babelcubeYou’ve probably seen online advertisements for Babelcube with the tag line, “taking books global.” The claim is, “Babelcube provides an easy way for publishers and independent book authors to partner with translators and distribute their books in multiple languages globally.” The Babelcube website has extensive information on how their system works for authors, publishers and translators.

You’ve probably also seen reviews of Babelcube on the Internet by professional translators. Allison M. Charette started a conversation about Babelcube on her website. One of the issues that Charette covers is that the translator is paid through royalties only. It’s important to note that a lot has to happen before anyone starts receiving royalties, yet the translator is paid only royalties and sales are not guaranteed.

Elena Tereshchenkova makes some similar points about Babelcube in a blog post titled Your Book in Russian: Choosing a Translation Service Provider.  The most fundamental point is that professional translators translate for a living; that is how they pay their bills. Babelcube could be an opportunity for someone just getting started in literary translation who wants to get her name out there or get some literary projects under her belt, but most translators need to be appropriately compensated for the work they do. Most do not have the luxury of investing a great deal of time and energy into a project that may or may not produce fair compensation, let alone a living wage.

Clearly individual translators have the right to decide which projects they want to take on and why; however, when we zoom out from the individual to the field as a whole, it’s easy to see the impact on everyone when translators accept terms and conditions that do not meet professional standards, and offer only the possibility of payment for a project that requires immense skill, not to mention liters of blood, sweat and tears.

Logo_320x240_PEN-UsSo what are acceptable terms and conditions and reasonable pay for a literary translation project? There are many free resources online that can help you with that answer: PEN America offers A Model Contract for Literary Translations and The American Literary Translators Association offers ALTA Guides.

Logo_320x240_ALTAContracts and royalties are also subjects Intralingo has taken on several times in a variety of posts and articles: Rights and Contracts in Literary Translation; Rights, Contracts, and Electronic Books: Part 1; Rights, Contracts, and Electronic Books: Part 2; 10 Truths on Royalties and Literary Translation; How do I ask for  royalties? and What’s a reasonable percentage for a royalties only arrangement?

In short, there is a wealth of valuable information out there, and many experienced literary translators are happy to share their expertise as well. Take advantage of these resources and the wisdom of translators who have learned the hard way before signing any agreement or contract.

Check out the above resources and consider your own circumstances, then let us know what terms and conditions you feel are reasonable for you as an individual and for the profession as a whole. What are some of the pros and cons you see with a service like Babelcube?

Stacy McKenna received her MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, California. Her translations have appeared in The Other Poetry of Barcelona, Códols in New York, 580 Split, Cerise Press, and Río Grande Review. She has taught English and ESL throughout the Bay Area and worked at several nonprofit organizations including the Center for the Art of Translation. She has recently returned to the Bay Area after teaching literary translation and English at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Querétaro, Mexico.