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!

Podcasts I love

I don’t read much for pleasure and we don’t have broadcast TV, so I’ve become kind of a podcast addict. I use podcasts to bribe myself to go to the gym (here’s a Freakonomics podcast on temptation bundling, if you’re interested in that technique), my family listens to podcasts when we’re driving to go skiing or mountain biking, I listen to podcasts on airplanes, on the bus, while I’m washing the dishes or waiting for my daughter at her music lessons or sports practices, and on and on.

Claire Harmer just wrote a post about podcasts for translators over at The Deep End, and I agree with all of her suggestions (and not just because she tagged Eve Bodeux’s and my podcast, Speaking of Translation). So here are some suggestions for your iTunes or Stitcher queue.

For translation-related podcasts, I listen to pretty much every episode of Tess Whitty’s Marketing Tips for Translators, and I always learn something new! For general freelance info, I listen to Ed Gandia’s Smarter Freelancing Podcast, because I think it’s good to glean tips from other freelance-heavy industries.

To keep up my source language skills, I listen to French Voices (if you’re an advanced speaker, the exercises are pretty basic but the interviews are really interesting), and occasionally Native French Speech.

When I want some brain candy, I listen to StartUp (technically a business podcast but very entertaining) and its spinoff, Reply All. Not exactly brain candy, but if you became addicted to the first season of Serial, you can follow the same story on a totally different podcast, Undisclosed. Warning: Undisclosed is awesome, but in an “am I getting three graduate credits for this?” kind of way. It will make no sense if you didn’t listen to every episode of Serial, and even if you did, you’ll still have to think back over some stuff (what’s the importance of the cell tower near McDonald’s? why is it important whether Jay was at Kathy’s at 3:12 PM?). And Freakonomics is always fun too!

I’ve also gotten my husband and my daughter addicted to some nerd podcasts, which we now listen to on car trips. Our absolute favorite is Futility Closet, described by its creator as “an idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements.” My daughter is 12, and it’s surprisingly hard to find podcasts that are not specifically for children but don’t contain a lot of swearing (for example I think that lots of tweens would find Reply All interesting, but pretty much every episode has a language warning), so Futility Closet gets a special shoutout for being PG. Many of the episodes cover interesting historical events, including lots of unsolved mysteries. I would especially recommend The Wizard of Mauritius, about a French naval officer who claimed to be able to see ships beyond the horizon, and The Lost Colony, which has a lot of information about the Roanoke colony that you probably didn’t learn in history class! We also really like You Are Not So Smart, which focuses on current research in psychology and behavioral economics (great subject matter but the episodes are often an hour or longer, and I tend to prefer 20-30 minute chunks), plus the NPR news quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

I’ll end this with a little call to action: if you’re a podcast addict too, make a habit of donating to your favorite shows. I figure that not having cable TV saves us a good chunk of money every month, so I force myself to donate to NPR, our community radio station and to my favorite podcasts, since they’re our major media consumption. Readers, any other fun or educational podcasts out there?

If you really want to get a translator’s blood pumping, bring up the low-rate translation market: high-volume projects at really low rates on very tight deadlines, often for large/huge agencies. Some translators feel that the low-rate market provides a legitimate entry point into the industry, while others feel that it’s exploitative and unfair. So, let’s dig in here: what’s up with the low-rate market and what’s the solution?

First, this issue is by no means specific to our industry. Browse the web and you’ll find posts on how massage therapists feel about Massage Envy, how tax preparers feel about H&R Block and how freelance writers feel about content mills. These stories have a lot in common with the low-rate translation market: a tough way to make a living, but a foot in the door of a desirable industry.

In my family, we have a tongue-in-cheek motto: “First, assess blame.” So first, let’s assess some blame. Why does the low rate market exist? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I have some theories:

