Posted by: patenttranslator | February 14, 2012

Nobody Can Figure It Out For You

Translators love to complain about the low rates per word that they are forced to accept from mean and greedy translation agencies. Whenever this is the topic of a translator’s blog, the blog generates many comments, more than any other topic.

Well, although the rates for translation have been stagnant or even going down for quite some time in some cases, I think that it is important to put things into perspective.

First of all, the rates for translation are not really low, at least not universally so. It depends on what it is that you translate and who you work for. Nobody is forcing translators to work for translation agencies who pay low rates – most translators who do so are simply going for the low hanging fruit. There will be always people offering work to translators for peanuts. And there will be always people who will accept such work because it takes a lot of time and effort to figure out how to get to the higher hanging fruit. It usually involves a lot of work, and extremely labor-intensive efforts like specializing in the famous “niche”, marketing of one’s services to direct clients, or at least realizing that it only makes sense to work for translation agencies that still pay relatively good rates. There are not too many left, but there are still some out there.

The fact is that many other people have it much worse than freelance translators.

Case in point – here is an excerpt from a letter that was enclosed with a self-addressed envelope in my copy of Washington Post this morning:

“To My Valued Customers:

Due to rising gas prices, which are to exceed four dollars a gallon by this spring, and the small amount of money paid by the Virginia Pilot to deliver your paper, I am unable to continue serving you.

I took on the route which covers 98 miles during the week days and 160 miles on the weekends to make extra money. …… The Virginia Pilot pays 18 cents per Investor’s Business Daily, Financial Times and USA Today papers delivered. I’m paid 28 cents per New York Times and Washington Post paper and have 9 New York Times and 6 Washington Post customers during the week. It increases to 84 total papers on Sunday at an average of 24 cents per paper. My fuel bill for last month was 710 dollars. I was paid 1,160 dollars for the month. So I actually made 112.50 dollars per week, working a total of 25 hours per week.

….. I have enclosed a self addressed envelope. Should you find it in your heart to send a parting gratuity, it is most needed and greatly appreciated. It has been a privilege serving you.”

I did send the guy some money, although it was not much. He is the second newspaper carrier to quit on me within less than a year. I wonder whether or how soon Washington Post will be able to find a replacement.

I feel kind of privileged that every time when I write one word on the keyboard in my cozy home office, sipping my rich coffee and listening to music from all four corners of the world, I make about as much as the newspaper carrier makes per one newspaper, delivered on a route covering a hundred miles or much more than a hundred miles depending on the day of the week. I don’t have to go anywhere, regardless of what day it is.

I am not complaining about low rates for translation because I don’t work for low rates.

I am grateful to be what I am – a translator. It took me a while to figure out how to make at least 20 times more than what my newspaper carrier is able to make per hour, but I did figure out how to get paid quite well for doing something that I really like a lot, most of the time, anyway.

I hope the guy who just quit his unprofitable newspaper route will figure it out too.


  1. Thank you for this post! I’m always trying to convince every desperate translator thinking of changing careers that they get low rates because they agree to low rates. But perhaps it is more convenient to take whatever comes your way and then complain about the industry collapsing, instead of steering own career?


  2. Yes, we all deserve what we get, including what we are paid.


  3. You are sooooo right! What could be better than translating what one hopes is fascinating stuff, learning yet more of whatever language, more about the world, more about man’s foibles, with a cold tall glass of beer nearby, classical music at one’s fingertips, a feline or more for company, no hassle or expense, brain-altering traffic, and time to read more of the wonderful entries in the old Harrap’s New Standard French and English? Ah, yes, the rates! As they say, better than getting hit over the head with a sharp stick….


  4. The rates are not so bad in my case since I mostly work for patent law firms.

    Didn’t know you had a cold tall glass of beer nearby.

    May I ask what brand?


  5. […] lost in Google translation What makes a good translation agency How to Tell if Your Client is Legit Nobody Can Figure It Out For You Endless joy of being a translator [Resources] Mistakes to avoid Translation 2.0 Search Engine What […]


  6. Great blog. I am beginner translator and really enjoy reading it.
    Thank you!


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