to colleagues who specialize in book translation: question about scheduling
Thread poster: Sarah Elizabeth

Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
Jan 15, 2014

I am considering a very large book translation project and am looking for information about scheduling strategies, specifically from colleagues specialized in book translation.

First a little background, then my specific question.

The book in question is a collection of scholarly essays on a single, narrowly defined theme, and the word count is about 700,000 words. I would not want to commit to doing more than 2000 words per day, as there would be a fair amount of research involved. (I have a doctoral specialization in the book's subject area, but as with most scholarly topics, term research would be inevitable regardless of prior familiarity with the material.)

I am not daunted by the word count and would be happy working on a single project for 1.5 years (which is what this one would work out to at 2000 words per day). The project would be for a leading publishing house in my areas of specialization.

Up to now, the largest book projects I have worked on were in the 100,000-word range: one was a single-author academic volume; the other a collection of scholarly essays on a narrow topic. In both cases, scheduling was not the issue that it would be now, because the first was my first-ever translation project, so I had no other clients, and the second was undertaken while I was working in-house, and so in that case as well I did not have to worry about losing clients due to lack of availability.

My ideal work flow would be to move from one large book project to the next (I have a PhD in Art History, so this is a natural area for me, given my expertise and experience), working on occasional small jobs at the same time and working on small-to-medium jobs between book projects.

My question is two-fold. 1. Have you worked on such a large project before and how did you handle the scheduling? 2. Is the work flow that I described above feasible (moving from one large book project to the next, doing small ones at the same time and small-to-medium in between) and, if so, what kinds of things should be taken into consideration when developing my business toward that goal. (And, if you think it is not feasible, I am eager to know why.)

Thanks in advance and I am looking foward to your thoughts!

Sarah


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Mircea Pricajan  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 16:08
Member
English to Romanian
+ ...
At least 8 to 10 months Jan 15, 2014

Hi, Sarah!

In the last 10 years I have translated into Romanian 50+ books, most of them novels. The largest one was by far Dan Simmons’ Drood, amounting to almost 300.000 words. For its translation I worked for about 3 months, day in and day out. Since it deals with Charles Dickens' last 5 years of life, I had quite a lot of research to do (basically rereading some of his novels, the novels of Willkie Collins, who narrates Simmons' novel, and also some non-fiction about the London of that time). After those 3 months of actually working on the translation, I needed another 3 weeks for revisions.

This being said, I think that a book the size you mentioned could be translated in up to 8 months. If you are willing to devote yourself exclusively to it, that is. Not doing anything else on the side.

Just to play it safe, I would advise you to consider another month or two over those 8 - a sort of contingency plan. I tend to do it as often as I can, and it always comes in handy.

I work one book at a time. For literary translations I think it's important to stay in the same frame of mind from the beginning to the (bitter) end.

Hope it helps!

Best,
Mircea


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:08
Russian to English
+ ...
It will probably take you at least a yaear, possibly Jan 15, 2014

a year and a half, taking into consideration that it requires research.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:08
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My 10c based on books I have translated Jan 15, 2014

1. Agree a payment plan with your client. I would suggest that you invoice upon delivery of each chapter. You can't go for a year or more without cashflow.

2. Always leave time in your programme to accept jobs from other clients. If you turn people away, they won't come back.

3. Make sure you're going to be entitled to at least one free copy of the translated book.

P.S.

Footnotes/endnotes, citations, and references:

Agree with your client how these are to be organised (e.g. Harvard or Chicago referencing system, and if so who is going to change them all from the Italian referencing system if they need to be changed: a very big job).

Clarify what to do about citations from translations of books that were originally published (perhaps with different titles) in English. You may need to locate the original English-language citations to make sure you are not back-translating them from Italian into (the wrong) English.

[Edited at 2014-01-15 13:10 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Anyone else with experience working on book projects only (or mainly)? Jan 16, 2014

Thanks to Mircea, Lilian and Tom for the replies, especially Mircea for sharing specific experience related to long projects taken on one at a time and Tom for a window onto how to handle the practical aspects of negotiating book translation projects, including notes/citations/references.

My ideal work-flow is to move from one book project to the next without worrying about losing clients due to not being available.

In my case, the book projects are non-fiction.

At present I work on a combination of large, medium and small projects and depend to a certain degree on all three. But I want to arrive at scenario where I am working exclusively on big projects and am no longer partially dependent on the small and medium ones.

Does anyone else reading this have experience with working on book projects only, maintaining the single-focus one-book-at-a-time work flow?

Or has anyone reading this tried this and found it difficult to achieve or maintain?

I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

Sarah


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Texte Style
Local time: 15:08
French to English
Working on just one huge project Jan 16, 2014

I personally find it impossible.

