An Hourly Fee for Translation?

Here are few thoughts on John Milan’s article in the May-June issue. Other than tradition, there are numerous advantages to the per-word rate. It is verifiable, and there is no temptation to “fudge” the total hours billed. Experienced translators can project their source/target word ratios and thus bill by either one if asked to do so. For example, per-word rates can be adjusted to account for extra research and formatting.

However, there is a larger issue. Lawyers, the professionals with whom we most frequently work, don’t hesitate to bill by the hour. While rates of $1,000 per hour may be only for deep-pocketed clients, no one thinks $200 an hour is too much. Yet, if I were to quote a client $150 an hour—which is in fact what I frequently earn, based on my words per hour—that would be met with incredulity and “What!?!?! Never mind….” Of course, I can quote a per-project rate, but that begs the question.

We will be respected as professionals only when we can charge the hourly rates we deserve for the highly skilled work we do. That time has not yet come, and I doubt I will see it in my lifetime.

—Eve Hecht, Elizabeth, NJ

Another Take on Hourly Fees

John Milan presents an interesting concept, but I would suggest taking it to the next logical step. Instead of determining an hourly fee, use your estimated productivity (words per hour) and desired hourly income to calculate a fee for the entire project. After all, with respect to cost, the client is only concerned with the total cost to them, not the hourly or word rate.

I have begun moving to quoting on a “per project” basis, factoring in the time required for research, translation, post-editing, and review. Even agency clients appreciate a “bottom line quote.” This is because it makes it easy for them to determine their profit margin, since they have often (usually?) quoted a flat fee to their end client.

—Ted Wozniak, New Orleans, LA

Spicing Up Your Translation

In my experience, people do want to read clichés. Not a lot and certainly not all the time, but a sprinkling of clichés in your translation reassures the reader that they have the text under control. Let’s face it, unless we’re talking about literary translation, most people do not read for enjoyment. They read to get a job done. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t spread your wings a little every now and then.

Using a thesaurus, as Percy Balemans suggests in her article, can be stimulating, but you don’t want to send the reader off to the dictionary every 11 words or so. Genius has its place: a textbook on AngularJS (an open source JavaScript framework) can’t read like Finnegans Wake. In most cases, good translation is invisible, like good design.

One thing that makes writers valuable is that they have the freedom and the courage to get candid and bring who they are into anything they write. One might say that writers interpret their own souls, whereas translators interpret somebody else’s work. Function comes first, poetry second.

—Jorge Machado

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