Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

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?

Read Full Post »

These topics have been on my mind lately; it’s summer, I have more time to think, and I have some airplane rides during which to listen to podcasts that are good food for thought. So here we go: a few thoughts on multiple revenue streams, “productizing,” and passive income for translators.

Way back in 2009, I wrote a post on diversifying your income through multiple revenue streams. I’m still a fan of this strategy, and when I ran my numbers for 2014, I found that my income is divided into three fairly equal pie slices: about 1/3 from working for direct clients and individuals, about 1/3 from working for agencies, and about 1/3 from teaching, consulting and book royalties. To me, this means that I’m diversified, but not too diversified. As Walt Kania observed in his post on multiple revenue streams,, “A few prongs is good. With twelve prongs you have a manure fork.” I’m happy with my three prongs, for various reasons:

  • Sometimes when one thing is down, another is up. Or you feel really jazzed by marketing one of your services, but not so much for the others. With multiple revenue streams, it’s harder to let yourself do nothing. Here’s a non-work parallel: a while back, I ran two marathons. Part of the reason the training was a grind was because it involved one thing: running. Then running some more. Later I did a couple of triathlons; it turns out that, for me at least, it’s a lot harder to talk yourself out of swimming, biking, and running, so I trained a lot more. The same is true of marketing multiple revenue streams.
  • You can experiment a little, without too much risk exposure. For example I recently launched two new online courses. I had some questions: would people sign up? Would the new courses draw students away from my existing, more expensive courses? So far the answers to these questions seem to be yes (for #1) and no (for #2), but the point is that I’m not make-or-break dependent on the classes: they’re one component of the 30% of my income that comes from teaching and writing. I translated two books this year: same deal. I couldn’t afford to just translate books, but as one component of my direct client income, it works.
  • You don’t have to deal with all of your frustrations all of the time. Every client base (direct clients, agencies, individuals, publishers, etc.) has its frustrations. Whether it’s price-sensitivity, or not knowing anything about translation, or wanting to know whether translators charge for “the little words” (an actual example!), it can be hard to stay helpful and patient all of the time, and I firmly believe you need to do that if you want to succeed as a freelancer. But with multiple revenue streams, you get to juggle your challenges around a little bit, and that helps.

Which brings us to two associated topics, “productizing” (a word I just learned!) and passive income. On a trip last week, I listened to the Smart Passive Income podcast on productizing your service-based business. Basically this involves taking one service that you offer, and creating a streamlined, repeatable way of delivering it. Productizing it (which is different than commoditizing it). For example let’s say you translate official documents: maybe you create a way that people can see a fixed price for the translation, then upload their document, then pay you, all before you ever have any contact with them. This eliminates the time you’d normally spend talking to the client about their needs, giving a quote, negotiating about the quote, settling on a price and then collecting the client’s payment. Definitely something to think about if you translate documents that lend themselves to that type of thing. Maybe this would work with patents, or real estate leases, or other kinds of documents that are relatively formulaic. The podcast episode is excellent if you’re interested in “productization.” Note that here, I’m referring to the non-translation aspects of the project (quoting, assessing the client’s needs, payment, etc), not to productizing the actual translation (don’t do that!).

Then, there’s passive income. When many people think “passive income,” they think, “making money by doing nothing.” And unless your pet is an Internet celebrity, that’s not going to happen (and actually, having an Internet celebrity pet might be a lot of work…all of that grooming!). To me, passive income means that you invest time and/or money up front, to create a product or service that then generates income with little to no additional effort. I’d put book royalties in this category: I make about $500 a month in royalties from my books for translators, with very little direct marketing. However (big however!) each book took hundreds of hours to write, edit, format and publish up front.

The takeaway: if you’d like to launch yourself into multiple revenue streams, a productized service, or a passive income stream, ask yourself…

  • What are your goals, other than making money? For example, one of my goals is to do work that is not immediately deadline-driven. My least favorite kind of work is 3,000 words due tomorrow; so my additional revenue streams let me make money on my own schedule.
  • What services do you provide that might lend themselves to productization? What steps in your current business model take a lot of time but don’t generate a lot of money, and need to be streamlined?
  • What do you like to do, but you don’t get to do that often in your regular work? For example I love translation, but I miss doing my own writing. So, write a book!
  • What service could you offer, that other translators would pay a decent amount of money for? Personalized software training? Writing their professional bio? Translating their marketing materials into their source language? Designing translator logos? When you work in an industry, you know that that industry needs…then go offer it!

Read Full Post »

This is a cross-post from Speaking of Translation, the podcast that I co-host with Eve Bodeux.

Hot on the heels of our Being a freelancer and being a mom episode (which logged almost 1,000 downloads in its first week!), we’ve put three freelancing dads in the hot seat. We asked them about many of the same topics as our freelancing moms: how they managed taking time off when their kids were born, how they handle work, child care/school and family responsibilities now, and what they tell their clients about their family situations. We think you’ll enjoy this episode (lots of inspiration and creative ideas for other freelancing dads!), and thanks very much to our guests:

Miguel Armentia has academic degrees both in biochemistry and translation, and became a full-time freelance translator in 2008. Miguel translates English and French into Spanish and specializes in medical and IT translation. In addition, Miguel is a member of the IT Commission of Tremédica (the International Association of Translators and Editors in Medicine and Applied Science). He is the dad of two daughters, ages 1 and 3 1/2.