  • Bottom line: because at least some translators are willing to work for those rates. I feel like this isn’t a blame game, it’s just a fact. If no translators would work for what Walmart-style agencies pay, the agencies would have to pay more, end of story.
  • Because it depends on your definition of “low pay.” With the explosion in the demand for translators, there are lots of people entering the profession straight out of school, or straight out of a relatively low-paying job. In my online courses, I’ve worked with beginning translators who’ve never had a job that paid more than $15 an hour, or who are currently working a full-time job that pays 35K per year. So, if that’s your barometer, charging five cents per word and translating 500 words an hour might actually boost your income from where it is now.
  • Because of the chicken and the egg. I’ve had many students in my courses who just need a way to get the 3-5 years’ experience that many higher-quality agencies require. How to get experience when you have limited experience? Often, the path of least resistance is to apply to agencies that base their hiring largely on their own tests rather than on your level of experience. I’m not saying that’s a great solution, just that it’s a potential solution.
  • Because finding better clients takes work. That’s true at every level of the market, whether you’re trying to go from the low-rate agency market to the better-paying agency market, or from agencies to direct clients.
  • Because in some ways, huge agencies make a translator’s life pretty easy. My advice about working with huge agencies used to be summed up in three words: “don’t do it.” Too much stress, too little pay, no personal relationship, and the feeling that you’re just a grudgingly tolerated cog in the machine. But over the years I’ve had numerous students who started out working with huge, low-paying agencies and (wait for it…) loved it. They could pick and choose the work they wanted to take, without fear of losing the agency as a client (because every project offer came as a mass e-mail to a huge group of people). They could tell the agency on Monday morning, “I can take 12,000 words this week” and then set their own schedule to get it done. They did basically no marketing; a few students even told me that they sent out one resume to one large agency and then worked full-time only for them. Again, not to say that there are no downsides, but that type of situation can reduce a freelancer’s administrative overhead nearly to zero, which is appealing to some people.

So, let’s say you’re working in the low-rate market now, and you’d like to get out. What are some potential avenues of escape?

  • Avoid places where zillions of translators congregate. Job boards create price-based competition; that’s just the reality of supply and demand. Going and looking for better clients is the only way out.
  • Be a better translator. It’s not all about marketing, it’s about offering a service that high-paying clients see as being worth their money. So pursue professional development, join professional associations, ask for feedback on every translation, take graduate courses, read like crazy in your specializations, and so on.
  • Avoid financial panic. One problem with low-rate work is that it becomes difficult to get off the treadmill: you have to work such long hours that you have no time to market for better-paying work, so you burn out. To avoid this, find a way of putting some slack in your finances; this could involve cutting your living expenses, forcing yourself to put 10% of every invoice into an “escape fund,” or seeing if a spouse or partner would be willing to contribute extra income to your family finances while you look for better-paying work.
  • Work the local market: this is a technique that many translators don’t use, because it’s time-consuming and requires interacting with strangers! When I first started freelancing, I met in person with every potential client who would let me in the door, even the ones who said, “We don’t have anything for you right now.” Within a year, nearly all of them had sent me some kind of work (and sometimes even a lot of work), probably because I popped into their head when they thought of French to English translators. So, although it’s a big time suck, force yourself to get out of the office and do informational interviews whenever you can.
  • Surround yourself with successful translators. There’s definitely an inspirational rub-off effect when you hang out with people who are where you want to be in a few years. Avoid the self-pitying crowd: complaining isn’t the way to attract better clients. Instead, fill your head with stories of people who work in the market you want to be in.

Readers, any thoughts on this?

When a client asks, “can you lower your rate?,” you can respond in various ways. You could get defensive and belligerent (“For your information, I’m a serious professional whose work is worth real money”). You could offer some snarky feedback on the rate the client is proposing (“No serious professional translator would work for what you’re offering”). I don’t recommend those strategies, but lots of translators go that route. You could justify why you charge what you do (“I have 20 years’ experience and a Master’s in Translation”). You could just say no, and suggest that they find another translator; fair enough.

But the best response is, “I’m unable to offer a discount, because I’m busy all the time at my regular rates.”

First, if you’ve already told the client your rates and they want to pay less, let’s be honest: they’re asking for a discount. Asking is fine; some clients will ask just on principle, to see if they can save some money. Don’t freak out just because they asked. But from the freelancer’s point of view, the best defense is to simply be busy all the time at your regular rates. That way, you don’t need to get angry, or defensive, or engage with the “how low can you go” clients. If it’s within the client’s budget to pay your regular rates, great. If not, no problem (for you at least!) because you’ll just continue working with the clients who will pay your regular rates. When I use this strategy with clients, I feel that this has the advantage of being true (never an absolute must in a business negotiation, but always a plus!). I’m not getting nasty, or superior, or defensive; I’m just saying that, truthfully, it makes no sense for me to work for less than what all my other clients pay.

