On Setting Rates

Translator Twitter always sees some kind of drama about rates. Low rates, unclear rates, unpaid rates…

Time is money. Really!
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This topic never seems to die down, which makes sense, because understanding rates is one of the great mysteries for beginning translators (and, probably, many other freelance fields). For the beginner, it can seem so deeply frustrating when more experienced translators don’t just tell them what a good rate is. I know I felt that way, and those first steps were so difficult that I was genuinely angry at times that no one would just TELL ME what I should charge.

It’s only now that I’m a couple of years into working full time as a freelancer, and successfully supporting my family doing so, that I understand why no one would. The answer is, as frustrating as it sounds, there is no standard. There is no clear baseline that people can share, because a decent rate is in many ways a personal thing. It is based on your own economic needs (cost of living, dependents, etc.), your speed of work, the kind of work you can do, the value you can add to your work, and a variety of other factors.

This is not to say that no one can offer guidance: They can (and I plan to)! Just that no one can offer much in the way of concrete numbers, with a few caveats.

So, how do we do it? We need to start with a few basic principles so that we understand why we’re doing what we’re going to do.

First: Translation is not low-paid work. It is a highly skilled job that serves real economic needs, worldwide. Even in common pairs, any rate that is near minimum wage is, frankly, unacceptable. It’s not economically defensible to pay work with these kind of required skills and talents less than a living wage. Have some pride in your work, and yourself!

Second: Freelancers should charge more than they first expect. Freelance work places a very large economic burden on the worker in terms of taxes, insurance, expenses, unpaid holidays, ad infinitum. A good rule of thumb that is batted around is that a freelancer can expect about the same “take home” pay from double the hourly rate of a full-time employee. So, if a freelancer is earning $100 an hour, that’s about the same real income as someone earning $50 an hour as a company employee.

Third: You are your only advocate. No one gives a rate in freelance translation: you charge it. You decide when to raise it. You decide what is fair for you. If a client is unwilling to pay the rate you charge, it’s up to you to decide if you will lower it, or find another client. This also means that:

Fourth: The burden is on you to understand your work flow. Is your work worth the rate you charge? If you lower your rate, will you earn more by getting more clients, or less because you’re underselling yourself? Are you working efficiently enough to earn enough money at a reasonable rate? Can you work faster/smarter/in a different field? All of this is on you. You’re an adult, and you made this decision to work on your own. All of this is part of that decision.

Fifth: You are more than just your work. Set your rates so that you can live a comfortable life. You shouldn’t be working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. You should be able to rest and enjoy life, not hate your work because you can’t stop doing it for a single day.

So, based on these principles, here is what I find a pretty good way to set your rate.

A: Decide how much money you need to live (per day, or week, or year, etc.). Then, add some more, because I really mean it with those principles. You want to have fun, you want to thrive. You want that middle class dream.

B: Figure out how fast you work, roughly. Naturally, this is going to fluctuate depending on job, field, weather, mood, etc. etc. But you should have a rough idea how much you can translate in an hour, all things considered. For Japanese to English, most people fall between 500 and 1,000 characters an hour.

Now, do the math. Based on the amount you decided in A, figure out an hourly rate, then use B to help set that per character rate. For example:

A= 700,000 yen a month. I work five days a week, 7 hours a day. That’s roughly 140 hours a month, yadda yadda yadda, so I’m looking for 5,000 yen an hour. (This is a conservative figure for a freelancer, as per the second principle above). Don’t forget the long term: I will need holidays, and sick days, and so on. I deserve those, as a human being.

B: if I can translate 500 characters an hour, I should charge 10 yen per character. You will find that this is not at all high for some fields (technical fields, financial fields, etc. will charge much more). But if you’re doing, say, games, it’s very high–largely because people expect faster output. Thus, if you can translate 1,000 an hour, 5 yen per character will get you that same hourly rate.

So, as you can see, it’s simple math but the variables are very wide.

This is also why experienced translators can say a given rate is too low, but not tell you what a baseline should be. It’s because there is a variable math to it, and looking a rate of, say, 1 yen per character gives no path to work out anything like a living wage. Working for such low rates could actually set that translator on a downward spiral, so that they use all their energy just keeping their head above water instead of having reserves they can use to grow and improve. It’s literally better to work at McDonald’s for minimum wage and use your spare time to gain skills so you can become a more successful translator, than work for nothing as a translator and dig yourself into a bottomless pit because you no longer have spare time.

Personally, I aim for 10,000 yen per hour, but so far really only average 8,000. I’m working on gradually raising rates and expanding clients to new, more lucrative fields, since I’m already working as fast as I think I reasonably can (average about 1,000 characters an hour) and I don’t want to work more hours (about 30 a week right now). Thus, my rates range from 7 (my absolute minimum for agency clients) to 12 (for direct clients), with special cases going as high as 18.

To end with, here’s my stab at a baseline: In my opinion, there is no realistic way to support yourself as a translator and live a comfortable life at anything less than 5 yen per character. That should be an absolute minimum for full time work. Naturally, someone out there is disagreeing with me, and that’s fine. I’m just saying, the higher you get above that baseline, the better things will be for you.

Shepherd’s Warning – Review

Shepherd's Warning

Shepherd’s Warning by Cailyn Lloyd

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Shepherd’s Warning by Cailyn Lloyd
Review of a NetGalley eARC.

