How to identify and avoid translation scammers

How to identify and avoid translation scammers

It is an unfortunate truth that translation scammers abound. Many of us receive dozens of emails per week that qualify as translation scams… some more convincing than others. How do we sort through the myriad of requests to determine which ones are legitimate and which are worth nothing more than a quick “Delete”?

Although much has been written on this topic, many freelancers in the translation and interpreting industry, often newcomers, struggle to find the answers and resources needed to distinguish a real request from a fake one. I’ve included links to similar articles at the end of this post with a wealth of information. I would recommend perusing them at your leisure.

This post will focus specifically on scammers claiming to be clients, who target freelance translators, and on how to avoid becoming their victims. I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of red flags to keep an eye out for (ordered by the level of concern they should generate), strategies to avoid scams, information about how the scams work, and resources to help translators make sure a request is genuine.

While I am under no illusion that translation scammers will ever disappear entirely, I do feel that the more we share about our common experiences and the more we warn others about the common frauds out there, the more likely we are to avoid them. Please feel free to use this list as you sort through your inbox, share the article with friends and colleagues, and contribute your own suggestions and experiences in the comments section.

Red Flags

What should I look for in emails from new or potential clients?

  • There are grammatical or spelling errors in the email.

Sometimes clients will make the occasional error in an email, but this is your first tip that something may be amiss.

  • The email has come from a free email address (@yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc.)

Beware of potential clients claiming to offer work from a company while their email address is from a free account. Legitimate individuals may contact you from these domains but businesses will not.

  • The email or website contains no additional contact information for the potential client (address, phone number, website, etc.)

Real clients want you to be able to get in touch with them; if they have no company affiliation listed or additional information in their signature line, this is a red flag.

  • The name given for the potential client and their email address do not match (e.g. signature line says John Doe and email address is jimmy_buffett@yahoo.com).

Ask yourself, “Is there any reason John would be emailing me from Jimmy’s email account?” If not, be wary of the sender.

  • The potential client offered to send you money before you deliver the translation, or overpaid you and has asked for money back.

Overpayment by fake check is one of the most common email scams; never send money back unless you are 100% certain that the money you received is legitimate.

  • The email is in regard to a specific project but asks what language pairs you work in or does not specify your language combination.

If your potential client really found you because they have work for you, then they will already know what language pair they need!

Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed

When you smell a rat, here’s where to start…

  • Search for information about the person online.

Do they have a website? Are they listed on any scammer directories? Can you find a phone number to call and verify that this is a real person sitting behind a real desk in a real office?

  • See if the document for translation can be found online.

If you copy and paste a sentence from the source text into your browser, are you able to find the entire document online? If so, the potential client may have just taken a document from the internet and are claiming to need it translated.

  • Ask for references.

References aren’t just for contractors—ask if the client has worked with any other translators and check with them to be sure the client is authentic (and check the authenticity of the translator, too).

  • Ask for a down payment or non-refundable deposit.

Especially for larger projects, request that the client pay you a percentage upfront (e.g. 25–50%), via a verified payment method (bank transfer, Western Union, Venmo, PayPal, etc.). If they balk at the idea, suggest using something like https://www.escrow.com/ to ensure that no one pays or gets paid before the job is completed.

  • Verify the authenticity of any payments you have received.

If you received a check as pre-payment for the job, take it to your bank and ask the banker to verify its authenticity. If you received payment via PayPal, go to http://www.paypal.com (don’t click the link in the email!) and make sure the money is listed as received in your account (if you aren’t sure, call PayPal’s customer service line).

The Scam

Scammers are getting better and better at targeting their victims, but most schemes involve one of a few different tactics involving a supposed overpayment and a request of immediate refund to the client.

  • Client asks for your bank account information to make a payment.

Note that some legitimate clients do request banking information like an account number and routing number in order to make transfers or ACH payments; they will usually send you a PDF form to complete and may even password protect it. Scammers may also ask for your banking information, so be sure to go through the verification strategies listed above and check the resources listed below before deciding whether to provide this information.

  • Client sends a fake PayPal/Venmo email to get you to provide your login details on a fake page.