Jonathan Downie is a conference interpreter working between French and English, as well as a researcher, writer and speaker. He is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he lives with his wife and two children who are 1 ½ and 3. He is currently finishing a PhD on expectations of interpreters at Heriot-Watt University and writing his first book, 10 Challenges for the Future of Interpreting, as well as serving on the board of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

James Perry is a French-to-English freelance translator and lives in a Scottish Highland glen with his wife and 8-year-old adopted daughter. He is an Associate member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. James specializes in subtitle translations for French media companies. He translates current affairs programmes, documentaries, cooking programmes and films: these include police thrillers and romantic comedy! He loves the variety and the fact that he is always learning.

Click the audio player link to listen online

Right-click the link below to download the MP3.
Chrome/Firefox: Choose “Save Link As”
Internet Explorer: Choose “Save target as”
Safari: Choose “Download Linked File”
Being a freelancer and being a dad

Read Full Post »

A new video! I felt more like talking than writing today…

Lots of people ask why a freelance translator needs a partner, and how to find the right person. Here’s part I, in which I briefly answer those questions; in part II, Eve Bodeux and I will talk about how we work together.

Read Full Post »

…well, a “really long time” in Internet years. When I click “Publish” on this post, WordPress will cheerfully tell me that it’s the 552nd post that I’ve written since February of 2008, which is when I took Beth Hayden’s introductory blogging class and decided to give it a go. So my blog will be six (awww… it’s growing up so fast!): it gets about a thousand visitors on most days and has won a couple of awards, so I guess I’ve gleaned a few tips along the way, for anyone who wants to create or invigorate their presence in the blogosphere. How do you keep flapping your lips (or I guess, your fingertips) for 552 posts that at least some people seem to want to read?

Pick a topic that you really, really like to talk/write/read about. Here’s how you know I need to get out more: I actually have more ideas for this blog than when I started, and it’s really only limited by my available time. I really want to do a series of video interviews, like Live from Daryl’s House, but with translators–and you just found out about one of my secret addictions, so I should probably move on. Reader questions could provide inspiration for at least 552 more posts; I feel like I should do more with topics that relate to translation technique, research skills, how do you know when you’re OK at this job, and so on. As a counterpoint, I frequently get asked to write articles for translation clients/buyers. And once I get beyond the basics (how to set the project up for success, what to do before contacting a translator, how to choose between a freelancer and an agency), I kind of draw a blank. I sure couldn’t write 552 articles that clients would want to read. Why? I don’t really know why; I just like to write about topics that other freelancers can relate to.

Write something substantive, at least once in a while. I’m not opposed to the occasional post that consists of links, a contest, a request to vote for the blogger for some award, a reblog from another site, etc. But lots of blogs are 96% that stuff and 4% original, substantive stuff.

It’s OK to be kind of low-rent. This blog still uses the exact same template and technical platform as the day I launched it. I still spend the grandiose sum of maybe $25 a year so that it has its own domain name and a custom header image. It wouldn’t be outside my budget to hire a designer to make the site more commercial, and shoot a popup in your face every time you arrived here, or stick some ads in the sidebars, or put buy buttons on here for my books and classes. Partially I’m too cheap and lazy to do that, but partially I think that the site’s emphasis on content shows the truth of it: that I really write it not to make money, but to share ideas with other people and provide an outlet for my own writing.

Just keep on clacking the keys. If you’re in blogging, or any kind of writing, for the long haul, sometimes you’ll feel inspired and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes I write posts that I think are really hot, and no one except my mom seems to notice them. Sometimes I write posts that I think are relatively basic, or even boring, and they go viral. So, as long as some people seem to like what you write some of the time, just keep on churning and some of it will stick.

Keep in mind that it’s the Internet. I don’t write about particularly controversial topics, and I’m a pretty mellow person who gets along with most other people, mellow or not. But when you put your writing out there for anyone to see, people are going to rip into you in ways they haven’t since middle school, unless you went to law school, and in that case your skin is way thicker than mine. Fairly routinely, people comment on my blog and tell me I should take posts down, or that my advice is reckless, or based on my own experience which isn’t representative (probably true), or that they used to like me/want to sit at my lunch table, but now they most definitely do not. And I have one thing to say about that: it’s the Internet, folks. Just as I got to blow off some steam by writing a one-star review of the $800 washing machine that we ended up trashing just after it went out of warranty, people get to say whatever they want on my blog. And as long as it’s not totally off the wall, I publish it.

I could go on…but after 552 posts, you probably need a break…I sure do!

Read Full Post »

Let’s just dive in to this one: bad habits that may be putting the brakes on your freelance ambitions. Feel free to add your own in the comments! And for the record, I’m not getting all superior here…I culled many of these bad habits from my own experiences!

