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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.

Planning tips for freelancers and freelance translators

3 Jan

This blog post will be a very positive one. I will share my method of compiling plans for any new year (or any other period of time you use for planning). I hope the thoughts I will share will inspire you to make your own list of your milestones/goals for the upcoming year.

It is a well-known fact that the first step to success is to define what success means to you, otherwise you will miss the moment you have succeeded. It’s like having a top-notch receiver with a poorly constructed antenna. High sensitivity of the radio receiver will count for nothing, since your antenna does not bring any signal to the input.

January 1 is therefore a perfect day to start planning. Streets are empty, your loved ones are still sleeping. You take your pen and put down 5 to 10 milestones for the upcoming year.

It is very important to be precise as much as possible. I always try to avoid generalized sentences like “My income will increase”, or “I will have more direct clients”. Lack of preciseness won’t let you critically see the results achieved and compare them with specific figures. In other words, you won’t be able to adjust your plans for future years compared to the end of 2014.

After you have set your goals, print them out and hang them somewhere on the wall, so that you see them every day.

Then try to write down several steps which will help you achieve your goals. This is a great opportunity to brainstorm your marketing or business ideas. Put down even the oddest ideas. You will always have time to strike them out. Step out of your comfort zone!

Step by step will develop your own unique to-do list. And it is only natural that your list will be eventually revised by you, since circumstances tend to change quite often. You have to adjust your marketing efforts as conditions change.

The end of the first half of the year is a perfect chance to draw preliminary conclusions from the data you now have, as well as to adjust your plans accordingly.

Let’s hope that all our plans will be fulfilled. As usual, have a nice day!

Review of “The Wealthy Freelancer” by Steve Slaunwhite

13 May

I’m holding a wonderful book in my hands – “The Wealthy Freelancer” by Steve Slaunwhite et al. The name of the book sounded rather pompous to me at first when I saw it on But since I am honestly trying to expand my business, I don’t trust titles any more. I decided to buy it. Anyway, the price was ridiculously low. Why not?

You can never tell when these books will arrive. It took about 20 days. I almost forgot about this order. But when I finally received the book and turned a few pages, I was literally amazed.

Since the time I started to actively devour books on marketing and freelancing, I can tell you that I have not come across anything similar in terms of quality and preciseness. I am sure that this book should be one of the first ones to be obtained by any freelancer. The only odd thing is that you can’t find words “translator” or “translation” in this book. But that doesn’t matter.

First, the book is structured so nicely that you can easily browse chapters or use index to find relevant passages. A lot of books lack this feature. Second, the book is full of practical recommendations and examples you can use right now.

Third, there are several concepts I never heard of before. Do you want to remind your existing clients that you are there to help them? Make up a buzz piece and send it to them. Make sure that this brochure is 5 – 10 pages long, and that it deals with issues crucial to the business of your clients. For example, if your basic clients are translation agencies, you can help them find professional translators using your buzz piece.

Moreover, you have to constantly feed prospects down your marketing funnel. Once you stop, is stream of clients will eventually dry out. This is a very valuable piece of advice a lot of freelancers and translators don’t take seriously. It’s much better to have a lot of clients and reject certain projects that try to pick every job passing you by.

Once you compiled a solid list of prospects manually (people who your service), you will have to build up a library of attractive content you can send these prospects every month – provided that they answered your initial email with your buzz piece.

The author also breaks down marketing activities into four segments of the most and the least effectiveness compared to the time spent on them. They call it the Marketing Effectiveness Matrix. Another interesting concept is the IDEA Matrix for Mindset Mastery – another pompous title. This is to help you “develop the winning mental edge wealthy freelancers possess”.

The next post will be about the book called “The prosperous translator” by Chris Durban.

Have a nice day!

Strange sentence for a freelancer. Importance of visual perception.

