights assignment contract signed – sends you straight back into the free lance translator category, and suddenly, your earning go down by 25%.
    Well, I for one wouldn’t want that.
    Specially if my basic earnings were to go down as well…

    And this is just the tip of the iceberg…
    I can see all manners of legal problems…
    I’d worry about the quality of the translation and revision…
    The model for self published translation online doesn’t seem to have been thoroughly thought through yet.
    All control to the translator, you say? No. All control (and the accountancy) to the Indie writers.
    The translator choses what he or she translates, you say… but then, what’s new? So do I in traditional publishing.
    And, in this e-system, how do I get the rights to my text back if I am not happy with the way it is being marketed? In a right assignment contract, there are provisions for this. Not so, apparently, in the virtual world. My work has been given away, lock stock and barrel and forever. Whether it sells or not. I no longer have the possibility to retrieve it try and get someone else interested in… buying the foreign right to the original book from its author and exploiting the translation more efficiently. Seems to me I’m losing some control here.

    French literary translators are supposed to be the happiest in the world. Our present situation is the result of a long struggle to professionalize our trade and ensure quality.
    Professional translation comes with a price tag.
    The struggle will have been in vain if it becomes impossible to make a living from this trade and if we lose our hard earned rights in the bargain.
    Will the adventurous e-world go back to the dark ages of amateurism? I wonder.

    Not that it matters much at the moment, for the e-book market hasn’t really caught on in France yet. I have a few golden years ahead of me. Best of luck to the next generations…

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for sharing all this information. It certainly seems that French translators are treated much better than translators elsewhere (which is great).

      Let me say one thing first: I am not proposing ripping up the current system and replacing it with this system. I am merely seeking those translators for whom the current system isn’t working very well and proposing an alternative way of working – which they are completely free to choose to participate in, or not. In short, I’m trying to create an additional option, rather than force anything on anybody. And I would imagine that this model will evolve, and that others will attempt something different altogether. Hopefully, through debate and experimentation, we can arrive at the ideal system – for both authors and translators.

      I would like to talk in concrete examples too – as I think some of your assumptions are a little off. One of the titles I am currently seeking translators for is retailing at 3,99 Euro / US$4.99. I’m sharing 20% of the royalties I receive from the retailers with my translators (not the list price). With this novel, I receive roughly $3.50 per sale on Amazon US (which serves most of the world) and and roughly 2,70 Euro on the European Amazon sites. In this case, the translator would recive $0.70 from US sales (the foreign language editions will be uploaded there also) and around 0,54 Euro from sales on the European Amazon sites (the difference here being VAT etc.).

      That is quite a bit more lucrative than the numbers in your example.

      And, indeed, I have one other issue with your example. A 1,500 page book is hardly representative of the standard translation project. The novel I am getting translated is large – 400 pages – and the non-fiction title is 240 pages. Needless to say, the work involed in translating books like this is significantly less than your 1,500 page example.

      I’m not familiar with French copyright law or with the French tax system, but I will take your points as presented, and only say that with global solution like this, there are bound to be countries where it is less favorable as tax law and copyright law can vary greatly from country to country.

      I am happy to hear that French translators have been able to achieve good working conditions. I don’t think many of your European brethern are quite as fortunate. Perhaps an alternative way of working may appeal to them more.

      I have an open mind on this whole issue. I can see flaws in the current system as well as with what I am proposing. If someone can come up with a superior model, I will applaud it, and support it.


  23. Dave and Scott,

    I’ve already left a comment on Scott’s original post that can be read there, but I want to address a couple of points that have been made in the comments here.

    To preface, let me say that I am a Spanish to English translator with nearly 20 years of experience. I have also specialized in literary translation over the past 10 years, and have six books published the (now) old-fashioned way through major US publishers.

    While I have been able to negotiate my worth, including royalties, the same limitations apply to me as to authors with the traditional publishing route. I have been advocating for translators to search for other avenues, including self-publishing, as there is the opportunity to get our due in terms of both recognition and reward.

    In every single case, I have had to do my own promotion for a translated book. Yes, the publisher promotes the book, and the author, but not me as the translator. Promotion is simply part of the package that you will have to take on if you publish in any arena, so having the indie translator involved in foreign markets is going to be necessary. Some will want to do this, others won’t. Just like authors. Writers write, they don’t necessarily want to promote a work, but without promotion a book will never sell.

    As for getting an up front fee, sure, there are many models that might work. It’s fine that one will work for one person and not for another. The point is, we need to start looking at other avenues and royalty sharing is one viable option.

    As I said, I’m a professional literary translator and I charge top dollar for the work that I do. But I also understand that literary translation is a creative endeavour, just like writing. Sometimes we need to take a chance if it is a work that we believe in and work hard to promote in order to get our due down the road. Not everyone will want to do this, but I think we have to approach it as a work of art and not a legal/commercial/medical translation job.

    Others have said it, but it bears repeating: Not just anyone who knows two languages can translate and not all translators can do a spectacular job with literary translation. One way to find qualified translators is to look for members of professional associations such as the American Literary Translators Association or the American Translators Association (both international in scope, despite their names). But again, look for people who are literary translators.

    One suggestion was that student or early career translators are the only ones with the time to take on a long literary project. I would caution against hiring anyone who doesn’t have some experience with *literary* work. What you may get is a word-for-word, literal translation that reads nothing like the original. Literary translation is as much about good writing and being creative as it is about knowing two languages.

    Get to know your translator, see if he or she share some of your literary sensibilities, and go from there. It does require a large measure of trust, however. You are not going to know if the Czech version of your book is exactly the way you wrote it in English, but do know that literary translators are passionate about their work and the works they translate. They will want to do it absolute justice so if you find the right person and put your trust in them, it will likely turn out well.

    As for affordable, if the translator is going to risk doing the work for a certain percentage of royalties, then there doesn’t have to be an up-front payment that will break the bank. But if there is some sort of payment, “affordable” may not be the adjective you’re really looking for in a translator, but rather “professional”, “experienced” and/or “committed”. And yes, those qualities cost.

    If there are any Spanish authors reading this post, get in touch as I’d love to indie publish translations into English!