Scammers can be very creative; you may receive a “payment” via an online source that notifies you by email of new funds. Beware of PayPal or Venmo emails that contain spelling errors or old/incorrect logos—some scammers will create very convincing emails claiming to be from these platforms but that actually link to a fake site that will ask for your login details so the scammers can log in using your credentials.

  • Client overpays by check and asks you to send some of the money back.

Overpayments are always a red flag; some scammers will send a check that is convincing enough that your bank will allow you to deposit it, and you may even see the money deposit after a few days (there are regulations as to how long a bank can put a hold on your funds before making them available in your account). What you can’t see behind the scenes is that the bank is still working to verify the authenticity of your check, and if it is not real (the payee bank does not exist, has no account with the check’s number, or does not have sufficient funds in said account to pay out the money), your bank will eventually reject the check, take the money back out of your account, and likely charge you a fee of some kind.

  • Client overpays by PayPal or other online payment platform and asks you to send some of the money back.

Fake emails stating that you have received PayPal funds may also be used to make you think you have received funds while no money has actually been deposited to your account; but how do they actually get the money? In these last two schemes, after they have “paid” you but before you have realized the money wasn’t real, the scammer will tell you something to the following effect:

“I accidentally sent more money than I intended to.”

“I have decided not to go through with part of the project.”

“My company/client has changed its mind and we will be cancelling the project.”

Then, the client will ask you to return the money—usually via a quick and verified payment method so they can make off with the funds before you realize it’s a scam. Usually they will ask you to return the money via a different method than the one by which they “paid” you—cash deposit to their bank account or wire transfer, for example. A few days or weeks later you will find out the payment was rejected or never went through in the first place, and the client will have disappeared with your funds.

Resources to help verify potential clients

Payment Practices
Proz.com Blue Board
Proz.Com Translator Scam Alert Reports
Translator-scammers.com
Proz.com Scam Forum
World Payment Practices Forum
Translation Agency Payment Forum
Translation Agencies Business Practices Forum (LinkedIn)

Other articles about avoiding scams

Translation Scams: Tips for Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity by Carola Berger
Red Flags for Avoiding Scams, reblogged from The ATA Chronicle
Resources to Help Ensure Translation Payment by Ted Wozniak (includes links to additional mailing lists)
Due Diligence Links by Paula Gordon (includes links to additional resources and a list of questions to ask yourself)
Scammers, I Got Your Number by Audrey Irias

And a funny story to lighten the mood…

Translation Scammers Beware by Una Dimitrijevic

Image souce: Pixabay

Fidelity In Translation

Torture of Etienne Dolet

Reblogged from Dragon Translate blog, with permission from the author (incl. the images)

Faithfulness or fidelity has been a measure by which a translator’s work can be judged. However, fidelity has not remained constant throughout time and across space and at different stages of history the interpretation of fidelity has varied quite broadly. This essay aims to discuss this meandering in the term fidelity and will examine various theorists who can provide examples of fidelity in action.

Fidelity defines exactly how precisely a translated document conforms with its source. It can allude to how a document corresponds with its source in a variety of ways, from being ‘faithful to the message’, to being ‘faithful to the author’. Also one must factor in the register, the languages and grammar, the cultures and the form. Fidelity theory and its discussion has dominated the history of translation studies. In the early days, adherence to the source text in a verbatim way was seen as the best fidelity. However, as time has progressed, society has learned to define fidelity quite differently.

Origins of translators in history can be difficult to define. One of the key protagonists we have is Cicero, the early Roman orator. The Romans perceived themselves as a continuation of their Greek models. Translation was primarily a form of literary apprenticeship and literature was read in parallel Greek and Latin texts. Cicero outlines his approached to translation in his work De optimo genere oratorum (46 BCE), Cicero writes: ‘And I did not translate them as an interpreter, but as an orator, keeping the same ideas and forms, or as one might say, the ‘figures’ of thought, but in language which conforms to our usage. And in so doing, I did not hold it necessary to render word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language.’(Cicero 46 BCE). Thus Cicero was rebelling against the traditions of ‘word-for-word’ translation.

