s the world becomes smaller and the need for qualified translators continues to grow, there are increasing opportunities for interested bilinguals to leverage their language skills and enter the world of professional translation. Unfortunately, many speakers of multiple languages do not understand that a second language does not a professional translator make, and even those that do often come up against some harsh realities: first, the lack of reliable information on the nuts and bolts of running a translation business, and second, the fact that many linguistic entrepreneurs fail, not because they have poor language skills, but because they make basic and avoidable business mistakes. Translator Corinne McKay's new book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator (Lulu Press, 2006) skillfully guides people who are already bilingual through what it takes to be successful freelance translators.
The book does not deal with translation theory and techniques, information that can readily be found elsewhere, but rather it has five sections containing detailed information about the practical side of launching and running a freelance business. This makes it a unique resource and well-worth the cover price ($19.95) for new translators. McKay's thorough review of the business side of the industry from a translator's perspective makes it an excellent resource for translators with years of experience as well. I have interacted with tens of thousands of translators over the years and know that many could benefit from her well-researched presentation of industry business practices and linguistic tools.
It is a recommended resource for any beginning translator and a welcome one for those already in the business.
Starting with the Introduction, McKay shares valuable information with those exploring the profession and self-employment, asking the question, "Is freelance translation for you?" She then leads the reader through an honest self-assessment, which every aspiring a translator should go through, whether using McKay's book or other tools as a guide.
Section 1, "An Overview of the Translation Business" takes a look at the professional linguist's working environment, associations for translators and interpreters, translator certification and the differences between translation and interpreting. Section 2, "Starting and Growing your Business" discusses résumé-writing, finding clients, working effectively from home and maximizing productivity. Section 3, "Home Office Setup" covers translation home office technology, translation memory software and computer systems. Section 4, "Rates, Contracts and Terms of Service" includes information on how to set competitive rates, resolve disputes with clients and set the client-translator relationship up for success, and Section 5 wraps the book up with information on setting a freelance business up for growth.
The most helpful aspect of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator is the practical information that it contains. For example, McKay has included several charts for calculating items such as billable hours and hourly rates, as well as sample documents for a translation-targeted cover letter, collection notices and more. The book's Resources section includes a list of U.S. Government agencies that hire translators and interpreters, information about associations for translators and interpreters and listings for schools that offer translation and interpretation certificate programs.
McKay has helpful marketing tips sprinkled throughout the book, such as in section 2.2, "Finding Your First Clients" and Section 5.4, "Ten Ways to Please a Translation Client." Taking a look at her website, McKay walks the marketing talk by, for example, providing a periodic free newsletter-serving to drive traffic to her site and increase her exposure. It would be interesting to see her develop some of her suggestions further in an entire chapter entirely devoted to marketing ideas. Many beginning freelancers are unrealistic about the amount of marketing that it will take in order to earn a full-time income from translation, and this would help them gauge the required effort and encourage them along the way.
As noted, although the book is mainly targeted at translators who are new to the field, there is also information that could be helpful to the experienced translator. Section 5.2, "Key questions before the project starts," includes three pages of questions that every translator should be able to answer before accepting a translation project, and section 2.2 includes website information for a variety of international chambers of commerce in the U.S., an excellent source of potential clients for veteran translators as well as newcomers.
McKay states that How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator draws on her experience launching her own freelance translation business after eight years as a high school French teacher. Having succeeded in the career transition adds to her credibility. The book is well-organized and is written in a clear and easy-to-read writing style that makes the information it contains accessible to the reader. For a first edition, the editing of the book is also noteworthy: no typographical errors and the layout is pleasant to peruse.
One area that affects those getting started in the profession, but was not mentioned in McKay's book, is translation tests. It would have been interesting to see a discussion on the pros and cons of taking tests for potential clients in response to the promise of work if the client approves the test. This is a controversial topic and a source of friction between certain segments of the translator population and various agencies. Introducing those new to the industry to this subject, as well as educating experienced professionals about both sides of the issue, would have been useful.
Another area that would be useful in the Resources section would be a list of peer resources for translators on the Internet, such as "find work" sites, discussion groups devoted to specific language pairs, subject-matter specific listservs, and discussion groups that share information on what clients' payment practices are. McKay's book already contains a wealth of helpful information but these could be useful in a second edition or a book supplement on her website.
In conclusion, McKay provides a resource that is unique among the "how to" manuals out there for translators, and one that is concise and an easy-to-use reference. It is a recommended resource for any beginning translator and a welcome one for those already in the business who could benefit from a well-thought out business plan.