In contrast to technical translations, whose prices are usually calculated by line (usually 55 characters including spaces) in German and by word in English (and many other languages), literary translations are charged by the page. During typewriter times, a page consisted of 30 lines, with a full line having exactly 60 keystrokes. However, incomplete lines also counted as full lines and incomplete pages as full pages so that one could not assume 1,800 (30 x 60) characters per page. Clever individuals once calculated that a comparable standard page today has 1,650 characters, but usually, 1,500 or 1,800 characters are applied. This lack of a uniform standard page makes price comparison somewhat difficult.
I assume a page of 1,500 characters. (That’s around 250 words.) So, if you want to calculate beforehand how much a translation of a book from English to German might cost you, go to Review in the Word file, then to Word Count, then take the value of Characters (with spaces) and divide this number by 1,500. Then you will have the number of pages. Don’t forget the blurb and the author’s biography! Multiply the number of pages by 25 and you will have an approximate final (net) price in Euros, which I would charge you for the translation of your novel from English into German including editing and proofreading. Please note that the final price may be higher, but never lower, depending on the book. You will always receive a round flat rate.
Why is a translation of a novel so expensive?
Because there is a lot of work involved. As a literary translator, I can translate about 3 pages per hour of a not too demanding novel (depending on the style of writing, it can also be considerably less). With 400 pages, that makes about 135 hours. Afterwards, I thoroughly work through the translation and manage about 10 pages per hour, which ends up being 40 more hours. The editor will then probably need one hour per 10 pages to revise the translation, so another 40 hours are added to the list. Then I go through the editor’s notes, which will take another 5 hours. The proofreader will need about 15 hours for 400 pages. Plus, an additional 5 hours for order management which is about 240 hours of work in the German version of your book. At 10,000 Euros (400 pages x € 25), that’s hardly more than € 40 per hour, which is not a princely wage for a freelancer. Remember that freelancers have to pay for health insurance, pension insurance, and all work materials (computers, software, etc.) themselves! There is also the tax. The hourly rate cannot be compared to that of an employee, but rather to that of an electrician or a lawyer—and as you probably know, both would never work for this rate.
Translation of short stories
For the translation of a short story, a higher price per page must be charged, simply because the translation of one page takes longer. With a short story, the author only has a few pages to give the reader the desired feeling, which can build up much more slowly in a novel. A short story has to grab the reader much faster, and for that to happen, every single word, every punctuation mark, and every sentence structure has to fit exactly. So, it can happen that I spend an hour translating a single page, which in this time I revise again and again until everything fits! The same applies to the editor. Only for the proofreaders, the price per page should not make any difference depending on the total amount of text, unless their minimum order value applies, in which case their page price for proofreading a short story may also be higher than for a novel.
Literary translations are actually far too cheap, and literary translators are paid far too little. According to a survey by the German Association of Literary Translators (VdÜ), the average price per page for translations from English into German is € 17.90—only translation; editing and proofreading are added! A comparable page price for a technical translation is more likely to be around € 50. Although, if you are well versed in the subject, it shouldn’t take much longer to translate a page of a technical text than a simple novel. Nevertheless, many translators dream of translating books because it is great to have their own text published, their own name mentioned in the book—and because we love to be creative, which is rarely the case with technical translations. That’s why I find the mix appealing: sometimes a technical text, sometimes a creative text. However, real money can only be earned with technical translations, not with literature.
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