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you for your posts.
      I found this blog today, and as an attempt to get informed, I have been reading the entire post, along with others like it. I am doing research on a translation project that has been proposed to me. I am an early career translator with a literary background of a degree in English, and experience writing, editing, and some translation for personal material as well as freelance jobs. I’m actually a teacher by profession, but with my degree and interest in writing, I have developed an environmental education curriculum, and most of my writing experience is in education.
      The bulk of my writing has been curriculum and other education related materials, not a lot of time for creative writing, however I have produced some. Recently, a friend has become more and more popular with her YA books here in the US. I approached her regarding editing, and its evolved into talking about translating her books. After living in both Senegal and France and being married to a frenchman for 20 years, I am both fluent and knowledgeable of both cultures. I’m also a writer who cares about good writing and creativity. I edit and translate with care. I treat it as a work of art, and strive to preserve and transmit the essence of the writing–not just isolating the words without context. I have a strong work ethic as well, and I am committed to the work that I take on. Also, the author and I seem to share literary sensibilities, plus a friendship.
      She’s offered me 20% commission off net sales. Currently, her books are doing well on amazon here in the US.
      Could you please give me, as an amateur translator, some helpful advice and guidance so as to make this opportunity mutually beneficial for myself and my friend? I’d greatly appreciate it.
      Also, I forgot to mention, she currently publishes through Evolved Publishing, but she is open to something new for the foreign market. She has confidence in me and has said that if I have connections and can find the right publisher with integrity over there, then we can do it without her current publisher. She owns her foreign rights.
      What kind of provisions would you suggest to make this worth my while?
      Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Anne
      Anne Dijoux

  24. Just an amazing, awesome idea. Even dragged me out of hibernation in my tent to comment. Limitless possibilities… the indie world just took a sudden shift sideways with that one! Dave, your list, should you compile one, could be pioneering – this could be the first resource of its kind, and you have the readership to get the word out where it matters most! Side project? In a year I bet it’ll have its own website and a subscription service! I’ll be no.1 on the list. Or no.76, judging by the comments on here…
    Nice work, both of you!

  25. Hi Marie, i would dispute the “clearly more profitable” part. I wouldn’t expect universities (one of the most tradition-bound institutions on the planet) to be even remotely interested in the future and promoting any new ideas. Certainly right now, business is terrible everywhere, and ebooks are one of the truly amazing economic-growth stories of the last few years. I can’t think of any other industry that is more than doubling in growth every year.

    Therefore, I don’t agree that the future of translation is tied to business and technical translation. I think there are lots of careers to be made, on your own, but colleges don’t really inspire entrepreneurship but instead try to tell you to get a job working for a corporation. Here at our local college, they don’t even teach digital publishing! But they have a degree program in running large paper printing presses! (An industry which is shrinking by the minute).

    Good luck with your studies! The dream is there for those who want it.

    1. Thanks Scott, for helping me think outside the box. Where there is a will, there is a way, right? 🙂 Here in Canada, where we are a bilingual country (officially) I’m getting the impression that the epitome of a translation career is to work for the translation Bureau. But seriously, I don’t think I’d last a year translating public administration documents. I’m developing my own entrepreneurship on the side, and diving into indie publishing myself. The research that has led me here is teaching me more than I’ve ever expected from a college degree.

      That said, I was chatting with a friend of mine that is now a professor in early French-Canadian literature and he was fascinated about the whole indie publishing revolution, saying that it that was reminiscent of the publishing effervescence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – on a whole other scale of course!

  26. All this is very interesting! I’m a French-Canadian student working on a Bachelor’s degree n translation (English>French) – and this blog is really helping me procrastinate today! 😉 As I’m progressing in my studies, most of my professors and professional mentors are all telling us that there is little future for professionnal translating in fiction. We scratch the surface of fiction translation, but our studies are focused on the more technical, scientific, pharmaceutical or administrative venues, where the contracts are paid upfront and clearly more profitable. While I know I have to make a living, I also have a background in French literature. My heart longs to work on something with at least some literary value. I know there are kinks to be smoothed out about how all this will work, but I’d love to discuss it. Proof-reading will definately be a must – for the author yes, but for my learning experience as well.

  27. Hola, where do I sign up to be a translator. I have been a paralegal for 15 years and have transcribed many a document for attorneys and major law firms. I am now looking to work from home instead of skyscrapers.

    I have a very bad ‘habit’ to support. E-books!!!! My son and daughter bought me a kindle and it is the most perfect gift I have ever received.

    So, when do I start?

    Oh….I’m a Spanish translator and live in a border town that in order for an author to survive here you must have a English and Spanish version of any book.

    1. Hola Alma: yo busco una traductora pero del español hacia el ingles, acabo de publicar mi novela hace unos días en español en Amazon. No se como salir de la situación en la que estoy. Los hispanohablantes no tienen acceso al Internet de la manera adecuada y mucho menos para la compra de libros por Internet, no tienen la costumbre tampoco. Soy mexicana pero vivo en Bélgica desde hace 20 años. El libro es el principio de una saga, estoy trabajando en el segundo, he tenido muy buenas criticas de mi entorno. Pero yo se que ese libro solo podrá tener éxito si esta en Ingles, así que yo me he dicho que mismo si no es una traducción excelente puede ya servir. Se que mi proposición es mas que raquítica, es mas un grito de auxilio la verdad. Pero yo creo que leyendo el libro se puede dar uno cuenta mejor del potencial que tiene. Busco a alguien que cree en el mas que nada. y no se si tienes alguna idea y conoces a algún estudiante a quien le pudiera interesar. Mil gracias. aqui lo puedes ver y si solo te interesa leerlo te lo puedo mandar gratis:

  28. Colleen wrote:
    “The quotes I got from professional translators indicated about $35/page.”

    Yes, similar to my experience, and upward from there. And sometimes (especially on nonfiction) translators will work in a small team to get it done faster, but it’s still expensive.

  29. “All other things being equal (i.e. the projects being of the same interest level) which do you think the translator will want to work on (under a profit-sharing scheme)”

    Yes, under a *profit sharing scheme*. The problem is the assumption that talented, proven translators are going to want to work for free against potential future equity stakes. In my experience, I’ve never met a great translator who would need to take that kind of work. They’d take it out of intense personal interest only.

  30. “A track record of sales will certainly help attract interested translators. ”

    Why? In my experience getting things “localized” good translators don’t work for peanuts, they don’t work “on spec”, they don’t lack work, and they don’t flock to fiction. Fiction is a different animal, and more labor intensive in many ways because it’s so subjective. I can’t see translators brating a path to the self-publishing world–unless self-publishers are willing to pay well for the service. Are they?

    1. That sentence was referring to seeking translators willing to work under Scott’s model of waiving the upfront fee in return for a 20% share of the royalties. Obviously, someone with Scott’s kind of track record will find it easier to attract translators to work like that than say, someone who is just uploading their first, or who has had no significant sales.

      1. “Obviously, someone with Scott’s kind of track record will find it easier to attract translators to work like that than say, someone who is just uploading their first, or who has had no significant sales.”

