New Authors Guild Survey Examines State of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions

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.

. . . .

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.

Languages Translated

  • Respondents displayed a high level of multilingualism, representing translators to and from 50 different languages.

Translation Genres

  • 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.

Translation Rates

  • 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

6 thoughts on “New Authors Guild Survey Examines State of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions”

    • I’ve tried out at least once most of the tools available to me as an indie, including translation.

      But think about the economics. A 100k word SFF book at $0.13/word comes to $13000. My one experiment on translation was for the first book of a book series, and was done more cheaply by far (a few hundred dollars) into German, as a trial. My largest outright cost generally is the covers, which I do commission artists for, at about $500/per, which I can cover by selling 125 copies (@$4 profit). But to recoup $13000 at $4.00 profit/book would take sales of 3250 units, wildly beyond my expectations for any one book in anything like a reasonable amount of time. And once I started doing it for a series, I would be committed to the rest of the books in the series. Just for one language.

      Can’t afford it. You need to be much more successful marketing as an indie in any of the greater-length genres to justify it. Some authors are, of course.

      Did an audiobook experiment, too (narrated by author). Reasonable quality, not cheap but much more affordable, but the lack of control over audiobook sales/rent means each unit earns pennies instead of dollars, and that changes the economics, too. Maybe with AI…

      • Indeed, “maybe with AI”.
        Best wait a bit, though.

        If I recall correctly, your background means you remember SPYGLASS and what happened to them, right? That just became, again, an object lesson, but self-inflicted this time.

        Because “AI” chaos just jumped an order of magnitude higher over the weekend.
        Hard to point to a concise online summary because the storm is evolving literally by the minute.

        The best summary as of Nov 20, 10AM EST, is:
        The board of directors of OpenAI got cold feet at the speed of GPT evolution and fired the CEO and Chairman last friday, without consulting the investors who poured billions into the operation and have claims on the output.
        They were not amused.

        Attempts saturday and sunday to restore the fired execs faltered even though saturday 550 employees signed a letter announcing the intent to resign if they were not brought back.

        By monday 6AM both execs (and others) had signed on to a brand new Microsoft Division called, for the moment, AI Advanced Research, which openly advertises “there is room for every OpenAI employee who wishes to join” their former bosses.
        Google and Anthropic (Amazon partner) both have similar offers out.
        Those folks are in demand now.

        Since 90% of the GPT derived efforts have been through OpenAI APIs, there is a massive reshufling coming. The only thing sure is Microsoft is internally absorbing the bulk of the talent of OpenAI and they still have priority access and claim to its IP and output, all of which runs on MS datacenters. (Friday, they stock lost 2%. Early monday it was up 3% with more to come.)

        The handwringers will not be happy that the go slow/Open camp just lost control of GPT.
        Generative tools are now headed for warp speed but how they reach market is unclear.

        As fast as things are moving, there might not becan OpenAI by next week and all its developers might be transitioning to CoPilot’s flavor of GPT same tech, slightly different implementation. Say, like moving from HTML 4.2 to HTML 5 back in the day.

        Back on point: AI translation services for books will likely come *faster* now since MS already has realtime AI translation tools for online conferences, text (realtime and in *bulk*, i.e, full manuscripts) , and is finalizing it for video in EDGE.

        • An ideal service re: translation would be an AI/Upwork hybrid, along these lines.

          1) Identify particular neologisms or unusual usages in the original as “off limits” for the AI and mark them with a findable icon. Then turn the AI loose.

          2) Partner with a human translator to find via icon the off limits phrases in the result and provide a human translation in context.

          3) Pay for a cleanup readthrough by a native or just hope that the 1-2 combo is sufficient.

          • My guess is we’ll see a two way split, first an AI translation and then a mechanical turk Gig by a native speaker. At some point, software will retranslate back when it gets good enough the author can trust it.

            However, do remember that the biggest chunk of money in translated books is in bringing books to english. 67% by one estimate.

            As you said, the economics are iffy the other way which is why software translation is key.

            Also, for genre, there is the cultural component: not every country has a culture of reading for entertainment. Or be receptive to indie books. The market for translated books won’t track the population numbers.

            The software will need to be four nines good and that’s not yet.

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