All posts by evavalvo

Norwegian translators’ work to rule action in 2006 (SUCCESS STORY)

2 May 2006 on Sehesteds plass, Oslo: Oversetteraksjonen 2006 is launched in vintage style

In Norway the translators went on strike in 2006. Or rather it was a work to rule action, seeng that we are free lancers and therefore cannot strike as such. In Norway translators have had a standard contract since 1972, but in the early 2000s it was outdated and the fee was extremely bad. We had been trying for five years to get the publishers to the negotiating table, and when they finally did, we got nowhere. On April 1st 2006 negotiations broke down. 

A month later we launched our work to rule campaign, Oversetteraksjonen 2006 (Translators’ campaign 2006). Our point was to take the contract literally: The existing contract, dating back to 1972, stipulated that translators had to hand in “easily readable, typewritten manuscripts which were ready to print”. So this is what we did. We meticulously followed our out-dated contract to go with the out-dated payment agreement. Manuscripts were neatly wrapped up in brown paper tied with string, and delivered to the publishers, who then had to scan the documents in order for them to be edited. Editors who were quick off the mark and used to scrawling in margins and between lines soon found scanning in these comments was not so easy. As the stand-off continued, manuscripts piled up: 60 in May, 200 by August.

Showing our presence outside the fence of the publisher Aschehoug’s annual garden party in August.

The campaign had one overarching motto: No whining. We consistently strove to be funny, good humoured, and nonagressive. We sought to create a colourful, light-hearted, slightly carnivalesque or absurdist atmosphere.

It was launched in the square between the bare imposing façades of the two main publishing houses in Oslo – one shrouded in scaffolding for its multi million hyper cool refurbishment. Translators sat behind wooden tables banging out letters on ancient typewriters to accompany their translations while journalists took photographs and garnered information. The image of a company modernising its premises but assigning its freelance translators to the past needed little comment.

After three months, as the publishers’ book launch season started in August, we started distributing collectable Pokémon-style cards with photos of some of the publishing industry’s main characters’ not so well chosen comments. The cards were displayed on the strike website “Oversetteraksjonen 2006” and constituted part of an internet game.

We picketed publishers’ parties and events, and brandished placards with both silly and serious slogans, such as: “Recent research has revealed that translators need more money NOW”, “Hand us your pin code”, and – outside the most prestigous garden party for the literary elite –  “You are drinking the blood, sweat and tears of translators. And what’s on your plate?”, “Have you the heart/wallet to go to this party, too?” (see photo above).

At the end of September, after five months, the publishers gave in, and invited the translators back to the negotiating table. After a month of negotiations, a new contract was signed. The result was better pay, a modernised contract – and a renewed respect for the profession on both sides.

How Poland got PLR (SUCCESS STORY)


2018 is the 3rd year PLR money is being paid out in Poland. The money (around 4 milion PLN in total) comes from the national lottery or other state-sanctioned gambling which feeds a special cultural fund. PLR money goes to authors (75% of the whole sum) and publishers (25%). Only authors of books written in Polish are remunerated, and they include writers, translators, and illustrators and photographers (in case of comics, picture books, albums etc). So the translator gets the money but not the foreign writer whose book has been translated. Translators receive 30% of what an original author would receive for the same number of book loans. It is an opt-in system, which means that it’s up to the author to sign in and enter all their books into an online system (where each ISBN is considered a different books, so you need to keep track of different editions if you want to make sure all of them are counted). Afterwards, if you’ve added any titles in a given year… you need to print it all out, sign it and send it by regular mail! (Because they need your signature.)

There is a lot of criticism concerning how the book loans are counted. Since there is no one digital library system in Poland, not all libraries feed their loans data to the PLR system. Quite on the contrary, the ministry of culture has drawn up a list of “representative libraries” (updated once in the 3 years, I think), which consists of some… 65 libraries or so. It’s not exactly clear how they were chosen and by whom, but they are supposed to be diverse enough to represent all of the readers: they’re from all around the country (but some regions are not represented at all), from some large cities, some small towns and the countryside. Obviously it’s a flawed system, but probably more so in the case of original authors – whose writing might be strongly connected to their region – rather than translators, whose translations are probably loaned more or less equally on average. Also, as a principle only public libraries are included in the system. No school or university libraries there.

What happens then is they take that “representative” data and use it to divide the money among authors. So there is no per-book-loan rate; rather, it depends on the number of authors participating and their relative share of the pie. The downside being, as PLR becomes better known and more people sign in, they individual payouts go down. The money was best the first time around, when less people knew about it. The overall sum available goes up every year (they currently have the sums planned until 2024), but its not fast enough to make up for the growing number of authors in the system, which was over a 1000 the first time around, and some 2000 afterwards, I think. There is also a top and bottom cap. The bottom cap is around 20 PLN (so if the calculations say you should get less than that, you get nothing, in order to avoid costs of processing it), and the top cap is around 20.000 PLN (so if you’ve translated “50 Shades of Grey” or you’re that one super-popular Polish crime writer who has been churning out about 6 books a year, you get no more that 20k even if the calculations say you should get more – so that there is still money left for everyone else).

Open Doors with AITI in Italy (SUCCESS STORY)

AITI (Italy) organised a National Open Doors Day in May 12 2018. This was the first time that this kind of event was held nationally on the same day.

AITI has 12 regional branches and 1220 members among technical translators, interpreters and literary translators.