        It’s not obvious to me. I agree a translator might like a particular author’s work and be more interested in working with them, but the entire model leaves out the crucial fact that good translators can find work that pays well–they don’t need to work “on spec” or share the financial risk or accept a small up front fee without guarantees. One of your commenters above said as much.

      2. I thought it was obvious. Take two authors, one who has sold 10,000 of one title in English and one who has sold 100. All other things being equal (i.e. the projects being of the same interest level) which do you think the translator will want to work on (under a profit-sharing scheme). Now, sales in one language isn’t always a guide to sales in another, but a translator looking at the guy with 100 sales might think if he can’t sell in his own language (where he can market with greater ease), how the hell am I ever going to be compensated with the translated version.

        I know a couple of translators. They always say that the rates are poor, and they are often treated badly by publishers. Corporate work is better, but dull as hell. I’m sure the top guys get treated better than that, but I don’t think the average translator (working exclusively on books rather than corporate stuff) is doing well at all.

        But this all misses the point. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m not trying to change the whole system of how translations are done. I’m seeking the minority willing to work under a different model.

  31. James, you make a logical point, and almost everyone in the world would agree with you, except me. Nobody is going to flock to this. I don’t want a flock. I want the outliers, the crazy dreamers, heck, maybe even the absolute fools. This is risky. It’s sheer madness! It will never work! (Except it already has.)

    Every bit of my success has come by throwing away the rulebooks and “common sense” and “conventional wisdom.” The faster I turn away from everyone saying “This won’t work,” the better I do. I don’t want to be conventional. Conventional people work for somebody else for 40 years and die sick and broke and utterly safe. I would never even think of talking a professional, well-compensated translator into doing this. I would never dream of backing someone into a corner, or of tricking them with promises of vast wealth–because it’s not likely to make anyone madly rich. I only want to work with people who believe in it.

    So, everybody wins.

    1. “I want the outliers, the crazy dreamers, heck, maybe even the absolute fools. This is risky. It’s sheer madness! It will never work! (Except it already has.) ”

      Me, I want really, really good translators, with a track record. Consider David’s recent post about hiring editors; I’d apply the same logic to that idea. Why do I need a translator to be an “absolute fool”? That sounds prosaic, but doesn’t help me choose a reliable translator. Because after my work is translated into a language I don’t read fluently, I’m utterly dependent on that translator.

      Would I use a translator who would take equity over a fee? Sure–if they are really, really good translators with a proven track record. Problem is–those tend to be gainfully employed, and not willing to take weeks or months of unpaid work against a dice roll on future payment.

  32. Any royalties an indie author earns from a translated work are “found money”. That is, if the book had not been translated, the royalties on the translated edition would be zero. So, how about the author offers the translator 100% of the royalties, with a limit of 200% of the up-front price for a translation? The risk to the author is zero. The risk to the translator remains, but that risk is offset by the facts that the translator can choose to accept only books her or she believes will sell well and the fact that earnings from the translating job will be twice what they would have been for an up-front deal.

    If the book does sell well, everyone is happy. The translator gets twice his or her normal return for a job. The author gets zero return until the book “earns out”, but then gets 100% of the royalties and does not have to deal with the administrative nightmare of calculating and paying translator royalties for years to come. If the book sells poorly, the author gets zero royalties for a long time, perhaps forever. But that’s no different than the result if the author had never had the book translated. Meanwhile, the translator may not be earning a lot, but he or she is still getting 100%, which at least offsets some of the pain.

    1. This is the way I see it.

      Some people think you could be giving away a big chunk of a valuable property and you should cap it. Others think you should pay upfront and keep it all for yourself. But, as you pointed out, we’re earning nothing off these translations now, and to amass the capital required to translate into all the languages I want to could take forever, and certainly won’t happen until the marketplace is very crowded indeed. This window of opportunity won’t stay open forever.

    2. I’m sure that one could negotiate a variety of deals. The issue right now is that the ebook markets for languages other than English are fairly non-existent.

      Give it a year or two, and I’m guessing you’ll find translators more willing and able to negotiate such deals. Right now, though, the situation is too untenable. And they have to make a living, so to make such an investment of time and money on a not-so-sure thing is tough when it’s your livelihood.

      1. I don’t think it’s an issue as much as it is an opportunity, Colleen–in fact, my business model is predicated on the fact that I will make a strong early entry in the foreign markets, and that is what I tell my translators–I am absolutely upfront that it may take a few years for the market to form. But early entry helped my German book be a bestseller. If foreign markets resemble the US markets in any way, then the clear lesson is that those in early and those getting established will do great in the booms and weather the down periods through multiple products.

        Some may choose to wait a year or two. My biggest regret is I waited a year or two to self-publish in the first place, because I was “waiting to see what was going to happen” when in reality I had zero to lose and everything to gain.

        That doesn’t mean your point isn’t perfectly valid. Some people have a lower risk threshold than others, and it may be that those who wait and then pay translators will come out ahead. I just don’t believe it myself. I believe I will be two years ahead of all the people who suddenly discover that indie translation deals are awesome.

      2. Scott, I’m in whole agreement with you on all counts–which is why I’ve already jumped on this. I’m just not certain there are enough translators who see the potential…YET. But I’m sure that will change in the near future.

      3. I think it will take time for this idea to take root. I know two translators who are going to be blogging about it – maybe that will help spread the word a little. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few translators are adopting a wait-and-see approach – but watching to see if their local markets grow like the US and the UK (remember how tiny foreign markets are now), and waiting to see if there are any bumps in the road that we haven’t foreseen. I can understand that. But I think – maybe – a lot more will become interested in this idea over time.

    3. I’d like to see Thompson’s concept treated more seriously. I.e., for work that’s done on-spec (not paid for upfront), double the standard fee. The translator gets 100% of the royalties until the fee is earned out, after which the author gets 100% of the royalties. This system seems to reward risk (the translator’s investment of time) and it pays the translator more quickly with more assurance. It also greatly simplifies the long-term relationship.

      Another issue that’s not being addressed: What if the first translation isn’t as good as you’d like and you want another translation to replace it? Maybe a new translator would help with sales in various ways, especially marketing? There needs to be a provision in the contract for “firing” the first translator, which gets tricky if they have a lifetime contract. Capping their earnings might help make it easier for everyone.

  33. Blast me or whatever, I dont care. Where is the spirit to survive literary, literature and and the Love of culture if we are looking out for just money and money alone? Here we are fighting about the issues of hard work and input of how to make ”the right money” and ”time for appreciation” but where is that appreciation of literary standard of humanity when all we can talk about is the bank? Where is that inner being in us and soul for authors to get the reach to everyone? Isn’t *sharing the apt thing that what this article is about? This is exactly why the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. In Books, we talk about emotions through emotions may it be non-fiction, fiction to even vamps. Seriously, I might be going off here but if sharing a percentage is not enough, for all i care we will dilute ourselves to just nothingness rather than promoting creativity and to educate.

