Readers Ask: What’s a reasonable percentage for a royalties only arrangement?
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.

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

Hello,

I found your blog on the issue of royalties very helpful. I am currently working on a contract between myself and the heirs of a man whose memoirs I will be translating. I do not yet have a publisher, but I would like to address the issue of royalties in my contract with the writer’s four children. Since they are not paying me for the translation, nor is a publishing house at this time, what do you think would be a reasonable percentage to request?

Warm regards,
Rachel

~~~

Dear Rachel,

I’m very glad to hear my post on royalties was useful!

I think it’s a very good idea to start negotiating royalties with the copyrightholders right from the beginning. It makes your position known and sets the groundwork for your negotiations with an eventual publisher.

In terms of royalty rates, there are no absolutes. What you ask for or what you are granted will depend on many things, including where you eventually find a publisher and what the “standards” are in that part of the world. The type of publishing (printed or electronic book) must also be taken into consideration.

As general ballpark figures, large publishing houses in the US tend to award only 1-3% royalties, but when self-publishing an e-book 15% seems to be standard, but up to 25% or more can often be negotiated.

What’s more, royalties will also depend in large part on what other contract arrangements you have set up, and what all you are considering “fair compensation.”

For example, in your case you are willing to take a lower fee and so you can reasonably ask for a larger share of royalties. But it might also be that the publishing experience is worth a great deal to you and you’d therefore be willing to take only a small percentage of royalties.

There is a lot of discussion about this topic on the web and attitudes are changing. Check out these posts:

Obviously, if you’re considering a royalties only scenario, you need to factor in how many copies you think will reasonably be sold. Some estimates are that the average book sells less than 250 copies. A book that does well might sell 2500 copies. So, even if you get a high percentage of royalties, you are unlikely to make a huge amount of money.

In case you missed them, these posts here also contain information that might come in handy:

And if you’d like to discuss overall compensation in greater detail, I do dedicate a whole section of my online class Next Steps in Literary Translation to this topic.

Good luck with this project and do let me know what you eventually decide!

Regards,
Lisa

Readers, what do you consider a fair royalty rate for your translation work? Have you ever worked for royalties alone? How did that work out for you?

Lisa Carter is an acclaimed Spanish>English translator. Her work has won the Alicia Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation and been nominated for an International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Lisa offers translation, editing, professional development and promotion services through her company, Intralingo Inc., at www.intralingo.com