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We already discussed the importance of signing a contract before handing someone your book to translate. In this post, I’m going to list some very important elements you want to include in that contract. This doesn’t mean you might not want to include other clauses, of course: contracts are complex animals, and each one must be tailor-made to suit your need. This is just what I consider fundamental and include in every contract I send to my clients.

1. The “No libellous material” Clause

This is perhaps the most important clause. In my contracts, it’s spelled out like this:

The Translator represents and warrants to the Author that no material of an objectionable or libelous character not present in the original work will be introduced into the translation.

What this means is that the translator is bound, among other things, to not put swear words, curses and the like where they weren’t present in your original manuscript. Yes, this might happen, and your translator might even do it in good faith. Some cultures are simply more swear-rich than others (if you don’t believe me, check “Italian Profanity” on Wikipedia. Just be aware: there’s a reason I’m not linking that page here). If your translator was born and raised in one of those cultures, they might be tempted to “vulgarize” your characters’ language because, well, that’s how people usually speak where the translator lives. You might not like this, however. Hence this clause.

2. The “When will the job be finished?” Clause

Deadlines are good for more than one reason: they help us translators organize, and they help you authors get your books translated. A contract that doesn’t include a deadline might as well be a gift of money to the translator. Even if you don’t need your book translated before a certain date, you should press for a deadline. Otherwise, you may find out that the translator has put your book on indefinite hold… and you won’t be able to complain, because they’re not legally bound to deliver unless they feel like doing it.

Of course, every translator has their own speed. Someone might offer shorter deadlines than others. But having a deadline will make sure that your book will be translated, eventually.

3. The “How much do I pay and how?” clause

Not including payment terms on a contract sounds like going out with your shirt inside out – it sounds stupid, but it happens all the time. “How much” might sound like the most important part, but the “how” matters, too. I will never stress this out enough: never pay the entire sum up front. Even if the translator offers you a discount. Even if they totally look honest. Even if they swear on their firstborn that they will not scam you. Never.

Like every other clause, this one should be spelled out clearly. This is how it looks like in my contracts:

The Translator shall receive a total of [princely sum of money] for the translation. 50% of this amount will be paid upon signature of the contract. The rest will be paid when the translated manuscript is delivered.

Your percentages may vary, and so may the number of payments. But the idea is that you should keep a substantial amount of the money for when the translation is delivered. Only then you will make the final payment. The rest of the amount acts as collateral, making it more likely that the job will be finished.


Do you have any question? Perhaps you want to contribute with some firsthand experience? Leave a comment below or contact me.