Stop me if this sounds familiar:
I really needed work, so I decided to take whatever came through the door. I decided that applying to mega-agencies/advertising on Fiverr/racing to the bottom on translation job boards was the fastest way to get full-time freelance work. But now I’m stuck; I have to translate 10-12 hours a day to earn a decent living at these rates. I can’t ever take a day off. If I get sick, I’m in danger of not being able to pay my rent, and I have no money to spend on better equipment or professional development. Low-rate work feels like a treadmill that I’ll never get off. HELP.
Archive for the ‘Freelancing’ Category
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
Book translation has been on my radar screen lately; Eve Bodeux and I translated a novel together last year, and I’ve just finished translating another novel and a mountaineering memoir (more on these when they’re published!). Then, as if there were something in the air, a couple of readers e-mailed me questions about book translation. So, let’s have a crack at this interesting topic.
First, almost everything I know about the business of book translation, I learned from Lisa Carter. Her blog is truly a gold mine of advice for aspiring literary translators, especially those who want to make some money while they’re at it. So, for the authoritative word on literary translation, listen to Lisa! You can literally listen to her, in an interview on Tess Whitty’s podcast, which I also recommend!
The harsh reality is that unless you get in on the ground floor of the next Harry Potter series (and maybe not even then), book translation will never pay as well as commercial translation. It just won’t. Because the people who need book translations (authors and publishers) mostly earn a lot less than the people who need commercial translations. But a) if you look carefully, book translation can pay enough to be a viable addition to your commercial translation business, and b) it’s appealing for other reasons, which I’ll address later.
In my experience, there are two kinds of book translation clients: those with budgets so low that they really need a pro bono translator, and those that will pay enough to hire a professional translator. I’m assuming that you’re looking for the second kind of book translation client. If you love translating books and honestly don’t need the money, go forth and translate, because there are tons of authors out there waiting for you (and I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically).
To find decently-paying book translations I recommend a) working with self-published authors who have decent budgets, or b) contacting publishers in your target language, that publish the kinds of books you’re interested in translating. In my experience, non-fiction always pays better than fiction (simply because non-fiction books have a longer shelf life and generally sell more copies). But fiction, especially for the aforementioned self-published authors, can pay decently too. Working with self-published authors isn’t as crazy as it sounds, especially if the author is translating into a language with potentially higher sales than the original. Some authors are willing to self-fund the translation and then recoup the investment through royalties, and others are just interested in getting their book in front of a new audience. For more on working with self-published authors, see Lisa Carter’s interview with Rafa Lombardino on that very topic.
How do you find book translation clients? Of the four books I’ve translated to date, one was a referral from a colleague, one was for an author who found my website, one was through an agency, and one was through a specialized publisher that I cold-contacted (with a warm e-mail). So, just like any other kind of client, you can find book translation clients in lots of ways; but I would definitely recommend having a dedicated page for book translations on your website (here’s mine), and I would definitely recommend proactively contacting publishers that produce the kinds of books you want to translate.
So, if book translation rarely pays as well as commercial translation, what’s the appeal? Well, lots of things. Translating books is really interesting. Although I love my work, it’s rare that I would choose to read one of my commercial translations for pleasure. When I kick back and relax, I don’t crack open a report on performance-based funding of public health programs in West Africa, or a brochure to attract foreign students to a European university. I find them interesting when I translate them, but they’re not something I would read if I weren’t getting paid. But the books I’ve translated have been really, really interesting: the kind of thing I’d read for pleasure. Also, book translations are less immediately-deadline driven than most commercial translation. The books I’ve translated have taken three to five months, during which time I work completely on my own schedule; a nice alternative to 3,000 words for tomorrow. Book translations are also good for translators who want to be location-independent, for that same reason (once you sign the contract, you’re usually not in daily contact with the author or publisher).
A few caveats:
-Always get a deposit; even at a lower rate than your commercial translation work, book translations are a big chunk of money and you don’t want to risk not getting paid.
-Get credit: the gold standard is your name on the cover, in the same font as the author’s; your name might be on the copyright page or somewhere else, but your name should be there somewhere (ditto for the Amazon page: you should be on there).
