The coffin fell apart.
There was the sound of decayed wood crumbling, and a cloud of smoke surged out, like water vapour from a hot steamer.

Yan Lianke / Carlos Rojas

Frequently Asked Questions for Translators

return to translators resources

How much should I charge for translation?

We can’t tell you what to ask for, but we can give you some information which will help you negotiate with your publisher (and, we hope, avoid some of the pitfalls).

How the sums are worked out

Ensure you know whether the price you are being offered is per Chinese character or per English word. Best to ensure they write Chinese [character] or English [word] in the contract, as character/word is a concept foreign to some non-Chinese speakers. As a general rule, UK publishers will quote you a rate per 1,000 English words, but translators based in China are usually quoted a RMB-per-Chinese-character rate. If you are quoted a per-English-word rate, you may not know exactly much you're earning until the translation is complete, as different styles of writing produce different word length in English.

Translators’ organisations guidelines

For translators/publishers based in the UK: the translation rate observed by the British Translators' Association is 90 pounds, GBP, per thousand English words.

NB – this is an across-languages recommendation. Arguably translators from Chinese to English should get more than the average. Neither does this figure differentiate between types of text.

It may technically be illegal in the United States to state a recommended fee for translation, so we're not going to. That said, the following are some guidelines we're worked out through experience.

Literary Translation

Short story or sample translation (for in-house use by publishers or agents): 0.9 RMB/Chinese character, and for a full novel, around 0.4-0.6 RMB per character.

Essay, Criticism And Reportage

0.7-1.5 RMB/Chinese character, depending on the difficulty level. Maybe more if it's for an overseas publication.


Subtitle translation: 1.5 RMB/Chinese character Synopsis translation: 1 RMB/Chinese character Script translation: 1 RMB/Chinese character

This takes into account a volume discount for Chinese scripts - which can range between 20,000-60,000 characters - but also factors in script formatting, which is a headache and requires more time. Most directors aren't willing to pay this rate, but we think it's a very fair one. These rates are more for commercial films – independent directors and documentary film-makers are unlikely to be able to afford this.

Signing a book translation contract with Chinese publishers.

(in Chinese…)

1)版权归属 需要弄清楚,这是一个雇用作品的工作(work mde for hire),还是你自己保留版权(keep your own rights) - 如果说合同规定版权归甲方所有,那么这是一个work made for hire,你不拥有任何版权这样的情况下,可以提高翻译费标准。 - 如果你自己保留版权,那么在与中国出版社签订的合同中,通常你授予他们的权利包括两个可能:1)中国大陆的出版权 2)全球出版权代理权 - 如果授权全球代理权,相应的,一般还需要与出版社约定:a. 是否包括转译权?b. 代理权收益如何分配?c. 转授权时,出版社是否可以代表你签署合同这种情况下,合同条件需要经译者书面同意,还是合同需要由你签署才能生效

2)翻译稿酬的计算与税费 - 合同中应该明确规定如何计算字数:a. 不包含空格、标点符号的实际字数;b. 包含标点不包含空格的实际字数;c. “版面字数”:由于中文排版是一个个的方块,版面字数就是指一个版面上设定的方块数也就是包含了所有空格、标点符号,中文书版权页上的字数就是这样计算的。 - 因中国税务强制付款方代扣个人所得税,在签署合同时需要明确规定,税费由谁承担。 税费的计算标准是低于4000元时:(稿酬-800)× 14% 高于4000元时稿酬 × 11.2%

3)除翻译稿酬外,是否约定版税与英语出版社签订合同时,通常约定1% - 3%的版税,出版社要定期向译者发送版税报告,当版税额高于已支付稿酬时,要定期结算、支付相应版税费用。 与中国出版社签订合同时,若对方的主要目的是做好译稿、授权英语出版社,可在达成转授权时再与英语出版社约定版税。若对方的主要目的是在中国大陆出版双语版,则建议约定版税。

4)你自己保留版权的情况下,关于合同如何终止的约定 一定要约定合同如何终止。合同终止的约定方式通常有: - 约定授权年限——这是中国作者和出版社比较习惯的做法,这种方法我们并不推荐,但若原作已经与出版社约定了年限,那么译作依照原作年限约定是比较合理的。 - 约定当出版社未能完成相应合同义务时终止合同,如:a. 出版社未能在约定时间内支付尾款的;b. 出版社在约定时间内未能出版书籍,或未能转授给英语出版社出版 c. 出版社未能按照约定如每年一次提交或转交版税报告,并结算、支付相应费用的。 - 你单方面希望终止合同时,发送书面要求至出版社,出版社同意或在一段时间如,2个月内没有答复的。