  • Waiting for the big block of time that is never coming. That book you’ve been planning to write; that marketing campaign you’ve been meaning to launch; that blog that you’ve been on the verge of creating…but not until you can take a week and focus only on that task. News flash: unless you’re independently wealthy and have no responsibilities to anyone except yourself, the big block of time is never coming. I tell you this because I waited (literally) two years to write the second edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, because I was going to take a month off and just blaze away at it. After two years of waiting for that elusive month, I decided that even if I only wrote one sentence, I had to work on the second edition every single day. And guess what; in another six months, it was done. So, whatever your long-term goals are, chip away at them in small, regular increments.
  • Publicly ranting about clients or colleagues. When I see people doing this, mostly in the form of Facebook or Twitter posts, I have one question for them: Why? I agree, everyone needs to vent now and again. But that’s what your e-mail and phone connections to your most trusted colleagues are for. Public ranting has so many downsides, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, nothing on social media is private, and someone may forward the rant to the client or colleague at whom it’s directed, even if you don’t actually name them in the post. Second, social media is there forever. You can delete the ranting post, but lots of people have already seen it. Third, it’s off-putting to other people who might refer work to you. I would never take the risk of referring a client to someone who is a habitual ranter. Also, I think that most clients run away from translators who have a reputation as being high-drama or difficult to work with. The emotional release of publicly flaming someone just isn’t worth the risk. Fourth: that whole thing about people in glass houses. I definitely get irritated when clients or colleagues inconvenience me because of their own bad planning, or send the wrong file, or don’t understand a question or instruction that seems simple to me. But I try to keep the perspective that undoubtedly, I do those same things sometimes, possibly without even realizing it. Fifth, it’s a waste of your time and energy. With the time you spend being aggravated at a client who bugs you, you could proactively go look for a new client who pays more and is less annoying. So, keep the complaints offline, and only to a few colleagues who you really, really trust.
  • Feeling that other people have all the luck in this industry. Everyone else lands the plum direct clients. Everyone else gets asked to speak at the cool conferences. Everyone else’s webinars sell out. My take: it’s not luck.  If you want to be jealous of something, be jealous that those “lucky” people work harder than you are willing to. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So go out there and perspire; just don’t wait for the big block of time to do it!
  • Overestimating your marketing/networking/professional development efforts. I bet that if you asked most translators to honestly audit themselves, most people are doing *no* outbound marketing at all: zero. And even those of us who are doing outbound marketing are likely to be radically overestimating how much we’re doing. For example, I think I’m pretty good at outbound marketing, and I have a database of potential clients who I regularly send stuff too. But, I ordered a set of 100 marketing postcards about 10 months ago, and I have at least 40 of them left. I aim to send out one postcard per day, and I’m actually achieving more like one and a half per week. Ditto with professional development: let’s say that we recommended that freelancers spend the extravagant sum of 5% of their yearly gross income on professional development. So if you’re making 70K, that would be $3,500…here again, I’m guessing that even translators who attend something like the ATA conference are not hitting that mark. Result: if you don’t move forward, neither will your business, in terms of new clients and new opportunities (see “some people have all the luck” for more on this).

I could go on…but, over to you!

Read Full Post »

In my Beyond the Basics of Freelancing class, a student asked a really good question: how to stay sane while working on an insane project. No matter how carefully you manage your work flow and your routine, everyone has “one of those weeks” once in a while. A good client needs 15,000 words in a week, and you’re the only person they can trust it to…then the kid gets sick and the car breaks down and the dog has ear mites and the washing machine overflows.

Certainly, the best defense is a good offense: if I were to give one piece of advice to premium-market translators, it would be market in consistent, small increments, even when, or especially when, you have enough or too much work. Hopefully, that will smooth out some of the Everest-Death Valley cycle. But when you have one of those weeks, you need a freelance sanity routine: a few, small things that you do every single day, no matter how crazy the day is.

Here’s mine: I find that it makes me really nuts to be on the computer as soon as I wake up, or immediately before I go to bed. So, no matter how insane the day promises to be, I give myself some time in the morning to drink coffee (my one lifestyle vice) and have breakfast with my family. I never check e-mail or answer my work phone during that time, and this helps me get my day off to a relatively calm start. At the other end of the day, I’m often finishing up work or answering e-mail while my daughter does her homework after dinner. But I never let myself work until the second before I go to bed: otherwise I’m lying there awake, obsessing about some work-related thing. So my end-of-day sanity routine is that I try to log off all of my work stuff an hour before I want to go to bed. Then I practice my lute for half an hour and do a yoga podcast for half an hour, and no matter how insane the 15 hours between my morning coffee time and my evening music/yoga time were, I at least have that little oasis to look forward to.

The secret to a sanity routine is that you can compress it, but you never skip it completely. On a really bad day, like say yesterday, I might head to the office as soon as my daughter leaves for school, and the lute/yoga time might be 10 minutes of lute and 10 minutes of yoga instead of an hour total. But I really try to never, ever skip the sanity routine completely, or it really affects my happiness and productivity right away.

Other ideas for sanity routines?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,028 other followers