This is a guest post by Ligia Ribeiro. Ligia is Brazilian, lives in in São Paulo and is a freelance translator working from English and Spanish into Brazilian Portuguese. In this post, Ligia describes her experience working as a literary translator through Babelcube, a website that matches authors with translators, for royalties-only literary translation assignments. Note! This post is not meant to promote working for free or on a royalties-only basis, or to promote Babelcube. It’s simply meant as one translator’s experience with that option should you choose to pursue it. I (Corinne) had received several inquiries from translators wanting to hear from someone who had actually completed a translation project through Babelcube, including the financial details. I appreciate Ligia’s honesty here in sharing the details about her work.
For many years, working as an executive assistant for leading global companies, I was often asked to translate corporate documents for the pharmaceutical and food sectors. Since 2016, I have dedicated my time and effort exclusively to translation. I need to confess that it had never crossed my mind that I might translate a book. In fact, I had a lot of questions, such as: “How would I find a book to translate? How would I get in contact with authors and ask them to let me translate one of their books? Would it be possible to translate a book even though I didn’t have any experience with literary translation?” Lots and lots of doubts–and then one day, browsing the internet I found Babelcube.
Babelcube’s site is pretty simple to use; it didn’t take long to put up my own profile there. One of the icons on the menu bar is called “Teams,” in case you want to share the translation of one book with other translators, which was not my case at that time. So, I clicked on the “Books” option and I felt like there was a real chance of getting a book to translate. On that page, I saw that there were several book genres available. One tip about those options: there are genres in which you will be able to find many books available for translation at that time. However, in others, you will find none. So, be open to more than one option of book genres in case you don’t find what you’re looking for on the first try.
My first book translation
I decided to choose a mystery novel, one of my favorite genres. Following the instructions on Babelcube’s website, I translated a short sample page plus the first 10 pages of the book and sent them directly to the author. The whole process is done through the website, so you do not need to exchange messages by using your private email.
Nearly five days later, having not received any reply from the author, I decided to choose another book. I should also mention that I had no intention of translating a book with hundreds of pages. It was my first experience and I did not want to it to be frustrating. My second choice was a book of 7,320 words in a genre I felt more familiar with (business), on the topic of finding a job. I started all over again. I translated the sample page plus the initial 10 pages of the book. Less than five days later, I received the author’s approval and the complete book to be translated. The translation took me about two weeks, and I then sent it to the author– and three days later he wrote me an email praising my translation and asking if I could translate another book of his, which I did.
However, I had other questions popping into my head: “Two books translated, but what about the royalties? When would I receive them? How would I know how many books had been sold?” All these questions were answered sooner than I thought. Nearly five days after the delivery of the final translation, I was informed by Babelcube about which online sales channels the books had been published in. Here’s a suggestion. Marketing is everything. When the book is published, depending on the subject you choose, it can attract the readers’ attention and, consequently, increase the sales volume and also the royalties. So, letting people know about the book you have just translated through social networks is vital for its success.
Royalties for your translation
With regards to the receipt of royalties, in my case, it took me a while to receive them–nine months. The completed translation of the second book was delivered to the author in July 2016 and the first royalties ($1.31) appeared in my account balance in December. The disclosure I mentioned above–about the importance of marketing–could have made all the difference, but as I was involved in other projects (technical and audiovisual translation), I did not invest time nor enough effort in letting people know about the books I had translated.
You might wonder: “Why did it take nine months to receive your money?” This is because Babelcube allows you to collect your royalties only when the balance is over $10. Otherwise the balance will be carried over to the next month until you reach $10. And that was I did. In April 2017 my royalties balance reached more than $10 and I could have the money transferred to my PayPal account. Babelcube pays you via your PayPal account. If you do not have one, you can access PayPal directly or via Babelcube’s link, set up an account and link it to your bank account. It is a very simple process.
As I am not a US citizen and my country (Brazil) does not have a tax treaty with the US, I could not receive the total amount of my royalties. In fact, I had withholding tax deducted at a rate of 30% of the royalties. So I could withdraw $7.86. On Babelcube’s site, there is more information about the taxes and a list of countries that have a tax treaty.
Every month you will receive an email from Babelcube with your royalties account balance information. After receiving the money, I received a message informing me that my account balance was $5.54. When I reach $10 again I will be able to withdraw it. If you ask me if I would recommend Babelcube, I would definitely say “Yes.” Overall, Babelcube is an interesting way to find book translation projects. I believe that receiving royalties is always welcome as an incentive, but it is also gratifying when the author says you did a great job and asks you to keep on translating their books. Not to mention that those translations can be included in your portfolio. If you are interested in literary translation, you might consider giving Babelcube a try, and tell us what your impressions are!