4 Apr

While surfing Twitter messages some days ago, I (as usual) clicked a link posted by one person I follow. The sentence was about money-back guarantee this translator offered its clients: in case you are not satisfied with the quality of translation provided, this translator is ready to return the money paid for it. (Please don`t ask me to tell you his e-mail – I won`t do that). He does not tell us what he will get in return in this case. I hope it won`t be his own translation. Because in case it is, then who is going to buy it once again?

I believe that this is just a reaction to a general trend of the translation industry for the last 20 years – when both parties (both clients and service providers) jointly contribute to commoditization of the service we all provide. It is much less stressful to offer what some clients want (though unconsciously), then to stand out and attract them by the quality of your service per se.

To regret, I do not know this translator personally, and I am absolutely positive about his competence. Still, even in case you are a recognized expert in a field, no way will this commodity-style approach help the industry and all the parties involved. This practice will be considered by other (less established) service providers to be a standard of the industry. In case he/she does it, who am I to reject this approach (this is what they think)?

Very dangerous approach. You just think about all the consequences.


Yesterday, as I had my regular daily stroll, I met one of my friends who is a freelancer producing illustrations for fiction. She is a mother of a child, without any support from other people. It all means that she once desperately needed cash to buy enough food to sustain her sweet daughter (ok, you can eat bread and water, but your child can`t). Now she is free to choose her outsourcers. What one would do when put under such a pressure? Right – he would grab all the projects available there at portals for freelancers, irrespective of rates offered, conditions suggested and deadlines given.

This is a usual scenario in this situation, yet I was positively surprised at the way she does business. The thing is that what she produces is visible to all outsourcers. She gives them a link to her portfolios where they see the quality and talent. Miraculously, people tend to generally accept her rates, which are normally 3-4 times more then those originally posted.

You may say that her work is instantly visible – you see the pictures from the start. Right you are! We (translators) can put some of our best translations online. This can be a translation of your favourite poet, etc. But – please – do not show people a translation of some dull parts list or a badly written specification.

This simply won`t work.

As usual – have a nice day!

Why people choose to go freelance?

3 Apr

“Freelancing is tough. It can be very difficult, in fact. It can wear people down, making them lose sight of what they used to love because they have to do everything else just to get by.”
Mason Hipp, The Unlimited Freelancer

When people hear the word “freelancer”, “a work-from-home position”, they usually have doubts that this person has enough money to pay his/her bills. A picture of a mom with a child on her hands is what people imagine when they here this word. This picture is so far from what we all here do, and yet it is what 90% of people think we do. When I say that I provide my family with all they need, that I can pay my bills and even save money, they have this “cognitive dissonance“. When they are then told that I work 15 days per month at the most, they faint.

It is quite surprising how certain people defend the way they do their job. 60-80 hours per week, no time for kids, their loved ones, leisure, SLEEP. And still this collection of misconceptions about how one`s work should look like is considered to be one of the few ways to get rich (lottery winners just don`t count).

I am not going to blatantly reject certain pluses this lifestyle surely has – you can stay away from home as much as you like, pretending you are too busy to spend time with your children and wife (sometimes we all need such excuses). You can have this “double bottom” life (I can`t, because my wife is right behind the wall in the next room).

You can`t a lot of thing actually when you are a freelancer. I don`t know how it feels when a tie is wet – simply because I don`t have and/or don`t wear one (the last time I wore it was the 2 years ago on my wedding).

Seriously: one of my life`s great missions is to bust this myth – that you have to work by the sweat of your brow to earn a living. That you have to have your family suffer because you have to finish this project.

Freelancing for me is the only way to be creative, or innovative. Since typically a freelancer will not limit his/her activities to one, you have a plenty of opportunities to put on “shoes” of different professions – web-designers, accountants, content managers, etc.

One of the most exciting and challenging phenomena when you are a freelancer is this so-called “feast-or-famine” nature of your workload, especially when you just start out as a freelancer (i.e. you either have a lot of work, or nothing at all). Still, as time goes by, you get more clients who are able to literally fill all your free time. BTW, you can also use these time gaps for marketing purposes in order to find better-paying clients.

As usual – have a nice day!