How to charge for translating a specialized glossary for publication?
Thread poster: Sarah Elizabeth

Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
May 21, 2012

Hello everyone,

First I will give you the back story and then I will get to my question.

I was recently offered a project that involved preparing the English version of an Italian glossary for a specialized textbook, so this was a glossary for publication, not for use translating a given client's documents.

The glossary was of art and art historical terms. I have a PhD in Art History, several years experience teaching art history, specialize in Art and Art History translation and have an immense quantity of terminology resources for this field. But I had not done a project of this kind before.

There were 1400 entries - terms only, not glossary definitions (although I had the glossary definitions in Italian, without which the project would have been impossible). 1000 were already translated by the client, but of varying levels of accuracy and so requiring confirmation and an unknown number of new translations. 400 were to be translated from scratch.

To come up with a price (by the hour was NOT an option), I doubled my normal fee and calculated around 5 hours of intense work (I normally produce around 500 polished words per hour, working in my specialization).

Boy was I off base! It ended up taking more than 20 hours. Maybe closer to 25.

Luckily, the deadline was extremely generous so there was no problem getting the work done on time, except that I was in the end working for peanuts and already had other work scheduled beyond that planned 5 hours, so my days were quite long.

My question for you is this: how have you charged or how would you charge for a project like this?

Again, by-the-hour was not an option.

Thank you for your thoughts and sharing your experiences!

Sarah

edited for a typo

[Edited at 2012-05-21 14:00 GMT]


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 08:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
You worked quickly. May 21, 2012

For review work on fairly good quality translations, I wouldn't expect to achieve more than about 50 words/hr. And for new material from scratch, maybe 30 words/hr.

So I'd have expected about 35hrs work. I imagine that familiarity with the source material is what saved you even more pain!


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
@DLyons May 21, 2012

Thank you for your reply, DLyons -

in fact, what made it possible was scholarly-level familiarity with the material and therefore a significant number of terms that required either no or very quick confirmation (again, having the glossary definitions in Italian is what made the work possible in the first place).

But of course there were some real doozies to make up for it. Plenty of them.

I had to be extremely efficient and do extremely targeted, highly organized research and cross-checking.

I am interested to hear your quote of 50 words an hour for fairly good quality translations and 30/hour for work from scratch.

While working on the project and thinking about what I *should* have quoted, I in fact thought 50 words an hour sounded like a good figure.

Thank you for your feedback!

Sarah


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:54
Portuguese to English
+ ...
So they want for-publication quality May 21, 2012

without paying by the hour? It's amazing what we let our clients get away with..

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:54
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
By the hour! May 21, 2012

Sarah Elizabeth Cree wrote:
Again, by-the-hour was not an option.

In that case, I'd have done it by the hour...

I have been in situations like this in the past, and charging by the hour is the only option. 5 hours was way too low! I remember a logging and forestry termlist with about 500 terms I had some years ago: I also thought that, given my normal translation speed in that same subject, I'd deal with it in one day, quoted for that time... and ended up needing almost 4 days. I had to work three days for free.

[Edited at 2012-05-21 16:09 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Tomás May 21, 2012

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the conclusions you have drawn from it!
Glad to know that at least I am in good company in having calculated this kind of work incorrectly, and am grateful to know how you would approach it now - insist on hourly. Now that I have been through it, I can make the right case for hourly next time around.

Thanks!

Sarah


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Miguel Carmona  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:54
English to Spanish
Four times my regular rate per word May 21, 2012

Several years ago I was offered a technical job, a manual, to be translated from English into Spanish, which the agency handled in an almost optimally professional way. They extracted almost all the terminology (they left out some important terms), which they gave to me for translating, before starting work on the manual itself.

We agreed on a rate slightly higher than four times my regular rate per word (not per term) for the glossary. The actual time it took me to translate the glossary was definitely more than four times the time it would have taken me to translate the same amount of words of a regular technical text.

