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.

Dear Lisa,

In the scope of a literary translation project, I was given your name and contact information as a reference.

A client has asked us to quote the translation of a book on a particular country from a historical, geopolitical and economic point of view, in various languages. The book is approximately 60,000 words. Can you recommend some translators?

I thank you in advance for your reply. Much appreciated.



Hi V,

Thanks for your email. I know several translators who are highly skilled, but would need to know just a tiny bit more before I gave any personal recommendations.

Will this be a work-for-hire situation or will the translators be given copyright, a fee and royalties? I ask because the former is not the way literary translators work so I would be reticent to suggest anyone.

If it’s the latter and your company is acting as a literary agent (rather than a translation agency), then I can certainly pass your name and info on to qualified, experienced people.

I look forward to hearing back from you!




Hi Lisa,

Thank you for getting back to me, I appreciate it.

Based on the information that I have so far, the translator of the book will be mentioned on the cover, but there are no copyright or royalties foreseen.

If you would prefer not to recommend anyone due to this, I totally understand.

Thanks in advance,



Hi again, V.

I’m quite opposed to literary translators working under such a model, which does not give them the rights or recognition they are legally due. I would not feel comfortable recommending anyone for a project where the terms are something I myself wouldn’t consider.

The PEN American Center emphatically does not recommend work for hire situations. See their FAQ.

In addition, PEN’s model contract specifically indicates that copyright is to be in the translator’s name.

Similarly, CEATL (the European Council of Literary Translators Associations) is against work for hire.

I myself have written about it here, guest post author Roger Greenwald discussed these topics here and here, and renowned translator Tiina Nunnally  warns against work for hire in an older yet still relevant post that can be found here.

Hopefully all of the links and information above will help you determine the consideration a literary translator should be given, so that in turn you can pass this information on to your client and re-establish fair conditions as promoted by the industry. At that time, I would be happy to provide recommendations.






Readers, how do you view work for hire? Would you have recommended a colleague for work such as this? Any other thoughts to share?