    1. Kristin,
      I am glad you brought this up. Obviously we all love this or we wouldn’t waste a second of time, because it is about the most difficult way to make money in the world. Many of the suddenly successful indies were people who toiled for years and decades without landing a deal–they did the WORK on the weight of a dream.

      And I feel the same can apply to indie translating. I encourage my translators to bring their creative self to the work and make it the best story possible (serve the story for the culture instead of focusing on my strict literal interpretation).

      That said, I love that this idea (and self-pub in general) and how it rewards THOSE WHO DO THE WORK. Up there we discussed what would happen if a book earned $10,000 a month and how much the author might “hate” to pay $2,000 a month to the translator. Yet that is exactly what is happening all over the world, only worse, to ALL creative people! Most people are so blinded by tradition and culture that if it were the corporation making $10,000 a month and the author were earning $800 and the translator $200, why, that would be “fair” and that the corporation “deserved” it.

      The most appealing aspect of this is that creative people have a chance to earn money doping something they love–not to make money, but to BUY TIME to do even more of the thing they love. That is how I look at writing. When I did comics, I paid thousands of dollars to artists all over the world, many in poor countries where the money allowed them to be full-time artists. Few people anywhere get that luxury.

      I am a huge libertarian, a bit of a Little Red Hen in that I feel the money should go to the creators instead of the corporate shareholders and management. Now, a lot of people like the security and tradition of the corporate structure, even when it doesn’t really reward them (seems to always pay just enough to keep you alive without enough money to make a leap). That’s fine. People should be happy above all. But I have found my greatest joy in jumping off the cliff and seeing if I have some wings.

      Anybody that wants to join me, there’s plenty of sky.

  34. A question guys. Exactly what are typical translation time and costs? Let’s say a 100K novel from English to Spanish. I mean this discussion is centered on percentages, but I suspect many of us reading these posts have no basis of comparison for evaluating the royalty approach vs. up front sunk costs. I figure you folks out front on the issue have a handle on translation costs, but many of us at this point don’t have a yardstick. – Thanks, Bob

    1. I’m sure one of the translators will weigh in with a proper answer, but until then, I will have a stab.

      I think it varies from translator to translator, language to language, and project to project. But as a rough shot in the dark (and please correct me translators, if I am off here), that could cost in the region of $5,000 and take three months. That’s a very rough guess and there will be a lot of variables that could affect that number (both time and money).

      1. The quotes I got from professional translators indicated about $35/page.

        The total costs for translation only (that I received through my research and talking to a variety of people)–not including proofing/copyediting–for a 95K book were well over $6000, and closer to $10K.

        YMMV, but that’s what I got when talking directly to professionals.

  35. I’m a professional translator (English – German, mainly technical and non-fiction) and an indie writer. Like Kuri above, I wouldn’t work on a straight royalty basis because the risk is too big. I just did the math and based on my own standard fee, a 100 000 word novel would have to sell around 5600 copies at 2.99 for me to break even, not considering lost interest and exchange rate fluctuations. That’s a whole lot of copies. And while getting royalties in 2031 for a job I did twenty years ago would certainly be nice, it doesn’t keep the lights on now.

    Most translators who’ve been in the business for a while are not exactly starved for work. And actually, most of us are indies already, because translators are typically self-employed. Like Kuri said, translating a full length novel is a big time investment, and the time spent translating an indie novel that may pay out in twenty years is time I’m not spending on translating a contract or operation manual that may be dead boring but will pay at the end of the month. Unlike writing, which is something I love, translating is my job.

    There’s a couple of other factors involved. For example, the e-book market in Germany is very small, only 0.5 percent of the market. And while it will almost certainly grow, I don’t see e-books taking off in Germany the way they have in the US anytime soon. The mentality and attitude towards the book as a cultural artifact is simply different. My own books don’t sell in Germany, because the friends and family who would buy them don’t have an e-reader. And while a proven sales record in the US or UK is very nice, it still doesn’t mean that a book will do as well in a different market. There are a few extremely successful indie novels that I suspect would not do nearly as well in Germany because of cultural differences.

    I think a combination of reduced standard translation rates and reduced royalties would probably be the best solution here. It’s certainly a solution I would consider. However, that doesn’t mean that the straight royalty model won’t be attractive to some translators. And indeed, I know translators who have taken on books that didn’t have a publisher yet, because they believed in the project. I’ll pass on this post to a couple of translator colleagues who might be interested in working on a pure royalty basis.

    Besides, as Colleen said, not every translator is suitable for every project. First of all, for literary translation you’ll need a translator who is a native speaker of the target language. Someone who has spend a very long time immersed in the culture, e.g. a longterm expat or someone who has grown up in a bilingual family, might do as well, but for fiction a native speaker is best. What is more, you’ll need a specialized literary translator for fiction, preferably one with experience in the genre (a translator specializing in historical fiction is not necessarily a good fit for SF) and someone who specializes in the subject of the book for non-fiction, because a translator specializing in e.g. legal documents may well have a tin ear for fiction. Most translators won’t take a job that’s too far outside their specialization, but some hungry ones might take a job they’re not qualified for.

    Finally, always have a contract, particularly if royalties and potential copyright issues are involved.

    1. Thanks very much for the wonderful insight, Cora. I agree, there is a risk of time, and many who need money instantly will probably not want to do this. I think many authors are unrealistic about the overseas markets in general. Even successful US authors may only get a few thousand dollars for the translation rights of a book. And the author is pretty much taking it on faith that the translator is doing a good job, because until reviews come out, you really don’t know the quality of the work (or whether, as you point out, the cultural divide is too great).

      I appreciate the professional translators who have weighed in, and this probably wouldn’t work for a person who is counting on current income. But others may thing, “Wow, a trickle of revenue here and there in 20 years? Sounds safer than Social Security to me!” That’s the way I feel about it, after banking on others my entire life and doing a lot more surviving than thriving until I radically broke free of convention.

      I fully believe there are successful businesses to be made for a “translation management company,” an established translator who can do matchmaking and maintenance as a central resource, for a percentage or flat fee. Obviously there are hundreds of thousands of writers who would be interested, and who knows how many potential translators are out there (as semi-pro or aspiring amateur). Again, it’s opportunity. Two years ago, the world thought there were only a few thousand writers, too, until opportunity revealed there will hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with a chance at a market.

