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.

Certification Exam Changes

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle, with permission

There are major changes ahead for ATA’s certification exam in 2017.

Eligibility Requirements: Education and experience requirements needed to take the exam will be discontinued in January 2017. Why? Because they failed to predict the chances of an individual passing the exam. And that was the whole point—to ensure that exam candidates were not taking the exam before they were ready.

Note: An exam candidate still needs to be an ATA member in order to take the exam.

Exam Passages: All three exam passages will be general text in 2017. Why? Because people misunderstood labeling texts as medical, technical, or scientific text and legal, commercial, or financial. The intent of the exam has always been to certify translation competence as a whole, not competence based on a specialty.

Practice Tests: Practice tests will become available for download in the near future. Why? Because it’s crucial for exam candidates to know what they are walking into—not what they think, but what they know. The practice test is the best way to do that. Making it easier to take the practice test may encourage more people to do it.

Candidate Preparation Workshops: The Certification Committee is working to increase the availability of these workshops, as both live sessions and webinars. Why? Because they are another way for candidates to understand the exam and take a good look at whether they are ready for it.

Computerized Exam Option: More testing sites will offer computerized exam sittings next year. Why? Because now that the problem with exam security has been resolved, it makes sense to give exam candidates more of the tools they use in their translation work.

For more information on ATA’s Certification Program, please click here.

Image source: Pixabay

 

9 Useful Questions by New Professional Translators

Training and earning credentials in translation are a massive part of becoming a successful professional translator. But once you’ve finished your training course, then what? In this article, I’ll share nine of the most popular questions that budding professional translators ask me when they complete my Spanish-to-English translation course.

  1. Should I Think about Working In-house?

If you like the idea of being an employee and you’re in a suitable location, this option is worth considering. By working in-house you get solid experience, guaranteed work from the get-go, and ongoing technology training. You learn methods for dealing with clients and managing projects, not to mention how to perform proper quality control.

  1. Do People Actually Make it as Freelance Translators?

Yes. After singing the praises of in-house, I should disclose that I’ve never actually done it. I went into freelancing from TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) in 2009, and am still a freelance translator today. You have to work hard and be self-disciplined. You also have to learn to run a business. So, besides your translation, specialization, and technology skills, you’ll need training on digital marketing, selling, negotiating, customer service, accounting, and time management.

  1. How Do I Choose a Specialization?

Three words: follow the money. If you have a degree or work experience in another subject, then that may be a good place to start. It’s essential to make sure that there’s market demand for your chosen subject. Look for industries where you know the end clients are profitable. That means they’ll have the budget to work with professional translators.

  1. Should I Join a Translation Association?

Yes. As I wrote about in this article on how accredited translators get more work, being a member of a translation association, like the ATA, is a great way of showing your dedication to the profession. It’ll also help you network with other translators, which can result in new projects.

  1. How Do You Get Your First Clients?

Start by making a great CV and building strong online profiles on ProZ.com, LinkedIn, and your translation association. Most freelance translators begin by looking for work with translation agencies. It’s best to go after a client who has a job in hand. So, if they’re putting out ads on translation sites like ProZ.com, or advertising on LinkedIn, you know they need somebody right now.

If you can’t find any immediate opportunities, send out your CV while you keep looking. You must have a good cover letter, realistic prices, and a CV that contains the information the agency needs. For guidance on this, read How Do Translators Showcase Their Talent to Translation Agencies?, which was reblogged on The Savvy Newcomer.

  1. How Much Should I Charge?

Translation agencies will have price brackets they accept for each language combination. They pay at the lower end of the bracket for less-experienced translators and non-specialists, and at the higher end for specialists with more experience. You can get pricing guidance by asking a sample of agencies you would consider working with what they pay freelancers in your combination. You could also try asking a sample of professional translators working in your combination.

Remember that when you set your rates you need to consider all your business costs and the time you spend working. That way you can make sure you offer prices that are competitive and sustainable.

  1. How Do I Learn How to Quote and Invoice?

If you’re talking to good translation agencies, they won’t mind guiding you. Before you quote, read the agency’s terms and conditions, to make sure you’re happy to work under them.

The project manager will normally agree prices with you by email. Mention whether your price includes sales tax, and any other details you want to state, e.g. USD X.XX per source word + sales tax.

There will be official requirements in your country of residence on what an invoice has to contain. You could consult the tax authorities, or visit freelancer forums to find out the requirements. The agency will probably check your invoice to make sure it’s legal for tax purposes, and ask you to make amendments if necessary.

  1. Can I Start Sending Out My CV Without a Translation Qualification?

If you’ve not yet completed your translation qualification exam or program, you can still start marketing yourself. Include your translation studies on your CV and say the results are pending. That’ll give you an excuse to follow up with the potential client a few months later when the results come out, hopefully with good news. I help translators prepare for the UK’s IoLET DipTrans exam, which has three papers. Sometimes candidates fail to get the qualification, but get a letter of credit. Include anything like that on your CV, as it will differentiate you from unqualified translators.

  1. Do I Need to Buy a CAT Tool and Learn About Machine Translation?

CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools are the norm in the industry and serious professional translators own at least one. You may like to read this CAT tool digest published on The Savvy Newcomer for more details.

Machine translation is growing and is set to get bigger. So, it’s definitely worth learning about it. My guest post 10 Things Translators Need to Know About Machine Translation on ProZ.com is a good place to start.

All this may feel overwhelming when you’re starting out. But if you break it down into a to-do list and work through your priorities, you’ll be surprised how quickly you get a handle on it all. None of these issues are worth worrying about. Enjoy the challenges of climbing the learning curve.

Image source: Unsplash

Author bio

Gwenydd Jones is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. She has two MAs, the first in translation studies and the second in legal translation, and the IoLET DipTrans. A freelance translator since 2009, Gwenydd specializes in legal, business, and marketing translation. She is also a copywriter. You can read her blog and discover her Advanced Spanish-to-English Translation Course, which includes DipTrans exam preparation, at translatorstudio.co.uk. Twitter: @Gwenydd_Jones.