Another innovative translator from Cicero’s time was the poet, Horace (65 BC-8 BC), who again favored a ‘sense-for-sense’ view to translation. Horace was interested in promoting creative writing, and saw in his Ars Poetica how the free translation of Greek texts aided poetic composition:

‘It is difficult to treat a common matter in a way that is particular to you; and you would do better to turn a song of Troy into dramatic acts than to bring forth for the first time something unknown and unsung. Public material will be private property if you do not linger over the common and open way, and if you do not render word for word like a faithful translator [interpres] (Trans in Copeland 1991:29)

The ideas of Cicero and Horace have remained at the constant forefront of translator’s minds, even into the twentieth century:

‘During the 1920s, the philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff urged translators of classical literature to “spurn the letter and follow the spirit” so as “to let the ancient poet speak to us clearly and in a manner as immediately intelligible as he did in his own time”.(Venuti 2012:73)

The ideas of Cicero and indeed Horace, in using ‘sense-for-sense’ fidelity, were taken up by the patron saint of translator’s, St Jerome (347-420 CE). The Edict of Milan in 315 was where the Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian religion for the Roman Empire and St. Jerome was responsible for the first official translations of the Bible into Latin, although this translation was never officially recognized by the Catholic church until 1546. Jerome quoted Cicero in a prominent letter he wrote to his friend, senator Pammachius in 395 CE: ‘Now I not only admit but freely announce that in translating from the Greek – except of course in the case of the Holy Scripture, where even the syntax contains a mystery – I render not word-for-word, but sense-for-sense.’ (St Jerome 395 CE)

Fidelity is a subject for which some paid with their lives, in particular when the translator was dealing with religious matters. It is that serious an issue and here are examples of some of translation’s martyrs.

Etienne Dolet (1509-1546) was a controversial figure in translation that fell foul to his age’s definitions of fidelity in translation. Dolet was indeed burnt at the stake after being condemned by the Sorbonne for his translation work whereby he denied the existence of the afterlife. He had added the phrase ‘rien du tout’ in an explanation of the afterlife in his translation work on one of Plato’s dialogues. This denial of afterlife contravened Church doctrine and was seen as blasphemous and heretical and so Dolet became one of translation’s first martyrs.

William Tyndale (1494–1536) was another translator who paid the ultimate price of execution after failing to submit to his era’s definitions of Fidelity. Tyndale’s heresy was to translate the Bible into English into an age where the use of the vernacular was frowned upon. The Tyndale Bible, in a later age where the parameters of fidelity had changed and there had been a paradigm shift, became the basis of the most famous Bible translation, the King James version.

Perhaps to have paid the ultimate price was harsh but it these were extreme cases in an age where the work of translators was so critical. The European Renaissance was flowered by the work of translators and it was part of the period whereby the work of the church clashed with the needs of the growingly enlightened populations.

‘Language and translation became the sites of a huge power struggle.’ (Munday 2012:37)

Moving on from the early translators and the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until quite late that the official views on fidelity moved away from word-for-word translation.

‘So, the concept of fidelity (or at least the translator who was fidus interpres, i.e. the ‘faithful interpreter’) had initially been dismissed as literal, word-for-word translation by Horace. Indeed, it was not until the end of the seventeenth century that fidelity had come to be generally identified with faithfulness to the meaning rather than the words of the author.’ (Munday, 2012:40)

John Dryden (1631-1700), the Poet Laureate, developed translation theories rooted in the free translation that flourished in the 17thcentury. His ideas and triadic model of translation fuelled the thinking of many subsequent translators, deep into the future. He developed three ideas, that of MetaphraseParaphrase and Imitation as providing the core elements of a translator’s task.

Dryden defines his views on fidelity:

‘I thought fit to steer betwixt the two extremes of paraphrase and literal translation; to keep as near my author as I could, without losing all his graces, the most eminent of which are the beauty of his words.’ Dryden (1697/1992:174 in Munday 2012:42)

In the early nineteenth century, German philosopher and translator Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), brought together a change in the ideology of fidelity. His views on domesticating and foreignization of texts introduced the concept of reader and writer and how the translator has a role of moving either towards each other.