      This is an unconventional idea. No one can guarantee whether it will work. But, as I said in my post, a translator who does a handful of books at 20 percent is almost certain to make more in a foreign market than an English author who sells their book to a foreign publisher. And because ebooks are changing the notion of what a “book” is, you don’t always have to think of a 100,000 novel as the product. Some of my translators have started with novellas, and it’s possible to even sell cheaper short stories or articles. It’s wide open!

      Thanks for launching the discussion, David–I’m not trying to hijack your blog but all this discussion is very enlightening and fascinating. I can see why some people think it is risky.

      1. Not at all Scott, hijack away!

        I’m happy to push radical ideas. I can also understand why a professional translator with a solid pool of work would be skeptical of this approach. However, I also know that many translators aren’t quite as lucky and struggle from job to job, often at rates just above minimum wage – which is borderline criminal considering the importance of the work they do. For translators in that position, maybe this will seem like less of a risk, especially considering that THEY get to choose who they work with. If they don’t think a project will sell in their market, or if they don’t think the author is going to stick around and give them more work, or build an audience in that country, or if they think the work will just be dull, they don’t have to take it on.

        Maybe most translators will hate the idea. But, maybe a model could emerge where translators spend 80% of their time doing upfront fee work, and 20% of their time taking on projects like this, which could pay out for a long time to come. We shall see.

      2. I think the best target demographic for your scheme would be translators just out of university (or maybe even still in university) who have a lot of time on their hands and not a lot of work. Literary translators working for the likes of Harlequin/Mills and Boon who pay absolutely crap might buy in as well. There are also translators who are willing to work for the love, if they really believe in a project.

        I like your matchmaking idea BTW. Translators are a highly networked profession anyway and most of us pass on work we can’t or won’t do (wrong language, no time, I know nothing about this field) to a colleague who can.

    2. I just had a thought.

      Obviously, the big stumbling block for a lot of translators will be the lack of an upfront fee. Also, one issue for writers will be checking the quality of the translation. But maybe we can kill two birds with the one stone here.

      Proofing will be essential. A native speaker (at least one) would be necessary to check the translation. And that would have to be paid for, of course.

      If we could build up a list of interested translators, where we had at least two in every language, maybe we could “pair” them so that one translates and the other proofs – and you rotate. This way, the translator pool would rotate between royalty work, and quick, paid-for proofing work.

      That way the translators would have some security from receiving fees for proofing, but still get to share in 20% of the profits of the books they translate.

  36. I’m a language professional living from translations of German to English. I’m also a writer and indie publisher ( So I find all of this very interesting.

    The main issue here I think is to find a translator who is willing to work for nothing immediate, but rather investing in the future. I could maybe do it, but only alongside my other work that earns the necessary living in the now – perhaps 500 words a day would be doable, taking several months to finish a novel.

    In a way it’s almost like a real monetary investment, instead of money I’d be sinking my time into something that no one can predict how it will return. A translator would have to be careful to work for authors who are good investments.

    How does an author prove their investability? Perhaps by starting with short stories, and see how those run, and how the target market responds.

    1. I agree, Grace, but these are the exact same challenges that all indie writers are facing int he first place. Writing on the chance of finding an audience and earning money. Any translator who takes a job solely for money is probably not one I’d want to work with anyway, because there’s an inherent insanity to creativity. And even more insanity in expecting money from the fruits of imagination.

      These are artifacts of our dreams. To me, the biggest obstacle is educating potential translators about the changing digital world and the way books are going to be sold in a few years. Heck, here int he US you still don’t see a universal understanding of ebooks, because they are still in the minority. Look how far behind the UK is to the US.

      But I will bet–in fact, I AM betting, with my time and passion–that the ones who get established early will do quite well and help some people earn money. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to send payments to creators around the world, because I know how hard it is to make money on dreams.

      Educate your partners, show your professionalism, and be honest that the money will be slow at first, but that every single indicator you can find suggests ebooks are accelerating in growth and are here to stay. Forever.

      Feel free to contact David or me if you’d like to try one–I’m at hauntedcomputer AT This may turn out to be a sideline that turns into a career (again, making the comparison to indie writers who put out a few books on the side and then found they made money). It’s an awesome time to play with words.

    2. Oh, Grace, as a personal note, I have found the first true financial security of my life by building multiple small streams of revenue instead of just getting a check every two weeks while making somebody else rich, or doing a contract job that left me with no financial interest in the thing I’d put all my labor into. I know it’s hard to invest in a dream when most of us just need that next check to pay the bills. But I never had much use for reality anyway!

      1. Yep, couldn’t agree more. As a freelance translator I get my work from all sorts of sources, and as a publisher the rest of the time it comes from my writing and the authors I publish. The translations I do tend not to be the most interesting or creative, but they pay the bills. I have never been able to break into literary translation although it seems made for me… so this may be a way.

    3. Grace, are you interested in a hybrid arrangement (as I mentioned in my post above)–flat fee plus royalties? I’m looking for a German translator.

      If so, contact me via my website and let’s talk. 🙂


  37. Hi Dave:

    Just wanted to jump in with my experience–which is that about two months ago I decided to do this very thing. I started looking for translators and found that a literary translator is a whole different ball of wax than a translator. (I, in my ignorance, didn’t realize this until I’d sampled several translators and found that just because they were bilingual and could read and write and translate two languages, it didn’t mean that they were able to translate a book).

    It’s quite a creative process, as I’ve learned, and I’m still looking for translators in several languages.

    But I did find a few literary translators (it helped that they were also writers themselves) who agreed to do the project for a combination of an up-front fee (discounted from their usual fee) plus royalties–for a limited time. Both parties were pleased with this hybrid arrangement and I’m expecting the first of my translated books to arrive in my in-box any time now.

    So I’m definitely interested in how this pans out, but wanted to share my experience and word to the wise in regards to finding an excellent literary translator.

    As always, others’ mileage may vary….

    Colleen Gleason

    1. Thanks Colleen, you have mastered the spirit of creative entrepreneurship–make the deal that works for you and your partners. That’s really the only possible guiding principle in an uncertain world.

      1. 🙂 Thanks.

        Having said that….I’d like to post that I’m looking for a good German translator who’s interested in this sort of hybrid arrangement. Any interested parties…please contact me via my website.

  38. It’s an interesting idea but I agree with The Writing Runner that doing the admin involved in splitting royalty payments for life of copyright is a nightmare (say, for example, you lose your marbles or die and your family has to take on the job and doesn’t want to – what happens then?)

