Readers Ask
Every now and then I present questions that readers of Intralingo have asked regarding different aspects of literary translation, along with my answers.

Hello Lisa,

I came upon your website looking for information regarding a translation offer I have for 3% royalties. I live in Mexico and whenever I have done translation I charge a fee and that’s it. I’m not sure how this deal would work, and would like to ask you if you can help me figure it out.

It’s an offer from a specialized publisher for two books on a topic I am very familiar with, which is why I’m interested in this job (besides the income, of course).

Thank you in advance if you can help me with this; if not, thank you also for taking the time to read my message.

Many blessings and hugs,



Hi Cathy,

Thanks for your email! While I certainly don’t have any definitive answers for you, I hope some of my thoughts and information might help.

What you decide you can accept will be entirely personal, based on your own situation, of course. However, it can be perfectly acceptable to work on a royalty-basis only for some books.

Usually, if the publisher is a big, well-known publisher, there will be an advance on royalties, a fee that you get up front to do the work. Then, when the book comes out, they will deduct what they already paid you from the 3% amount you earned on the number of copies sold. This often means that you don’t actually earn any additional money.

Other times, the publisher will offer an advance *plus* 3%, which means you get money up front and then you get royalties as of the first copy sold. This is unusual, but it does happen.

If the publisher is small and is not going to offer any money up front, then the royalty percentage is usually much higher. That amount will depend. Is the book going to be published in print? In ebook format? Costs for print books are higher, so the royalty is usually lower, but ebook format royalties can be anywhere from 20-50%.

This sounds like a very exciting opportunity for you, particularly because this book seems to fit your skills and niche so well!

I don’t know if any of your other translations have been books, but if you’re interested in having your name published, and having a better chance of doing more books in future, well, it might be that this opportunity is itself a form of payment. You might consider accepting less than you normally would, simply for the experience.

At the same time, I know we all need to earn a living and we certainly all need to be recognized for what hard work translation is! There really are no easy answers…

Kindest regards and do stay in touch!