Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

The PEN Model Contract (a.k.a. ALTA Mini-Review #3)

Happy New Year! Bonne année et bonne santé !

And what better way to start out the new year by going back and . . . reviewing something that happened two months ago?

Bear with me. A new year means new organization, which means that I found a note to myself from last year with a helpful suggestion to set out a bit about the PEN Model Contract on this here blog. Very helpful, past me. I wish present me had found the note sooner, but hey, better late than never.

Anyway. The PEN Model Contract is here: http://www.pen.org/model-contract

Learn it. Use it. For translators, it's a document that works for and protects both you and the publisher. And although PEN does not currently have the ability to give legal advice, the contract has been vetted by their lawyers, so you can point hesitant publishers to the contract as proof of an industry standard. I've even sent the link to my non-translating author friends as an example of a legally sound contract.

"But Allison," you say, "I'm working with a publisher so big that they have a whole team of lawyers! They've got a standard contract they want me to use!"

Not a problem, my dear translator. Look: all contracts are negotiable. All of them. Period. This was a point that was brought up in the panel that was held to discuss the PEN Model Contract at last November's ALTA conference, and it's an important one. Since contracts are, by definition, an agreement between two parties, that agreement can be different for every set of two parties that comes along. But remember, too, that negotiations will mean compromise. The great thing about the PEN Model Contract is that it reminds you what the possibilities are to ask for in a contract, as well as how to word those requests in a professional way.

You can also adapt the PEN Model Contract to your own circumstances. A few examples that were brought up in the panel include:

  • splitting up payment into three stages (upon signing, upon delivery, upon acceptance of final draft)
  • payment due upon completed translation vs. accepted translation
  • calling the initial fee a "payment" instead of an "advance", which clears the way for royalties to begin from the very first copy sold
  • ensuring your name on the front cover, not just any ol' cover
  • possibility of sub-rights for the translation (a possible wording could be "Translator holds the subsidiary rights for all formats, including, but not limited to, electronic book, audiobook, film and TV rights, and translation")

Another thing that was mentioned during the panel: be wary of payment that is contingent on the publisher receiving a grant. It's often helpful if the book is supported by a grant, but you can't have your payment being dependent on a grant coming through, especially if you'd still be expected to deliver the translation.

One final note: in Europe, translator copyright is considered a moral right. The PEN Model Contract could help Americans get there, too.

 

***Disclaimer: None of this constitutes legal advice. I'm not a lawyer. I'm a translator.