    I think it would be better to pay a much higher percentage to the translator but up to an agreed cap. Say, pay them 50% or even higher until earnings reach an agreed figure slightly higher than up front translation costs – but with an agreed end date of ten, twenty or thirty years, depending on what the people involved agree. The shorter the period of the Contract, the higher the capped fee to represent a better potential return for the translator for the risk of their time/work investment.

    I imagine the translator wouldn’t want to have to be chasing various authors for the rest of their life for the relevant royalty payments either, so this sounds like an easier way of doing it. I also think that it’s better to pay them higher percentages up front since they are taking on the financial risk of putting in the time to do the translation. You’ve already written the book, so any additional profits are a bonus.

    I say this as an author not a translator!

    1. All fair points.

      In fact, there are innumerable ways you could do this: flat fee, a mix of reduced fee and royalties, straight royalties, royalties with a cap, royalties with a time-limit, some kind of installment plan in the mix, or something no-one has thought of yet.

      Each has their pros and cons. Personally, I am attracted to the straight royalty idea. It keeps it simple. It rewards the translator if the book does well (thus incentivising them also). Others may well be different, but I wouldn’t want to cap the translator’s rewards if the book was a smash, I would like them to share in the windfall, given how crucial the translator’s input to the book’s success would be.

      I think this is a creative solution to the lack of capital that most indie writer’s face. It won’t be for all writers. It won’t be for most translators, I suspect. However, it may be attractive for some, and those are the people I am reaching out to.

      Other writers may prefer another approach, and anyone that tries it a different way will certainly have my attention. None of us have a crystal ball; no-one can say with any certainty what the best approach is. I would suggest that you find yours and see if it works for you.

      I’m not saying that to squash any debate, I’m genuinely interested in debating the particularities with both writers and translators. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but so far, the objections I have heard – I think – are all surmountable. With regard to your particular suggestions, I think the cap could act as a disincentive for the translator to agree. And, the contract does have a limit anyway – it runs for as long as the book is on sale. If your family didn’t want to deal with it, all they would have to do is either pull the book, or come to a new agreement with the translator.

      But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

      1. I do agree that it’s a good idea for the translator to have a chance for greater reward if the book does well. Perhaps there could be a further bonus payment before the end date if the book made over a certain amount?

        Certainly everything is up for negotiation between the interested parties. I just find myself thinking of it from a contractual point of view and putting myself in the place of a translator to see if I would be happy with the deal on offer. I think that for a deal to succeed, it needs to be fair to both parties.

        I am naturally cautious and can already think of various worst case scenario situations that could cause problems on either side. I don’t want to rain on the parade of this suggestion as I think it could work well but I also think that there are potential issues that need to be pre-empted by a very clear and detailed contract. I wouldn’t want to think of people rushing in to this and then finding themselves in a mess because they didn’t think through the actual implications of what they are contractually agreeing to do.

      2. Maybe David can post my contract. It’s half a page. There may be holes, but only if you dragged in lawyers. The author reserves the right to unpublish the book at any time. If the author dies, the family can fold the enterprise or keep managing it. If it’s a dud, the author can pack it up, and if the author is generous, the author can say “Here ya go, Translator, you can have the file and make whatever money you can.”

        In my opinion, you only have a long contract if you are planning to screw the bejesus out of somebody. The longer the document, the spikier the shag. A contract doesn’t matter of people do what they say they are going to do, and if you think the person won’t, you shouldn’t do business with them.

  39. Scott referred briefly to overseas marketing, but worth pondering this further.

    We have a huge Kindle UK seller on our hands that cannot make any comparable progress in the US. Our second novel is already top fifty in UK but after an intial surge in the US has faded away.

    Givent the languages are close to identical this seems to be an issue of marketing, and our failure to address spoecific US marketing conditions.

    What chance us succeeding in Thailand or China with a language we don’t know if we cannot market effectively in the US where we have a reasonable understanding?

    This is what inhibits us from taking the plunge and paying a translator outright.

    I suspect jumping in to a new and relatively uncrowded market like and getting an early foothold is a good strategy for the long term, as Scott appears to have done, and planning ahead to get on to Kindle Spain would be a good idea too.

    But I’m guessing sales levels to reach the top 100 are a lot less than on or .com and it could take a long while to break even should an author be lucky enough to be discovered at all.

    1. Perhaps a translator who is receiving 20% of the profits would be motivated to promote to a limited extent – but perhaps not, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

      Marketing is an issue. I know enough Spanish to be able to do a little marketing there, and I could squeeze by in French and Portuguese, but the effectiveness would be extremely limited, and using broken language to promote a book could indeed be counterproductive, depending.

      I don’t know what it takes to break the Top 100 in Germany, but I seem to remember somebody quoting low double figures per day. But you have to remember that e-readers have only reached about 0.5% of the market. In the US it is 12%. Germany will grow. And I think the strategy of getting in early could pay great dividends, if executed correctly.

      The hardest part will be attracting a good translator who is both willing to work on a profit sharing basis, and willing to accept that rewards will be low at first, but could build over time to something quite lucrative. Obviously, if you opt to pay up front, you will obviate that need, but then you are looking at an outlay and then working to recoup it.

      But hey, it’s great to be free of the shackles of a publishing company and have options, isn’t it?

      1. Frankly, Mark, I think bestseller success is largely a factor of algorithms and luck. That is not to minimize your success because I’ve had the same situation in reverse–US bestsellers that don’t move in the UK. Some of it may be marketing, but clearly nothing sells like sales. The same is true in foreign markets. I had a German bestseller and I didn’t do squat for promotion. I COULDN’T! It was timing, price, luck, and Amazon algorithms. The professional translating job by Christa Polkinhorn certainly helped, and the cover was solid, but there was nothing extraordinary about it at all. The US version made a few runs but the German book actually out-earns it. So you don’t know which book will be a bestseller or a dud, really.

        But my philosophy is every book is a lottery ticket and you never know which one hits, but the more you play, the better your odds. And the same translator/author team would seem to greatly improve their odds if they kept working together.

  40. You need to check out the background of anyone you are dealing with (which goes for author and translator) and they need to have the requisite qualifications and experience.

    I think this will be somewhat problematic with your model, because working translators are less likely to buy in, IMO. I think you’re more likely to get inexperienced but ambitious people. (Probably your best bet would be writers who do some translation on the side, rather than full-time translators.)

    The only tricky part on the author side is that unlike a cover designer or a copyeditor, its hard to check the quality of the work. I guess the key here would be to get a second pair of qualified eyes to proof the translation.

    You wouldn’t necessarily have to wait for the whole translation to be completed. Many translators are willing to do short (emphasis on short) sample translations in order to get jobs. So after vetting your translator as much as you can, you could give them, say, 5 or 10 pages to do as a sample and have that evaluated by an editor/proofreader or at least a native speaker. That would save you money and, if the translator isn’t good enough, save you time and possibly legal problems with having someone else translate the project after you’ve already contracted with the first person.

