I just finished translating a long Japanese patent, almost eleven thousand English words, in two and half days. I charged my rush rate for it, which is 40% higher than my regular rate.
I charge more for rush translations because there often are, or could be, several other jobs that I am juggling at the same time. At the moment, I have on my desk 7 Japanese patents and 1 German patent for which I will charge my regular rate.
When direct clients asks me for a cost estimate, I normally give them two prices: one for regular and one for rush turnaround time. Most of the time they choose the regular turnaround time, which I define as no more than 2 thousand words per working day, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. This means, for example, that the 7 Japanese patents will take me 15 working days to finish, while at the same time I can fit in a few other translations, but only if I work also on weekends.
If I did not have a rush rate, most jobs would automatically be needed yesterday or ASAP. The rush rate basically makes it possible for me to live almost like a normal person, some of the time.
But sometime my clients will choose the rush rate if their own deadline makes them nervous. That’s what the last one said. I gave him two prices, one for regular turnaround time and one for rush work, and he went for the higher price to be on the safe side.
After working at full speed for two and half days – I was translating four thousand words a day the first two days, and today I finished the last three thousand words by noon and then spent the afternoon proofreading before I sent the translation to the client – I am completely wiped out.
The exhaustion that I feel after spending many hours, generally from 7 AM to 7 or 8 PM, mostly translating with only a few breaks and a nap in between, is similar to what I used to feel more than 3 decades ago when I was studying for a difficult examination at the university. Say, classical Japanese called “bungo“. I used to stick cards with irregular verbs and difficult characters on everything, including the mirror in the bathroom. After I cut myself shaving, I decided that the bathroom mirror was probably not a good location. I remember how people were giving me strange looks in the metro train when I was shuffling my cards and mumbling strange words on my way to school.
But although the feeling of exhaustion after each rush job is similar to what I felt decades ago as a student, I don’t have the same feeling of satisfaction as I did after passing a difficult exam, although there is some satisfaction from the significantly higher figure.
Mostly I feel relief because tomorrow I will not have to slave as much as I did today.
But the truth is, I will have to fit almost as many translating hours into my day tomorrow as I did today, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that. Because at some point, everything will be finished and there may be no more work for who knows how long. Feast or famine. Too much or not enough, that’s how it’s been for more than 25 years now.
My insistence on a rush surcharge slows down the madness a little bit, I think.
I have been using this system for more than 20 years now, and it still makes sense to me, although I understand that different translators have different systems, and some don’t really charge more for rush at all.
Of course, I can only add a substantial surcharge when I work for direct customers. When I work for translation agencies, I can only add another cent per word, two cents at the most, to my usual rate. I don’t know whether they charge customers much more than a cent or two. I suspect that most of them probably do but they don’t want to share the bounty with the translators.
Sharing, caring, that’s not what they are about. I remember that only one agency paid me “a time and a half” for rush work, in 2006, which was the law in United States for working overtime back when I was an employee in the eighties. Is it still the law? I kind of doubt it, but even if it is still on the books, many corporations and small companies probably simply ignore it these days. The people in this tiny translation agency actually suggested “time and a half” themselves as I was going to ask only for 1 cent because I really liked them. It was a husband-wife team, the guy, who was in his seventies, had PhD in chemistry and his wife was taking care of accounting.
I was working for them for about a year, translating pharmaceutical test reports from Japanese. A substantial surcharge was clearly warranted since many of these reports were handwritten, which slows me down quite a bit.
The mom-and-pop agency was sold a year later to a bigger outfit, which then sent me and several other translators a work offer, a rush job that had to be accepted quickly before somebody else snags it. This is a system that many translation agencies use now, instead of working only with the best translators known to them to stay out of trouble, they send a work offer to a bunch of largely unknown entities so that the “first responder” (read the first warm body) will get the job.
So I called the girl who sent me (and a bunch of other warm bodies) that e-mail and told her that I will not work for them anymore. After a while, the owner of the agency called me in person and apologized for “an oversight” on the part of that girl. I told him that I would not work for him anyway, and hung up on him.
As the country song says, I know how to hold a grudge.