Reasonable J-E technical translation rates per source character?
August 23, 2017 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm to be translating a ~50 page Japanese technical auto manual into English, and the client would like an estimate. The material is fairly esoteric which would justify charging a bit more, but I'm a relative newcomer to the field which would justify charging a bit less... though I'll be doing more work on research, etc than someone more experienced. How would you go about things in my situation? (I'd like to charge per source character, since it seems simplest to estimate.)

I have talked with two colleagues about rates so far. The rates they suggested differ wildly from each other ($.07 per source character vs $.15 per source character), and to pick one over the other would double or halve the amount of money I will be paid! I want to give the client a fair price but also don't to set an overly low rate which will be difficult to raise for future contracts.

Could any translators steer me in the right direction? Given my circumstances, how much would be a reasonable rate to ask for? The client is reasonable and has been fair in its dealings with me thus far, and will probably go along with the rate I suggest so long as it is justifiable and close to the industry standard.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This would be a good question to ask at this forum (you would need to sign up for a free membership, it's a reputable site). I have no idea about Japanese and per character rates but as an old translator (who's worked at a major car company) I would say go high end. The client can always try to negotiate you down. But you have a valuable language combination, the job will involve research, and it is probably a job ultimately for a huge company i.e. one who can afford it? (I tend to indulge in "From each according to his ability" pricing.) Also, translation, especially freelance, is horrifically underpaid/undervalued, and it's best for you and for your colleagues too to not low-ball yourself, ESPECIALLY if you are just starting out, assuming you deliver the goods. If they want to pay peanuts they can go commission a monkey.
(whatever you end up charging, it's a good habit to track the time you spend on the project and work out the de facto hourly rate, then adjust your character rate depending on how that hourly wage looks.)
posted by runincircles at 1:00 PM on August 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you're dealing directly with the end consumer of the translation and are going to be providing a finished piece of work, 15¢/Japanese character is reasonable, and as runincircles points out, they can bargain you down from that, but you can't bargain up. For that price, I'd find a native Japanese speaker who could edit my work and pay them a reasonable rate for their work.

The fact that you'll spend more time on research than someone who is experienced is not something you can use as a basis for charging more.
posted by adamrice at 1:15 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agree with most of what adamrice says, though I'd add that the fact that you're a newcomer to the field shouldn't affect the rate you ask for; either you can do the work to a decent standard, or you can't. It might take you longer, but the more you do the faster you'll get. Good luck.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:31 PM on August 23, 2017

I would aim for the high end of $0.15/char,

AND establish whether your client would be running it through their own editor, or whether you would also be covering that out of your own pocket. If they hadn't thought of that already...well, they should have.

I used to work in the translation mines and, regardless of language, everything good went through less than one round of revisions. Nobody is perfect.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:55 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm going to venture a guess that your colleagues gave you wildly varying figures because one was thinking about how much a translator working for an agency gets paid, and the other was thinking about how much a customer gets charged. $0.07 sounds like a fair ballpark figure for a translator's pay. After a translator submits their translation to the agency, the agency also has to pay a proofreader/editor, someone to do layout (in all the agencies I've worked for the translators don't worry about font sizes or margins or the like, all the DTP stuff is done by the agency), and someone to handle billing and other administrative stuff. This roughly doubles the price, so $0.15 sounds about right for how much the client actually gets charged.

Since you're going to be doing everything on your own, definitely aim for the $0.15 end. Although you will find that this is much more than most translators actually make, it won't be much more than most clients actually pay, so you'd be offering a competitive rate to the client.
posted by Bugbread at 1:32 AM on August 24, 2017

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