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.

Dear Savvy: I Want to Work in Culinary Translation

Recently, our inbox has seen a number of thoughtful questions from readers. In lieu of shipping off worthy advice to lone recipients, we decided these exchanges could benefit a broader audience. Without further ado, we are pleased to inaugurate our new question-and-answer series à la “Dear Abby,” titled “Dear Savvy” (get it?).

Our first reader question is on how to break into the culinary translation sector. To answer the question, we recruited Claire Cox, a fellow translation blogger who counts food-and-drink translation among her specializations, and who also happens to be the creator of the bustling Foodie Translators Facebook group. Read on for some fresh-baked advice!

Dear Savvy,

I keep hearing that translators should specialize. I was thinking of going into medical translation, which I heard is in demand and pays well, but after reading your blog post titled “How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator” and “Specialisation according to Rose Newell,” I realized I’m actually interested in culinary translation. I haven’t been able to find any resources on this specialization online. Is there demand for culinary translation? Where do I start?

– Hungry for a Specialization

Dear Hungry,

There is definitely considerable demand for translation in the field of food and drink. The problem is, as you will realize from the countless examples of poorly translated menus, that everyone and their cousin thinks they can do it! Translating menus, recipes and cookbooks often involves a great deal of research, so it can take a long time to translate just a couple hundred words and it’s hard to get clients to understand that charging on an hourly, rather than per-word, basis is fairer in such cases.

That said, it can be a very rewarding field to work in, especially if, like me, food is one of your personal passions. There are good, decent-paying opportunities out there: the problem is finding them! You need to make sure that food is listed on your CV/résumé/directory listings/agency forms. If you use sites such as ProZ, make sure that food is mentioned under various keywords—gastronomy, food, cooking, nutrition, restaurants, catering, etc., in your source and target languages, to make you more searchable. You could always write to restaurants if you feel their menus are particularly bad, although in my experience that rarely pays off—I suspect the person who opens the letter may well be the person responsible for the inadequate translation (or at the very least their best friend!). Writing to publishers is another option, although again it can be difficult to get a foot in the door from a standing start.

For me, the best option is networking. There are translation groups out there: the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in the UK has a Food & Drink Network, although it doesn’t see a lot of traffic, just the occasional food query. I heard an excellent talk about food translation at the ATA Conference in San Francisco in 2016 by the very entertaining Joe Mazza , entitled “Arugula by Any Other Name: Coping with Translation in the Culinary Arts” (see link to my brief summary here), so I’m sure there must be similar groups in the US.

I set up the Foodie Translators group on Facebook just over two years ago, and it’s now grown to a lively and supportive group of over 2,600 colleagues with an interest in all things food-related. Not all of us translate in the field all the time, but we do share a passion for food, so you will see recipes, fabulous food pictures, questions about ingredients or culinary equipment, cries for help, and requests for recipe and restaurant suggestions from across the world. We’re also happy to accept food translation queries and related job postings. Most of all, we’ve become a real community, and members even arrange to meet up in person at translation events worldwide. This, in turn, gives you a very good feel for colleagues you can trust if you suddenly need to pass on a request for translation in this field. I personally ended up being offered a very large project to translate recipes and related material for a new restaurant opening precisely because a colleague had seen that I’d set up the group and knew that I was interested in food translation. You never know what may come of the smallest pebble you throw…

Good luck—and do come and join us online!

Claire

In search of more resources for culinary translation? Savvy stumbled upon this upcoming AulaSIC course on culinary translation for English-Spanish and English-French translators (site in Spanish; contact cursos@aulasic.org for more information). Comment if you are familiar with any other resources of interest. Now, time to get your hands dirty cooking up your résumé!

Do you have a question of your own ripe for an answer? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or shoot us an email: atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org.

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Claire Cox is a UK-based translator from French and German into English. She works primarily in the fields of energy, nuclear technology and health & safety, but has a soft spot for translations in the fields of food and horticulture too, as these reflect her own private passions. She has been translating professionally for over 30 years and is a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Website: http://www.cctranslations.co.uk/
E-mail: claire@cctranslations.co.uk
Twitter: Claire_Cox16
Blog: http://www.clairecoxtranslations.wordpress.com/