A new report just released by the Authors Guild on working conditions for translators in the U.S. reports that 65% of literary translators earned less than $20,000 in gross income in 2016 with only about 8% earning between $60,000-$100,000.
In another indication of the tough financial conditions translators face, the survey noted that “on the whole,” income for literary translators has “not changed significantly over the past five years.” Only 17% reported earning more than half of their income strictly from translation work—although 39% reported spending more than half of their working time on translation projects.
The report found that only 7% (14 respondents) of the respondents to the survey were able to derive 100% of their income from literary translations.
Conducted by the Authors Guild in collaboration with the American Literary Translators Association, The American Translators Association’s Literary Division, and the PEN America Translation Committee, the survey collected data from 205 translators on working conditions, including payment, copyright, royalties, education, and more.
Noting that many Guild members “are both authors and translators,” Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger said the Guild legal staff was at work on a model contract for literary translation. Designed to address the earning and work issues revealed in the survey, the contract will be unveiled in early 2018 as part of the Guild’s ongoing Fair Contract Intitiative.
The Guild described the report as the “first-ever survey of its kind conducted in the U.S.” It focused on translators in the U.S. and the Guild said that it will be used as a baseline study for future surveys of translator working conditions, to be conducted at 5-year intervals.
In another of the report’s findings, contrary to the popular notion that translation royalties are rare, over half of the respondents reported “always or usually” negotiating royalties in their contracts. And despite their low earnings, over half the respondents also reported receiving royalty payments. Those whose contracts did not have a royalty clause, said that it was because the publisher refused to offer one.
In addition, 66% of literary translators report that they “always or usually” retain copyright on their translations—although once again, when translators do not retain their copyright, it is generally because the publisher has refused to allow it. (Translators own the copyright of a translation they have created, although they may sign away their rights.)
The report noted, with dismay, that “publishers mistakenly continue to believe that [the translation] copyright needs to be theirs in order for them to make money. We will continue to educate publishers to correct this erroneous belief.”
The survey also reported that of the 205 respondents, 44% are aged 51-70, 34% are aged 31-50 and only 4% are under the age of 30. On gender, 59% identify as female, 37% identify as male (the rest declined to specify).
“Advocacy for literary translators is increasingly important to us,” Rasenberger said. “With the number of books in translation growing each year, many of which are very high-profile titles, it is important for us to understand the landscape.”