Archive | October, 2014

Literary vs. non-literary translation: similarities and differences. Part I

17 Oct

Today I would like to start a series of blog posts about differences and similarities between literary and non-literary translation. A lot has been said about the subject matter, and that is exactly why I have decided to put in my two cents` worth.

“Translation in Practice” (a symposium edited by Gill Paul) (2009) (available at is perhaps one of the best and most comprehensive guidelines on the process of literary translation, from choosing a translator to the editing process and the translator’s role after the editing is complete. The information in this publication will be compared to the experience I have as a non-literary translator.

Let`s start with the next statement: the main difference between literary and non-literary translation is the time spent on pre-translation, translation and editing of a given document. Often it takes months to publish a best-seller, which is a very rare occasion in the realm of non-literary translation process (manuals, data sheets, etc.)

Who are the key figures in both cases? Literary translation requires involvement of the following key figures: author, translator, editor and publisher. Each of them has a certain set of functions. Exclusion of one of these key figures will inevitably result in getting a poor translation (=less readership).

Since the time allowed for the translation of non-fiction is usually much shorter, the number of people involved is reduced to an absolute minimum (translator, sometimes proofreader (who is an editor at the same time), and project manager. It is not infrequent when the text translated by a translator is sent directly to the client (no one says it is bad, because there are situations when one needs a gist translation ASAP).

In other words, those editors who process literary translations have to consider more factors and circumstances – e.g., they should feel “the vibrations and spirit of the original”, as well as considering the “balance between producing a commer­cially viable book and one that stays true to the author’s vision and literary genius.” The role of editors of non-literary translations is usually reduced to one of finding typos and ensuring that style and terms accord with the nature of document.

The role of a project manager is similar to the functions of a publisher. Both ensure that the client (=readership) receives a good translation. They both have a direct interest in ensuring high profit margins of the company they represent (wider readership in case of literary translation, or better understanding of the information in case of non-literary translation).

It is not uncommon for editors of literary translations to commission an outside reader in case the editor does not read well enough in the language of translation. An outside reader will not edit the text. The only function of this key figure is to provide an editor with a report “providing a summary of the book’s plot, and commenting on its literary merit and mak­ing a personal recommendation about whether or not it should be published in English.” This person may also be asked to look at the test translations sent by new translators. Well, it seems that the standard procedure for non-literary translation does not provide for such a position. Instead, the functions of an outside reader are evenly distributed among other key figures – the translator, editor, and (sometimes) project manager). This distribution does not help get a better translation either.

Part II: choosing your translator for literary/non-literary translation process.


Listening to voices of experts: yes or no?

7 Oct

I once met a translator who was (and probably is now) a great opponent of marketing. He was a freelance translator, and, of course, while being an active opponent of marketing activities, he had to “resort” to the most simple forms of marketing a lot – both unwillingly and unwittingly. The thing is that his viewpoint on translation and marketing was a mixture of arrogance, unwillingness to learn from others and fear of the unknown. Instead of proactively searching for new clients, this translator bought membership of a well-known web platform for translators in the hope that clients with decent rates would sooner or later show up. Wow.

A year before I had been on the same path considering marketing blah, blah, blah to be a trap for people (marketing-related books, CDs, etc. cost a lot of money). But being more open-minded about business development in general than the mentioned freelancer, I was lucky to notice there was a lot of hype about marketing among translators (I created my Twitter account that time). Soon I realized that marketing was much more than just registering at PROZ and sending occasional quotes to job posts in my language pair. Among other things, marketing was (and is now) about spending money on training – yes, books, СDs, etc. I have now a robust library of business and marketing materials I use to compile my marketing plan for the next year, or to fine-tune my marketing strategy here and there.

Buying marketing-related training materials is not the only option though. Translators have to apply the info they find there. Another great marketing tool is your on-line image you create using (for example) social media or direct mail. This is another step a lot of freelancers try not to take – by any means possible.

These two steps (spending money on marketing materials and becoming visible on-line) helped me find new clients of absolutely another type – direct ones, or those fellow translators who own boutique TAs and, thus, are willing to pay generous rates. I don`t use my smartphone now – I simply don`t have to be the first to send a quote or answer an email from a pathetic TA. This is the reward people get when they start to communicate and spend money on professional development.

But the main idea of this post is a much more important conclusion: don’t be too arrogant when it comes to your development. There are people who can tell you something of value. There are people who can help you get more – both financially and personally. There are people who know more than you. And they are ready to share the knowledge.

What are the most/the least effective ways to market your translation business?

2 Oct

We all blog about marketing. We talk about marketing a lot. But what is marketing? To put it simply, it is a list of steps people (such as translators) take to attract new clients. As any action, an action taken to get new prospects has its own performance factor score (in other words, a ratio of money/time invested to money received). Certain marketers thus provide people with various grids of marketing-related actions grouped by time required to take them as well as their effectiveness when taken. I would like to take one of these grids provided by Steve Slaunwhite in his book (“The Wealthy Freelancer”).


So, according to Steve, the least effective (or wasteful) ways to market your business are “unfocused networking, unfocused cold calling, unfocused direct mail, unfocused/unproven social media, and targeting organization that don`t get it”. In terms of translation industry this means contacting fellow translators working with absolutely different language pairs that do not include either your target or your source language, contacting people and/or organizations that simply do not need your translation services (it is absolutely wrong to think that any business in any industry needs them FOR YOUR language pair), and broadcasting your personal social media messages on your business channel.


Why these marketing methods are the least effective? They can of course someday bring you a client or two, but their performance factor is very low – you simply spend too much time (=money) while getting too little results, that is all.


Let`s now see what are the most effective marketing techniques you can apply. Once again, according to Steve Slaunwhite, these are “ tapping your network, going deeper with existing clients, direct mail”. It means that your existing clients should be your priority, because it is much easier to keep your existing clients happy than to search for new leads. Moreover, word of mouth is also a very powerful instrument letting you spread the word about your business easily. You can contact you friends (designers, DTP specialists, programmers, etc.) who potentially can have clients who may need translation services.


Less effective yet powerful methods include “smart networking, social media, public speaking, article writing, blogging, cold calling”. Why are these methods less effective? The answer is simple: they require too much of your time.


On-line directories, AdWords, on-line job boards and SEO do not require too much time (few clicks here and there), but they also won`t bring you many clients either. These instruments can be used only as a small contribution to your other marketing efforts mentioned above. Why? Because it is obvious enough that too many people “resort” to using these instruments, making it hard for clients to find potential contractors (too much noise making it difficult to hear the signal).