Getting to “I’m busy all the time at my regular rates” is a long-term project; lots of posts on this blog and others (check out Marketing tips for translators in particular) can help you get there. But keep that goal in mind: yes, the client’s proposed rate may be laughably low; yes, you may have 20 years’ experience and certification and a Master’s in Translation; yes, you’re a serious professional. But there’s one real reason not to offer discounts: you don’t need to.

The first session of my new course Breaking Into the Agency Market starts on Wednesday (May 13); we have a good group signed up, but there’s room for a few more people if you’d like to join.

This is a three-week, quick start course for people who want a lot of individual attention without much homework, and are interested in working with translation agencies. We’ll focus on how to find agencies to apply to, how to develop and execute a marketing campaign, and how to work successfully with agencies; each week you’ll watch and/or listen to some pre-recorded lessons, then we’ll do a group conference call every week and everyone gets an hour of individual consulting time with me.

Registration is $190 ($175 if you’re an ATA member) and the details are here.

A student who completed the most recent session of my online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator commented:

“When I completed my certificate in translation I had some confidence in my ability to translate, but no idea how to go about starting my career. After struggling on my own for a while, I finally signed up for Corinne’s course for beginning freelancers. What a life saver! Her sessions cover everything I needed to consider for my business and her individual attention to my specific situation answered all of my questions. I now feel ready to conquer the translation world.”

A reader asks: I come from a court interpreting background, and we have to be super-faithful to the original–how much do you advise a translator to deviate (if that’s the right word) from the original?

Short answer: In 2003, PEN held a tribute to Gabriel García Márquez. Edith Grossman, (legendary translator of García Márquez and other Nobel laureates) was one of the speakers, and she explained her translation method by saying, “Fidelity is surely our highest aim, but a translation is not made with tracing paper.” I guess you have to be old enough to know what tracing paper is, but I love this quote so much that I have it posted above my desk. So that’s my short answer: be faithful to the original, but don’t be enslaved to it.

Longer answer: Every translator is going to have their own take on this question, and it depends on the specifics of the situation: are we talking about a patent or a marketing slogan? A legal brief or a poem? And what’s the purpose of the translation? To be used as a marketing slogan in another language, or just to know what it says?

Personally I’m more interested in the effectiveness of the target text than in an exact reproduction of the source text.  If a client sends me a corporate communications document that’s written in typically French style (“the company” instead of “we;” lots of passive voice), I’ll nearly always rewrite it in a more active voice. Unless the client tells me otherwise, my assumption is that they want something that will work in the target culture, and passive voice and impersonal forms of address are not going to do that.

Also, there are situations in which you have to deviate from the original because your language has no way to express the individual words in the source text. An example of this would be the formal and familiar forms of address that most languages (but not English) have. If you’re translating a corporate video script and the employee calls the boss “vous” but the boss calls the employee “tu,” you have to find another way to deal with it. Maybe first name versus Mr./Ms.; but just translating the words as “you” isn’t going to get the point across.

However I do think this emphasis can go too far: a translation can be beautiful but totally inaccurate; smooth and flowing but completely different in meaning than the source text, and that’s no good either. I’ve heard translators argue that, for example, no one makes French people write in the passive voice. Presumably they’re doing so because they like the way it sounds, or they find a more active voice too harsh, like asking someone “What the %^&*& is your problem?,” rather than “Can I do anything to help you?” I’ve also heard translators argue that when someone deviates significantly from the source text, it’s because they don’t understand it thoroughly: they figure that if they make the source text very different from the original, it’s easier to cover up the lack of understanding.

There are definitely documents that call for a fairly direct translation. Birth certificates, patents and legal briefs don’t cry out for creativity. On the other end of the spectrum, literary translators have to be just as skilled as the novelists, playwrights and poets they translate for, only in two languages instead of one.

Readers: thoughts on this? Thoughts on explaining this fine line to clients?

If you missed the webinar that I presented for SDL last month on “Breaking into the direct client market,” here’s the link to the recording. About 800 people attended live and the feedback was positive; as I mentioned in the Q&A section, I’ll be writing a blog post to answer some of the questions that we couldn’t get to during the live session. Thanks to everyone who attended!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,033 other followers