November 16, 2023
The Authors Guild is pleased to announce the results of its Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions in 2022. According to Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, the survey was conducted to shed light on the labor conditions of those who work in one of our most cherished and undervalued art forms. “The impact of translation resonates far beyond the page,” she said. “It fosters understanding and connection among people with other lives from around the world. By challenging our perspectives, translated literature reminds us of the universality of human aspirations and creative expression.”
This survey was conducted online by the Authors Guild in October 2022, in collaboration with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), the American Translators Association, PEN America, and other groups, and was widely promoted across social media platforms. Unlike the 2017 survey, which was open to all translators, our 2022 survey asked only translators residing in the United States to respond, since our primary objective was to assess the viability of literary translation as a livelihood with respect to the U.S. cost of living. Nearly 300 people responded to the survey. (The number of literary translators in the United States is likely much higher; ALTA currently counts almost 900 members.)
Over the past five years, the Authors Guild, in collaboration with ALTA, has been engaged in advocacy and education efforts on behalf of literary translators. One notable achievement was the release of the Literary Translation Model Contract in 2021, designed to raise awareness of translators’ rights and support their efforts to secure fair terms from publishers. Despite these initiatives and increased visibility for translators, the survey results reveal stagnation and, in some cases, a decline in the economic status of literary translators working in the United States.
Key findings from the survey include:
While efforts have been made to improve translator rights and visibility, the economic outlook remains challenging for the vast majority of literary translators. The Authors Guild emphasizes the need for sustainable livelihoods for literary translators and encourages ongoing dialogue between translators and publishers to achieve fair terms and compensation.
According to Jennifer Croft, Booker Prize winning translator, “Translation is the bedrock of a rich and varied literary ecosystem, and every translator’s contribution is essential and unique. While the new Authors Guild survey shows some increase in racial and ethnic diversity among practicing translators, it continues to show inordinate discrepancies in fees, royalties, and cover credits. We must all fight to ensure a full flourishing of literature in the English-speaking world by demanding fair terms and improved compensation for translators, in the hopes of making translation a viable and accessible career.”
Proper compensation is not merely an act of fairness but an investment in enriching the literary art form and our collective human experience. By valuing translation and enabling its practitioners to earn a viable living from their craft, we invest in a future where our world is more interconnected, vibrant, and compassionate.
Read detailed survey data and additional insights here (PDF).
Special thanks to Authors Guild members Jessica Cohen, Julia Sanches, and Alex Zucker fortheir passionate and unerring work conducting this survey, and for their thoughtfully writtenanalysis.
With more than 14,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm, the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.
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