Book Review: The Prosperous Translator

We've recently read several outstanding books about translation and interpreting, and it's time that we reviewed them. First up: Chris Durban's "The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee." Full disclosure: we received a free review copy of this book from Chris, who is a colleague and friend of Judy's. Of course, we receive quite a few books, and receiving a book doesn't guarantee a good review. Quite the contrary: if the book isn't any good, we'll gladly tell you. That said, this book is truly outstanding. Read Judy's review below.

What do the Stockholm Syndrome, the poverty cult and office clutter have in common? They all make appearances in The Prosperous Translator, a book edited and compiled by French-to-English financial translator and industry superstar Chris Durban. The book is entirely composed of columns in a question/answer format, so don't expect an A-to-Z guide to translation, as Chris correctly points out in her introduction. That's what the recently published second edition of Corinne McKay's highly popular book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, which we will review later this month, is for. 

The columns might sound familiar to careful readers of the online Translation Journal, where the Fire Ant & Worker Bee column ran from 1998 through 2010. Chris and her co-author Eugene Seidel dispensed excellent no-nonsense advice for linguists of all levels. In 2010, Chris decided to create this book, which has, not surprisingly, been very well received.

To call Chris the Ann Landers of the T&I is probably not doing her justice (she's a better writer than Ann Landers). She's funny, witty, spot-on and she dispenses the tough love that many of us truly need. The book is well-organized into overarching chapters, each focusing on essential parts of the business such as pricing and value (my favorite chapter), ethics, marketing and finding clients, getting started, payment issues specializing, etc. I recently heard from Chris that she hired a professional indexer to help her perfect the index -- and it shows.

There's been much speculation about whether the questions asked of Fire Ant & Worker Bee are actual questions from actual translators. Chris has insisted that they are, and I agree: you can't make this stuff up. As president of my local association of translators and interpreters, I am on the receiving end of a myriad of good, bad and outright baffling questions about our industry. Chris answers them all in her trademark honest and informative style. 

I could not agree more with Chris on her main points (all of her points, as a matter of fact). The recurring themes include a quest to defeat linguists' so-called poverty cult.  Ready for some tough love? It goes more or less like this: no one is forcing you to accept low rates. If you accept them, you are partially responsible, so stop whining and look for more profitable customers. Too tough for you? Well, she's right. The recurring theme is that translators write in saying that the barriers to entry are too low (true), there is a lot of competition (true), that they don't get paid what they are worth (whose fault is that?) and that there is no market for translators at the higher end of the market (Chris and I beg to differ). 

This is an empowering book that will drive home some of the most important points in our business, including the one that translators have to be gifted writers in their target languages. I think that's a crucial point that perhaps hasn't been emphasized as much in other books, and it's essential: if you are not a strong writer, this is not the right business for you. Chris proves that she's an eloquent, funny, witty and straight-forward writer, and emphasizes time and time again how essential it is to hone your writing skills. Chris is very generous with her advice and provides plenty of resources and advice on how to find the help you need, even though she gets some pretty silly questions from readers.

I am incredibly relieved that this book exists and have been sending many of the "I need answers about the industry" e-mails to her website in the hopes that this book will clear up many of the questions. It's ideal reading to keep on your nightstand as a quick reference and as an empowerment tool. No one said running a translation business was easy, and it's not. Those readers who are hoping for a highly lucrative business that involves little work are better off looking for the latest online sales strategy. A caveat: while many of the lessons discussed in this book also apply to interpreters, this book focuses mainly on translators -- as the title implies. 

The book's main point is beautifully illustrated by the very fact that the book exists. Not surprisingly, Chris is on the very high end of the translation market herself. She charges adequate rates for her professional services and doesn't have to work around the clock to pay her bills. Otherwise, how would she have time to write this book? She does emphasize that high rates are always earned, and one of my favorite quotes in her book is that "good clients do not buy translations from anonymous providers over the internet" (page 161). Even in the age of the internet, proximity to your clients is paramount; so find a way to reach your customers in person. 

The verdict: this book should be required reading for both beginning and seasoned translators around the globe. Especially for those starting out, $25 is a steal considering how much time and research this book will save you. Just like many books in our industry, this book is self-published, so please support by purchasing it on their website. Happy reading!


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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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