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test translation for book assignment : I need advice
Thread poster: cooling

Local time: 16:35
English to French
Nov 21, 2006

Good evening everybody ! This is my first message on this forum.

I sent a resume and a letter of application for translation job. It is a 300-page novel to translate and it is quite urgent according to the editor.

The editor sent me a 1576-word excerpt (Good Man Hunting, by Jacinta Tynan) to translate as a test. He didn't give any deadline to send it back. What do you think it should be ? This would be my first job as a literary translator and i would like to get it ! I think i will have finish the translation tomorrow but isn't it too soon to send it back ? What do you think ? The excerpt has a title and if i'm not wrong i am not supposed to translate it. Sorry if i seem to be comong out of the nest but i'm very nervous !

[Edited at 2006-11-21 19:28]

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-11-21 22:20]

[Edited at 2006-11-22 15:38]


Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 18:35
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Consider the possibility that it's a scam Nov 21, 2006

That excerpt is about 6 times longer than a test should be. Think it could be a way for them to get the translation done by several translators, "piecemeal", for free?


Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:35
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Good morning Cool Nov 21, 2006

I have never translated a book for any international client, so I do not have clear idea of how many source words are considered the standard count for test translation.
In general, clients provide for 250-300 source words for test translation.
I think you should be cautious about the offer.
However, if you want to take the risk, send it back as soon as possible in order that you will know immediately if you passed the test and then get the job.


Sonia Dorais
Local time: 10:35
French to English
+ ...
Suggest getting paid for your test? Nov 21, 2006

I understand a bit how you are feeling because I too am a new translator. I understand that getting such a contract would be great. However, I have to agree with the previous posts that this place could be getting 'free' work.

Nevertheless, the author could also be very picky and wants to know various styles.

I suggest you translate half of what they have sent you and let them know that you will do the rest of it for a price if they are interested. You can even make them a good deal and let them know that you are making them a deal because you are very interested in the project.

For the title, you should translate it.

Otherwise, you can mention that you chose not to translate the title until you have translated the entire book. I learned in university that many translators choose to do that. Sometimes, one title doesnt sound anything like the other title (eg. The Tin Flute).

I hope that you get this contract. Since it is your first time working with them, maybe you should arrange to charge for every 50 pages or so to make sure you get paid? Just a suggestion.

Good luck!


Zhuoqi Mills (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:35
English to Chinese
+ ...
Hi Nov 21, 2006

I agree with what has been said. Test translations should not be much more than 200 source words and even then by rights you should be paid for it. Yes, some outsourcers really do pay for tests! I am also rather afraid that this is a scam, especially with no test deadline, there ought to be one if the book itself is urgent. Having done so much work already then I think you are best off sending what you have done, just in case it turns out to be genuine and in that case soon as possible is best.
I am currently translating a book for an international client and I made sure at the outset that I would be paid chapter by chapter. If this does turn out genuine then I strongly suggest you work out a similar deal and don't translate 300 pages without seeing some money.
Best wishes and best of luck



Arturo Delgado  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:35
English to Spanish
Send the standard Nov 21, 2006

Hope I am not too late for my suggestion. Send only part of the "test translation" (300 words, for instance). That should be enough for them to see how good you are. If they call you, you did a good job. If they don't, it might have been a scam.
The paragraph you wrote has two errors (finished, coming). Don't get too nervous. That does not help.


Cecilia Falk  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:35
English to Swedish
Translation tests for publishing houses Nov 21, 2006

I have translated around 50 fiction books (Candace Bushnell's latest this year), and when I started out back in 1988 I had to perform a test translation of one chapter.
I have also been a mentor for several aspiring translators, and the test translations they have received from publishing houses are always longer than the 250 or so words that would be acceptable from a translation agency.
If it is a serious and professional publishing house that you are in contact with I do not think you should worry about the length, or that they are going to patch several free translations together.
If you have never translated a book before, I do not think 1,500 words it is to much. On the contrary it also gives you a chance to see if this is something that you feel that you can handle and are comfortable with.
When you have translated one or more novels, you will not be given test translations anymore, as you have then proven yourself.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2006-11-21 22:05]

[Edited at 2006-11-21 22:41]


Virginie Lochou  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:35
English to French
+ ...
I applied too Nov 21, 2006

Hello Cooling,

I also applied for this job and I too received a 1576-words long document. The extract I got begins with a title. The first paragraph begins with "I've never been single before", and the last words of the extract are "I've never done that". If you have the same extract, we can rule out a possible scam...icon_smile.gif

I translated the whole extract, as I have time on my hands these days, but I do think it's too long for a test. I returned it this afternoon, 24 hours after I got it. If the whole translation is urgent, I think it's best to complete the test quickly.

