The Authors Guild Literary Translation Model Contract and Commentary (or “Translation Model Contract”) is intended specifically as an aid to translators in negotiating changes to publishers’ standard contracts. If your negotiations commence before the publisher offers you a contract, this document will also guide you in identifying the key points (scope of rights, payment terms, etc.) that you need to negotiate up front.
FIRST RULE OF BOOK CONTRACTS: THEY’RE NEGOTIABLE
Some translators make the mistake of believing that a publisher’s contract is a take-it-or-leave-it document, or that the only terms they can negotiate are the manuscript delivery date and, perhaps, their fee. But a contract contains many other critical terms governing your relationship with the publisher, and you should feel empowered to ask for the best terms you can get. If you sign a publisher’s standard contract as is without asking for any changes, not only may you end up regretting it, but you also lower the bar for your fellow translators.
An ideal publishing contract is rarely attainable. The Authors Guild’s Translation Model Contract represents a balance between what we—as advocates, authors, and translators—believe are fair terms and what we know publishers are willing to accept.
Some of the recommendations in our Translation Model Contract call for minimal changes to publishers’ standard contracts that many translators may be able to obtain. Other terms may be difficult to obtain from publishers, but are nevertheless worth requesting. In some places, our commentary offers a range of alternative positions and describes the likelihood of achieving each of them. Our advice is that you identify the provisions that are most important to you and concentrate on them.
HOW TO USE THE AUTHORS GUILD’S TRANSLATION MODEL CONTRACT
The Translation Model Contract is designed to help you evaluate a publisher’s form contract and negotiate changes by allowing a clause-by-clause comparison between the form contract and the model contract. Many translators find it best to begin their negotiations by setting forth in a letter their requested changes to the publisher’s form contract after receiving it. The Translation Model Contract will help you do this, then enable you to continue negotiating with knowledge and confidence. Remember, the terms you accept will govern your relationship with the publisher of your translation for years after the contract is signed.
The Translation Model Contract is a guide to publishing contracts for book-length translations of prose, though many of the fundamental principles will be the same for other types of translation contracts, and so we hope that translators of all types of literary works will find it useful.
The Translation Model Contract is not meant as a substitute for the advice of an attorney or accountant. If you require legal advice or other expert assistance (including advice on the translation of literary works other than prose, such as poetry or drama), please consult an attorney, or send a legal request to the Authors Guild legal department if you are a member.