If I don't get other requests, then I start panicking that everyone has forgotten that I exist, or don't need me any more, or even worse, there has been a problem and I don't have time to find out much less fix it.

If I do get other requests, I'm such a sucker when they start on the "but we really need YOU to do it" that I cave in and end up working till midnight just so that I don't get behind on the large project.

There's also the worry that the client won't pay for the huge project in which case you'll be looking at zero income for the time spent on it. Even if, as Tom suggests, you demand monthly instalments, that's still a month's work you'll have done for nothing before you find out.

So I always make sure I have time to fit other small jobs in and try not to always say no to the same people unless I want to get rid of them.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Jan 16, 2014

I've done a lot of books, and I would turn down something that large, or offer to do a part of it, or project-manage it and subcontract it to several other people.

It doesn't matter how interesting the subject matter: working on the same project for 18 months, being dependent on one customer and probably losing a lot of my existing ones, would be torture to me. But that's just my opinion!

[Edited at 2014-01-16 15:42 GMT]


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:08
German to English
Maybe not the best place to ask Jan 17, 2014

It might make more sense to look through several dozen English translations of Italian catalogues or volumes of conference proceedings or monographs to find the names of people who might be able to help you with this question. I don't think they're likely to spend much time reading the forums at ProZ.

I never commit to more than a little over 500 words per workday for books, because otherwise these projects invevitably cause trouble in keeping up with the rest of my clients. They also tend to demand a lot more work than other projects and to bring in a significantly lower rate. I have also never really considered the business model that you're proposing.

You'd need solid connections to scholars and/or universities and foundations and/or museums and/or publishing houses and/or Italian-English or English-Italian art-translating colleagues (for mutual recommendations). You have a great USP in approaching a lot of clients and I think that you could make your plan work if you have enough people providing you with leads that you can stay busy and, at the same time, keep your fees up and not worry about having entire months with no paid work to do.

And 700,000 words is gigantic! Are they really willing to wait 1 1/2 years after finalizing the Italian text just to receive the manuscript of the English version? And where in God's name is the money coming from to pay you?


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urbom
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:08
German to English
+ ...
a more suitable venue Jan 17, 2014

Michael has raised a couple of pertinent points.
Michael Wetzel wrote:
I don't think [the people who translate similar books to the one you're considering are] likely to spend much time reading the forums at ProZ.


I recommend joining the Translators' Association (a "subsidiary group" of the Society of Authors in the UK). Their contract vetting service alone is worth many times the annual membership fee. Then you'd be able to join the TA's members-only email discussion group and ask people who do specialise in book translation (including art catalogues) about their experiences.

Michael Wetzel wrote:
And where in God's name is the money coming from to pay you?


Have you actually made it as far as discussing your fee with the publisher? Do they reckon they'll be able to recoup your fee from their projected sales of the book? Or do they have another source of funding?

Another point I don't think has been raised yet: in my experience, publishers tend to set their publication dates very soon after acquiring titles, so you might not have a lot of leeway to negotiate if it turns out they want the job done in a shorter time frame than you'd like.


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Texte, Phil and Michael... Jan 17, 2014

Texte Style wrote:

If I do get other requests, I'm such a sucker when they start on the "but we really need YOU to do it" that I cave in and end up working till midnight just so that I don't get behind on the large project ... So I always make sure I have time to fit other small jobs in and try not to always say no to the same people unless I want to get rid of them.


I often find myself in a similar situation and think there are a lot of benefits to it, including the kinds of texts one has the opportunity to work on when small and even extra-small projects are kept in the mix (and here I am thinking of things like press releases and similar).

But I am also drawn to a big-projects-only model and have loved the periods spent working on just one big translation project for a couple of months (and I loved the years I spent working on my PhD thesis). Again, the biggest projects I have done to-date were far smaller than the one presently in question (100,000 words as opposed to 700,000), and both were done at times when there was no risk of losing clients (one was my first translation project; the other I did while in-house).

So yes, the issue here is to explore the various options for doing projects of this kind without shooting oneself in the foot. And in thinking up this post, I was hoping to hear from translators like yourself who are 'the ONE' on their clients' books.


philgoddard wrote:

I've done a lot of books, and I would turn down something that large, or offer to do a part of it, or project-manage it and subcontract it to several other people.

It doesn't matter how interesting the subject matter: working on the same project for 18 months, being dependent on one customer and probably losing a lot of my existing ones, would be torture to me. But that's just my opinion!


Thanks for this. It is really useful to know what you might do in a similar situation, especially since we work in the many of same areas and often on similar kinds of projects. In fact, I was hoping to hear from you, and it is interesting to hear how you would respond to this situation.

