Survey: Should US Translators Forgo Advance Fees for Royalties?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

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It’s no secret that translations can be a hard sell in the US market. That fact, coupled with the relatively high cost of investing in a literary translation — several thousands of dollars at a minimum and upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 or more for more complex titles — many US publishers are reticent to take on the challenge.

translation dictionariesIn a typical scenario, a publisher will pay for the rights to a book, and then pays a translator a fee for their work.

Certainly many publishers mitigate the cost of literary translation by securing grants and subsidies, often from overseas cultural organizations responsible for promoting literature abroad. But that often doesn’t cover the full cost of translation, publication and marketing.

Could — as suggested in today’s feature story “Opening the Floodgates for Translations” — leaving more money in the pocket of the publisher by eliminating or curtailing advance fees in lieu of offering translators royalties and greater acknowledgement — which can lead to more work — offer a solution? (This option has been discussed thoroughly on many translations message boards and online by authors.)

In several countries around the world translators receive royalties by writ of legislation (Germany, for example), something which helps support a working class of translators. More translators who can make a living begets more translations. It’s a virtuous circle.

Of course, the risk of a “royalties only deal” is that many translations sell only a few hundred or thousand copies — resulting in what may be lower income overall for the work committed to the book.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.