3 April 15 | Chad W. Post

A couple months back, for the 91st Three Percent podcast, Tom and I invited Alex Zucker (translator, co-chairman of the PEN Translation Committee) on to talk about the idea of a translators guild, PEN’s model translation contract, how much translators get paid, etc.

It’s one of our most listened to podcasts ever, and even as we were recording it, it had that feeling of being an “important” episode.

That said, I was really pleased when I found out PEN America was transcribing the whole podcast. It’s one thing to have a recording out there, but quite another to make it available in print.

So, go here to read the whole thing. And as a bit of a teaser, here’s the bit that I think is most valuable:

CP: Yeah, also the people working in publishing aren’t making a ton of money either. [laughs] Which was going to be my next question, to continue to contextualize this for our listeners: With one of these books, how much money are we really talking about? We’re looking at it from the individual perspective of the author and of the translator, and even of the employees who are involved with it, you could get into that. But if we’re talking about, say, a Czech book that’s 300 pages, that’s relatively well-reviewed, what is our range of copies that we’re actually going to sell of this?

TR: Twenty-five hundred?

AZ: That’s how many would get printed maybe.

TR: You can expect to sell those over a five-year period, let’s say.

AZ: If the publisher’s doing a good job of it, yeah. It depends.

CP: We’ll qualify that statement by saying not all publishers will be able to sell 2,500 copies with all books they do. But we’re just going to use this number for fun here. How much is that book going to cost? How much are you list-pricing it at, Tom? Are you saying it’s a paperback?

TR: Yeah, how many pages did you say? Three hundred? That’d be $16.95, I guess.

CP: You want to go up to $16.95? Okay.

TR: I think that’s the trend.

CP: That’s fine. That works for me. If it ends up with decimals I’m rounding it. So, with that, if we sold 2,500 copies of that book at $16.95, that is $42,375 before anything. But wait. That 42,000 is a bullshit number, because half of that goes away in the discount—at least half—to booksellers. I’ll just keep doing it as half, just because that’s easy, Tom. That brings it down to $21,187.50.

AZ: Give it to me. [laughs]

CP: So as the translator, you’re going to get $12,000, right? So your $12,000 brings us down to $9,187.50. Tom, how much would it cost to print 2,500 copies of this book, do you think?

TR: About $6,000? $7,000?

CP: We’ll say $6,000. Just say we got a good deal. That’s $3,187.50 that’s leftover, and we haven’t paid the author, our distributor, or our employees yet.

TR: Yeah, it’s a losing proposition.

CP: Yeah. I just want to bring that one home really hard for anyone listening. Then you end up paying your distributor in the range of 20+ percent of your net receipts, so that automatically takes out a chunk. Your author is going to get some thousands of dollars. And then if we do get a grant—you generally get grants if you’re a nonprofit—[but] you guys, New Directions, would be screwed under this as a losing proposition. You could get a grant from the Czech government, say, to offset some of Alex’s costs, but that’s usually like half of it. So, say, you get $6,000 back—you’re still having to pay for your office, your employees, your everything. The point that I was thinking about is that it is dismal, and I think it’s important to have the work that the PEN Translation Committee is doing with the contracts, the awareness of it. But I get the feeling sometimes that there’s this underlying, unspoken thing that someone’s making off with a lot of money. And no one is making off with a lot of money here.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

Read More >

A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

Read More >

Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

Read More >

Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

Read More >

The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

Read More >

Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

Read More >

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

Read More >

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages
Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages by Kyn Taniya
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .

Read More >

The Subsidiary
The Subsidiary by Matías Celedón
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .

Read More >

Thus Bad Begins
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
Reviewed by Kristel Thornell

Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .

Read More >