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Maybe not the best place to ask


You are absolutely right about seeking out and contacting people directly who do work of this kind, and my question in fact partly stems from having done exactly the kind of research you described and through it discovering several professional translators who work mostly on big non-fiction projects. I wanted to pose the question on proz because the forum does have a small but active number of people with something to say on this subject -- yourself included! -- and in fact many of the people I had in mind when writing my post have already replied (again, you were one of them, so thanks!).

Michael Wetzel wrote:

I never commit to more than a little over 500 words per workday for books, because otherwise these projects invevitably cause trouble in keeping up with the rest of my clients. They also tend to demand a lot more work than other projects and to bring in a significantly lower rate.


In my case, my rate for books is basically the same as for the other kinds of texts I translate, so this has not been an issue so far. But it is really interesting to hear your experience.

Michael Wetzel wrote:

And 700,000 words is gigantic! Are they really willing to wait 1 1/2 years after finalizing the Italian text just to receive the manuscript of the English version? And where in God's name is the money coming from to pay you?


I know, it is an enormous project. To answer your questions, the book was published in Italian last year. As for the money, the publishing house, a major American university press, has a contract for doing the translation.


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urbom
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:08
German to English
+ ...
what sort of "contract" do you mean? Jan 17, 2014

Sarah Elizabeth wrote:
the publishing house, a major American university press, has a contract for doing the translation.


By that, do you mean they've acquired the English-language (probably World English) rights from the Italian publisher? That doesn't really indicate anything in terms of what they have budgeted to pay for the translation.

[Edited at 2014-01-17 14:26 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, urbom Jan 17, 2014

urbom wrote:

Michael has raised a couple of pertinent points.
Michael Wetzel wrote:
I don't think [the people who translate similar books to the one you're considering are] likely to spend much time reading the forums at ProZ.


I recommend joining the Translators' Association (a "subsidiary group" of the Society of Authors in the UK). Their contract vetting service alone is worth many times the annual membership fee. Then you'd be able to join the TA's members-only email discussion group and ask people who do specialise in book translation (including art catalogues) about their experiences.

Michael Wetzel wrote:
And where in God's name is the money coming from to pay you?


Have you actually made it as far as discussing your fee with the publisher? Do they reckon they'll be able to recoup your fee from their projected sales of the book? Or do they have another source of funding?

Another point I don't think has been raised yet: in my experience, publishers tend to set their publication dates very soon after acquiring titles, so you might not have a lot of leeway to negotiate if it turns out they want the job done in a shorter time frame than you'd like.


I am in fact already a member of the Translators' Association of the Society of Authors (I have not put this question to the discussion group yet, though), and it is great that you have mentioned it in case others reading this hadn't thought of or didn't know about it and the benefits you have described.

The publisher in question is an American university press, and so, yes, I think that would mean 'another source of funding' rather than projected sales.

And yes, it is true about deadlines and publishing houses. But to be sure, if the deadline were such that I could not accept the job, I would of course not accept it. The problem with this project would be its sheer size -- theoretically, I would be willing to work on it full-time for the time it would take (in this case, full-time would be 2000 words/day), but as we've calculated that would mean about a year and a half. If the publisher ends up wanting one person to do the work, I'm not sure how it could be done (well) in less than a year.


Edited to respond more fully to urbom's points about funding and publishers and scheduling and also to just whittle the post down a bit.



[Edited at 2014-01-17 22:41 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
about the contract Jan 17, 2014

urbom wrote:

Sarah Elizabeth wrote:
the publishing house, a major American university press, has a contract for doing the translation.


By that, do you mean they've acquired the English-language (probably World English) rights from the Italian publisher? That doesn't really indicate anything in terms of what they have budgeted to pay for the translation.

[Edited at 2014-01-17 14:26 GMT]


Hi urbom, more specifically, the American publishing house has an agreement with the Italian publisher to publish a translation of the book. I am afraid that I do not have any further details at this time. To date, I have only been approached by the publisher, who wrote to me to find out if I would be interested in the project.

I am not facing an urgent decision, and at this stage I am more interested to know if others reading this thread have worked on projects of this kind or what others who translate for publishing houses would do if faced with such an offer.

Thanks,
Sarah


Edited to respond more fully.

[Edited at 2014-01-17 22:26 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 15:08
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
the 'from one book project to the next' business model Jan 17, 2014

Michael Wetzel wrote:

You'd need solid connections to scholars and/or universities and foundations and/or museums and/or publishing houses and/or Italian-English or English-Italian art-translating colleagues (for mutual recommendations). You have a great USP in approaching a lot of clients and I think that you could make your plan work if you have enough people providing you with leads that you can stay busy and, at the same time, keep your fees up and not worry about having entire months with no paid work to do.


Thanks for this, Michael -- it is very much in line with my idea of what it would take to make it work, and it is quite helpful to see that you have come up with something so similar. Very much appreciated.

Sarah


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