Online Networking and Marketing for Translators

“When you’re not growing, you’re dying.” This saying has always seemed too dramatic to me, but maybe it’s true with many jobs, especially freelancing. With dwindling work from my usual agency, I was forced to think of new ways to find agencies and clients. So far, there’s not been paying work from any of these efforts but I have made contact with lots of authors and editors, and who knows, someone might prove to be a key connection for a future project. In any case, it’s nice to feel less isolated when you work at home and don’t have the traditional office and coworkers.

Social Media:
Reaching out via Twitter, Weibo
I have contacted many writers and editors on Weibo (China’s micro-blogging platform, similar to Twitter). Some people have their email addresses posted, some can only be messaged through the site, which means your message could get lost in the shuffle. Most people are receptive to my message; some have added me on WeChat, or have later emailed me for English-publishing advice. A few were very wary, probably assuming I was running a scam of some sort. “Does this cost money?” was a common reply, I guess it’s not surprising given the medium.

Asking publishers if they want to collaborate on projects, offering yourself as a resource for scoping out books in your chosen language combination.

Professional networking sites:
When you try to contact someone who isn’t already a connection on LinkedIn, the site asks you how you knew them before letting you email. Since my current job title is freelance, I usually use this as a way to get to the contact form and send a brief note about what I do and offer my services. I actually heard back from a few editors who were either open to being pitched or gave me someone else’s contact information. This could be a way to reconnect with someone you met at a conference or a networking event; those occasions could be hectic, and if you couldn’t match someone’s card with his/her face, checking in online could work too.



Chinese Writers Association’s Literary Translators’ Symposium

I stumbled across this page while looking for Chinese writers to pitch. The symposium (in its 3rd year) was held this summer in Beijing and featured a lot of amazing literary translators. I recognized a few names, Nicky Harman among them. The esteemed and experienced translators talked about the challenges in translating Chinese novels into other languages. One thing that struck me was how there were no native Chinese translators present, is it because publishers assume the translator has to be native in the target language to be good? This is something that will hopefully change, not just because there are great translators out there whose native language is not English, such as Ken Liu [personal site], and Yunqin Yang [Amazon link]. Even though native speakers for the target language are obviously talented in their native language, their comprehension of the source text could be more limited than native speakers of the source language. Ultimately, there is space for translators of all language advantages, in an ideal world, there should be a translator team for every book. Anyway, the translators gave great speeches about their experiences and lessons, which are transcribed in Chinese on the site. I particularly liked Mark Leenhouts’ speech, he’s a Chinese to Dutch translator who recently completed the Chinese masterpiece, Fortress Besieged 【围城】, by the legendary Chinese writer Qian Zhongshu. He emphasized how difficult it is to get across historical and cultural context, the challenge with idioms and proverbs, and narrative differences. He said more translation is required to make translated fiction seem more familiar to readers, less alien, and hopefully attract them into a new world of reading.

Quick update

I sent in the book draft a few weeks ago, am now waiting on notes from the development editor to make fixes. The English word count was around 122k words, about 346 pages in word. Hopefully there is not too much work left.

My membership ran out and I didn’t renew. In my experience, most of the member-only jobs are not that well-paying; I have not had luck bidding on them using mid-to-low end rates, and they tend to be super-rush. Members do get potential job emails, so some people may like membership for this feature.

Finally ordered business cards when Vistaprint had their $10/250 cards offer, can’t beat that! They’re hot pink and black!



Hustling for more work

My main agency has had a slow-down in work, which is worrying. I should have explored more work opportunities anyway, even if there was no drop in jobs. I guess I was too comfortable getting regular work from one place to remember a good rule for freelancing, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” Like many successful freelance translators have said, it is either feast or famine in this industry. I have always wanted to work on more interesting content, such as translating magazine articles, non-fiction, or literary content, so the current downtime is a good chance to figure out how to get the work. I have been contacting editors at Chinese magazines, asking for work or collaboration opportunities; heard back from one editor of a business magazine who seemed interested. Hope the new year brings in more steady work!

Direct Clients and Artsy Work

A friend who works for an ad agency in Taiwan sent me some work, so excited… I am actually just charging my usual rate, because while Chinese to English translation rates are better than the other way around in Asia, just like in the US, they are lower than US rates overall.


After pretty much exclusive news and retail/business-type translation last year, I am overjoyed to do some artsy stuff like this. It is weird how with this type of writing, there seems to be more freedom and less emphasis on facts and numbers, but it is not any easier. All the nuances can be tricky, especially when the source text gets over-creative in its metaphors and adjectives. 

Translating News

I am fortunate to have a somewhat regular gig translating news recently. The material is sometimes news, occasionally propaganda, editorial or commentary-type stuff published in mainstream Chinese newspapers. Some interesting things:

Chinese press like to refer to their own publications often, frequently one would read, “Our reporters have learned…” in the copy. It seems almost boastful.

Proper names of news figures and places are translated into Chinese, so translating it back into English can be hard. It can be a challenge to find its English original, it’s especially difficult when the name is not in English at all, when the articles are news from Africa or Southeast Asia.