For Schleiermacher, “the genuine translator is a writer ‘who wants to bring those two completely separated persons, his author and his reader, truly together, and who would like to bring the latter to an understanding and enjoyment of the former as correct and complete as possible without inviting him to leave the sphere of his mother tongue.’ (Lefevere 1977:74 in Venuti 2008:84)

Schleiermacher identified two possibilities for a translator: either move the source author text towards the reader, or move the reader towards the text. These were the outlines of his foreignization and domesticating strategies. His aims were produced by a desire to embellish the rapidly industrializing German economy into line with other superpowers with an embellishment of their mother tongue, in line with Nationalization movements. He wanted the German language to be enriched with a new vigor of translated ideas and words, to strengthen the German spirit and to make Germany a strong nation. A domesticated translation will favor the target tongue and culture and a foreignized translation will enrich and embellish vocabulary as it introduces alien ideas into the target language. Schleiermacher favored foreignization for this reason as he wanted the German language to be stronger and more akin to the industrialized economy that was developing during the period in his homeland. Fidelity for Schleiermacher became geographical. It depended on place and we are removed from the ideas of word-for-word and sense-for-sense and look to fidelity being a matter of space or place.

Schleiermacher has gone on to influence many modern translators and his foreignization and domestication theories have provided the roots of modern luminary Lawrence Venuti, whose own work has its own ideas on fidelity. Venuti looks at the ‘Invisibilty of Translators’and believes that transparency for a translator when he rewrites a text is essential for fidelity:

‘A translated text, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, is judged acceptable by most publishers, reviewers and readers when it reads fluently, when the absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities makes it seem transparent, giving the appearance that it reflects the foreign writer’s personality or intention or the essential meaning of the foreign text – the appearance in other words, that the translation is not in fact a translation, but the “original”.’ (Venuti 2008:1)

Thus, for Venuti, a translator must take the background and disappear. It is a concept which builds on moving the writer and reader together and apart and is an extension of more classical ideas of sense-for-sense and word-for-word theories. Not all modern day thinkers on translation share Venuti’s ideas on fidelity. Others can be more dark and critical of the whole translation experience.

After Babel is the seminal work from the 1970s by George Steiner. Steiner’s views on ‘Hermeneutic Motion’ are that translators face an impossible task. He values translators to a point but argues that translation is a harmful activity.

‘Fidelity is not literalism or any technical device for rendering ‘spirit’. The whole formulation, as we have found it over and over again in discussions of translation, is hopelessly vague. The translator, the exegetist, the reader is faithful to his text, makes his response responsible, only when he endeavors to restore the balance of forces, of integral presence, which his appropriate comprehension has disrupted. Fidelity is ethical, but also, in the full sense, economic.’ (Steiner 1998:318)

Thus for Steiner, he rejects ideas put forth by Cicero et al regarding sense-for-sense and also moves against Schleiermacher and Venuti. He recognizes fidelity as a concept but feels that the translator has a disruptive presence. It is in stark contrast to Venuti’s ideas on the translator being invisible.

It has been noted through the course of this essay how fidelity has changed over time and how the ideas of translators have not remained constant. Have these ideas always progressed? Can we ever move directly away from fidelity relating to ‘word-for-word’ renderings? A translator has a duty to remain faithful although innovation within any semantic field can be productive. It is the soul of a creative industry such as translation to think sometimes outside of the box, and such valuable paradigm shifts that progress education and the arts, that develop our whole culture, can only be possible when someone rises to stand out above the crowd, to put their neck on the line, and question the status quo. Not everyone succeeds when they do this, perhaps, but our histories are full of such philosophical giraffes and we remember the likes of Cicero, Horace, Schleiermacher, Dryden, Dolet, Tyndale, Venuti and Steiner, because they have progressed their fields by developing new ideas and pointing the work of translators in different, new directions. Yes, fidelity is an essential criterion for any translator, but it would be interesting to directly compare how much other terms in translation such as Loyalty, Equivalence and Function can also affect the work of translators. Perhaps that is a subject for future work.

Bibliography:
Copeland, R. 1991 Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Hubbell, H. 1969 M., trans. “De Optimo Genere Oratorum.” Cicero: De Inventione, De Optimo Genere Oratorum, Topica. London: William Heinemann Ltd.
Lefevere, A. 1977 Translating Lierature: The German Tradition from Luther to Rosenzweig, Assen, Van Gorcum
Munday, Jeremy. 2012 Introducing Translation Studies. Oxon: Routledge.
Steiner, G 1998 After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation Oxford: OUP
Venuti, Lawrence. 2008 The Translator’s Invisibility Oxon:Routledge
Venuti, Lawrence 2012 The Translation Studies Reader Oxon:Routledge

Book review: Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator

The translation and interpreting industries have been blessed with a plethora of new books in the last few years. The book I’m going to talk to you about is mostly for new translators and interpreters, curious to explore and eager to learn more about their communities. Let’s see the basics of the book first.

