Lost translation job before it even started..
Thread poster: Cadien

German to English
+ ...
Jun 4, 2013

I am quite annoyed at the moment regarding a translation job i was supposed to do. Here are some details:

I received a call from a translation agency offering me a job to translate a book of 50,000 words. So i tentatively accepted, and the agency in question said they would send me the word document containing the book text, so that i could look it over and then discuss the specifics of the job with them. I received the email with the text, as well as their budget of 2000 US dollars for the entire translation and a 30 day period in which to complete the translation. I immediately responded to this email with a few questions about the text itself, the precise due date and payment duration upon completion of the job.

To my grand surprise, their response to this was that they had supposedly given the job to someone else due to the urgency of the translation, but that they would think of me for the next one. I must add that all of this happened well within an hour.

To say the very least, i do not think that this is the normal way of doing business, nor does it shed a good light on this agency as far as trustworthiness is concerned. I may be new to this business, but i also think that the price that they are willing to pay for this translation is nothing short of ridiculously low.

My questions, i suppose would then be the following:

What are your thoughts on the matter in general?

Would you ever work with such an agency again, had they done this to you?

What are the translation industry norms, as far as rates are concerned? What are normal rates for someone like me who has a Master's degree in Specialized Translation? My language pairs are: German-English and French-English. What would the normal rates be to edit, proofread et cetera.

All constructive advice would be much appreciated.


[Edited at 2013-06-04 21:11 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-06-04 23:18 GMT]


Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 23:23
English to Czech
+ ...
My take on this Jun 4, 2013

Firstly, losing a job at $0.04 per word is not a great loss, if you ask me.

Secondly, such things may happen from time to time. It's not quite the "industry standard", but it does happen.

As per rates, you can have a look at the Community Rates to see how much other translators working in your language pairs charge.


Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:23
German to English
No loss on your part Jun 5, 2013

As mentioned, .04/word is quite low, even for a book-length manuscript. 50K words in a month is also not attractive. This would not leave any time for terminology research, checking your work and other activities related to undertaking a project.

There is a German>English translator who claims he can translate 10K words/day. Perhaps he got the job.

I'm not going to pass judgement on the agency in question, but I would advise you never to take a rush/urgent job at a low rate from a new client under any circumstances. As many colleagues here have experienced, if you start at a low rate, you're stuck with it for as long as you work with that agency, and you could find yourself being offered only rush jobs.


Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:23
English to German
+ ...
Consider yourself lucky Jun 5, 2013

You dodged the bullet. The budget is ridiculous for the US. Triple the rate, and it is still below average.


Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:53
English to Hindi
+ ...
They would have contacted others too Jun 5, 2013

They would have send the same feeler to other translators too, and finally ended up selecting another translator.

It happens frequently in our industry. Large agencies are not known for their tact and diplomacy and some of their actions can be quite inscrutable and insulting to say the least.

Don't be disheartened, it was none of your fault that you missed this project, and as others have pointed out, it was not a plum project either. Translating a 50000 word book for a pittance rate for a month is a soul-destroying effort, which you have spared yourself.


Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:23
English to French
The norm is no norm Jun 5, 2013

I suppose everybody loses several potential jobs a month, even within 20 minutes. No big deal.

There is no point considering that a job is assigned to you until it is.

I think too that the rate was ridiculously low, but I hear it is often so with book translation.

Credentials and background don't really matter. When an agency want a cheap translation, they get it.
Kevin Fulton wrote:
...I would advise you never to take a rush/urgent job at a low rate from a new client under any circumstances....

This sort of seems obvious, but we sometimes tend to forget the basics of common sense with all the rubbish that flies around this business.



Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons)
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
Well... Jun 5, 2013

... from what you wrote, I can tell you're new in this business. All the other comments were correct: You didn't lose a job since you did not have it confirmed yet. Rate was ridiculously low and there's no reason to be annoyed about "losing" this kind of jobs. Furthermore, all of this happens all the time and it is pretty much a routine in the translation industry...


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Normal business Jun 5, 2013

In our industry, you have a job when you have a proper purchase order in your hand. All other considerations are futile, and one should never consider that there is a firm job until the customer says so explicitely and sends over a purchase order.

If after several days into a job you still do not have a purchase order, it is best to stop, tell the customer that you did, and that you really need a purchase order. You may forget this rule with long-standing, trusted customers, but with any new customer or any customer for whom you have only done small, sporadic jobs, any bigger job definitely requires a PO.