This is a haunted house story in the vein of The Shining or The Amityville Horror (which is referenced explicitly in the text). The McKenzie family: Lucas and Laura, with Lucas’s brother Nathan and his wife Ashley, along with Lucas and Laura’s granddaughter Leah, arrive at the brothers’ inherited house in the Wisconsin countryside. A grand old Tudor mansion, they decide to renovate it for HGTV, but things soon take a terrifying turn. As you would expect from a horror novel.

This first book from Lloyd shows its influences on its sleeve, while working in a lot of unusual takes that would make for something refreshingly new, if so much of it wasn’t just confusing.

The Old English spells, the nearly immortal wizard, the circularity of the events are all interesting and unique. They add flavor to the book and would help it stand out a lot from the crowd, if the rest of the pacing and structure stood up to them. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like they did.

Events unfold in an awkward way, with things that seem really important at the time just fading away. For example, in one scene a young contractor falls off the roof, breaking his arm and impaling himself on a rusty piece of metal. This event IS NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN by the main characters, and only vaguely referenced by a side character (a “ghost” that made it happen). Not only that, but people continue to work on the roof without taking any safety precautions, and indeed someone falls again.

Then there’s the idea that they are renovating the house for a TV show. This dominates the situation for the first few chapters, then it’s just… Gone. No more cameras, no more interviews, no repercussions. Which could be code for the whole book: lots of things happen with no real impact.

The pacing is overall quite uneven. The book opens with a couple of big events, but then nothing really happens until halfway through. There is a lot of pointless running around, and I’ll be honest–all the “L” names warped it into one big, blonde blur.

There is also an odd insistence on specificity, especially regarding brand names, that almost reads like advertising. The main characters don’t drink beer, they drink Spotted Cow (which halfway through the book becomes italicized); the 1,000 year-old wizard doesn’t drink port, he drinks Old Tawny port; Laura doesn’t use a genealogy website, she uses Ancestry.com; Tom Wolff doesn’t wear a trucker’s cap, he wears a Purina cap. It stands out in an odd way, rather than adding any kind of realism or immediacy.

These all seem like minor points, but they build up until the text becomes a struggle. And it doesn’t help that the essential conflict centers, once again, on the corruption of the father figure through his repressed Id. Ugh. Does the father grow distant from his family because of his inability to deal with loss? Yep. Does the father fall into dissolution through alcohol? Yep! Does the father betray his wife, who just wants him to get help, and call her concern nagging and prying? Bingo! At least he wasn’t a writer.

Overall, I really struggled to finish this book, and once I did I wasn’t satisfied.



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Announcing Kthulhu Reich!

I am very proud to announce the publication of my first book-length translation, Kthulhu Reich, by Asamatsu Ken, translated by Jim Rion, published by Kurodahan Press.

Official Blurb:

World War II was a world-spanning conflict that engulfed dozens of countries, a maelstrom that dragged whole nations, religions, and millions of people to their deaths.

But it was fought with more than merely guns and machines…

Even before the War was begun in earnest, Nazi Germany had sent expeditions to the darkest hiding places of the world: to shadowed Africa, to the towering peaks of Tibet, and even to the frigid wastes of Antarctica.

Their goal was to locate occult weaponry and “aid” for the glory of the Third Reich.

And they were successful.

But were those they sought truly allies? Or were they the old Gods themselves, waiting for their chance to remold the world of Man in their own image once again?

Ken Asamatsu presents another fantastic novel of the War, the Cthulhu Mythos, and humanity trapped in the middle.

(NB: This isn’t exactly what I’d call a novel. It’s a loosely connected set of individual short stories.)

The Author:

Born in 1956 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Graduated Toyo University to work at Kokusho Kankōkai, famous in Japan as the publisher of Lovecraft and many other works of horror and fantasy. Debut work as an author was Makyō no Gen’ei (Echoes of Ancient Cults), in 1986. He continues to be active in a wide range of activities, including writing extensively in the weird historical and horror genres. While remaining extremely interested in the Cthulhu Mythos, lately he has been concentrating on weird historicals set in the Muromachi period (1333-1573).

In 2005 his Higashiyamadono Oniwa (Higashiyamadono Villa Garden) was a finalist for the annual award of the Mystery Writers of Japan, Inc. in the short story genre.

He has also made considerable contribution to Japanese fiction as an anthologist, proposing a number of collections successfully published in Japan. The Lairs of the Hidden Gods, which won high praise in the original Japan, is now available from Kurodahan Press.

This book was nutso to translate. It sits at the nexus of Indiana Jones, Lovecraft, and Japanese nonsense with just a touch of Philip K. Dick-level paranoia. There are shoggoths, deathless wizards, vampires, and Jack the Ripper. There are magic rituals, ancient demons, and the Lance of Longinus. There are heroic spies and bloody betrayals.

Content Warning: there are actual Nazis (and proto-Nazis) acting like Nazis in this book, although the text only mentions the holocaust itself briefly. In addition, there can be an uncomfortable space where Nazis are protagonists against otherworldly evil. The author is NOT in any way shape or form a nazi sympathizer. Neither am I. The book also depicts the murders of Jack the Ripper rather graphically.

For those looking to buy (THANK YOU! Kurodahan is a tiny publisher, and every purchase helps keep them pumping out hidden Japanese gems like this. And, of course, the author and I also appreciate the support as well.) Here are links:

Amazon

Kindle

Barnes & Noble