-Avoid work for hire (with the disclosure that I’ve done a book translation as a work for hire, so I’m talking about the ideal here, not necessarily what I always do). Work for hire, where the client owns all rights to the translation once they pay the invoice, is the norm in commercial translation. In book translation, you want to avoid it. When you own the copyright to the translation, the client can’t deny you credit for it; if they never publish the translation, go out of business, or if the translation goes out of print, you may be able to do something else with it (for example, self-publish it or shop it around to another publisher).
-Negotiate long deadlines. To me, this is the key to making book translation financially viable. I couldn’t live off book translation alone, and I don’t want to tie myself up so that I’m turning down work from my commercial translation clients. So I negotiate a deadline that allows me to fit the book in as I have time; that way I’m not putting my commercial clients on hold for three months while I work on the book.
Readers, other thoughts on translating books?
There are a lot of reasons to avoid negotiating on price:
- Once you take on the lower-paying project, what happens when a higher-paying project comes in?
- Lowering your rate shows the client that, at least some of the time, you’re willing to work for less than your stated rate.
- Lowering your rate can cause you to feel resentful of the client or the project (even though you’re the one who agreed to the lower rate).
But what happens when, for whatever reason (interest in the client, interest in the subject matter, interest in bringing in more work in general), you’re offered a lower-paying project and you want to accept it? What other factors might you negotiate with the client?
A longer deadline. If you really want the work, but you and the client can’t agree on a rate, ask the client to extend the deadline. This protects you from having to turn down higher-paying work during the lower-paying project.
The non-translation tasks. Can the client’s admin staff do some of the formatting? Retype numbers from a PDF? Create tables? Do the annoying double-column layout that you’re dreading? Decipher the handwritten notes in the margins?
Faster payment. If you really want the work, can the client reduce their payment terms from 30 or 45 days to, say, 10 days?
Name recognition. Especially for a direct client, you may be able to negotiate for your name, website, etc. to be included on the translation. This can be appealing if the translation will be published/exhibited/distributed.
In certain circumstances, you might also consider doing the job for free instead of reducing your rate. This sounds a bit nutty, but here’s an example: one of my A-list clients approached me about doing a translation for a charitable organization that one of their employees was involved with. In light of the pro bono nature of the project, what was “my best rate?,” they asked. Here, I thought of item 2 on the list above: if I said “I’ll do it for half of my normal rate,” the bottom line would be that, at least some of the time, half of my normal rate is fine with me (which it’s not, even though I really like this client). So in that case, I preferred to do the translation for free, as a contribution to the charitable organization, rather than at a reduced rate.
Obviously, the best option is to have enough work at your regular rates that you don’t need to pursue these options. But I think many/most freelancers end up in situations where they feel torn: the project doesn’t pay their standard rate, but for some reason they want to take it. Readers, other thoughts?
Yesterday we flipped the calendar not only into July, but into the second half of 2015. A really short post for today: assess how you’re doing as compared to the goals you set for this year. Most importantly, what has to happen between now and December 31 in order for you to feel successful? If you want a public record of your goal, you can post it in the comments! Mine= publish the third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator before the 2015 ATA conference.
This class session is now full. To view upcoming dates for all of my online courses, visit my website.
My new quick-start course Breaking Into the Direct Client Market starts on July 1, and I have about three spots left. This is a three-week course with minimal homework, three sets of slide shows with audio tracks (finding direct clients, marketing to direct clients, working successfully with direct clients), three question and answer conference calls for the whole group, and an hour of individual consulting time for every student. Registration is $190, or $175 if you’re an ATA member. The class is aimed at people who have experience as translators but are new to the direct client market. If you’re an established translator and you’d like to take my longer, full-featured course Beyond the Basics of Freelancing, it starts on August 19. We just wrapped up the inaugural session of my other new course, Breaking into the Agency Market; the session was full and I got some excellent feedback from the students, so I think that this new format is a good fit for people who want a shorter, less homework-dependent class. One student commented that: “This course rocks! Many of us have had training & experience in the “how to translate/interpret” end of things, but T&I programs, as far as I know, don’t cover the business end. This course fills this gap that’s not covered much by otherwise very good T&I schools.” If you’re interested in joining the July 1 session, hop on over to my website to read the full description or to register!
If you have the drive and discipline to launch your freelance business, you have the drive and discipline to improve your freelance business, but we all struggle to force ourselves to work on those improvements incrementally (or at least I do!). In this video I talk about three approaches you might try: the carrot, the stick or the temptation bundle. If you really want to geek out on temptation bundling, you can listen to this episode of Freakonomics Radio.