  41. As a full-time freelance translator (Japanese-to-English), I don’t think this idea is realistic if you want to use a professional translator. I love the idea of getting royalties, but it wouldn’t be feasible for me to work without any upfront fees. Translating a 100,000 word book would take a month or two of full-time work. I would in essence be taking two months vacation from my job in order to perform work with zero guarantee of revenue. That would make no sense for any professional translator.

    On the other hand, if you’re willing to take a chance on a talented (one hopes) amateur — someone with a day job, IOW — rather than a full-time professional, then I guess this might work. However, I think you could find a lot of professionals (including me, although I only translate into English) who would consider reducing their fees against possible future royalties.

    1. Hey Kuri,

      Thanks for your input, it’s good to hear from another translator.

      I strongly suspect that most translators won’t be interested, but that more writers would be. That means that those who are interested would be able to cherry pick the projects that sounded most interesting or potentially more lucrative.

      Essentially, I see it like investing in a start-up. There is an element of risk, the rewards could be paltry, but they have the potential to be great too, and long-lasting. Except, in this case, the only investment required is time. Now, I appreciate that’s not nothing, time is our most valuable resource after all. And I also accept that most people probably won’t be in a position to take a risk, or may just think the idea is dumb in the first place.

      However, I think there will be some who might view it as an interesting project where they can pick and choose their clients. Yes, they forgo the safety net of an upfront fee, but they also get to share in the profits. The 20% cut would be 20% of what the author receives from Amazon. There would be no deductions for the production cost of the book, as that has already been paid for by the author.

      I don’t imagine that any translator will jump into this full-time. But I could see some taking on a project or two like this, while balancing it with more traditional work with upfront fees. That could work for a minority, and those are the people I am looking for.

      You (and other commenters) may well be right. Maybe some kind of up front fee will be necessary to attract translators of the requisite caliber. But maybe not. This idea is relatively new. We’ll see.


      1. Dave, it’s an intriguing idea. My main concern from the writer’s point of view would be the quality of translators you could attract. There are millions of bilingual people, but that no more makes them competent translators than being native speakers of English makes people competent writers of English. And it’s very common for people to claim that they can translate when, in fact, they can’t. About 10 percent of the translation work I do is actually cleaning up translations that were done by somebody else but are such poor quality that the client (rightly) finds them unacceptable.

      2. It’s not without its potential pitfalls, for sure. But it’s also not that different to an author engaging any other service provider, be that a lawyer, a proofer, and editor, or whatever. You need to check out the background of anyone you are dealing with (which goes for author and translator) and they need to have the requisite qualifications and experience. The only tricky part on the author side is that unlike a cover designer or a copyeditor, its hard to check the quality of the work. I guess the key here would be to get a second pair of qualified eyes to proof the translation. Hopefully, that extra step could weed out the bad translations, and in that case, if the work was really poor, the author wouldn’t have to use the translation and would only have lost some time. Obviously that translation proofing would have to be paid for upfront, but the cost would be significantly less than paying for the translation outright, and this freeing up of capital would allow the author to get many more translations done, and expand their reach into many more foreign markets, than would be possible under the traditional system.

        If it worked well – and I’m not guaranteeing it would, there are plenty of details to iron out – it could be a boon for authors and translators both, providing both parties with an annuity of sorts out of essentially nothing other than time.

      3. Yes, I am open to the idea of paying a small upfront fee, as a shared risk. But I like the idea of time and passion being the only risk–after all, that’s the main advantage of indie publishing. No overhead.

        But who knows what the market will be like tomorrow? Or how many translators go unemployed in the worldwide recession? I have worked with comics artists all over the world and the small fee for one page can keep them going for a month in some areas–so there’s also the factor of the dollar’s value and cost of living to consider. Somebody living in Paris probably doesn’t care about a few dollars a day, but someone in Brazil or Thailand may.

    2. Thanks for weighing in, Kuri. I did contact a formal translation society and pitched the idea but it seem too “foreign” to the way things are done (and vaguely threatening, it felt). To me, it appears to resemble the traditional publishing model that felt threatened by change and a new way of doing business, and I would be surprised if professional translators suddenly flocked to a new business model. Change only comes out of necessity for most people. So it would be the newer translators who might be interested in this, because often as we’ve seen in publishing, tradition and “experience” is now an anchor instead of a sail. That’s not to minimize those who have honed their chops and are true pros–but they are likely getting all the work they need anyway.

  42. In a lot of ways, this seems like a TERRIBLE idea to me. Here are two scenarios:

    1) You’ve written a dud that sells 10 copies per quarter for the next 100 years… and every quarter you’re sending the translator a payment of $10 or so… for the next 100 years! What a pain in the butt… and don’t forget to account for that transaction every year when you do your taxes!

    2) You’ve written a stud that sells $10,000 worth of books per quarter… and every quarter, you’re sending the translator $2,000… for the next 100 years! You would have been much better off paying $1,000 to $2,000 upfront and owning the rights to the translation, just like a real publisher.

    By the way, this is not a new idea… eBook publishers have been doing this sort of profit splitting since the ’90s…. 5% to the editor, 5% to the cover artist, 5% to the designer…

    I can see what this idea seems exciting at first, but if you really believe in your work, just pay for the translation and own the work. You’ll be much better off 10 years from now, let alone 100! 🙂

    1. I’m sure it will seem like a terrible idea to lots of people, and you have raised a couple of valid concerns with it.

      And I’m really not trying to convince anyone who thinks it’s a terrible idea, that’s your (and their) prerogative, and I’m sure you won’t be alone in your thinking. In fact, I would bet I’m in the minority here. But that’s fine, I’m not trying to decide for everyone, I’m throwing the idea (or rather, Scott’s idea) out there to see what people think.

      As to your points, in case (1) I would imagine that translators are going to want some kind of sales history. If you are selling nothing, they probably won’t be interested, unless they like the project for intrinsic/artistic reasons. Translators will be free to decide whether they want to take a project on or not. They are under no compulsion to do so. The same goes for writers. No-one is deciding anything on anyone’s behalf here.

      In case (2), I don’t imagine this approach will be of interest to someone like John Locke or Joe Konrath. If I had their sales and resources, I would pay for all the translations myself, upfront. But I don’t, and not many writers do.

      Translators contribute hugely to the success or failure of a book in a foreign market. And they get paid poorly for it. If one of my books takes off in, say, Spanish, and sells huge amounts, I am more than happy to kick over a decent percentage to the person who was instrumental in that success. The percentage creates an incentive. Maybe the translator will even promote the book a little, knowing they get a cut. Who knows?