Good luck!


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:24
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dangerous equation Jun 5, 2013

Kevin Fulton wrote:
...I would advise you never to take a rush/urgent job at a low rate from a new client under any circumstances.

Indeed: experience proves that urgency + new customer + low rate always equals trouble.


George Hopkins
Local time: 23:24
Swedish to English
No equation Jun 5, 2013

Simply normless and gormless.


Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:24
English to Polish
+ ...
Offer and acceptance, and more Jun 5, 2013

From a legal point of view, you need offer an acceptance to click together. Words and phrases such as: 'I confirm', 'green light', 'you can start now' etc. would suffice to make a contract. In Poland, for example, purchase orders drawn up as PDF files are a rarity, and I suspect they always come down to Anglo-Saxon influence. Since this is really a contract law matter, I wouldn't be surprised if German and French markets didn't care much for those. In fact, I also suspect there is little additional significance to them under common law over an order confirmed in unambiguous words via e-mail.

The practice, however, apart from withholding such an unambiguous confirmation until late in the negotiation, is that agencies will sometimes walk out of confirmed orders, in which case a PO will probably just be a psychological barrier of some relative strength but not necessarily much more. I'm in favour of letting agencies do that, especially when they offer to pay you for any work done so far (and especially reimburse you for studying reference materials (kudos to all agencies who do that)), since being flexible like that allows you to save a human heart in this zombie industry. Also, unless you're some kind of tireless pilar of whatever, there is a huge chance that over several years of collaboration sooner or later you will need the agency to be more lenient about something than the law would allow it to be. And the law is Russian roulette much of the time anyway.

Furthermore, my own experience also suggests that jobs being offered for a fraction of the average or fair rate for the same type of work are potentially explosive matter. One thing to consider is that where right on the onset people don't care to pay you fairly, then I wouldn't really expect them to show some kind of high professional standards in sizing up any minor errors and imperfections in your rush job, and some are bound to be there. The latter is basically a core feature of rush jobs, the other being a higher fee.

The above is by no means a law of logic; in fact, it's possible that those guys understand that rush jobs mean rush quality, or that they just don't care anyway or don't expect a Midsummer Night of writing on your part in the first place, which may be part of the reason they're paying so low. Even so, rates that are a fraction of the average invariably bring out association with some form of scam.

One thing you can do when taking a rush job that you decide your ethics don't preclude you from taking is request an unproven client to sign a statement to the effect that the client acknowledges the inherent flaws of rush translations, and the risk remains with the client without being passed on to you. Some of our colleagues would climb on a high horse and deliver a lecture how this should never be done, but some clients just simply really need those rush jobs and realise the risks involved, in which case it's not fair to make them fail deadlines just because the circumstances aren't conducive to optimal one-person TEP*.

* Translation, Editing, Proofreading, i.e. full process line.

Edit: Losing jobs happens. As you progress in your career, you will experience more of that, including some really nice jobs paying some really nice rates, including when you otherwise sit on an empty inbox. That sucks, but you need to avoid letting it bring you down too much. Try to develop some distance or, better still, a sense of humour for such cases (which makes me think of St. Thomas More, who actually joked with his executioner and in no morbid sort of way). If you want to, you can try and develop some mini-processes to avoid that kind of thing with friendly agencies. Ask the PMs and other staff to drop you a line by phone. Make sure you know what kinds of jobs meet your specialisation, or which kinds of jobs you're willing to take for which rates. They will already pick up some such information on their own and send you dedicated requests that have only your e-mail in the address field, are addressed to 'Dear Cadien' and don't have one million other guys in BC (or even CC). To finish off, as a freelance translator you will really benefit some kind of resilience to have minor setbacks just bounce off you.

[Edited at 2013-06-05 11:50 GMT]


CorbettAM  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:24
French to English
+ ...
The poor author Jun 5, 2013

I don`t know about the rest of you but I feel sorry for the author of the book.

A month is definitely too short to translate a book. You dodged the bullet as Nicole pointed out.


Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:24
English to German
+ ...
My thoughts as well: The poor author Jun 5, 2013

Anne M Corbett wrote:

I don`t know about the rest of you but I feel sorry for the author of the book.

A month is definitely too short to translate a book.


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