Title: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator
Authors: Oleg Semerikov, Simon Hodkinson
Published: March 25, 2017
237 pages
More details: Translators Book or Amazon

Chapters
1: Getting on your feet
2: Client relationships
3: Marketing yourself
4: Languages and you
5: Practical matters
6: The lighter side of translation

The author starts by listing some types of linguistic services, including a few less “traditional” ones, like copywriting and desktop publishing. That list briefly outlines all the exciting opportunities awaiting recently graduated linguists, seasoned translators looking to specialize in a new type of service, or even non-linguists looking for a career change.

In “Getting on your feet,” Oleg explains what being a freelance translator entails and what it takes to be a freelance translator (being fluent in two languages is not enough, sorry). I quite like that part; it’s useful for all those second cousins and my mum’s friends’ children who ask if they can be a translator like me. Instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone explaining why it doesn’t sound like a good idea (because not one of those people ever had anything to do with languages and no future whatsoever as a translator), I could have just recited the following list.

To be a freelance translator, the following is required: native speaker of target language, fluency in source language, specialist subject knowledge (you can’t just translate anything and everything), advanced training (university, classes, qualifications, accreditations), working experience, key skills (linguistic and others), professionalism (you’re a business after all).

In “Client relationships,” Oleg starts with explaining the difference between translation agencies and direct clients. The focus then stays on agencies: how to maintain a good relationship, how to research them to avoid non-payers, how to trust them. There’s also a part about rates with specific examples, which is quite rare to find in books about translation; however, it mostly covers translation agency rates and only translation, not the other types of linguistic services.

This chapter closes with a very interesting section: what to ask your client before starting a translation project. I remember creating a checklist like that already four or five years into my translation career, a standard template to include in emails or to ask over the phone during initial client enquiries. Apart from this first set of questions, Oleg also focuses on the importance of asking questions during translation projects and provides examples.

“Marketing yourself” starts with an important principle: being a freelance translator means running your own business. And believe me, this, along with knowing your own value, takes a while to sink in, especially at the beginning of a translator’s career. This part includes tips on building a translation portfolio, how to use social media for business, and how to find your USPs (unique selling points, which means the combination of features that make your business special).

In “Languages and you,” the author describes some of the different markets or niches a translator can specialize in: video games, technical (including tips for readable technical translations), marketing, literary. Then, he explores ways of keeping up with our source and target languages and mentions some reference tools for English.

“Practical matters” starts with a few tips from freelance translators. My favorite was Clara’s secret to a happy work life, the four Cs: composure, calm, caffeine and cake. Have you seen that image of a cityscape at night and an apartment building with only one light on? That’s probably a translator working! In the first three to four years of my translation career, I spent more nights and weekends working than I want to admit. Then, I finally learned how to say no and how to put family time and my health over work. Oleg calls this “capacity management” and offers helpful tips. Next comes a section on SEO (search engine optimization), another quite interesting niche for translators, especially for marketing translators and website localizers.

“The lighter side of translation” includes a brief history of translation, how to work from home away from home (digital nomads), and how we can beat the loneliness of freelancing (co-working is on the rise and the options are endless).

An important part of this book is the appendix, which includes useful resources for translators. I’m a big fan of lists; I love to explore resources and this section was like Christmas morning for me. Quick list of the resources mentioned: CAT and QA tools, online glossaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias, dictionaries and glossaries by subject, translation blogs (The Savvy Newcomer is there too; thanks Oleg!), podcasts for translators, popular LinkedIn and Facebook groups for translators, webinars and annual conferences, worldwide associations for translators and interpreters, and a list of the 100 largest translation companies according to the Common Sense Advisory 2016 report.

Overall, I liked the book. I think it’s a good read, especially for newbies in the translation industry. Nonacademic books that focus on the translation business can be overwhelming in some cases, because they cover so many aspects and you might think, “How am I supposed to do all that, fresh out of university?” The writing style in this book feels more personal, like reading a blog.