There was a slide presentation about the association and how to apply for membership and a few testimonies of ordinary members. Silvia Musa presented the Calcolareddito (an instrument to calculate your revenue) and then there was a little party with refreshments.
A questionnaire was distributed and on a total of 462 participants, there were 233 replies, which is a pretty good result.

The AITI Open Doors Day in numbers:

Total partecipants  462:

  • Members                181
  • Non members        165
  • Students                   112
  • Other                          4

The key words that emerged from the Open Doors Day were: awareness – professional competence – networking – information – sharing – collegiality – competences – knowledge – exchange – syntony – affinity – partecipation.

AITI transmitted the idea of an association with a strong vocation for  team working and a friendly and welcoming climate. An association which is coherent and determined to pursue its common goals.

After this kind of event, the follow up is very important : contacting non members and students participants and checking how many candidates applied for membership.

“Why be a member?” An STL video project in Poland (SUCCESS STORY)

In 2017, the Polish association STL made a series of short YouTube videos, in which members shared why they were part of the association. Even though they all had different reasons, they mostly talked about the social aspect of being part of an organisation of this kind, as well as about the opportunities for help and exchanging information, and being educated on and assisted with the legal aspects of the profession. They shared one video a week on their YouTube channel and their Facebook page, which did result in new memberships.

STL also has secured considerable discount for its members at a very good Warsaw law firm specialised in copyright, affordable health insurance and even a fitness card. Where the health insurance is concerned, STL was invited to join an existing initiative by a fellow association. The whole group consists of members of several different types of authors’ associations, such as translators, journalists, graphic artists, musicians, and photographers, and they have all signed with one of the largest private medical companies in the country at a considerable discount. The initiators of the idea even negotiated a package tailored to the needs of workers in the creative industries.

Translation: Dorota Konwrocka-Sawa, I translate from English. I’ve been a member of the Polish Literary Translators Association for a year. Before, I worked a journalist in a weekly magazine for many years. When I started working exclusively as a literary translator I realized that what I missed the most was my editorial team, a group of friendly people I met every day, who helped me solve different professional problems and who did what I did. I was hoping I would meet such a group of people in the Polish Literary Translators Association – and I was right. I found it. I meet them every day on the literary translators’ forum on Facebook, I meet them once a month, or sometimes more often, at translators’ breakfasts, translators’ dinners, sometimes I manage to simply get them go to the cinema with me. What’s important for me is that I’m in constant contact with a group of people who are friendly towards one another, who aren’t really in competition, even though we all compete for commissions from the same publishers, but who help one another every day, looking for quotations, trying to come up with the best equivalents from idioms, to figure out the full meaning of a sentence; who, just like me, want the translated text to be the best it can be.

Translation: My name is Rafał Lisowski, I’ve been a member of STL for 4 or 5 years. What this membership has given me is the feeling that in our seemingly lonely book translator’s profession we are far from alone, that we are a professional community with similar needs and problems, that we can count on one another, and together, when we are numerous, we can achieve more, get more done, we can learn something. Myself, I’ve learned a lot about law, about negotiating, about the book market, and I also have the feeling I can do something for others in STL and outside of it. I’ve also met a lot of great people, brilliant translators who, when it come to translation itself, can help me out and I can help them out. That’s fantastic and I think it hold a lot of promise for the future.

How we started ARTLIT in Romania (SUCCESS STORY)

We started ARTLIT – The Romanian Association of Literary Translators in 2014, from a shared frustration that our fees were very low (the average was about 2,5 euros/2000 characters), the contracts were unfair and sometimes simply disregarded. We felt a need for a new, more proactive association. It took us almost a year to make all the necessary paperwork and get all approvals from the authorities. Our goals are to organize this profession, defend our rights and, most importantly, raise fees.

Admission of members:

The basic requirement is that applicants have at least one literary or scientific translation published or about to be published (having a signed contract with a publisher), literary translation also including plays, screenplays or magazine articles. Applicants must submit an application form and agree to respect the Association’s ethical code. There is no quality review of applicants and no different levels of membership. All members have equal vote rights.

Some of the challenges we faced in the early years:

Making members pay – we send a reminder twice a year and sometimes individual reminders, because one of the most common reasons is that members simply forget to transfer the membership fee.

Too great expectations – it can be difficult for members to understand that progress will be slow and that getting involved in the Association’s activities is vital to its development.

Given that we are all volunteers in the association, it’s hard to maintain a constant energy and good spirit.

What we are good at so far:

Visibility: we managed to organize interesting workshops and events with no expenses at all, relying only on generous people and institutions we know.

Sharing informationRaising awareness: about fees, negotiations and good/bad practices from various publishers; we discovered it is of great importance to share information.

Patience: We learned that change is very slow and you need to wait so that the message of the association can spread organically.

If we were to start again, I think I would have liked us to be better in fund raising so that we could afford paying at least a part time job for someone to help us with writing content for the site, organising the events and keeping the correspondence with our members or potential members. I know now about how much energy a volunteer translator has and I also know that we need to have constant activity.

One of the achievements is that our members got to know what a fair contract should look like and therefore, have become more daring when they negotiate their contracts. A lot of us have become aware that accepting very low fees and abusive contractual terms is doing damage not only to themselves individually but also to the profession as a whole.

Lavinia Braniște – founding member and former president of ARTLIT