Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Be a Writer Worth Paying for!

Rose Newell, with whom we chatted about zombie contracts in January, has it spot on when she says:

'Translators are interchangeable.' But good writers aren’t.

One of our core problems as translators is a lack of ability or opportunity (or drive, or skill) to differentiate (which is crucial to leaving auctions behind). The global village not only makes it easier to communicate, it also makes it painfully obvious there are millions of people to communicate with.

In the world of glorified translation memories, termbases, style guides and quality assurance dominated by tag verification, a: 'belief that translators are “interchangeable”, provided they have “a good TM and glossary”,' is easy to form, if not guaranteed.

Not that the claim is altogether false — there are many practising translators without strong writing skills, or don't use them. You don't need to be one of them. And if you aren't, then you don't need to wear the livery.

Time for a war story. Imagine you're a wounded legal nestling looking for a ledge to perch on and nurse the bleeding wings. You need to finance an unpaying but hopeful scholarly career at the same as a grassroots mass litigation campaign, which you also need to manage. Normal solo practice is out of the question, as are 100-hour weeks, and BigLaw's turtling up and shutting off anyway because it's 2009 and the peak of the crisis. It's time to do something drastic.

That's where I was five years back. The subjects of my first one or two translations were surely legal, but it didn't take long before clients started coming with a brochure about beauty products for women, a milk ad, underground and underwater photographic equipment directory, memories from a tour around the world, a website about lifestyle services, and all sorts of things. At some point I ended up translating high-grade anniversary prose for a sports car manufacturer, but by that time there were many other things I had done, including materials to sell computer games. I didn't have a shred of a formal qualification in marketing or copywriting. Heck, I don't even now.

Bragging much? Nope. Encouraging? Yes. And hopefully getting some audience for Rose.

The bottom line is: writing skills matter.

They allow to write your own legend. They allow you to be a protagonist and not an NPC. Unfold the storyline!

Back to Rose, though. Don't miss her Writers worth paying for scheduled for 2 May at Budapest if you can help it. If you're there in person, tell her I said hi (actually, please do — but don't tell her I said she actually gets better rates for her translations than many copywriters can hope for). Otherwise you'll have to keeping hoping with me that they'll share a recording.

Also take a look at Ed Gandia's podcast about a similar subject for… writers, actually. It will prepare you for what Rose is going to be talking about, as will Marta's leads.

If you have an inquisitive mind looking for an excuse, pay a Tweet for Alastaire Allday's free Think Like a Copywriter, which has seen classroom use.

A couple of days ago, I joked that translators already are copywriters — the similarities are striking if you get into it. The inspiration came from and post at Alastaire's blog, where he quipped the opposite — that copywriters were translators. Now, if a copywriter says that, why don't you capitalise on it? As a translator you have an edge! Now make it keen.

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