Have you read the book? Did it help or inspire you in any way? Any other similar books that you enjoyed reading and would like to recommend for our future book reviews?

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with David Rumsey

Following our most recent “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview (with current ATA President Corinne McKay), we could not be happier to have had the opportunity to speak to immediate past president of ATA, David Rumsey. A Swedish-, Danish-, and Norwegian-to-English translator for nearly 30 years, David has a wealth of knowledge about the profession (which, by the way, he fell into by accident!) that he graciously shares with us. Read on to hear his perspective on what it was like to translate pre-Google, why translators should invest in their education, what he has gained from his involvement in professional associations, and the value of venturing out from behind our computer screens. He also reveals some underutilized CAT and Outlook features for organization and productivity.

His “accidental” introduction to a nearly 30-year career

 Like many translators my age, I actually got started by accident. I was a graduate student working in Scandinavian history, and a translation agency contacted the department looking for somebody who could translate a document on a Danish garbage-disposal system. I found the translation projects fun and challenging, and ultimately more financially profitable than pursuing my PhD. Since that point in 1990, I never looked back.

Vodka and heavy-metal music: Some of his most memorable projects over the years

 In the mid-1990s, when single-malt whiskey became a fad in the US, I translated documents from a large alcohol company that had a strategic plan to create a line of premium vodkas, even though they knew that there was actually no difference in terms of the distillation process. Sure enough, a few years later, a whole host of “premium vodkas” arrived on the shelves. Another interesting project was the history of Swedish heavy-metal music. Not that I’m a fan, but it was a very interesting project!

A few of his favorite things about a career in translation

The flexibility cannot be beat. However, the fact that each project is unique and the profession provides ongoing learning opportunities. I love learning about new developments in the field of energy and technology.

A piece of advice for new translators: Never stop learning

Invest in your education and continue to learn about subjects that interest you so that you can write clearly about them as a translator. Being a translator or interpreter is a lifelong learning practice.

What it was like to translate before Google, and a lesson learned

I learned early on, within the first year of my career, not to accept projects that I did not feel comfortable translating. At the time, I felt pressure to accept any and all projects, even in fields that I was not conversant in. There was a lot of “guessing” in terms of the terminology in that case. But this was long before there was even Google. The results were, shall we say, less than satisfying for the customer. I was very grateful that the project manager provided the feedback and was understanding. A lesson learned: if you don’t feel like you have a good understanding of the document, don’t accept it.

Visibility: The value of networking and association databases

At this point, most people either find me through referrals or through various association databases. I still get lots of projects from the ATA database.

Getting out from behind the screen: The benefit of meeting colleagues in person

Being involved with the ATA has helped me to network with people who can provide support and augment my own skills. Even before I became part of the ATA Board of Directors, I attended the ATA Conference and Nordic Division activities regularly. I learn so much from other translators about how they run their business, how they approach translation challenges, and tips for terminology and technology resources. Meeting your colleagues in person is so much more valuable than online, behind the screen. I always come away from the ATA Conference so energized about my profession.

Unexpected lessons learned through membership and participation in professional associations

Obviously I have been involved with the American Translators Association the most. In addition to being a board member and president from 2015 to 2017, I was also involved in the certification program and the Nordic Division, and was a regular conference attendee. Besides the contacts and professional development opportunities in terms of translation, my volunteering at ATA also fostered new skills unrelated to translation that I still use. These can include leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, interpersonal communication skills, time management skills, and even website skills, etc.

I am also a member of the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ). I enjoy attending their events because it helps keep me up to date in terms of my Swedish language skills.

Oft-overlooked tools: The power of term management, plus some Outlook hacks

In terms of CAT tools, I think that terminology software is severely underutilized. Although we might not benefit from a high level of repetition between projects from various clients, we might benefit enormously from a detailed terminology program that we can use with regular word-processing programs and not just translation programs.  My MultiTerm database is quite large and I can keep it open separately when working on all kinds of projects. At the very minimum, it’s important for translators to start to collect and manage terminology.

In addition, I really enjoy working with Microsoft Outlook, which allows me to flag messages in different colors to indicate whether they are in the bidding stage, confirmed, or overdue. I can schedule them on a calendar with reminders.  Outlook also allows you to create specific autoreplies and to move messages with specific keywords or from specific people and place them in specific folders or perform specific actions on them. Outlook is an incredibly powerful tool if you work with it as a mail client, and even as an online webmail program.