All in all I was happy, especially taking into account the fact that many times you have to deal with very unprofessional project managers, who play "tough", and they do not want to pay for glossaries a single penny over your regular rate, their argument being, "don't you claim you specialize in this type of stuff?".


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:54
German to English
if they demand a fixed price May 22, 2012

Hello Sarah,

Sounds like an interesting project, and even if you didn't make much money on it, you can book the money that you didn't get as a good investment in professional development.

If the client has an inflexible and tight budget, then you could: (1) suggest eliminating those terms from the list that the client considers 100% reliable, (2) agree to limit your research to several specific key English reference works to cut down your research, (3) leave more work to the client in terms of providing additional detail and checking your work, (4) categorize the terms according to priority so that you can synchronize your efforts with the clients' priorities.

And thank you to everyone for the tips: It's always good to know more and terminology is an area that I find genuinely interesting.

Sincerely,
Michael


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Miguel May 22, 2012

Thanks for sharing your experience with this kind of work in such detail.

The gap between what we know a project entails and what clients believe a project entails can be so large (and in this case I only found out once I got started, after the contract was agreed).

It is invaluable to know how colleagues handle similar situations, towards knowing *what* to communicate to clients when negotiating this kind of work - and being reassured that what we are asking is in line with professional practice, especially when it comes to a perhaps less common kind of project such as this one was.

Thanks!

Sarah

format edited to make post more quickly readable

[Edited at 2012-05-22 08:31 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Michael May 22, 2012

Hi Michael,

In fact what was running through my mind, in a constant loop as the unpaid hours mounted up, was just that: this is going to be a priceless resource for me once I am finished with it.

So now I have a dream glossary, which otherwise would have only been compiled picemeal over who knows how many projects and how much time.

Your suggestions are all really interesting, especially the one about leaving more work for the client. I in fact did try to do that, with a set of five terms out of the 1400 that seemed to have been made up by the author glossary or wrong or so obscure as to not show up anywhere.

Unfortunately, my client didn't want to bring a list of questions, not even a short one, to the publishing house. So in the end it was decided to provide a sentence definition in place of a single-term translation of the entries that seemed made up or wrong (thank heavens for the term definitions provided in Italian) and for the two obscure terms, I did about an hour and a half of deep research (having already done a great deal of research prior to classing them in the category 'ask the client for more context') and found translations supported in publications by two or three specialists in the field.

Incidentally, since you mentioned being interested in this kind of work, a tip: the next time I do a project like this I will be sure to secure a copy of the textbook in question as well - the glossary definitions in Italian were a godsend, but the book itself would have allowed me to work more quickly - in some cases far more quickly - immediately resolving any doubt about what the glossary author was getting at with a given term.

Sarah


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:54
German to English
before I forget May 22, 2012

Hello Sarah,

Before I forget: The Getty vocabularies can be a big help (http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/aat/index.html) and are free and acccessible online. Searching the old (before 2007) BHA entries can also be helpful (http://library.getty.edu:7108/vwebv/searchBasic?sk=en_US_getty).

The license of the German national library also allows me to access the online version of the Dictionary of the History of Art from home; there may be a library near you that offers access to members.

You've raised a further option for staying within the client's budget: declaring that there is, in fact, no comparable English term (or maybe even a real Italian term) or that the term is otherwise not relevant enough for a glossary entry.

In terms of actually sifting through publications for terms - I don't think any client is willing to pay for that or capable of even beginning to grasp how much time it can take to reliably translate (and document) a handful of words. That is the blessing and the curse of enjoying our work enough that it sometimes mutates into an (unpaid) hobby.

Sincerely,
Michael


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 09:54
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
@ Michael May 22, 2012

Wow, Getty Vocabularies - what a great resource! I did not know about it. I use other Getty resources, but that one - and what a one! - was unknown to me.

In a similar vein, here is one of my go-to sources for materials research:
http://cameo.mfa.org/index.asp

Thanks a million,
Sarah


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