From The Authors Guild:
The Authors Guild is pleased to announce the results of its Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions in 2022. According to Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, the survey was conducted to shed light on the labor conditions of those who work in one of our most cherished and undervalued art forms. “The impact of translation resonates far beyond the page,” she said. “It fosters understanding and connection among people with other lives from around the world. By challenging our perspectives, translated literature reminds us of the universality of human aspirations and creative expression.”
This survey was conducted online by the Authors Guild in October 2022, in collaboration with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), the American Translators Association, PEN America, and other groups, and was widely promoted across social media platforms. Unlike the 2017 survey, which was open to all translators, our 2022 survey asked only translators residing in the United States to respond, since our primary objective was to assess the viability of literary translation as a livelihood with respect to the U.S. cost of living. Nearly 300 people responded to the survey. (The number of literary translators in the United States is likely much higher; ALTA currently counts almost 900 members.)
Over the past five years, the Authors Guild, in collaboration with ALTA, has been engaged in advocacy and education efforts on behalf of literary translators. One notable achievement was the release of the Literary Translation Model Contract in 2021, designed to raise awareness of translators’ rights and support their efforts to secure fair terms from publishers. Despite these initiatives and increased visibility for translators, the survey results reveal stagnation and, in some cases, a decline in the economic status of literary translators working in the United States.
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Key findings from the survey include:
- Respondents ages were spread fairly evenly over all adult age groups, with the most (26 percent) aged 65 and above.
- Racial/ethnic identity remained overwhelmingly white, though the number of Black/African American translators doubled from our 2017 survey, and the number of those who identified as Asian or Asian American was five times as high.
- Gender identity showed a more diverse representation compared to the 2017 survey, reflecting evolving awareness.
- Sexual identity saw a significant increase in LGBTQ+ representation.
Education and Experience
- A high percentage of translators hold advanced degrees.
- More newcomers have entered the translation field, likely due to increased educational opportunities and support networks.
- Respondents displayed a high level of multilingualism, representing translators to and from 50 different languages.
- Respondents translate a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, theater, and poetry. The largest portion, 68 percent, are translators of fiction.
- The report focuses principally on the responses from translators of prose (i.e., both fiction and nonfiction), since they are the ones most likely to report that they are earning, or seek to earn, a living from their translation work.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Work as Translators
- Only 11.5 percent of respondents reported earning 100 percent of their income from literary translation.
- A significant portion of translators held other jobs alongside translation work.
- A concerning 63.5 percent reported an annual income of less than $10,000 from literary translation in 2021, twice as many as in 2016.
- Regardless of full-time or part-time status, translators’ incomes have not kept pace with inflation.
- The average rate increased slightly, to $0.13 per word, but still lags behind the rising cost of living.
- Rates varied based on gender, sexual identity, and racial/ethnic identity.
- Approximately 46 percent of respondents reported having royalty clauses in their contracts.
- Differences in royalty structures and payment timing were noted.
- A majority of respondents (73 percent) retained the copyright to their work.
- 44 percent of those who did not hold the copyright reported publisher refusal as the primary reason.
Name on Cover
- More than half of prose translators reported having their names on the book cover.
- Male translators had a slightly higher likelihood of having their names on the cover.
- Publisher refusal remained the most common reason for exclusion.
- A substantial 36 percent of respondents reported that their payment depended on the publisher receiving a grant.
While efforts have been made to improve translator rights and visibility, the economic outlook remains challenging for the vast majority of literary translators. The Authors Guild emphasizes the need for sustainable livelihoods for literary translators and encourages ongoing dialogue between translators and publishers to achieve fair terms and compensation.
According to Jennifer Croft, Booker Prize winning translator, “Translation is the bedrock of a rich and varied literary ecosystem, and every translator’s contribution is essential and unique. While the new Authors Guild survey shows some increase in racial and ethnic diversity among practicing translators, it continues to show inordinate discrepancies in fees, royalties, and cover credits. We must all fight to ensure a full flourishing of literature in the English-speaking world by demanding fair terms and improved compensation for translators, in the hopes of making translation a viable and accessible career.”
Proper compensation is not merely an act of fairness but an investment in enriching the literary art form and our collective human experience. By valuing translation and enabling its practitioners to earn a viable living from their craft, we invest in a future where our world is more interconnected, vibrant, and compassionate.
Link to the rest at The Authors Guild