David Rumsey is the immediate past president of the American Translators Association (2015-2017). Since entering the profession in 1990, David has worked on all sides of the language industry: on the agency side as a project manager at two US-based agencies, on the client side as a project manager in the localization department at a large software firm, and always as a freelance Scandinavian>English translator in the fields of energy, technology and medicine. He works from his home on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada. He can be reached through www.northcountrytranslation.com.

Dear Savvy: Will I Go Broke as a Literary Translator?

If you read the first post in our new “Dear Savvy” series, on breaking into culinary translation, you might remember that our inbox has been graced by a number of thoughtful reader questions lately. In this new column, we provide answers to your questions by asking those who know best. In this case, we recruited literary translator Lisa Carter to respond to a reader question on the rumor that literary translators struggle to make a living. Whether you’re an aspiring literary translator or just curious about this specialization, read on!

Dear Savvy,

“I’m interested in literary translation, but I’ve heard you can’t really make a living off it—that it just doesn’t pay well. Is that true?”

– Leaning towards Literary

Great question! Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple, yes-or-no answer, and in fact I’m going to turn it back to you with some questions. But I think that in answering them, you may find that literary translation can certainly be a part of your career, and perhaps someday the bulk of it.

To start with, what is “well paid” or “a [decent] living” for you? It’s different for all of us. Are you the sole income earner or do your earnings supplement the family’s? If you need or want to make multiple six-figures a year, literary may not be viable. If, however, you’re able to find a couple of projects per year, at current book project rates, you could certainly earn five figures.

(For a discussion on rates, I encourage you to listen to this podcast between literary translator Alex Zucker and publishers Chad Post and Tom Roberge.)

Similarly, I would also ask whether day-to-day satisfaction with your work has value to you. If literary translation is your main interest and you consider enjoyment a form of payment or compensation, then don’t forget to factor that in.

My second question is: What are you willing and/or able to do to ensure that literary does pay well? I believe we hold the answer to what it is possible to earn.

As in any area, how well you know your craft and can meet your client’s expectations will impact the number and quality of projects you’re offered. The more experience you have, the more you can earn.

Right from the start, however, there are several ways to increase per-project earnings, while also contributing to positive change for the profession as a whole.

  • Negotiate. Consider your experience and what you need, and negotiate a rate that is fair for all parties. You never have to accept a subpar offer. It’s bad for your pocketbook, and sets a bad precedent for everyone. I’ve negotiated every contract in my career; I have not always gotten everything I asked for, but I always got something.
  • Explore grant opportunities. Are there programs in your city, state or country that will supplement your earnings for a particular project? For example, I’ve recently found a grant that would allow me the time and space I need to complete a book project.
  • Submit your work to contests. Prizes can be financial. Seek them out, apply or ask your publisher to do so.* I recently won $1,000! (Winning also leads to recognition, more projects, and gives you credibility to negotiate rates.)
  • Does your country subscribe to Public Lending Right? (The majority do; the United States being one notable exception.) Registering your work ensures an annual payout per title published. In Canada, I earn approximately $2,000 per year for the body of my published work.

All of these additional sources of income help to increase what you can earn, overall, in literary translation and should not be discounted.

I hope this helps! There are so many rewards to literary translation, both monetary and nonmonetary, if you choose to pursue them.

Image source: Pixabay

*Need a place to start? Here are a few literary-translation contests we’ve heard of at Savvy that offer cash prizes: PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, St. Francis College Literary Prize, Asymptote’s Close Approximations contest, and the Gulf Coast Prize in Translation (which Lisa recently won!).

Looking to take a leaf out of someone else’s book? We would love to answer your question on the blog! Leave a comment below or shoot us an email: atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org.

Author bio

Lisa Carter is an acclaimed Spanish-to-English literary translator, writer and editor. Her work has won the Gulf Coast Prize in Translation and the Alicia Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation, and been nominated for an International DUBLIN Literary Award. As the owner and operator of Intralingo Inc., Lisa helps authors and translators tell their stories. To learn more, visit www.intralingo.com.