If you want to talk about it, you can send me a private message via my profile.

Good luck for the test!



Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:35
English to Turkish
+ ...
Standards for book translations are different Nov 21, 2006

Hi Cooling,

I can only corroborate what Cecilia tells you: 250-300 words won't work as a standard test length for book translations. Remember, you would be entrusted a complete book. Although practices change from country to country, one whole chapter is acceptable and seems to be a standard test for book translations.

My advice, if I may, is that you take your time: of course, it would be better if you delivered a bit earlier, but you don't have to rush to be the first one who delivers. If you finish it much earlier than the test deadline, put it to rest for a couple of days, then re-read, even have it read by someone else, and try to deliver an impeccable text.

Best of luck to you...



Alfredo Tutino  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:35
English to Italian
+ ...
send it as soon as you feel confortable with the result Nov 21, 2006

I agree with Cecilia Falk: a first-time test for a literary translation can very well be quite longer than those in use for technical ones - evaluating style may require a fairly longer bit of text; 5-10 pages may OK, particularly if you know the publishing house for a serious one - being paid for the test, of course, would make things much better.

BTW, whoever thinks that a novel can be translated by patching together bits translated by different folks must heve never ever tried his/her hand at literary translation, IMHO.

As for your question, I think that you should simply send it back as soon as you feel confortable with the result. Ideally, for me, this means at least fourth of fifth revision (ideally, with a day's rest before the final one) - but that's only me...

Translating titles can be tricky: generally, I propose something provisional, to be revised and finalized after the whole of the text is done - for the title of the book (but sometimes also of its sections), of course, marketing considerations might be paramount.

Last but not least, it might be worthwhile to negotiate to be paid in instalments; but always reserve the right to at least a last revision of the completed book (and the time for it); you wouldn't believe how often I have found the right way to translate a sentence or a word in the first few pages only several chapters later...


Local time: 16:35
English to Chinese
+ ...
Send it only you feel the work is good Nov 22, 2006

It's not good to send it very urgent except you feel the work is good. Otherwise, it only makes things worse, loosing the job. 2 or 3 days is enough.


mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 12:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Fishing for a good title? Nov 22, 2006

On reading the first post here, the first thing I did was check the author's and book's 'credentials' on the web. Within 60 seconds I found confirmation that the book exists, it really does have 300 (actually 304) pages, the author is a well-known Australian TV news anchor and the publisher is apparently reputable. The blurb also gives some quotes giving an idea of the style. Summary: it's a first novel by an Australian celebrity, apparently selling well in Australia (at least) and it's full of aussie references. Hmmm - that's a fair challenge ... especially for a first-time translator of novels.

In the circumstances, 1500 words for a test - maybe 1% of the book - seems very reasonable to me.

As for the title, I agree with Sonia-Catherine that it is often best to deal with the title last (as do most authors of technical texts, too). However, if the time-scale for translating the whole book is short, then I imagine the client might be 'fishing' for a good translation so this can be chosen rapidly - even before the translation is started - and their sales people can start producing publicity materials for the French edition.

Regardless of who end up translating the book, it might be interesting to see who's title is lands up on the cover!



French Foodie  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:35
French to English
+ ...
longer tests in lit trans Nov 22, 2006

Hi cooling,

I am a published literary translator, and I can assure you that the length of your test is quite normal for a book translation. Personally, I would be wary about any publishing house that sends out a 300-word test because in my opinion that does not give enough information about how the translator will deal with stylistic issues, text flow, dialogue, etc.
Send the text back when you feel comfortable with what you have produced (I usually like to let it sit *at least* overnight to go over it again with a fresh look), but do not wait too long. The publisher will want to know that you can provide quality work within a reasonable timeframe (you set a schedule for translation, but the publisher wants to be sure you can stick to it, because so many other stages of the publication progress are affected by a late return).

Hope this helps and best of luck to you,


Local time: 16:35
English to French
thanks ! Nov 22, 2006

Thanks you so much for all your replies !

I'm still working on it, I really enjoy it you know. The test was sent to me Monday at noon, i suppose i'll send my translation tomorrow morning.

I don't think i could ask them to be paid for a test. I would feel very cheeky... But you know bettericon_wink.gif

Anyway, i'll let you know what happens and will come back with more questions !

Thanks again for your support.


Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 18:35
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Yes, but Nov 22, 2006

Hey, if they pay for the test - why not?

But if not, how many hours of work are you going to put in for free? Time after time?

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