I want to translate books. How do I get started?
Thread poster: Augusto Pinheiro

Augusto Pinheiro
France
Local time: 03:16
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Jun 23, 2014

Hi everyone!

I am a Brazilian translator (from English and Spanish into Portuguese) and I have over five years of experience translating educational material, websites and magazines. I would like to start translating books (preferably starting with non-fiction) and I don't know which is the best path. Is it sending my CV to publishing houses? Or do they work with translation agencies? I would be really thankful if someone could shed some light on it. I am really willing to follow this path.

Thank you very much!

Kind regards,

Augusti


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Jun 23, 2014

If you have the choice between approaching publishers or translation companies, I'd say it's no contest because you can charge publishers a lot more.

That said, some translation companies do have good contacts with publishers and a steady stream of books. About three quarters of the books I've done have been for agencies.


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:16
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Publishers Jun 23, 2014

I translated a number of technical books for a publishing company some years ago and my contact commented that they always find it difficult to find translators. So its definitely worth contacting publishing companies who publish books in the field you want to work.

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Augusto Pinheiro
France
Local time: 03:16
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jun 30, 2014

Thank you, guys, for the advices!

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Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:16
Member (2012)
French to English
You might find this useful... Jul 1, 2014

Translation in Practice: A Symposium, edited by Gill Paul. It is a practical guide to the process of translating foreign works into English and preparing them for publication… a collection of summaries, suggestions, and instructions from the leading literary translators and publishers.

It is available in electronic format, free of charge. Link provided:

http://www.llvs.lt/img/File/Translation_in_Practice_book.pdf

[Edited at 2014-07-01 09:37 GMT]


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Elena Martínez Rodríguez
Spain
Local time: 03:16
English to Spanish
ALTAGuides to Literary Translation Jul 1, 2014

Dear Augusto and colleagues,

You may find interesting the guides available from the American Literary Translators Association. The Making of a Literary Translator, Promoting your Literary Translation, and The Proposal for a Book-Length Translation, were most helpful to me.

http://www.utdallas.edu/alta/publications/alta-guides

Good luck!


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 02:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
I went to a presentation by a Publisher. Jul 7, 2014

He gave some statistics on earnings and advised the audience to "marry rich".

This tends to confirm that advice
http://www.proz.com/translation-jobs/912484


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 11:16
Japanese to English
+ ...
Hmm Jul 7, 2014

DLyons wrote:

He gave some statistics on earnings and advised the audience to "marry rich".

This tends to confirm that advice
http://www.proz.com/translation-jobs/912484


I wonder if:

Since the competition on the market is fierce, we will only be able to assign work to freelancers who can offer a competitive rate.


plus:

A university degree is essential.


= competitive equivalent salary for someone holding a university degree? Let's assume simply a four-year degree, wouldn't want to scare anyone with doctorate outlier salaries.

I'm looking at recent (2013) data of starting salaries for university graduates in the United States. The lowest on the list of over 1,000 schools is about $30k. But let's pick something around the middle - about $43,000 a year.

According to Amazon's Text Stats, the average novel is 64,000 words. I've never translated a novel, but I wonder if it isn't a little bit slower than some technical text in which the phrasing can simply be passable, rather than great. I'll go out on a limb here and say 2,000 words a day for translating a novel, especially for a beginner.

If you worked seven days a week, translating 2,000 words per day, you could finish the novel in 32 days. Being that it is a novel, l I would guess that there will be some back-and-forth with the editor, original author, publisher, etc. So we can probably double that 32-day figure to allow time for editing and proofreading, not to mention some days off in case you actually had a life outside a translating.

Now, I don't know precisely what the words "competitive price" mean - although I see them on almost a daily basis on both job posts here and in the various mass-email offers I get - but I'm going to wager that anyone that uses them is not imagining a per-word rate higher than $0.10 USD. This may already be overly optimistic, but we can try it.

If one translates 64,000 words in two months at $0.10 a word, that comes out to $3,200 per month, or $38,400 a year. Well, not bad, better than slaving at Walmart for minimum wage. Well below the "average" starting salary that we picked above for a four-year grad, though.

But wait - these annual numbers don't figure in taxes. Unfortunately, the amount we earned puts us just inside the 25% income tax bracket for individuals filing as single. Of course we would be able to deduct some business expenses if we work from home, as I'm sure most of us do, but to keep things simple I will ignore that for now and just reduce our gross income by 25%, arriving at a net annual income of $28,800.

Feel free to check my math, it's late here and I may have made a mistake. I'm actually kind of hoping that I did, because it is both scary and disheartening to think of someone making less than $30k a year with a four-year university degree (which costs untold tens of thousands of dollars at even the most mundane university) and a professional set of skills which includes top-shelf native language writing ability in addition to strong fluency in a foreign language. As a private business owner.

And it's even worse if you consider that the above estimates assume that the translator would have work non-stop, with no breaks between books. How many of us think that is realistic? As a beginner?

Now can you even fathom the repercussions if we lower the rate from $0.10 a word? What about half that - $0.05 a word? Disgusting, right? But impossible? I would almost bet my left arm that there are people out there translating novels for that rate.

Did anyone actually sit through four years of university to earn $30k a year? I understand having a passion for the job and all that, but come on. Let's be realistic here.

Do you think that electricians with only a two-year technical degree make less than $30k a year in the U.S.? (hint: the answer is no)

What about plumbers? HVAC technicians?

Translators as a whole really need to reassess their place in the business world. As in, take a look around at the people doing jobs, both blue and white-collar, that require more or less the same level of intelligence, tools and expertise, but with less schooling. These people are making double or triple what the average translator is making. Why? Because they play by their rules. They know they have a service that people can't live without, and they charge accordingly. Why aren't we?


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 02:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
@Orrin Jul 7, 2014

His summary was that a hard-working, competent translator could translate about 4 books (with some degree of literary merit) per year.

If they produced high quality output, they would have a fair chance of getting that many commissions.

For each of those, they might expect to gross about 4,000 euro.

Correct my Math, but that's about 16K euro = $22,000.

Deeply intellectually satisfying no doubt. But I suspect this market niche is populated by an occasional Grossman and Rabassa together with many semi-retired academics, independently wealthy dilettantes, students and, as the man said, people with working spouses.


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 11:16
Japanese to English
+ ...
So I was being optimistic... Jul 8, 2014

DLyons wrote:

For each of those, they might expect to gross about 4,000 euro.


At that rate of income, I wonder how many recent graduates can really expect to pay off student loans in the next decade.

I'm almost 100% sure that you can make more than that mowing lawns where I'm from.


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