      I believe in my work, but I don’t have the resources to translate my books into 20 languages, and that day could be years and years away. But through a system like this, I can see a future where my work could be translated into 20 languages, and earning me money. Yes, I will earn less in the long run than by paying up front, but right now, I am earning nothing because I can’t afford the translations.

      1. Yep, good points, Writing Runner–but this idea is not for the two ends of the bell curve, this is for the middle–a voluntary, self-selecting middle. In my contract, I roll over payment until it is a minimum of $20. There is some management involved, but in this case the writer is a small business owner. Certainly the translator should measure their potential income versus the time involved (just like every single one of us are).

        Anybody that feels uncomfortable with it should not do it. And there’s also no guarantee that even a superstar may have no success in a foreign market, because entirely different factors are involved. After all, John Locke’s stated method of success would be worthless in a country where he couldn’t speak the language and apply his marketing philosophy. And a bit that sells 10 copies in the US may be a huge hit in another culture.

    1. Dear David, I am a literary translator translating into English from French and am interested in your idea of royalty sharing. But I have just realised that the above comments date from two years ago. Where are you up to with this? Have you cmpiled a list of interested translators? Has such a list been published? What has been the reaction? I would be grateful for a reply to these queries. Thank you in advance.

      Best regards

      Elizabeth Deshays

  43. Scott & David: A creative solution, although I think many translators would be much happier with a combination (lower fee & lower percentage). Not only can the translator never be sure, how popular a book will be, the translator also has to trust the author that he or she will dutifully pay the percentage for the next couple of decades.
    Nevertheless, I think David’s list idea is great. Although I don’t want to spent most of my time translating, I might be talked into giving it a try once in a while (English into German). Major precondition would be that I like the text (for me this is almost more important than the money – I’m working on a project at the moment that is written awfully in the original language, and I suffer…).

    Two more things:
    – Both sides should be aware of legals aspects. A contract is important. Maybe the Passive Guy could be kickstarted into drawing up a simple sample contract?
    – Authors beware! Don’t forget that your translation should be proofread by someone who has a very good grasp of the target language (this should be a flat fee). Even translators make mistakes.

    1. Hey Stefan,

      Yes, a contract would be necessary, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. I have seen Scott’s sample contract, and it is quite straightforward. And yes, proofing is always essential.

      I accept that some translators may prefer the security of an upfront free, and perhaps this will be necessary for writers who don’t have a sufficient track record in sales to give the translator confidence they would do well out of it. Perhaps for those writers, a combination fee/royalty structure may turn out to be the only way they can attract translators. However, in that case, the royalty rate would be lower.

      The translator has all the power here. They can choose to work on a project or not. If they don’t have confidence they will get sufficient royalties they don’t have to take the project on.

      Right now, I am looking to take expressions of interest from translators who are willing to work without an upfront fee, and with a 20% share of the royalties received from Amazon. I already have a few interested translators who are willing to try something different.

      But, if we don’t get sufficient numbers interested in that model, then we can look at it again.

    2. I just wanted to say that I completely understand the position of the translator who would not be interested without an upfront fee. That’s fine. We are trying something a little different here. The translator will get a 20% share of the profits, and all they have to invest is their time.

      I should say that I would imagine that those profits will be small at the start, but should grow over time, and if a translator takes on a number of projects, it could begin to add up to a nice number. All foreign markets are small now, but in a couple of years, that could be very different, and I believe that there are opportunities available to those who stake an early claim.

      1. Dave, I didn’t want to criticize the idea. I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that many translators won’t be really happy with it (but maybe I’m wrong).
        I think there are several possible ways to do it – and that’s the good thing about the e-book market: big publishers have lost control and the game is wide open.

      2. Oh, you have valid points for sure. I’m positive that MOST translators won’t like this idea. I just want to connect with the few who do like it. And you are right, there are many possible ways to do it, and this way could look stupid or smart in five years. Or someone could come up with a better idea tomorrow.

    3. Stefan, I wouldn’t assume that a publisher is more likely to be honest than an individual writer. In fact, there are many, many more cracks for digital data to fall through when dealing with complicated corporations and distribution avenues. Just ask any traditional writer what they think of the accuracy of their ebook sales as reported by their publishers.

      And, yes, I have the translator either find a proofreader or I find a proofreader myself. All books should have a minimum of two sets of eyes on them. I encourage my translators to make the translation itself a work of art instead of trying to duplicate my words exactly–because language may not travel well, but the story should.

      1. Scott, most translators have had clients that pay only after several reminders or not at all. And the consensus seems to be that corporate clients are the least hassle when it comes to payment (not necessarily publishing companies but any company that needs a translation). To most big to medium-sized companies, translation costs are “peanuts” compared to the overall costs of the project in question. If you’re building a multimillion dollar doohickey, thousand dollars for translating the manual is a drop in the ocean. Private individuals as customers are more risky. Some of them pay promptly, others dither and argue. Non-profits and charities are the worst clients, because they’re not used to having to pay for services. Some of them are also permanently strapped for cash.

        Indie authors are private individuals and so a bigger risk for a translator. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t trust you or David or anybody else here. I’m sure you’re all honest people. But when dealing with a big project (and a book translation is a big project) a relationship of trust of crucial between translator and author. The author has to trust the translator to do a good job, while the translator has to trust the author that they will be paid. This is even more important when royalties are involved.

  44. Marvellous stuff, David and Scott both.

    We’re actively pursuing options at this time, and percentage paymenst is one option we’ve pondered. But our experience is translators want to see clear evidence of a successful track record to make them risk their time. Few understand the implications of a life-time return – especially those who have worked in print and have seen titles they’ve translated fade into oblivion after a month or two of sales.

    Great idea to compile a list of interested parties offering such services, Dave.

    1. A track record of sales will certainly help attract interested translators. Those starting out will probably struggle. It requires a change in mindset on the part of the translator. Scott said, and I think he is right, that your time is better spent looking for someone automatically receptive to the idea rather than trying to change the mind of someone still tied to the old ways.

      If you could find a foreign indie writer who was also a translator, that would probably be ideal, as they will be well aware of the longer-shelf life of e-books, and how they could be receiving checks for a long time to come.

      I think it will get easier over time to find willing translators, as the digital markets grow in the respective countries, but seeing as so many translators are so badly paid (and treated) by foreign publishers, you might get some willing to take a chance and try something new.

    1. I have a funny feeling that there will be more interested writers than translators! Maybe it will evolve to the point where we have to query them. Things will truly have gone full circle then!

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